Surface Family Grows: Mini, Sure, But How About Maxi Too?

Surface Family Grows: Mini, Sure, But How About Maxi Too?

Surface Pro Book, perhaps?

Next week, Microsoft will finally launch the Surface mini, a device that was originally slated to ship alongside the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 last fall. The Surface mini should see some success as a note-taking device, thanks to a superior stylus experience and deep OneNote integration, and that's all well and good. But we also know that Microsoft is launching a second new Surface device this month. And I'm hoping for a large format Surface Pro Ultrabook.

Despite its heavy weight and thickness, I've always considered the Surface Pro to be superior to the Surface RT/2 stable mates. In my review of the original Surface Pro, I noted that Microsoft's first real PC was the nicest Windows 8 device I'd used, and by far, though its various compromises (most obviously battery life) made it less than ideal for some users. And in my Surface Pro 2 review, Microsoft fixed some but not all of the problems with the original device. The worst bit is that it has the same thick and heavy chassis.

Ultimately, while I recognize the quality of Surface Pro/2 (and all Surface devices), it's hard for me to rectify the word "Pro" with a device that features a tiny 10.6-inch screen. Yes, I'm blind as a bat and pretty much require a bigger screen, but that's not it: Outside of Surface, devices with 11-inch and smaller screens are not considered pro devices at all. Real pro devices have 13-inch and larger screens. And if Microsoft is serious about this market, it needs to grow Surface up with a new Pro device, and not just down with its 8-inch mini.

Here is what I'm hoping to see.

Form factor. Ideally, a bigger new Surface Pro—which I'll call Surface Pro Book for sake of clarity—needs to offer a real Ultrabook form factor. That is, it can weigh the same—about 3 pounds with keyboard—as the Surface Pro 2, but must do so in a package that is both bigger (width/height) and thinner, while offering comparable battery life and capabilities. It can offer 2-in-1/transforming capabilities—i.e. can be "like" the Surface 2/Pro 2 with a detachable/clickable keyboard or whatever—but it should work exactly like an Ultrabook when it is configured with that keyboard. It should, in other words, be usable on a lap. Really usable. That will require a "real" keyboard bottom, something that is hard (perhaps housing a battery) and not flexible.

Screen. While I would prefer a 14- or 15-inch widescreen display, in the interests of reality I will recommend that Microsoft shoot for a more conformist 13-inch screen like that offered on the MacBook Air and every other Ultrabook on earth. Resolution will be an issue: With Surface 2 and Pro 2 both offering 1920 x 1080 "Full HD" resolution screens at 10.6 inches, it's hard to imagine Microsoft doing anything less than 2560 x 1400 or whatever on a 13-inch device. Again, I'd prefer something else, but I bow to the wisdom of the mob.

Battery life. Excellent Ultrabooks can get 7-8 hours of real world battery life (or 11-12 hours for an Air), compared to 5- to 7.5 hours of life on Surface Pro 2. Ideally, Book would get better battery life than Pro 2. Realistically, it would not.

Options. Aside from the screen size and form factor, the very worst thing about Surface Pro 2 is that there are only a few models and not can be upgraded at purchase time. You can buy a model with more RAM, for example, and a better (bigger) SSD, but you can't upgrade the processor, RAM, SSD, graphics, or whatever at purchase time. You know, like virtually every other Ultrabook on earth. This needs to change, because a Pro device is not an appliance, it's a computer. Surface Pro Book is an ideal place to start.

More USB. Shipping a modern PC with just one USB port is a crime against humanity. On a 13-inch device, 2 USB 3.0 ports is an absolute minimum, but the good machines all ship with 3. Do the right thing, Microsoft.

Price. This should be obvious, but this device cannot command a premium above the current Surface Pro 2. That is, it should start at $1000 for a similarly configured Book with a keyboard and go up from there.

I don't know what Microsoft intends to deliver next week. But I will say this: If it's anything like the 13-inch Ultrabook/2-in-1 I'm imagining above, I'll buy one immediately.

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