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Why we like the Microsoft Surface Windows 8 Pro

Products like the Surface Pro present a serious challenge to those of us who review hardware for a living because there is nothing else quite like it (though Microsoft did release the Surface RT three months ago, which looked just like it).

But do we compare the Surface Pro to the Apple iPad or a Core i5-equipped Windows 8 Ultrabook? The answer, of course, is both, but that makes giving the product a rating quite a tricky matter. After weeks of testing the Surface Pro, our reviewer Joel Santo Domingo decided that whatever it is, it is a great product. If you read his full review which we published earlier today, you will see why. Nonetheless, I wanted to address some of the issues raised by other reviewers across the web following this week's deluge of reviews.

Contrary to some reports, it's important to note that not all the Surface Pro reviews are negative. Although Silicon Alley Insider published a story entitled, "Surface Pro Reviews Are Overwhelmingly Negative," with some selective quotes, the actual reviews tell a different story. CNET, PC World, and Popular Science all gave it 8 out of 10. We also awarded it an 8 out of 10.

Predictably, Silicon Alley Insider didn't like it, but the reasons given are flawed. Steve Kovach wrote:

The Surface Pro is just like the first Surface except it's thicker, heavier, costs at least $400 more, and has about half the battery life. It looks like a tablet, but you can snap on an optional (but essential) keyboard cover that turns the Surface Pro into a pseudo-laptop. So why would anyone buy that?

Cosmetically, the Surface Pro looks like the Surface RT as we've already mentioned, but inside the hardware and software are very different. First of all, it is a much more powerful machine. It has a Core i5 processor that blows away the ARM chip in the Surface RT. Secondly, it has a 64GB but also a 128GB model, so is better equipped with the storage capacity to house your files. This will make a huge difference when it comes to running productivity applications. That isn't a "pseudo laptop," it is a laptop replacement.

Of course, these hardware upgrades mean the Surface Pro is 230 grams heavier than the RT, and its five hour battery life is nearly three hours shy of the Surface RT's. Those are both significant differences, but neither is a deal breaker. (If Microsoft was smart, it would offer discounts on those power adapters; keep one at home, and one at work, and you will be golden.)

Also, although the two systems feature Microsoft's new "Modern" (aka Metro) interface, they run different operating systems. The Surface RT comes with a modified version of Office, but other than that, there are painfully few apps that will run on it. And given early sales, there probably won't be a lot more of them. The Surface Pro, on the other hand, is a full-fledged version of Windows 8. That means anything that runs on Windows 8 will run on the Surface Pro. This can't be underestimated. The most valuable thing Microsoft has to sell is Windows 8, its vast ecosystem of developers, and all the legacy apps that come with them.

Critics complain that the Surface Pro is a strange hybrid that straddles the line between tablets and laptops. That is exactly right. Microsoft is betting that this Surface Pro, or products like it, could replace your tablet, your notebook, and maybe even your home computer. That is no small feat. It may not be a better tablet than the iPad , but it is definitely a better notebook.

Like millions of other knowledge worker drones, every night I carry a laptop home to work on, and my iPad for reading and web access. Every morning, I cart them back into work. The Surface Pro is the first product that could streamline that behaviour.

Microsoft still has work to do, but this is one of the most exciting PCs we have seen in years. If you don't agree, by all means air your thoughts in the comments section below.