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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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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