Microsoft's Surface Pro with LTE Advanced blends the go-anywhere connectivity of smartphones with the productivity-enhancing capabilities of a full-fledged PC. It's a combination that makes a compelling case for paying a price premium over the stock Surface Pro models and purchasing a data plan for your PC, although budget conscious-users will want to carefully weigh the pros and the cons.
No Wi-Fi, no problem
In the pro column, frankly, is ubiquitous online access, or at least in those places where you can get reliable mobile broadband coverage. Wherever your cellular provider's coverage maps show the presence of an LTE signal, you can go online, check email and use your SaaS (software-as-a-service) applications without hunting for a coffee shop that provides Wi-Fi.
Frankly, it's a liberating experience to crack open the Surface Pro with 4G LTE and send an email or capture inspiration with a word processing app while sitting on a park bench, just as one would do with a smartphone or tablet. The difference being that you can do those things on a full Windows 10 Pro device with a keyboard and responsive trackpad that supports gestures (more on that later).
Worth the price?
The Surface Pro with LTE Advanced retails for $1,449 (preorders are open now, ships May 1). That gets you a seventh-generation Intel Core i5 processor running at up to 2.6GHz, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD storage. The non-LTE version, which is available now, retails for $1,299.
Small business users will need to decide if the $150 price bump is worth it. And don't forget the extra monthly cost of a data plan.
If your job is a demanding one that often requires completing tasks that need to be addressed immediately and cannot be comfortably accomplished on a smartphone or tablet, then the added cost may be worth it. The seamlessness of the experience makes a compelling case for splurging on the LTE version of the Surface Pro.
Remember, today many phone and service plans support Wi-Fi tethering, a factor that may play into your decision. Tethering allows non-LTE PCs to piggyback on a phone's data plan, a process that takes just seconds after initially configuring both the phone and Windows 10 to create such a connection. It adds a bit more friction to the experience, but it is often the most cost-efficient option.
Here's what you get if you do wind up purchasing a Surface Pro with LTE Advanced.
Enduring, premium style
The LTE version of the Surface Pro looks like the rest of the product line, but with some slight differences.
Like all Surface Pro models, it cuts a sleek profile that will make users forget the boxy business laptops of old. The SIM tray next to the microSD slot and a subtle band across the back and top of the device are the only visual indications that you're using the LTE model. Not visible is the embedded SIM or eSIM feature that allows the device to connect with cellular networks that support the technology.
Pair it with the Microsoft's optional Type Cover and complete the package with the Surface Pen stylus to use Windows Ink, the on-screen inking capabilities that are built into Windows 10.
If you opt for the Alcantara versions of Microsoft's Type Cover, your eyes and your wrists will be in for a treat. Alcantara is the suede-like material that often adorns the interiors of luxury cars. On the Surface Pro, it lends the device an upscale appearance and creates a lavish "surface" on which to lay one's wrists and get work done, no pun intended. Its backlit, full-sized keyboard doesn't offer much in the way of key travel, but it is responsive and should take touch typists very little time to get used to.
That said, Surface Pro isn't the only game in town.
Clones like the eye-catching HP Spectre x2 and similar devices from Dell, Asus and others, have started to give the Surface Pro a run for its money. For example, the Dell Latitude 5290 also offers 4G LTE connectivity and features an all-black chassis for those that prefer a darker look.
There are a couple missteps, too.
The volume rocker is uncomfortably close to the power button, causing this writer to put it into sleep mode while trying to hush a site that blasts audio on more than one occasion. Also missing is a USB-C port, forcing users to carry around Microsoft's proprietary power brick.
As expected, the Core i5 chip and 8GB of RAM in the review model provided by Microsoft handled Office apps, a tab-filled Chrome browser and more demanding apps without a hiccup.
Bootup, log-in and app startup times were brisk, thanks in large part to the built-in SSD with a generous 256GB of storage space, which can be expanded in a low-key manner by adding a microSD card. In tests, it was possible to boot into the desktop from a complete shutdown in as little as 13 seconds, give or take a second or two depending on when Windows Hello's face recognition kicks in or how quickly you can type in your password.
For busy folks, there's one big perceived performance booster.
With LTE enabled, the device can connect automatically, which means that OneDrive and Dropbox folders sync without waiting for a Wi-Fi network to appear. Email is delivered in the background and messaging services are ready to go.
The ability to get down to work at a moment's notice is one of the strongest cases for paying extra for LTE. Of course, Windows 10 allows users to track and configure their data usage, helping them avoid costly overages.
In terms of battery life, Microsoft claims the Surface Pro with LTE Advanced can last up to 12.5 hours between charges, but that figure is based on video playback under certain conditions. In real-world conditions—email, web browsing and using productivity apps—you can expect it to last about half that time with some conservative power management settings.
All things considered, busy professionals and workaholics will appreciate the sheer convenience of a consistently connected Surface Pro, making the $150 price premium and additional costs worth it, provided they have a the money to spare. If you're the typical small business user, the stock Surface Pro will do the trick, especially if you can use your phone as a hot spot without incurring additional charges.