There is no doubt in our minds that it’s time for the Surface Pro 5. Because Surface sales have dropped 26% year-on-year, it’s concerning that we didn’t see the next iteration of Microsoft's tablet-that-can-replace-your-laptop at the company’s #MicrosoftEDU event, where it revealed the Surface Laptop.
Microsoft hosted an event to show off new hardware on May 23, and we did’t expect the Surface Pro 5 to be part of that showing. In an interview with CNET, Surface VP Panos Panay said, “There’s no such thing as a Pro 5,” reinforcing speculation by Paul Thurrott who suggested in April that Microsoft is preparing a mere spec upgrade for the current Surface Pro 4.
However, recent rumors claim that a successor to the Surface Pro 4 will be coming, but it will simply be called 'Surface Pro'.
On the day, Microsoft did indeed reveal the new Surface Pro, which comes with a host of new features including fanless Kaby Lake processors, an enhanced PixelSense display and support for 4G LTE mobile internet.
Surface Pro 4.5 or not, it’s time for an upgrade. The Surface Pro 4 has been out since October 2015, and while the Surface Laptop seems like a promising addition to the family, it’s not exactly the sequel to Microsoft’s convertible tablet we’ve all been longing for. Based on the news we’ve seen recently, it looks like we’ll have to be a little more patient.
Cut to the chase
- What is it? The would-be fifth Surface Pro tablet
- When is it out? 2018 if we're lucky
- What will it cost? Likely as much as – if not more than – the current model
Reports dating back to March 2016 led us to believe that the Surface Pro 5 would come out alongside the Windows 10 Creators Update, and that would have made complete sense if it had actually come to fruition. Instead, the Creators Update launched featuring a handful of new designer- and gamer-focused software features, but with no first-party hardware in sight.
Our next bet was that the Surface Pro 5 would be shown off at the #MicrosoftEDU event in New York City. However, that was more of a shot in the dark prediction; there were no rumors leading into that event that suggested we would see anything more than a stripped-down version of Windows 10 and a more conventional Surface Laptop.
There’s still a chance, however, that we’ll see the Surface Pro 5 make its rounds this Autumn when a second major Windows 10 update is expected to land. Then again, with rumors and reports galore claiming an upgraded Surface Pro 4 is going to be announced later this month, it’s a stretch to assume the Surface Pro 5 would come out the same year.
Surface Pro 5 price
Historically, Surface pricing has sparsely fluctuated year after year. For that reason, we expect to see the Surface Pro 5 start at $899 (£749, AU$1,349) and escalate from there depending on specially configured hardware and bundled accessories.
At the Shanghai event on May 23, the Surface Pro was revealed to come with a $799 in the US, £799 in the UK (that’s around AU$1,380) price tag for the entry-level model. If the Surface Pro 5 is indeed the Surface Pro, then we now know for sure what the price will be. If the Surface Pro 5 is actually a more powerful version of the Surface Pro, then we should expect a higher price tag.
That said, while it wouldn’t be ideal for Microsoft’s loyal following if the company deviated too far from the norm, ambitious upgrades may necessitate that it does. For the price of the next Surface Pro to differ from its predecessors, it would have to offer some serious advantages over its last-gen sibling – not just a run-of-the-mill spec boost.
Regardless, the ball is in Microsoft's court here, and if pricier new additives are implemented into the baseline model, it's not unprecedented for PC makers to issue a price hike (see: the latest MacBook Pro).
Surface Pro 5 specs
In terms of specs, what little we know is based on tweets from Microsoft informant Paul Thurrott whose sources have told him that the Surface Pro 5 will indeed use an Intel 7th-generation Kaby Lake processor. This is unsurprising given the year of release, though he also made a point to liken the upcoming convertible tablet to a “Surface Pro 4.5” of sorts, leading us to believe his source isn’t talking of a true Surface Pro 5 at all.
Another interesting tidbit from Thurrott suggests that the Surface Connect proprietary charger is here to stay, meaning the Surface Pro 5 may not use USB-C to restore the battery as most 2-in-1 devices now tend to do. At the moment, it’s not clear whether Surface Pro 5 will add USB-C ports for data transfers and peripherals much less what specific Kaby Lake processors it will take advantage of.
Surface Pro 5 design
A recent leak has shown off a number of press renders that claim to be of the Surface Pro 4's successor.
These images, published by VentureBeat, show a tablet that features a similar design to the earlier Surface Pro 4.
The lack of design innovation does point to the Surface Pro 5 - which the rumors also suggest will now simply be known as the 'Surface Pro' - will only be a minor hardware refresh.
That may be disappointing to many who want a big boost in performance, but for those of us who love the Surface Pro 4's aesthetics, the similar style may be a real selling point.
Surface Pro 5 stylus and Dial
One piece of the puzzle regarding every new Surface is how Microsoft will upgrade its Surface Pen stylus accessory that comes bundled with each tablet. Back in January 2016, it was uncovered that Microsoft had filed for a rechargeable stylus.
Another interesting patent filed by Microsoft describes a renewed Surface Pen loop, designed to latch the Surface Pen onto your Surface devices via a USB connection. Not only would it hold the Surface Pen into position when needed, but it would simultaneously charge the accessory for prolonged continuous use.
Of course, Microsoft also has the Surface Dial in its clasp. The designer-focused puck-like accessory was briefly mentioned in a slideshow presentation in December, with ZDNet having picked up the slides themselves for use in a news story. The company claims that peripherals such as the Dial, wearables, headsets and more are factors essential to what is perceived as the “modern PC.”
Also mentioned was the incorporation of “hero features” such as Cortana and Windows Hello, meaning a fingerprint scanner may not be too far off either. After all, the Dell XPS 13 did it with a $25 add-on configuration. Perhaps we could even see the day when a fingerprint reader is implemented in the Surface Pen itself.
What we want to see
Look, as much as we've been impressed by the Surface Pro 4 – firmware issues aside – there will always be room for improvement. (That would be the case even if it had earned our Editor's Choice award.) From the screen size and resolution to the hardware found inside, we have a few ideas for how Microsoft could craft an even better Windows 10 tablet.
Longer battery life
This is a bit of low-hanging fruit, but countless customers have lamented the Surface Pro 4's battery life, regardless of issues with its "Sleep" mode. We rated the device for five hours and 15 minutes of local video playback.
That's well below Microsoft's promise of nine hours of video playback, but we all know that few, if any, laptops actually meet their promised battery life approximations. Our video playback figure is in line with the average laptop, though it's a far cry from what its nemesis, the MacBook, can achieve.
Ideally, and realistically, we'd like to see at least seven hours of battery life reliably from the next Surface Pro tablet. That would put it closer in line with the MacBooks as well as competing tablets, like the iPad Pro. Surely, you’ll need as many milliampere hours in the Surface Pro 5’s lithium-ion battery as you can get.
However, if that’s too much to ask, USB fast-charging would serve as a welcome alternative.
An even sharper (and/or bigger) screen
With the Surface Pro 4, Microsoft managed to outrank countless rivals in both the laptop and tablet spaces when it comes to screen resolution. With a razor-sharp 267 ppi (pixels per inch) already at 2,736 x 1,824 pixels within a 12.3-inch screen, it's not as if the Surface Pro 5 needs to be much sharper.
However, if the next Surface Pro were equipped with, say, a 4K (3,840 pixels wide at the very least) screen, that would rip its productivity and entertainment capabilities wide open. Film and photo editors could work at the native resolution that's increasingly becoming the norm, while average Joe's (teehee) could finally watch Netflix in 4K on a tablet.
That said, the realm of super sharp resolutions might be reserved for the Surface Book range at this point. So, why not up its size a bit?
The Surface Pro 4 is big enough for almost all tasks, but it's still not the established default size for most laptops: 13.3 inches. Then again, doing so may cannibalize Microsoft's market by negating the need for its Surface Book.
On the other hand, maybe the iPad Pro is onto something with its 12.9-inch display. After all, we’re not asking for a gargantuan, monster-sized tablet – just a slight size boost. Assuming the resolution doesn't bump up too much alongside a size increase, the extra space could allow for a battery life boost.
It might finally be time for USB-C
A reversible, versatile port (or two?) may be just what the Surface Pro 5 needs to mitigate the product line's lacking input/output problem. A single USB 3.0 port and a proprietary charging port aren't going to cut it for much longer, and with the help of a specialized set of adapters, USB-C is infinitely more utilitarian.
At the same time, Microsoft may want to include a standard USB 3.0 port, too, in order to natively meet the system requirements for its own Windows 10 VR headsets. If the company wants to lead the pack in the business of affordable virtual reality solutions, it's a no-brainer to make the Surface Pro 5 compatible.
Word around the tech world says we're only a few months out from a release – maybe not of the Surface Pro 5 proper, but at the very least of a revamped Surface Pro 4. That gives us plenty of time for the rumor mill to fire up. Stay tuned in the coming months for the latest on everything Surface Pro 5.
Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article