January 19, 2013, 7:25 AM — Looks can be deceiving, and that's definitely the case with Microsoft's upcoming Surface Pro tablet. At first glance, the Surface Pro seems barely different than the Surface RT. Thicker, sure, but a casual once-over could miss that detail, and it otherwise mimics the size and aesthetic of its ARM-powered predecessor.
Scratching that VaporMg surface reveals a whole different story, however. The Surface Pro might appear to be a simple tablet on the outside, but its insides are pure Ultrabook, sporting notebook-grade internals and connection options. The tablet also sports an Ultrabook-esque price tag, starting at $899--and that's before you spend another $120 or $130 for a must-have Touch or Type Cover.
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All in all, you're likely to drop at least $1020 on Microsoft's flagship tablet.
Comparing the Surface Pro against mainstream tablets seems a bit like comparing apples to oranges when you take all that into consideration. So how does Microsoft's slate stack up to its true competition? We decided to pit the Surface Pro's specs against five of the best laptops you can pick up for around $1000 to find out.
The baseline: Microsoft's Surface Pro
The more you examine the Surface Pro, the more Ultrabook-like it becomes. In addition to running the full-fledged version of Windows 8 on a full-fledged, dual-core Core i5 processor, the tablet rocks 64GB of storage (or 128GB for an extra $100), 4GB of RAM, and a 10.6-inch, full 1080p (1920 by 1080) display that puts the 1366 by 768 resolution of the Surface RT to shame. You'll also find a solitary mini-DisplayPort and USB 3.0 ports gracing the slate's side, along with a micro-SDXC slot. (Although the Surface Pro's storage is small for an Ultrabook, that issue has become less important in the age of the cloud, and its specs otherwise make it comparable to an Ultrabook.)
Perhaps more crucially, the Surface Pro is smaller in volume than even a netbook and, at 0.53 inch thick, only slightly larger than many ARM-powered tablets. The Pro's 2-pound weight is a wee bit heavy for a tablet--the iPad's weight is just shy of 1.5 pounds--but tremendously light for a laptop of any breed. The same holds true for the Pro's 0.55-inch thickness, which is far, far slimmer than any laptop on the market. That portability could be major selling point for mobility-minded business users.
If the Surface Pro's lightness is a blessing, its battery life may just be a curse. Microsoft has said that the Surface Pro will last about half as long as the Surface RT on a charge, which means the Surface Pro should have a battery life of roughly 4 to 5 hours. That's comparable to many Windows 8 hybrids, short for a standard Ultrabook, and downright skimpy for a tablet.
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13
We've already established that the Surface Pro is best considered more of a hybrid-style Windows 8 device than a proper tablet, and Lenovo's touch-friendly IdeaPad Yoga 13 is arguably a truly unique hybrid. Its 360-degree flip-back hinge can convert the device from tablet to laptop and back again in seconds, and the hinge is durable enough to act as a stand for the device during tablet use.
Underneath the flashy exterior, however, the Yoga is a fairly conventional Ultrabook. The base $999 version fails to meet many of the the Surface Pro's base specs, offering "just" a Core i3 processor and a 1600 x 900 screen resolution. Only about half of the advertised 128GB of storage on the Yoga's SSD is available for users, but, hey, the Surface Pro won't make its full 64GB drive available, either. Remember that the 64GB version of the Surface RT has only about 45GB of storage available, and the full-fledged Windows 8 OS found on the Surface Pro will likely consume even more space.
How it compares to the Pro: The Surface Pro and the IdeaPad Yoga 13 have a lot in common on paper, especially if you can get by with the Yoga's Core i3 processor. The choice basically boils down to a matter of preference. Would you like a tablet that can be a laptop (the Surface Pro) or a laptop that can be a tablet (the Yoga)? The IdeaPad Yoga's superb keyboard and touchpad may be the decision maker for people who spend the day banging away at productivity-focused tasks.
The M14x is Alienware's smallest and least expensive gaming laptop. The $999 baseline model features a dual-core Core i5 processor paired with Nvidia's discrete GT 650M graphics processor. The Alienware M14x's 6GB of RAM trumps the Surface Pro's 4GB, but its 500GB (or larger) hard drive is of the mechanical variety. Those spinning platters offer plenty of space for games, but aren't nearly as speedy as an SSD in terms of pure access times. You can rectify the situation if you have a bit more cash on hand, though, as Alienware offers a cornucopia of configuration options for the M14x.
This monster isn't made for traveling, however--it weighs 6.45 pounds and measures 1.5 inches thick. On the other hand, it puts its extra inches to good use by working in a disc drive and a top-notch keyboard and touchpad. Plus, the M14x is veritably bristling with ports. Too bad about the ho-hum, 1366 by 768 default display, though.
How it compares to the Pro: C'mon now--these are two different beasts entirely. One is for gamers, while the other is targeted towards suit-and-tie types. The Alienware M14x is faster than the Pro in every area besides the hard drive and can easily handle games that the Surface Pro would choke on. A lot of sacrifices have to be made at the altar of speed, however, not the least of which is the Alienware's brutal bulk. The Surface Pro will be useful in situations where the M14x is a literal pain in the neck.