Microsoft’s new Surface Pro boasts a better pen, faster performance

The new Surface Pro boasts a faster, more sensitive and tilt-recognising pen.


Photos by our colleague Mark Hachman from PCWorld.com

Microsoft has launched a new version of the Windows 10 tablet/laptop hybrid that’s called just the ‘Surface Pro’, which succeeds the Surface Pro 4.

The new Microsoft Surface Pro is an overhaul of the Surface Pro 4. Launching the device at an event in Shanghai China, Microsoft’s VP of devices Panos Panay said that “every single part on this product has been rethought” – noting that the new device has over 800 new parts.

These include a better pen, faster processors and other internal components that give it a much longer battery life, faster storage, a new keyboard with a different feel, and a new hinge that lets you position it at a slight tilt off flat for more comfortable drawing and writing.

Here we'll go through all of the new features in turn, starting with the new Surface Pen.

The new Surface Pen (left) is longer and thinner than its predecessor (right)

2017's Surface Pen has 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity – four times that of the previous pen (which shipped with the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book). Microsoft also says that overall, you push down more softly when drawing – which is more comfortable for long drawing sessions.

The pen now has tilt sensitivity, so as you tilt the pen you can achieve effects like side-shading. There's also a lot less lag as you draw. And you can choose from four colours.

The previous pen was considered more like a biro than an art pen when it came to its artistic capabilities – so these are welcome additions. Tilt sensitivity is supported by the Apple Pencil and the Wacom Pro Pen 2 – which has 8,192 levels of sensitivity, and rotating the pen can have an effect on your stoke too (mimicking a wide, flat paintbrush for example). Read: Wacom MobileStudio Pro review

The older Surface Pen still works with the new Surface Pro, so anyone who doesn't care about the extra sensitivity and already owns a Surface Pro 3, 4 or Book can use their current pen with the new tablet.


The new hinge lets you position the 2017 Surface Pro in three ways – one of which is new. As seen here, you can use it to prop up the Surface Pro to watch video, display images or plug in a keyboard and use it as a laptop.

Also as before, you can fold it in so the Surface Pro can lay flat.

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What's new is what Microsoft calls 'Studio Mode', which is named after the company's 'iMac you can draw on', the Surface Studio.

Here the hinge lets you have the tablet at 15 degrees off flat in the same way you might have a drafting table. This is designed to be more comfortable than laying the Surface Pro flat, especially for lengthy periods of drawing.


Also borrowing from the Surface Studio is support for the Surface Dial, which works best when the Surface Pro is flat or in 'Studio Mode'. 

This hardware controller lets you twist or push to control the application you're using – for example to choose a colour from a colour wheel and then select it. However, few creative applications support the Dial outside of Adobe Premiere Pro and Autodesk Sketchbook (though we're hearing that wider support in Creative Cloud apps including Photoshop is coming soon). 


The new Surface Pro (left) and the older Surface Pro 4 (right)

Aesthetically there's little difference between the new Surface Pro and the older Surface Pro 4. The vent around the outside is thinner and the corners are more rounded to make it easier to hold. But as most of it's external form is based around the same 12.3-inch, 2,736 x 1,824px screen, you don't expect the design to change much.

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What's changed is 'under the hood'. You still have the option of a Core i5 or Core i7 processor (or a puny m3, but good luck running any of your creative tools on that), but the new Surface Pro has seventh-generation 'Kaby Lake' chips. These make the new tablet up to 20 percent faster than the Surface Pro 4, and raise the battery life from nine to 13.5 hours.

Also new is faster NVMe storage. And later in the year, Microsoft will launch a version of the Surface Pro with 4G support (known as LTE in the US) and, we assume, a SIM slot.


As with the Surface Pen, there are four colour options for the Surface Pro keyboard. Three – platinum, burgundy and cobalt blue – are covered in a suede-like Alcantara fabric (also seen on the student-focussed Surface Laptop), while the basic black Type Cover is plastic.


The new Surface Pro can be pre-ordered today and will ship on June 15 in the UK, US and other countries.

Pricing for the i5 model starts at £979 inc VAT/US$999 with 4GB RAM and 128GB storage. The top-spec Core i7, 16GB RAM, 256GB storage model costs £2,699/$2,699.

You can pre-order the 2017 Surface Pro from the Microsoft Store UK and Microsoft Store US.

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There's been no corresponding upgrade to the Surface Book, which essentially adds a base with an Nvidia graphics chip and extra battery to the Surface Pro tablet – though we'd expect an upgrade soon (unless Microsoft is killing the product).


Image: Microsoft

Microsoft also showed off a new app for all Surface devices called Whiteboard. This is an ideas sketching application that's tied to the company's OneNote shared note system. We had a chance to try it out on the 84-inch Surface Hub collaboration screen recently, which has pens that are similar to the new Surface Pen.

The version of Whiteboard for the Surface Pro, Book and Laptop will be released initially as a beta in June – with a full version arriving in the autumn.