The new Microsoft Surface Pro with LTE Advanced (starts at $1,149; $1,449 as tested) includes a feature that the Editors’ Choice model we reviewed last year lacks: LTE connectivity. This means you can stay online anywhere with this 2-in-1 hybrid tablet. Pairing 4G with some of the best hardware on the market could make this a game-changer for professionals who need to take their internet-based work on the go.
This 1.79-pound Surface Pro is pretty much identical to the non-LTE model, and shares the same dimensions, measuring a slim 0.33 by 11.5 by 7.9 inches (HWD). Since the design details are the same, you can read about the display, keyboard, ports, kickstand, stylus, and more in our review of the non-LTE Surface Pro.
The one exterior change required for the LTE version of the Surface Pro is a SIM card slot, which is located on the rear panel, beneath the kickstand. With the kickstand extended, you can access the slot and eject the tray by poking into a pinhole using the provided tool. To install a SIM card, simply pop it into the tray and push it back into the slot.
The design of the LTE version remains the same as the non-LTE model, but the internal components we’re testing this time around are different. The $2,199 Surface Pro we reviewed last year packed a Core i7 processor, 16GB of memory, and a 512GB SSD, while the model we’re testing here is configured with a Core i5-7300U, 8GB of memory, and a 256GB SSD and rings up at a more modest $1,449. There’s only one other configuration of the LTE version available: a base model with a 128GB SSD and 4GB of memory for $1,149. There’s a much wider range of options for the non-LTE Surface Pro, starting at $799 for the base model all the way up to a $2,699 top-of-the-line version. As with the non-LTE Surface Pro, the Signature Type Cover ($159.99) and Surface Pen ($99.99) are sold separately.
Keep Computing, Anywhere
This Surface Pro supports connectivity on 20 LTE bands, for service in nearly any country. Combine that with dual-band Wi-Fi, and the Surface Pro’s ability to seamlessly switch between the two when you move out of range or your connection drops.
I didn’t get to take the Surface Pro country hopping, but I did put the LTE connection through its paces in PC Labs and throughout New York city, using both T-Mobile and Verizon SIM cards. When disconnected from Wi-Fi, the Surface Pro immediately switched over to cellular data without a hitch. Just like with a smartphone, speeds are connection-dependent. My desk has weak connectivity, but the same is true for my Galaxy Note 8. Elsewhere in the office, and in other parts of New York, the signal was strong, with sites and videos loading quickly.
Using Ookla Speedtest in our office to gather results, the Surface Pro with LTE Advanced averaged 46.81Mbps up and 22.22Mbps down on Verizon’s network, while my Galaxy Note 8 averaged 54.6Mbps up and 10.12 down on Verizon. Results of these tests will vary based on time and location, but the Surface Pro’s speed consistently fell at or near other efficient LTE devices when tested in the same conditions. (Note: Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis, PCMag.com’s parent company.)
Since this configuration is different from the model we previously reviewed, I also put the Surface Pro’s components through our standard PC benchmarks. Though it’s not on par with the speedier Core i7 model, the CPU still produced a solid score on the PCMark 8 Work Conventional test. The non-LTE Surface Pro scored higher, but not substantially so, and the HP Spectre X2 was in the same ballpark. The less expensive Lenovo IdeaPad Miix 520 scored higher, but resolution impacts PCMark scores, and the IdeaPad’s HD resolution isn’t nearly as demanding as the Pro’s high-res 2,736-by-1,824 screen. That said, multimedia test results weren’t as impressive; landing the Surface Pro at the back of the pack.
Given the lack of a discrete graphics card in most 2-in-1s, we don’t expect high frame rates, and that’s the case with the Surface Pro. Professionals who work in 3D, animation, and modeling will be happier with the Microsoft Surface Book 2, as it’s still thin and light, but is powered by a discrete Nvidia graphics card.
Powerful, Versatile, and Well Connected
The Surface Pro with LTE Advanced isn’t as powerful as the high-end configuration of the non-LTE model we previously tested, but it costs significantly less. While the maximum performance potential for the LTE version is lower, given the available configurations, adding cellular data is potentially invaluable for professionals who need to take their work away from working Wi-Fi. There may be slimmer and quicker convertibles or ultraportables out there, but if you need LTE, the excellent hardware of the Surface Pro makes it a very attractive option.
If you can do without the LTE service and are looking to save some cash, the Editors’ Choice Dell Inspiron 13 7000 (7378) is a sound alternative. If you really want to slash prices, the Acer Switch 3 is an excellent, affordable detachable 2-in-1. But keep in mind that other “always-on” alternatives are hitting the market, including LTE-enabled laptops and convertibles armed with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processors like the HP Envy x2 and the Asus NovaGo. These notebooks not only offer cellular connectivity, but also promise battery life of 20 hours or longer. We haven’t reviewed any of these models yet, but we’re anxious to put that battery-life boast to the test.