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Surface Pro updated at last: Kaby Lake gives longer battery life, but still no modern ports

May 24, 2017 | Telepresence Options

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Story and images by Ars Technica

New hardware boasts up to 13.5 hours of usage between charges.

Microsoft has announced the long-awaited refresh to its Surface Pro line of 2-in-1 tablets. The successor to the Surface Pro 4 is simply the Surface Pro--no numeric appellation to denote the hardware iteration--and it brings with it a Kaby Lake processor to replace the Skylake chip in the Pro 4. But that's about all it does: those hoping for forward-looking features such as USB Type-C ports or Thunderbolt 3 connectivity will have to continue to look elsewhere.

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With its new Kaby Lake chip, Microsoft is claiming up to 13.5 hours of battery life, a healthy boost to the estimated nine hours of the Pro 4. As before, there will be three processor options: at the low end, the ultra-low power Core m3-7Y30, with a base speed of 1GHz and a top speed of 2.6GHz. In the middle, the new Pro will use the medium power i5-7300U, with a 2.6GHz base and a 3.5GHz turbo.

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At the top is the i7-7660U; the base speed is slightly lower, at 2.5GHz, but its turbo is higher, at 4GHz, and this part sports Iris Plus graphics. It has 64MB of on-chip memory, which should boost both CPU and GPU performance. In the Pro 4 generation, only the m3 unit was fanless; with Kaby Lake, the i5 part also omits the fan, making for silent operation.

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On the inside, little else has changed. As before, there will still be versions with 4, 8, or 16GB RAM, and 128, 256, 512, or 1024GB of storage. There's still a rear-facing 8MP camera for photography and a front-facing 5MP camera for video conferencing and Windows Hello facial recognition to log in. Wi-Fi is still 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, though Bluetooth has been bumped to 4.1 from 4.0.

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While it won't be available immediately, Microsoft is also planning to offer a Surface Pro version with integrated LTE connectivity. The company has dabbled with LTE tablets before, but in the past they were restricted to the (apparently now-defunct) Surface range of lower-priced, lower-specced tablets. This will be the first Pro-tier system to offer LTE.

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Externally, there are some small changes. The styling is a little different: the corners are more curved, and the signature kickstand now folds back even farther, to 165 degrees.

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Some things change some things don't

The rest remains the same. The screen is the same 12.3 inch, 2736×1834 3:2 unit--no complaints there--and it continues to support touch and pen input. Unfortunately, this similarity extends to other external elements: connectivity still comes from a full-size generation 1 USB 3.1 port and a mini-DisplayPort, along with the proprietary Surface Connect used for power and Microsoft's docking station, a 3.5mm headset jack, and a microSD card reader hidden behind the kickstand.

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This means that the new Pro remains cut off from a growing selection of Thunderbolt 3 docking stations and external GPUs, and it can't offer niceties such as USB Type-C charging. For as long as the new Pro took to arrive, that feels very disappointing. Microsoft's own dock and chargers remain compatible with the new device, of course.

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