Microsoft Surface Pro 6 review: Hybrid sequel is just as good – and pricey – as ever

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As its name suggests, the Surface Pro 6 is the sixth iteration of the Microsoft Surface Pro line. You’d be forgiven for getting confused – last year’s model dropped the ‘5’, going simply by the name Microsoft Surface Pro. But we all knew it was the Surface Pro 5, even if we didn’t say it.So what’s new with number 6? Not a vast amount. On the surface, at least, the only real change is an additional colour option, the stylish matte black seen in my photos. Minor internal improvements have been made, with the processor update the most significant change.Read on to find out if it’s worth upgrading from your old Surface Pro (or any other 2-in-1 you may have) to Microsoft’s latest laptop/tablet hybrid.READ NEXT: Best 2-in-1 laptop/tablet hybridsMicrosoft Surface Pro 6 review: What you need to knowThe Surface Pro 6 is a 2-in-1 laptop with a 12.3in, 2,736 x 1,824 touchscreen display. Without the Surface Keyboard attached, it looks much the same as an iPad Pro or Galaxy Tab S4 tablet. But this is much more than a tablet, as its price suggests.It has an 8th Gen Kaby Lake R Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, Intel UHD Graphics 620 iGPU and runs on Windows 10 Home. On the back there are two panels – the lower panel folds outwards to create a stand so you can watch content or use the touchscreen in “tent” mode. In conjunction with the Surface Keyboard (sold separately), it becomes a 360-degree laptop. The catch? It doesn’t come cheap.Microsoft Surface Pro 6 review: Price and competitionFor the specific configuration of the Surface Pro 6 that I’m reviewing here, you’ll need to hand over £1,149. That gets you an Intel Core i5-8250U processor, Intel UHD Graphics 620, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. Guess what it won’t get you: the keyboard.Miserly old Microsoft charges an additional £125 for the Surface Pro Type Cover, or £150 for the Surface Pro Signature Type Cover. If you want the Surface Pro to function as a regular laptop, you’ll have to buy one of these magnetically connecting keyboard folio covers separately. Alternatively, you could go for a wireless option: the Microsoft Surface Keyboard is “only” £90.And that’s not all. The Microsoft Surface Pen, a sturdy stylus that sticks magnetically to the side of the Surface Pro 6, will set you back an additional £100. So, to get the device and accessories shown in my pictures, you’ll actually have to pay £1,374, not £1,149.For the cheapest configuration of the Surface Pro 6 – the same as my review model, only with a 128GB SSD rather than 256GB – you’ll still have to pay £979. And, of course, that’s without any accessories.As for the top spec model, with 16GB of RAM, an Intel Core i7 CPU and 1TB memory, it’ll take a £2,199-sized chunk out of your savings. At that point, you are much, much better off going for the more powerful Microsoft Surface Book 2.The best 2-in-1 on the market right now is the Dell XPS 2-in-1 15, a performance behemoth, and the £1,699 model we reviewed was near flawless. Realistically, though, that’s the Surface Pro 6’s only real rival – if you want a Windows machine, that is.Microsoft Surface Pro 6 review: DesignFor anyone who’s laid eyes on a Surface Pro before, the Surface Pro 6 won’t deliver any surprises. The only aesthetic change is the new black colour, which provides a lovely contrast to the platinum edition.As I’ve mentioned, when the device is disconnected from its Surface Type Cover, it resembles a tablet more than it does a laptop. The 12.3in display is surrounded by some chunky bezels, and up top and centre is the 5MP webcam. The screen is propped up by the fold-out stand on the back of the screen.The Surface Pro 6 measures 292 x 201 x 8.5mm. It’s a real lean machine, about the same size as a glossy magazine. On its own, it weighs an ultralight 770g. With the Type Cover, it’s still only 1.08kg, which means it can be held easily in the palm of your hand.Connectivity is pretty decent for a 2-in-1 device: there’s a USB 3.0 and mini-DisplayPort on the right-hand side, and on the opposite side is the 3.5mm audio jack. The sleek charging connector clips in on the lower right-hand side via the magical power of magnets. The microSD slot is tucked away on the back, concealed beneath the fold-out panel.The rear of the laptop bears the Microsoft logo and the 8MP rear-facing camera, with autofocus and 1,080p video-recording capabilities. Exactly who walks around with an over £1,000 2-in-1 laptop to take either videos or photos, I could not tell you, though.Microsoft Surface Pro 6 review: Keyboard and touchpadOn the bottom edge of the Surface Pro 6 is the magnetic connector strip, which the Surface Type Cover snaps into. It’s an exceptionally streamlined process and it’s equally easy to separate them, too. In my opinion, the Surface Pro 6 feels incomplete without the Type Cover.The touchpad and keyboard on the Surface Pro Type Cover are pretty compact and a breeze to use. There’s some give when you press down on keys because the cover is raised at an angle and is extremely lightweight. For notoriously heavy typists such as myself, this takes some getting used to. I can’t speak for the more expensive Signature Surface Pro Type Cover, which has a spill-proof Alcantara coating, because I’ve not had a chance to use one.The Surface Pen is a lovely, accurate stylus that comes in handy for drawing or note-taking, but it’s disappointing that it isn’t bundled in – £100 is way too steep for what it is. One nice touch about the Surface Pen is the clicker at the top, to which you can assign shortcuts. It would come in extremely handy during a slide show presentation, for example.I could probably live without the Surface Pen, but the keyboard accessory is essential. When folded up it also serves as a screen protector, meaning you can chuck it in a backpack or handbag without worrying about scratches.Microsoft Surface Pro 6 review: DisplayThe 12.3in, 2,736 x 1,824 display specifications remain identical to the 2017 Microsoft Surface Pro. Performance results are still excellent but have dropped slightly since last year. In our calibration tests, the sRGB colour gamut coverage was clocked at 88.6%, whereas last year’s model had a coverage of 94.3%.Delta E colour accuracy is also down: the previous Surface Pro had an average Delta E of 1.16, while the 2018 iteration managed 1.28. That’s still up to professional photo editing standards, mind you, and to the naked eye, there would be no difference. The maximum brightness on the Surface Pro 6 display is an exceptional 416.2cd/m² – again, that’s slightly lower than in 2017 but vivid enough for working in overly-lit conditions. As for the 1308:1 contrast ratio, it’s basically the same as last year’s.Note that there is another colour profile mode called “Enhanced”, which is objectively worse, giving everything a garish oversaturated tone. This is similar to the “Vibrant” modes found on a lot of smartphones these days. On the Surface Pro 6, the sRGB mode is the way to go.Microsoft Surface Pro 6 review: Performance and battery lifeWhile the display quality may have suffered a small knock, performance is on the up. In our media benchmark test, which measures the speed of video editing, image editing and multitasking, the Surface Pro 6’s Intel Core i5-8250U CPU got a score of 69. That’s faster than the score of 60 achieved by the 2017 Surface Pro, which had an Intel Core i7 processor on board – and far surpasses the 2017 Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, which also houses an Intel Core i7. There was never any doubt that the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 would win this fight, though. Its media benchmark score of 123 remains the fastest in the tablet/hybrid category, although it is powered by a beefier Intel Core Kaby Lake G i5-8305G chip, plus AMD Radeon RX Vega M GL graphics. Sequential read/write AS SSD speeds are of a decent standard, but could be faster. Predictably, the results revealed that the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 – with its 128GB NVMe PCIe M.2 SSD – remains the superior machine here too, with the Asus ZenBook Flip S also nudging ahead.Interestingly, file reading speeds were nearly double as fast on the Surface Pro 6 as on the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2, despite the fact that both machines run on identical processors, RAM and GPU. For basic gaming needs, the Surface Pro 6 will do just fine. It managed an average frame rate of 26.9fps in the GFXBench Manhattan test and 35fps in the Dirt: Showdown 720p High Detail benchmark. That means it’ll be perfectly suited to a spot of Minecraft or Sim City – just don’t try to play any Triple-A games. Given the impressive 11hrs 33mins of video playback battery life on the 2017 Surface Pro, I had been expecting the Surface Pro 6 to go the distance. I’m sorry to report that it’s considerably worse, managing 8hrs 2mins of continuous video before running out of steam. Compared to other 2-in-1 laptops that’s average but, because of the marathon battery life of the 2017 Surface Pro, it’s a disappointment.Microsoft Surface Pro 6 review: SoftwareThe Surface Pro 6 runs on the latest version of Windows 10 Home, and it’ll be familiar to anyone who’s used the Microsoft OS before. So, everyone, then. As it happens, there has just been a major Windows Update for October 2018, which offers a few new features.Some of the OS visuals have been altered, for a start. Individual windows now have grey borders, and shadow and transparency effects have been employed to add a sense of depth to your desktop. The File Explorer app now has an edgy “Dark Mode” too, which I much prefer. Font size can also be increased on its own, without having to upscale the entire display – great stuff, but odd that the setting hasn’t been put in place before now.For an in-depth guide to every new feature, read our Windows October 2018 Update review.Microsoft Surface Pro 6 review: VerdictFor those in search of a 2-in-1 laptop that’s both stylish and speedy, the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 is a safe bet. It’s darn pricey, though, and the fact that it doesn’t come with a Type Cover bundled in is nothing short of a travesty.I’m hesitant to recommend this device over the 2017 Surface Pro, given how similar they are in terms of design and performance, with the older model actually proving the better machine in some respects. Besides, the older Surface Pro is now available from as little as £799 for an Intel Core i5 model.Overall, I do like the Surface Pro 6 – it’s got nippy speeds for a 2-in-1, it’s well designed and has a fantastic display. It’s just not much of an upgrade from last year. Sorry, Microsoft, but the best hybrid in 2018 is still the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1.
Core specsProcessorIntel Core i5-8250U 1.6GHzRAM8GBMemory slots (free)NoMax memory256GBDimensions292 x 201 x 8.5Weight770gSound3.5mm audio jack; 1.6W stereo speakers with Dolby Audio PremiumPointing deviceTouchscreenDisplayScreen size12.3inScreen resolution2736 x 1824TouchscreenYesGraphics adaptorIntel UHD Graphics 620StorageTotal storage256GBOptical drive typen/aPorts and expansionUSB ports1 x USB 3.0BluetoothYesNetworkingWi-Fi 802.11Memory card readerMicroSDXCOther portsCharging port, Surface Type Cover port, mini display portMiscellaneousOperating systemWindows 10 HomeOperating system restore optionWindows restore

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