Microsoft’s new Surface Pro 6 is a capable machine for a pretty good price. For existing Surface Pro aficionados, there isn’t much here to tell you about. The most exciting update is the enticing performance bump that comes from Intel’s eighth-generation Core i5 and Core i7 chips, which boasts more cores than previous models.
But the Surface Pro 6 is missing something that could affect you now or later, and it’s a major deal breaker in my books: There’s no USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 port.
Surface Pro users will find the Surface Pro 6 completely familiar with its design, kickstand, and the Type Cover keyboard that flexes when it’s on your lap. For regular laptop users, it will be a slight adjustment. Instead of adjusting the display’s angle on a hinge, you’ll be adjusting the kickstand’s angle on a table or your lap. It’s not uncomfortable, but, despite its portability, it does require more space wherever you lay it down because the kickstand needs to extend outwards for wider viewing angles.
That might be a problem in tight spaces, like a small desk or an economy plane seat with a small tray, where you might not be able to extend the kickstand very far. But I haven’t yet faced any problems with that.
But the kickstand design does give you great versatility in viewing angles in general. You can angle the display almost flat against a surface, or completely flat with the kickstand tucked in flush against the Surface Pro 6.
Microsoft sent me the eighth-generation Core i5 Surface Pro 6 model with 8 GB of RAM, and it handily chews through my workflow, which mostly involves the Chrome web browser with up to 20 open tabs, the Slack office messaging app, and some light photo editing on Adobe Photoshop Elements.
Using Intel’s eighth generation of chips is perhaps the biggest upgrade here, as you now get four cores versus the two that came with older generations of Intel’s laptop chips in older, pre-2018 laptops. Those extra cores make a difference by handling your daily workflow more comfortably, as well as any tasks that need a little more oomph. It also means the Surface Pro 6 could last longer, too.
There’s also a Core i7 model with 16 GB of RAM available, which can likely handle more intensive tasks with smoother and faster performance.
The biggest thing that’s holding back the Surface Pro 6: no USB-C.
Microsoft’s total dismissal of USB-C and the Thunderbolt 3 standard on the Surface Pro 6 is insanity at this stage, and I’ve written why here. It’s a 2018 machine with support for pre-2015 accessories, which is when USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 started appearing on mainstream devices.
In a nutshell, it stops anyone from adopting superior USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 accessories – like external hard drives – for their entire ownership of the Surface Pro 6, which could be years.
You also can’t use USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 for docking stations, which let you plug in all your external devices and accessories, including a laptop’s charger, into a single port. Microsoft has its own solution with the pricey $US200 Surface Dock, but it uses the company’s proprietary Surface Connector and it doesn’t support USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 devices, either.
It’s also a hugely limiting factor for anyone who has already adopted USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 accessories and plans to use the Surface Pro 6 as their primary device. If you do have a computer that supports USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, the Surface Pro 6 is a secondary device at best.
In my case, it’s true that all my current accessories plug into the Surface Pro 6 or a Surface Dock without issue, as I haven’t adopted USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 devices. But what if I (and you) wanted to dive into USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 in a year or so? What if I need to buy a new device that’s available with USB-C/Thunderbolt 3? I’d be limited in buying the older models that support regular USB-A, which use slower standards. Not exactly the cutting edge of tech.
To boot, the Surface Pro 6’s single regular USB-A port, as well as the multiple USB ports on the Surface Dock, only support USB 3.0, not USB 3.1, which is twice as fast. It’s not likely to affect casual user needs too much, but any professional won’t find the support they’re looking for, at least in a brand-new device in 2018.
To be clear, I don’t support Apple’s aggressive move to all-USB-C laptops, either. It’s too much of a shock, and it’s a bet that doesn’t seem to be panning out for Apple. I was able to hook up my camera to transfer the photos in this review directly to the Surface Pro 6 without an adaptor, whereas I need a USB-C dongle to connect my camera to my 2016 all-USB-C MacBook Pro.
Should you still buy it?
If the Surface Pro 6 had USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, it would be an easier recommendation. Even if you’re not really interested in adopting the latest tech standards, I’m still wary in recommending the Surface Pro 6. Being forcefully limited to older standards just doesn’t seem like the right way to go when you’re buying a new device in 2018, where USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 are very much present.
Microsoft’s Surface Pro 6 also looks less enticing when there are other hybrids on the market that come with USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, like HP’s latest X360 13T, which also comes with some of the regular ports you’re used to. The X360 also has similar specs as the Surface Pro 6.
To sum it all up: Unfortunately, I do not recommend the Surface Pro 6, and it’s all because of the lack of USB-C/Thunderbolt 3. If you truly, truly don’t care, then sure, the Surface Pro 6 is a great, capable machine. Just don’t complain if you ever want to get a USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 accessory down the line.