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You never have to leave the office behind
Now, we’ll start to get into what sets the Surface Pro apart from other tablets. Though others offer some minor-league productivity software, none of them give you access to the full ecosystem of Windows office applications. This is where we expect the Surface to shine.
We’ll start, of course, with the cornerstone of the Windows productivity world—Microsoft Office. Although it’s not fully integrated with the tablet interface, Microsoft has clearly spent some effort getting the programs ready for tablet use, with a number of touch-centric features.
The redesigned ribbon, with its flat aesthetic, is well-suited for touch use. The menu buttons are spaced far enough apart, and the programs can tell when you press one with your finger rather than a mouse. When you do, a separate version of the ribbon is displayed, which is slightly larger and spaces the buttons farther apart for easier touch. The applications also allow you to swipe to pan around your documents, and feature pinch-to-zoom. All the gesture recognition is highly responsive and smooth.
Additionally, all the software works with the stylus. Simply bring the stylus anywhere near the screen and a previously hidden Pen menu appears, which allows you draw or highlight anywhere on your document. This feature works essentially identically across Word, Excel, and PowerPoint—your scribblings occupy a layer of their own, unrelated to whatever document is beneath them, but it’s pretty handy for making quick notes on a shared document.
OneNote has always been a black sheep in the Office family, but the note-taking application really comes into its own on the Surface Pro. The stylus is great for drawing quick diagrams or taking handwritten notes, and the program’s infinitely scrolling notepad conceit is greatly enhanced by the ability to pan and zoom with your fingers. Though Evernote has long been our note-taking application of choice, OneNote really seems like the better pick on the Surface Pro.
Neither the tablet version of Evernote (pictured) nor the desktop version is a perfect fit for the Surface Pro.
OneNote’s never been as useful as it is on the Surface.
The Office UIs look perfectly crisp under the standard 150 percent magnification, and respond well when the screen changes orientations. A lot of programs end up improperly maximized when you switch from landscape to portrait mode and back, but Office works great—handy when you want to type a document using the Type Cover, then detach it and do some quick editing with the stylus.
Performance-wise, Office gets a pass. We opened large documents in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint at the same time, without putting a dent in the Surface Pro’s performance.
File-syncing apps are no problem, of course—the Surface Pro comes with some free SkyDrive space, but we didn’t have any issues using Dropbox, SugarSync, and Google Drive. The Pro’s limited hard drive space (just under 90GB is usable on the 128GB model) means packrats will have to think twice about syncing their whole Dropbox.
There are two ways to use Evernote on the Surface Pro. There’s a tablet version of the program in the Microsoft Store, which is pretty watered-down, features-wise but has a nice interface, and there’s the normal desktop client. The desktop client’s interface is a little hard to use without a mouse or the stylus, but the “Ink Notes” feature works very well for pressure-sensitive sketching.
If you’re looking for a tablet that can give you access to high-quality productivity tools, the Surface Pro is probably the best choice for you. Other tablets like the iPad offer some decent document-creating power, but they can’t compete with the feature set of the real-deal Office suite.