Microsoft Surface Pro 6 Review Editor's Choice

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Editors' rating:
The Pros

Fast quad-core performance; Excellent battery life; Bright and colorful display; Comfortable keyboard; Silky-smooth pen input

The Cons

Still no USB-C/Thunderbolt ports; 256GB SSD is a bit sluggish

Verdict

The Surface Pro 6's significantly longer battery life and fast 8th-gen Intel processor make this the Windows 2-in-1 to beat.

The Surface Pro has long been our favorite detachable 2-in-1 laptop, but one thing has held it back from hanging with the best full-fledged laptops: short battery life. It's not easy to squeeze a lot of juice out of such a thin design. Well, we have some good news.

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The new Surface Pro 6 (starting at $799, $1,428.98 as tested) lasted nearly 2 hours longer on our battery test than its predecessor while delivering a lot more speed via its 8th-generation quad-core Core i5 processor. The lack of USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports continues to be a bummer, but overall, this is easily one of the best tablets for work and play.

Update Aug 27: Microsoft has sent out invites for an Oct. 2 event. The company is expected to announce a new Surface Pro 7. We still recommend the Surface Pro 6, especially if you can find it at a discount.

Surface Pro 6 Quick Summary

  • The Surface Pro 6 lasted a strong 9 hours and 20 minutes on our web surfing battery test, nearly 2 hours longer than the Surface Pro 5's 7:30. 
  • Expect blazing speed from this 2-in-1, with performance scores about 47 percent higher than the last model.
  • The new matte black color looks sleek, but you still don't get a USB-C port. That likely won't come until the Surface Pro 7.
  • Don't be fooled by the starting price. The cost with keyboard and pen is $1,128 for 128GB of storage. The 256GB version costs a steep $1,428 with all the accessories.

Surface Pro 6 price and configuration options

The Surface Pro 6 starts at $799 for a Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, but that's misleading. The vast majority of people will want to add the keyboard, which brings the price up to $928, and if you get the Surface Pen the total goes to $1,028.

I would opt for 256GB of storage if I were paying my own money, but that mushrooms the price with all the accessories to $1,228. Microsoft should not be charging $300 to go from 128GB to 256GB of storage.

Other configuration options include a model with Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage for $1,699 before you add a keyboard and pen. And there's even a 1TB option with the same CPU and RAM for $2,099. Note that you can't get the matte- black version of the Surface Pro 6 with 128GB of storage, so you're looking at a minimum of $999.

Design

The Surface Pro 6 returns with pretty much the same formula as previous models with a slight tweak. You still get three primary modes -- tablet, laptop and studio with the kickstand extended 165 degrees.

But there's now a matte-black finish option, which we received for this review. The dark hue makes this 0.33-inch thin magnesium beauty look even slimmer than before. The black exterior also did a nice job resisting fingerprints, and it has a slightly gritty texture that makes the casing easy to grip.

The metal kickstand on the Surface Pro 6 remains easy to maneuver. This 2-in-1 bounced around a bit in my lap as I typed, but it felt sturdy and stable enough. My only real complaint with the design is the somewhat thick bezels around the display. It feels a bit less modern next to the Dell XPS 13.

The Surface Pro 6 weighs just 1.7 pounds as a tablet and a still very light 2.4 pounds with the keyboard attached. By comparison, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro weighs 1.4 pounds as a slate and 2.28 pounds with its keyboard.

Surface Pro 6 Specs

Price: From $799 (tablet only); $1,028 with keyboard and pen
CPU: 8th-gen Intel Core i5, Core i7
RAM: 8GB or 16GB
SSD: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB
Display: 12.3 inches (2736 x 1824 pixels)
Battery: 9 hours and 20 minutes
Ports: 1 USB 3.0, DisplayPort, Surface Connect, microSD, headphone
Cameras: Rear: 8 MP; Front: 5 MP
Size: 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.33 inches
Weight: 1.7 pounds (tablet), 2.4 pounds (with keyboard)

Ports

Call it stubbornness or simply a desire to stick with its proprietary docking connector, but for whatever reason Microsoft refused to embrace USB-C on the Surface Pro 6. That means you can't use USB-C for charging or plug in a growing array of USB-C peripherals and Thunderbolt 3 docks.

You'll have to use Microsoft's own Surface Connect port to plug into the company's $199 Surface Connect dock if you want to output to a couple of monitors at the same time. I do like how Microsoft's connector lights up when attached.

In addition to the Surface Connect port, the right side houses a USB 3.0 port and a mini DisplayPort. The left side is home to the headphone jack. If you want to expand the storage, the microSD card slot is located underneath the kickstand.

Display

The 12.3-inch PixelSense display on the Surface Pro 6 is one of the better ones you'll find on a 2-in-1. This panel is not just sharp at 2736 x 1824 pixels, it's also remarkably bright and colorful. When I watched the Aquaman trailer on the Surface Pro 6's screen, Jason Momoa's scaly gold superhero uniform gleamed, and the red laser beams coming from Black Manta popped off the screen.

Our lab results mostly backed up my immersive viewing experience, starting with a brightness reading of 408 nits. That beats the Surface Pro 5 (396 nits) but the ThinkPad X1 Tablet reached a higher 415 nits. The Galaxy Tab S4's OLED screen reached 463 nits and the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro reached 484 nits.

When I watched the Aquaman trailer on the Surface Pro 6's screen, Jason Momoa's scaly gold superhero uniform gleamed, and the red laser beams coming from Black Manta popped off the screen.

According to our colorimeter, the Surface Pro 6's display covers a good 136 percent of the sRGB color gamut. That's better than the ThinkPad X1 Tablet (118 percent) and the XPS 13 (117 percent at 1080p,130 percent at 4K). The 12.9-inch iPad Pro notched 128.4 percent, and the Galaxy Tab S4 destroyed them all at 219 percent.

MORE: Laptops with the Best Display Brightness

Expect accurate colors from this screen, as it scored a Delta-E rating of 0.56 (0 is perfect). That's about the same as last year's Surface (0.5). The iPad Pro scored an even better 0.29.

Audio

The two front-firing speakers on the Surface Pro 6 deliver loud and clear audio. In fact, the sound is so good I gave my Amazon Echo Show a rest and used the Surface Pro 6 to rock out to some early-2000 hits in my kitchen. Microsoft's tablet easily filled the room with Beyonce's Halo; her vocals soared without getting harsh at max volume and the piano sounded crisp.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The typing experience on the Surface Pro 6's keyboard is remarkably good for a 2-in-1. The layout offers 1.3 mm of key travel, which is cushy given how thin the Type Cover is. By comparison, the iPad Pro's keyboard has only 0.5mm of travel.

On the 10Fastfingers typing test, I typed my typical 65 to 70 words per minute, but I made a few more errors compared to my MacBook Pro. I was in the 90 percent range, when I'm usually closer to 95 percent.

The standard black keyboard costs $129, but if you want a soft-touch experience and a pop of color, you can spring for a $159 Alcantara Type Cover in Platinum, Cobalt Blue or Burgundy.

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The glass touchpad on the Surface Pro 6 is as precise as ever. Scrolling was smooth and gestures like switching apps with three fingers worked well. My only nitpick is that that clicking down on the touchpad is fairly loud.

Surface Pen

Microsoft charges an extra $99 for the Surface Pen, but if you're buying the Surface Pro 6 this accessory is worth the splurge.

Not only does the pen offer 4,096 levels of sensitivity and a rubber eraser on the back, you can use tilt for shading in various apps.

I'm not an artist by any stretch, but I appreciated the smooth inking and lack of lag when drawing and sketching in the included Sketchpad and Paint 3D apps.

The Surface Pen also comes in handy when you're annotating in apps like the Microsoft Edge browser, making handwritten notes in the Mail app and penciling in edits in Microsoft Word.

Performance

Compared with the last Surface Pro, the Surface Pro 6 is a major leap forward in performance, thanks to its 8th-generation, quad-core Core i5-8250U processor and 8GB of RAM. (Serious power users can step that up to a Core i7 chip and 16GB of RAM.)

Even with 28 tabs open in Chrome, the Surface Pro 6 delivered smooth performance as I wrote this review, streamed music from Spotify and watched some of my favorite parts of Black Panther on the Netflix app.

On Geekbench 4, which measures overall performance, the Surface Pro 6 scored 13,025. That's nearly 50 percent better than what the 7th-gen Core i7-powered Surface Pro 5 turned in last year (8,879). The Surface Pro 6 also beat the ThinkPad X1 with a 8th-gen Core i5 chip (12,772) and came in slightly behind the Samsung Note 9 Pen (Core i7; 13,129).

The Galaxy Tab S4 and its older Snapdragon 835 processor didn't stand a chance (6,592), while the last-gen 12-inch iPad Pro notched an amazing score of 17,995, thanks to its A12X Bionc chip.

Surface Pro 6 delivered smooth performance as I wrote this review, streamed music from Spotify and watched some of my favorite parts of Black Panther on Netflix.

The Surface Pro 6 also made quick work of our Excel test, which involves matching 65,000 names and addresses. With a time of 1 minute and 12 seconds, Microsoft's slate was neck and neck with the ThinkPad X1's 1:13. The Samsung Notebook 9 Pen took a bit longer at 1:31.

On our file copy test, which measures SSD performance, it took the new Surface Pro 22 seconds to copy 4.9GB worth of files, which equals a rate of 231 MBps. By comparison, the ThinkPad X1 hit 318 MBps and the Notebook 9 pen notched 283 MBps. The premium laptop average is even higher at 488.4 MBps.

MORE: Laptops with the Best Productivity Performance

The Intel UHD 620 graphics card inside the Surface Pro 6 is certainly powerful enough to handle casual games. On the Dirt 3 racing game, for example, this 2-in-1 hit 80.9 frames per second. That beats the ThinkPad X1 (74 fps) and the Samsung Notebook 9 Pen (47 fps).

Battery Life

Easily the best thing about the Surface Pro 6 is its improved endurance. On the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing at 150 nits of screen brightness, the Surface Pro 6 lasted a strong 9 hours and 20 minutes. That's nearly 2 hours better than the 2017 Surface Pro (7:30) and more than 3 hours longer than the ThinkPad X1 (5:59).

Easily the best thing about the Surface Pro 6 is its improved endurance.

Among tablets powered by more efficient ARM processors, the Galaxy Tab S4 fared only a bit better than the Surface Pro 6 with a runtime of 9:34. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro, however, endured for an epic 13 hours and 14 minutes.

MORE: Longest Battery Life Laptops

The Surface Pro 6's longevity impressed me in everyday use as well. While writing this review, juggling lots of tabs in Chrome and occasionally streaming music and video, this slate still had 40 percent juice left after 4 hours of testing.

Cameras

The rear 8-MP camera on the Surface Pro will do in a pinch, and this slate is certainly light enough to use as a camera out in the field, but I wouldn't expect the sharpest photos.

Take this picture of a sunlit tree and bicycle. There's a rich green in the leaves and grass, and I like that the camera rendered the clouds accurately, but the bike looked noisy when I zoomed in.


In a photo of a Halloween decoration, I could make out a fair amount of detail in the character's orange hat, yellow bow and green overalls, but her straw hair looks a bit blown out in spots.


The 5-MP front camera will be perfectly fine for Skype chats and other video-calling apps. It did a nice job capturing the deep blue in my shirt while gathering plenty of ambient light from a nearby window.



The front camera also supports Windows Hello, which makes it easy to log in to the Surface Pro 6 by simply starting at the front of the device. In most cases I was back to work in just a second.

 

Bottom Line

The Surface Pro 6 isn't for everyone. It's for people who will truly benefit from having a detachable 2-in-1 that's light enough to carry anywhere and flexible enough to use as a tablet or laptop.

But if you're in the market for that kind of device, Microsoft's convertible is the one to buy. The Surface Pro 6 is not only significantly faster than its predecessor, it lasts a lot longer on a charge, which means in many cases you'll be able to leave the charger behind. The new iPad Pro 12.9-inch is even faster than the Surface Pro 6 and offers longer battery life, but its keyboard lacks a touchpad and iOS simply isn't as productivity-friendly as Windows (at least for now).

I wish Microsoft charged less for 256GB of storage and that it offered USB Type-C on this device, but otherwise, the Surface Pro 6 offers a nearly perfect combination of performance, endurance and ergonomic comfort. And if you want a digital pen, the integration with Windows 10 is excellent. Microsoft has once again made the productivity 2-in-1 to beat.

Credit: Laptop Mag

Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, Editor-in-Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptopmag.com, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, Editor-in-Chief on
CPU Intel Core 8th Gen i5 or i7
Operating System Windows 10 Pro
RAM 8GB
RAM Upgradable to 16GB
Hard Drive Size
Hard Drive Speed
Hard Drive Type
Secondary Hard Drive Size
Secondary Hard Drive Speed
Secondary Hard Drive Type
Display Size 12.3
Highest Available Resolution 2736 x 1824
Native Resolution 2736 x 1824
Optical Drive
Optical Drive Speed
Graphics Card Intel UHD Graphics 620 (i5) Intel UHD Graphics 620 (i7)
Video Memory
Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
Wi-Fi Model Wi-Fi: 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless networking, IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n compatible,
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.1
Mobile Broadband
Touchpad Size
Ports (excluding USB) Surface Connect
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) MicroSDXC card reader
Ports (excluding USB) Mini DisplayPort
Ports (excluding USB) USB 3.0
USB Ports
Card Slots microSD
Warranty/Support 1-year limited hardware warranty
Size 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.33 inches
Weight i5: 1.70 lbs (770 g) i7: 1.73 lbs (784 g)
Company Website http://www.microsoft.com