Although the world is waiting for Microsoft to reveal the Surface Phone, there’s another popular Surface device that could be with us in the very near future. Although unconfirmed, the time is right for an update to the Surface Pro family. What would a Microsoft Surface Pro 5 be like?
The Surface Pro 4 was released in October 2015, and was an evolutionary update to the Surface Pro 3, offering a screen that was physically and digitally larger than the Surface Pro 3 and an ultraportable was lighter and thinner. It was a worthy update that showcased Windows 10 while offering an insight in Microsoft’s thoughts on mobile hardware design.
Although Microsoft skipped over an update last October (instead placing the focus on the Surface Studio) a new Surface Pro machine would keep the hardware at the top of the tree – it’s not necessarily about the high volume of sales (although that helps) it’s about showcasing Windows with the best possible hardware. In the eighteen months or so since the Pro 4 was ‘locked in’ on the manufacturing line there are a number of updates that I believe Redmond will want to use.
The touch screen has been an important part of the Surface range, and you can expect the Pro 5 to come with new display technology to improve the accuracy of the touch screen both for fingers and for the Surface Pen. It’s also time for the resolution to step up and a 4K screen on the Pro 5 would be one of the biggest visible changes on the tablet.
Another change should be a complete switch to USB-C for external ports. Apple has drawn a lot of heat for this decision first with the 12-inch MacBook and lately with the MacBook Pro, but Windows 10 manufacturers are making similar choices (such as the HP Spectre 13). the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book rightly skipped over USB-C but the time now feels right to make the jump, even though I’d much prefer to see at least one legacy USB port on the hardware.
The expectation is that the Surface Pro 5 will use Intel’s seventh-generation Core processors. The Kaby Lake chips are becoming available in greater quantities, and offers a number of processing advantages in graphics and speed, but crucially offering better battery life for mobile machines.
The use of Kaby Lake architecture would also give the Surface Pro 5 bragging rights over the latest MacBook Pro machines from Apple, which run the previous generation of Intel chips.
Add in the general increase in power and specification that can still be found within Moore’s Law and the Surface Pro 5 starts to look like a very desirable machine. What isn’t on show (yet) would be the visionary changes that could change the Pro 5 from an evolutionary update to a revolutionary one. These are harder to find and as technology improves there are fewer opportunities to really make a difference – Apple’s TouchBar on the new MacBook Pro is one example that promotes change in a device while retaining the evolutionary nature of modern updates.
I could also argue that Microsoft has already released its equivalent of the TouchBar in the Surface Dial, which should have compatibility with the Pro 5.
I expect to see some major changes made to the Surface Pen, and that accessory would anchor the ‘what’s exciting and new’ part of the presentation. A switch to a rechargeable model makes sense, and if it was to incorporate wireless charging that would kick in whenever it was attached to the Pro 5’s body that would be an elegant solution that promotes innovation.
Then there’s the question of a replacement to the Surface 3. Released in 2015, it was more focused on the mid-range market with an Intel Atom chipset that has been widely seen in smaller portable Windows 10 machines. There was never a Surface 4, with Microsoft instead pushing towards the ‘ultimate specifications’ style for the Surface range with the Pro 4. With rumors of Microsoft using a SnapDragon 835 chip in a new Surface machine and a smaller 2K resolution screen, perhaps there are two machines in development – a cheaper portable Surface 5 and the ‘all-up’ Surface Pro 5.
It would be a return to a previous strategy, but it’s not one that I would be comfortable ruling out just yet.
Timing wise, Microsoft has just released the beta of the next major update to Windows 10. Forbes’ Gordon Kelly has looked at the Windows 10 Creators Update, which pushes the idea of third-party application integration, VR and mixed reality, and improved 3D tools. A further major update to Windows 10 is expected later in the year which will focus on mobile compatibility. If you assume that Microsoft will be releasing a Surface Phone, the time to do that would be in Q4 along with the mobile-focused update.
This latter point could prove crucial, as Microsoft came in for serious criticism for the battery life of its hardware devices, particularly the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book
As for release date, we’re expecting Microsoft to keep to its usual October launch cycle, as it has done with previous Surface devices.
However with the next generation of Windows 10 software set to be launched in April, the company could yet spring a surprise and reveal the Surface Pro 5 then – we’ll just have to wait and see.
Should I wait for the Microsoft Surface Pro 5?
Thinking about waiting around for the Microsoft Surface Pro 5? Here’s advice from our eternally wise Computing Editor, Michael Passingham:
Based on what we think we know about the Microsoft Surface Pro 5, most prospective Surface Pro 4 owners shouldn’t worry much. You should definitely wait until this evening before buying, just in case a new device is announced, of course. But if it isn’t announced today then you could happily buy a Surface Pro 4 without worrying the Pro 5 is going to utterly obliterate it in four month’s time.
What’s more, with the Surface Pro 4 getting cheaper, it’s a good-value buy in its own right, no matter what happens with the Surface Pro 5.
There are loads of Surface alternatives available now, as well. The Samsung Galaxy TabPro S is probably the best alternative out there, with a fantastic screen and decent performance, while the Asus Transformer Book 3 Pro is about as close to a Surface Pro 4 you can get while costing a little less.
If you wanted to give the Microsoft Surface Pro 5 clear air when it is announced and goes on sale so it can capture as much media attention as possible, a spring announcement feels like the best time to do it. You can use the Creators Update as the hook to hang the release on, the wider availability of Intel’s Kaby Lake architecture gives your specifications more polish and legitimacy, and it offsets the spring updates of the Pro machines with the potential updates to the Surface Book in autumn.