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Eve V review: can a scrappy upstart undercut the Surface Pro?

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Back in May, I met a young CEO called Konstantinos Karatsevidis at the Computex Taipei trade show. His company, Eve-Tech, has an unusual pitch — why buy computers from massive companies like Dell or Lenovo if a lean, nimble startup can offer better value by cutting out inefficiencies? And why not crowdsource the product design to give customers exactly what they want?

Well, I could think of a few possible answers to those questions, but the Eve V in front of me — a 2-in-1 computer with smart design and a solid spec sheet — was impressive enough that I said I’d be happy to check it out for review. Karatsevidis said it’d be shipping out to Indiegogo backers in a matter of weeks, and that I should be able to get a review unit sometime in June.

Then that slipped to July. Then Karatsevidis told me that the Eve community voted to delay the product to August because they’d found a better display panel. Then in September he let me know that the new screens were finally being delivered. Then in late October I got a notice that the product should be shipping soon. Then in November, six months after I’d first checked out the Eve V, a unit showed up at my door.

I relay all this information to you because Eve-Tech isn’t only trying to sell its customers a product — it’s trying to sell them on an idea. Now, I’m a product reviewer, not an idea reviewer. But if you’re considering buying this product, I do also have to tell you everything I know about whether it’s a good idea.  

The Eve V itself is considerably less distinctive than its marketing. If you’ve seen a recent Surface Pro, you know what you’re dealing with here: a tablet with a 12.3-inch 3:2 screen, an adjustable kickstand, a keyboard cover that can be attached at a comfortable tilted angle, and a stylus. The latter two accessories come included in the box, unlike the Surface Pro.

The RGB-backlit keyboard is decent, despite infuriatingly reading “oops!” on the backspace key. It also works with Bluetooth, meaning that you can use it wirelessly as well as through the physical magnetic connector. I didn’t really get on very well with the trackpad, despite its Windows Precision designation; it's reasonably responsive but is too small and never quite feels effortless to use. (I’m not a fan of the Surface Pro’s trackpad either, for what that’s worth, and would recommend using a mouse with both computers.) The stylus uses the same tech as the Surface Pro 3 and 4, which is to say it’s good but not as responsive as you’ll get from the new Surface Pen — which the Eve V is also compatible with.

The Eve V’s four USB ports are a clear advantage

The aluminum casing is a little curvier than the Surface Pro's, and it has a black finish that picks up a lot more fingerprints; speaking of which, the power button has a Windows Hello-enabled fingerprint sensor, which is a nice touch. (The front-facing camera doesn’t work with Windows Hello, however, unlike the Surface’s.) The casing is also a little thicker and heavier to accommodate a bigger battery, and I will say that the extra weight surprised me when I first picked it up. But hey, people voted for it to be this way, and I can’t say they made the wrong call. This is still a light computer by laptop standards, and the design remains attractive in a nondescript kind of way.

Another crowdsourced decision was the array of ports on the Eve V, and I would say the crowd chose pretty well on this point as well. There are two USB-C ports (one with Thunderbolt 3; both capable of charging), two full-size USB 3.1 ports, a headphone jack with dedicated amplifier, and a microSD card slot. Microsoft’s reasons for omitting USB-C in the Surface Pro and Laptop in favor of a single USB-A port, a proprietary connector, and Mini DisplayPort (of all things) seem more political than practical at this point, and unbefitting of an expensive computer that customers will expect to use for many years. The Eve V’s total of four USB ports is a clear advantage over the Surface Pro, and one that makes it a lot more viable as a primary computer.

The Eve V’s screen is excellent. Good enough to justify a six-month delay for a product that Indiegogo backers paid for as long as a year ago? You'd have to ask the backers, I suppose, but it’s certainly up there with the best laptop screens around. Colors are accurate and vibrant, with strong viewing angles. The resolution has even been upped a notch to 2880 x 1920 from when I first saw the device, making it slightly, if imperceptibly, sharper than the Surface Pro. I will note that my unit had a small amount of backlight bleeding on the bottom edge, which is a bad place for it to occur on a Windows 10 device given the default black taskbar, but it wasn’t distracting and may well vary from panel to panel.

Battery life has been good so far. I’ve regularly been able to work for over eight hours off the charger, and I feel like I could eke out another hour or two if I were more conscious about power management. Eve-Tech claims 10-12 hours of real-world use, and I think that world would have to have pretty dark weather — the company is from Finland, after all, and winter is upon us. Overall, though, you can expect the Eve V to at least match and likely beat out the Surface Pro’s endurance. As for performance, the Core i5 model I’ve spent most of my time with isn’t ultra-powerful, but I never ran into any trouble using it with my typical workflow of Slack, Lightroom, Twitter, and a million Chrome tabs. It’s also fine for less GPU-intensive games like Cuphead and Rez Infinite.

Basically, the Eve V is a competent Surface Pro clone with a few advantages that vault it into the realm of serious competitor. But an equally important factor is price. Eve-Tech’s whole pitch is predicated on the cost savings that are possible when you buy your laptop from a startup, not a global megacorp. So, how much has it been able to undercut Microsoft? Well, it depends, but there are definitely scenarios in which the answer is “a lot.”

Photo by Sam Byford / The Verge

The Surface Pro and the Eve V both start at $799.99 for a model with an Intel Core m3 processor and 128GB of storage. In Microsoft’s case, however, that excludes the $99.99 Surface Pen, which I would consider essential for a lot of people, and the $129.99-minimum Type Cover, which I would consider essential for basically everyone buying the computer. The entry-level Surface also only has 4GB of RAM, inexcusably, versus the Eve V’s 8GB. And, since the Eve V’s keyboard uses Alcantara fabric and the tablet has a fingerprint reader built in, you’re actually getting the features from both of Microsoft’s more expensive $159.99 Type Cover options.

I don’t think anyone should buy the entry-level Surface Pro. Depending on your perspective, you save $230 or $260 for the full package with the Eve V and get a more capable machine into the bargain. The comparison is a little less straightforward at the mid-to-high end, though. The i5-equipped Eve V starts at $1,199.99 versus the $1,299 i5 Surface Pro, both with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, so the price difference is as much as $360. But the Surface Pro uses a more powerful U-series i5 processor even though its design is still fanless, which you could either consider an efficiency trade-off or a straight performance win. If nothing else, it’s a great engineering achievement that makes the difference in price a little more understandable.

The trade-off in price and power may well be worth it

At the high end, an i7 Eve V with 512GB of storage and 16GB of RAM is $1,499 versus the Surface Pro’s $2,199, again without the keyboard and pen; bumping the Eve V up to 1TB of storage costs an extra $400, and it’s $500 for the Surface Pro. You could be saving close to $1,000 with the i7 Eve V, but again, the Y-series processor is less powerful than the U-series in the Surface Pro. Still, the trade-off in price and power consumption may well be worth it for you. Eve-Tech’s community evidently thought it would be worth it for them and, as I said before, the Y-series i5 didn't slow me down too much.

The catch is that if you want an Eve V, you’ll have to rush to get one in a flash sale; Eve-Tech is building each machine to order and only has limited capacity. Also, there’s an undeniable risk in buying an expensive product from a company like this versus, say, Microsoft. If anything goes wrong it could be a lengthy process to get a repair or a replacement.

I actually did have a significant issue with my first Eve V. The magnets inside the tablet weren’t aligned properly, meaning the keyboard was lopsided when I attached it and the combination wobbled when shut. I told Karatsevidis about this and he immediately looked into it, identified the problem, told me he’d implement a new step in quality assurance, and sent me a new review unit — as well as photos straight from the Shenzhen assembly line of workers checking magnets. That’s all well and good, but I don’t know that regular customers are going to get that level of service.

Earlier today I asked Karatsevidis what he'd say to people unsure about the prospect of spending a lot of money on a crucial device from an unknown company, and here's how he replied:

The reason Eve exists is to create great products together with our community. What we have to offer, unlike big corporations, is full transparency of the process. Our community and customers know all of our team members personally. I have posted my phone number in our community so that anyone can also send me messages personally. People know we have skin in the game. If we mess things up, our users are the first to know and a solution is quickly found with them. We had challenges in the past that we successfully overcame together with our customers and community. For example, we had issues with our display supply earlier this year. We ended up using a better display directly from Sharp. 

We are also working with stable, leading partners for production and development. We are getting a lot of support and experience from Intel, Microsoft, and now Sharp. When it comes to warranty cases, for example, it's our manufacturers that are liable to us for replacements. 

We want all of our supporters to know that when they buy Eve products they enable us to follow our vision of crowd-developing awesome devices with users. V was our first crowd-developed device — from here on we will only get better!

Have you ever met anyone that uses a OnePlus phone? In my experience, they’re pretty evangelical — they want to tell everyone about how great their phone is and how much better value it was than all the options from bigger brands. I think people will feel that way about the Eve V. It’s a great product that beats out the Surface Pro in meaningful ways while offering significantly better value for money.

But that doesn’t mean I can offer an unreserved recommendation just yet. If I were in a retail store and the Eve V was next to the Surface Pro, I’d pick the Eve V. That’s not a situation that customers are going to face, though. If you want an Eve V, you’ll have to order one online quickly. And once it arrives, which is likely to take a while, you’re not going to be able to bring it to a store for service if anything goes wrong. Considering Eve-Tech’s small size and the problem I ran into on my first review unit, I’m not altogether confident that it won’t.

Here’s what I’d suggest. The first flash sale is on December 4th, and devices should be shipping to the nearly 2,500 original backers right now. If you’re interested in the Eve V, keep an eye on the community forums to see how the company’s most dedicated followers are getting on with the device. If all looks good, you should definitely consider trying to get in on the flash sale.

Beyond the rebellious marketing and convoluted back story, the Eve V is just a really good computer. If Eve-Tech can follow through on supply and reliability — and that may be a big if — I absolutely recommend it.

Photography by Sam Byford / The Verge