The four squares of the Microsoft logo now mean more than just the world’s most popular operating system: They stand for world-class hardware. And the Surface Pro is the chief example.
Microsoft’s flagship genre bender hasn’t had a lot of serious competition over the years. If you want a tablet computer than doubles as a full-tilt laptop replacement, there aren’t many other good options out there. Outside of the iPad Pro, none of the copycats pose a serious threat to the reign of the Surface Pro.
Now dressed in black for its sixth generation and packing a quad-core processor, the Pro still dominates, but you’ll have to dig a little deeper to see where Microsoft has made some truly noteworthy improvements.
Rinse and repeat
Serious enough to be used in an office setting, yet playful enough to use in a coffee shop, the Surface Pro 6 has an aesthetic that marks it apart from both Apple and the rest of the PCs out there. The chassis is sleek, robust, and distinctive — all the things you want in a premium device.
But the truth is that very little has changed over the last few years of Surface 2-in-1s. It’s not any thicker or thinner, the bezels haven’t been cut down at all, and the general feeling of using the device has remained. The addition of a black option is a nice refresh to the overall look, but it’s by no means a game-changer. Standing still might seem safe, but it also leaves some issues unaddressed.
The first is those bezels. As every other manufacturer races to cut every possible millimeter from their designs, the unchanged bezels on the Surface Pro 6 now look large and instantly noticeable. We give a bit more leeway to tablets and 2-in-1s in this respect, but some slimmer bezels could have really modernized the appearance of this device.
The second is ports: The Surface Pro 6 has a single USB-A port, a mini-DisplayPort, a microSD slot hidden under the kickstand, the Surface Connect dock, and a headphone jack. These are the exact same slim options as included last year, but the lack of a USB-C port is now a glaring omission in 2018. This device might be the only laptop or hybrid device we reviewed in 2018 to not include one – or to include an old mini-DisplayPort for video output.
Type Cover is still excellent, and still doesn’t come bundled in
Though the sturdy kickstand is there as always, the Surface Pro 6 doesn’t come with a keyboard or touchpad. Instead, you’ll have to pick up the Type Cover, Microsoft’s fantastic attachable keyboard cover. As a tablet alone, the Surface Pro 6 doesn’t make much sense. The Type Cover is mandatory. These covers, available in a few different materials and styles, range from $130 to $150. Despite some cut-off keys, the layout never feels cramped, every key feels snappy, and the touchpad remains one of the best tracking surfaces for a Windows 10 laptop available.
Another peripheral not included here is the Surface Pen. This is a best-in-class stylus with 4,096 levels of sensitivity — and even a built-in eraser. The $100 accessory comes in many different colors, but Microsoft hasn’t developed a new version for the release of the Surface Pro 6.
Both add-ons are fantastic, though we really wish Microsoft included these with the device. Without them, you’re stuck using Microsoft’s half-hearted tablet mode. You can, of course, hook up your own keyboard or mouse to the device, whether through Bluetooth or the USB port.
A world-class display
Surface products have historically fantastic screens, and that hasn’t changed on the Surface Pro 6. Microsoft goes above and beyond to find the best panels for its devices, and we really like the one included here. The 12.3-inch (2,736 x 1,824 pixels) screen is bright, colorful, and vivid — and still one of the best screens you can find in this product category.
The display can be cranked up to a blinding 410 nits, which is in the range usually reserved for premium brands like ThinkPad, MacBook, and XPS. Add Surface to that list. The 3:2 aspect ratio is another favorite feature of ours, leaving plenty of screen real estate for getting work done. Contrast is through the roof at 1,290:1, making darks and lights really shine in games or movies. It still doesn’t have the wide color gamut of the MacBook or some of the 4K displays out there, but 70 percent of AdobeRGB matches competition in this range.
Slimmer bezels could have really modernized the appearance of the Surface Pro 6.
Microsoft has again shipped the Surface Pro 6 with two color profiles: The defaulted Enhanced mode and the more standard sRGB mode. In general, we preferred the accuracy of sRGB mode to the artificial pop of Enhanced mode. The colors look great to the naked eye, but if you’re a photographer, we suggest calibrating the display before use.
But again, none of that is anything new. This is the exact same panel that appeared last year. We would have loved to see a bump up to the 3,000 x 2,000 resolution seen in the Surface Book 2 or Google Pixel Slate, but we’re guessing we’ll have to wait until next year to see that.
The dual, front-facing speakers on the Surface Pro 6 are still great for a laptop. They can easily fill a room with music or provide adequate audio for watching movies.
Double the cores, but still a year behind
The Surface Pro 6 is meant to be a true laptop replacement, and it has the components inside to back that up. The entry-level version that we reviewed comes with an Intel 8th-gen quad-core processor that is a meaningful upgrade over the 2017 Surface Pro, especially in the realm of multitasking. You’ve also got the option for either 8GB or 16GB of RAM.
Whether it’s in a synthetic benchmark like Geekbench, or even in a more real-life test like encoding video in Handbrake, the Core i5-powered Surface Pro 6 impresses. And Microsoft didn’t make any real performance concessions to squeeze the components into the Surface Pro 6’s tiny frame.
As good a performer as the Core i5-8250U processor is, we were a bit disappointed to see Microsoft not opt for a newer Intel chip, like the latest Whiskey Lake U-series processors from Intel. The Kaby Lake-R CPU featured here is nearly a year old — and while it’s still capable — it lacks some of the new features found in Intel’s latest and greatest. Most notably, you’re not getting features like higher base clock speeds and Gigabit Wi-Fi. While we’re still waiting to review the new devices featuring these new processors thanks to Intel’s delayed supply issues, it would have made a lot of sense to see Microsoft use them.
The Surface Pro 6 can handle a full day of work at the office, as well as the tablet usage on the bus ride home.
It should be noted that the Core m3 model, which started at $800, has been removed from the configuration list to make room for the cheaper Surface Go.
In terms of storage, the Surface Pro 6 uses the very fast Hynix NVMe PCIe SSD. It boasted over a write speed of over 1,000 megabytes per second, which is twice the speed of the SATA SSDs used in the Asus NovaGo or HP Envy x2. In our tests, it was a tiny bit slower than the Samsung SSD used in last year’s model, but in day-to-day use, you should expect fast drive speeds that make the overall experience feel quick and snappy.
Our review unit came with 256GB of capacity, but it can be configured up to 1TB or down to 128GB for the $900 starting price.
Not a gaming laptop — or an iPad
The Surface Pro 6 is not a gaming machine, and it never claims to be. But just for kicks, we ran it through 3DMark and even tried a couple of games on it.
As it turns out, the move to Intel’s integrated UHD 620 graphics provides a bit of a boost over 7th-gen HD 620 graphics in synthetic benchmarks, but nothing noticeable in actual gameplay. Games like Rocket League performed well enough, as long as you pull the graphics settings down a bit.
As a tablet, it has a lot less gaming prowess than even the iPad Pro. The iPad has a huge wealth of games at its disposal, as well as some powerful graphics capabilities. The biggest letdown was in Fortnite. It’s a game you can play on your phone — and beautifully on an iPad — but not on the Surface Pro 6. It was playable at around 30 frames per second, but we had to turn down settings quite a bit. You’ll have to stick to Minecraft and Subway Surfers on this one.
The Surface Pro 6 finally gets the battery life it deserves
Battery life is crucial for a device that’s meant to be taken on the go. With the Surface Pro 6, Microsoft has finally nailed it.
We run three battery life tests for each laptop to represent different use cases: web browsing, watching video, and running more intense software. In all three, the Surface Pro 6 is now closer to the front of the pack. You can expect around 9.5 hours of web browsing, and more than 14 hours in video, which handily beats devices like the Acer Switch 7 and is in line with the 12.9-inch iPad Pro or HP Spectre x360 13. That means the Surface Pro 6 can handle a full day of work at the office — and playing your shows on the bus ride home.
As we reviewed the Surface Pro 6, we kept waiting for the thing that made the Surface Pro 6 a meaningful upgrade over the previous version. Battery life is definitely that killer feature.
Windows 10 tablet mode still needs work
The Surface Pro 6 is great at replacing your crusty old laptop. It runs a full version of Windows 10 Home, meaning any type of specialized software you might need is at your disposal. Less can be said about the operating system’s tablet mode, which still feels under-cooked.
App selection in the Microsoft Store is painfully limited, and even navigating around the settings or app launcher doesn’t feel optimized for touch. Because of its size and performance capabilities, this isn’t as big an issue for the Surface Pro as it is for the Surface Go, which relies much more on the success of its tablet mode. We’d still like to see Microsoft make a serious attempt at revamping tablet mode a bit, especially if it expects people to buy into its vision of a true 2-in-1.Our Take
The Surface Pro 6 is still the best 2-in-1 you can buy. It’s supremely built, powerful as a full laptop, and looks killer in all-black. Microsoft even remedied one of our biggest complaints in years past by upping the battery life. Despite a couple of hang-ups and a lack of serious tablet support, the Surface Pro 6 can’t be beat.
Is there a better alternative?
The biggest competitor to the Surface Pro is the iPad Pro. Even though it uses a mobile operating system, thanks to the rich app ecosystem, it can do a lot of the things a full desktop PC can do — and sometimes even more.
Google also has a new tablet 2-in-1, which also has a better tablet experience thanks to the addition of Android apps. We like the design of the Surface Pro 6 more though, and it feels like a much more refined product.
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning Microsoft’s other Surface options: The smaller Surface Go, the more conventional Surface Laptop 2, and the expensive Surface Book 2. A lot of these feature the same design choices, but with different use cases in mind.
How long will it last?
The Surface Pro 6 is built to last, except for its port selection. The mini-DisplayPort and USB-A port will feel thoroughly outdated a few years from now. Though Microsoft includes a standard one-year warranty, it’s recent history of poor support and reliability should be considered before picking this one up.
Should you buy it?
Yes. The Surface Pro 6 might not convince you to buy a 2-in-1, but if you’re already on the hunt, there’s none better.