Microsoft Surface Pro 6: Light, Portable, Productive
Steven Schain posted on March 05, 2019 |

With approximately 75% of computers running on a Windows operating system, Microsoft is clearly a giant in the computer software industry. And, some notable exceptions aside (I’m looking at you Windows ME and 8), they have managed to consistently create operating systems that are simultaneously powerful and intuitive. Because of this, when Microsoft announced in 2012 that they were jumping into the hardware world, I felt confident that they the user experience would be a top consideration. Now on its sixth generation, the Microsoft Surface Pro continues to prove that Microsoft remains laser focused on creating a computing experience that is not only functional, but also a whole lot of fun to use. 

Starting at $899, the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 can be customized to suit most user’s needs. Although designers or engineers that tend to work on large assemblies may find that the system drags more than they would like, it is easily powerful enough for general design use. And, with the option of a pressure-sensitive stylus and standard touch-screen, the Surface Pro 6 ranks along with the Wacom Cintiq for visual artists.

Without the Type Cover, the 12.3-inch Surface Pro 6 weighs in at a teeny tiny 1.73 lbs. and is just 0.33” thick—it’s thin, light, and has a refined look. The Intel i7-8650U, coupled with an Intel UHD Graphics 620, delivers just enough power for most tasks, but can be a bit limiting with more computing-intensive applications.  

First Impressions

The first thing you notice about the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 is that it really is impressively thin. The high-tech black finish also gives it a modern, professional appearance. 

The kickstand on the back works just like you would want it to. You can adjust the kickstand to lie flat in studio mode or stand up to work in a laptop configuration with the optional keyboard cover. 

The 12.3-in 4K IPS UHD touch-screen display offers a rich visual experience. Although I felt that the screen could be just a touch brighter, it was just fine for everyday use.  I had no problem seeing the screen in a bright indoor room, but, as with most laptops, it was a little hard to discern in direct sunlight.

Navigation

Unlike most computers, the keyboard / trackpad of the Surface Pro 6 is an optional feature that is not included in the base price. Instead, the removable keyboard will cost you an extra $159.99. The keyboard is fine for regular typing, but the diminutive size does feel uncomfortably cramped when typing for longer periods. 

Users can quickly change from laptop mode to tablet mode. Tablet mode can be navigated using finger-based gesture input, or with the optional stylus.

Security

With Windows 10 Pro coming standard, the Surface Pro 6 is pretty secure out-of-the-box. I was particularly impressed with the Microsoft Windows Hello, which utilizes the infrared camera built into the bezel in order to confirm user identity.

Connectivity

As with most machines that are as the Surface Edge Pro, you have to sacrifice some inputs and outputs. Along one side, the system includes the power port, USB 3.0 port, and a Mini Display port. On the other, just a standard headphone jack. If you look closely behind the kickstand, however, you will find a nearly hidden microSDXC card reader. The power button and volume rocker are located on the top side of the display.

While I do understand the size limitations, and you can use a USB hub with the existing port to expand the I/O, I still would have liked to have seen at least a USB-C port or two. 

If you want to connect to a network, you can opt for an RJ–45 dongle, but I recommend springing for the Microsoft Surface Dock instead. With four USB 3.0 ports, a gigabit Ethernet port, and high-definition video ports, the dock makes it super simple to connect into everything you would want in a traditional office setup.

Specifications

As configured, the Surface Pro 6 I reviewed cost $1,899 with an Intel Core i7-8650U CPU with four cores and 8 threads, along with an 8 MB cache running at 1.9GHz. There are 16GB of RAM and a 512GB solid-state SSD.

The 12.3in UHD (3840 x 2160) IPS multi-touch display is coupled with an Intel UHD Graphics 620 - a mid-range mobile graphics card based on Intel’s graphics architecture. 

If you don’t require features quite that robust, check out the entry-level option. Starting at just $899, the entry-level machine includes the 8th Gen Intel Core i5 processor and Windows 10 Home operating system. For $1,499, you can upgrade to an 8th Gen Intel Core i7 and Windows 10 Home, or splurge for the business version that features an Intel Core i7 processor and Microsoft’s 4K PixelSense display running Windows 10 Pro for $2,349.

Battery Life

According to Microsoft, the 8.72 Volt, 5405 mAh battery should provide 13.5 hours of battery life. 

In my first battery test, I put the machine through the ringer by using only the dedicated 620 graphics option, turning it up to full brightness, and continuously playing 1080P video at full screen. In these abnormally rigorous conditions, I was still able to get just under 7 hours and 20 minutes of runtime. While this may sound less than ideal, when I performed the same test on the Lenovo Thinkpad P1, it lasted for just 3 hours – less than a quarter of what the manufacturer promised. 

Next, I wanted to see how much battery life I could squeeze out of the machine. I adjusted the screen brightness all the way back to 25%. Then, I settled in to spend some time checking email and reading documents. Under far less intense conditions, the battery lasted for just 9 hours and 37 minutes. I have to admit that, after the first test produced relatively good results, I was a bit disappointed by the relatively minor uptick. 

Camera and Sound

The Surface Pro 6 features an IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac compatible Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Wireless 4.1 technology. The built-in camera HD camera and microphone work well for video conferencing, with decent low light performance. The front facing camera is available for taking photos, use it for video conferencing too. 

Two small speakers are mounted just below the top of the screen on either side of the display. The speaker volume is fair, but the sound lacks depth and is missing any low end. 

The Display

The 12.3-in PixelSense Display panel is a 2736 x 1824 IPS touch screen with HDR capability. I used the Datacolor Spyder 5 Elite monitor calibration system to check for brightness, and measured an average of 381.3 nits at 100 percent brightness. The black level was recorded at 0.32 nits, which provided a 1180:1 contrast ratio. 

I set the screen to 100 percent brightness to record variance. On this particular laptop, I recorded 422.3 nits (or cd/m2) at its brightest, and 328.7 nits at its dimmest.  

I used sRGB and Adobe RGB color spaces to test the screen, and was a little disappointed that it was only able to display 96% of the sRGB and 74% of the AdobeRGB Color Spaces. Truthfully, though this sounds like a pretty poor performance, I don’t think that this limitation is going to be readily apparent to most everyday computer users. I still found that 4K video displayed beautifully and was a lot of fun to watch. 

I also wanted to test the color accuracy on the out-of-the-box display. Without an color correction, the Surface Pro 6 recorded a Delta-E of 3.36, which means that it would be very difficult for the human eye to perceive any color variation. 

Performance and Benchmarks

With its 4-core/8-thread, 8thgeneration, Intel Core i7-8650U processor running at 1.9GHz, the Surface Pro 6 with 16GB of RAM is adequate for most office road warriors. The battery life proved to be pretty good, even when streaming full-screen video, and its size makes it the definition of portability. I had no problem working in most programs, but this system is not able to handle large files quite like other 2-in-1’s, such as the HP ZBook Studio x360 with its dedicated graphics. 

Scores

The Surface Pro 6 has an average multi-core Cinebench 15 score of just 655, so it is probably not going to be the first system you will want to turn to for compute-heavy rendering tasks. This score puts the Surface Pro 6 toward the bottom of the 2-in-1 pack in terms of raw multi-core processing. But, to be fair, that’s about what should be expected from its 1.9GHz processor.

I ran the system through Geekbench 4.1 and received a single CPU score of 4592 and a multi-CPU score of 13866. This reiterates that the Surface Pro 6 comes in toward the bottom of the list in terms of laptop performance. While it is a great little computer to take with you on the road, this machine is just not powerful enough for serious engineering work.

The system’s overall Passmark rating of 3793 puts the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 in the 76th percentile compared to other systems in its class.

The Surface Pro 6 offers ample memory and CPU power. The SPEC benchmarks reach similar benchmark conclusions. The 1.9GHz Intel i7 processor doesn’t compete with other, faster multi-core processors. And, while the Intel UHD Graphics 620 is a fantastic low-power graphics option, I find it a bit underpowered for any heavy 3D design work. 

Conclusion

Since the first-generation Surface was released in 2012, Microsoft has been proving with each iteration that you can have a good quality laptop that is highly portability. When it comes to design, the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 is up there with my favorites. Despite a few minor issues with screen reflection and limited ports (it really could use at least one USB-C), its lightweight design is a real differentiator. 

However, an average good laptop just isn’t enough to handle most engineering tasks. So, if you are looking a machine that has some real oomph, I would recommend that you look elsewhere. But, if you are looking for a fantastic tool that can be easily thrown into any bag for initial design, planning, and daily computing, the thin design of the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 paired with the beautiful 12.3” PixelSense touch-screen display that doubles as a pen tablet for artists, just might be the answer for you. 

Check out our Video Review of the Microsoft Surface Pro 6.


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