Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review
|Review: November 2015|
In a nutshell: The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is significantly better than previous versions, thanks to a better keyboard, new generation processors, an improved digital pen, and a slimmer, lighter design. It really is a device able to replace both a medium-powered laptop and a tablet. It's a superb and highly desirable device in every way, and only the high price stops it from getting an "outstanding" rating.
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The tablet that now really can replace your laptop
Microsoft's slogan for the Surface - the tablet that can replace your laptop - is truer than ever before with the launch of the Pro 4. The screen has increased in size and quality, the Intel processors updated to the latest 6th generation, the keyboard has been refined, it's thinner and lighter than ever, and of course it runs Windows 10.
We've been impressed by the Surface Pro right from the start, and the Pro 4 is a refinement of an already near-perfect formula. It retains the ultra-premium build quality of earlier versions, with its lightweight magnesium casing, and high quality finish. This latest version has shaved half a millimetre off the thickness and 35g off the weight, which are small but incremental improvements, as Microsoft steadily progresses towards perfection.
The new Surface has a slightly larger screen, measuring 12.3 inches, and the resolution has been increased slightly to 2736 x 1824 pixels, giving it a pixel density of 267ppi. It's a superb screen for a laptop - with vivid brightness, good viewing angles and plenty of contrast.
Audio quality from the Dolby stereo speakers is very good.
The Surface is a versatile device that can be used on its own as a touchscreen tablet, angled with the adjustable integrated kickstand, or used with the add-on Type Cover keyboard. As well as having a touch-sensitive screen, it can be used with the digital pen included in the sales package. This is now pressure-sensitive and can be used for annotating Word, Excel, and OneNote documents and for entering text as handwriting. The pen is magnetic, for easy attachment to the Surface.
Microsoft has shifted its focus from trying to convince us that this is a laptop with an optional keyboard to treating the Surface as an ultra-portable laptop, which is what we always thought it was. For that reason, you'll definitely want to purchase the optional Type Cover keyboard. The Type Cover fits magnetically to the edge of the device and acts as a robust high-quality cover when folded closed. When opened, it's a fine full-sized keyboard with a responsive trackpad, and is angled and backlit for convenience. This new version is significantly better than the previous one. It's an excellent all-round keyboard that compares well with many laptops.
The Surface is in many ways a hybrid device and can be compared both with tablets and laptops. Next to an iPad Air 2, it looks like an overweight tablet. Next to a 13-inch MacBook Air, it's super-lightweight and slim. It feels more like a mini laptop than the new iPad Pro, and works best when it has the Type Cover keyboard attached. We would say that the Surface Pro 4 works best of all on a desk or other flat surface - if you try to balance it on your lap you may start to wish for a conventional laptop instead.
New generation processors & Windows 10
The Pro 4 comes with 6th generation Intel processors, giving it real laptop power. There's a choice of m3, i5 or i7 processor, and you can select 4GB, 8GB or 16GB RAM too.
For many users, the energy-efficient m3 processor with 4GB RAM will be enough. This comes with a modest graphics capability provided by an Intel HD graphics 515 processor. Demanding users can opt for the core i7 with 16GB of RAM and Intel Iris graphics. This is sufficient for running demanding business applications, but not the very latest 3D games.
The Surface Pro 4 has a solid state drive (SSD) of 128GB, 256GB or 512GB. This is plenty of memory for a laptop, and the SSD is very fast to access, meaning that the Surface boots up in seconds and loads most apps with minimal delay. If you find that you need more storage, you can make use of the microSD card reader.
The device comes with Windows 10 installed, giving access to the full range of desktop software, including the Cortana intelligent assistant.
We wouldn't recommend using the Surface Pro 4 to take your holiday snaps, but if you find that you need to take a picture, it comes with an 8 megapixel rear-facing camera and can record 1080p video too. A more plausible use-case is using the 5 megapixel front camera for Skype video-conferencing.
The Surface Pro 4 lacks any form of cellular connectivity, instead relying on Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 for wireless connectivity.
It also has a full-sized USB 3.0 port which enables you to connect accessories like printers or mice, as well as to access USB drives, cameras, etc. A 3.5mm headset jack and a mini display port are also included.
The Surface Pro 4 has laptop performance when it comes to battery life, giving you up to 9 hours of use, which probably covers a full day at work, but maybe not the evening too. However, you can probably keep it plugged in whenever you're at a desk. The device can be charged via USB.
The Surface Pro 4 is more expensive than the Pro 3. The entry-level model with an m3 processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB SSD costs £750, including a digital pen, but excluding a keyboard. The mid-range Core i5 version with 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD costs around £1100. The Core i7 with 16GB of RAM and 512GB SSD will set you back £1,800! Budget an extra £110 for a keyboard.
Conclusion - the ultimate hybrid, but very expensive
The Surface Pro 4 offers many attractions. It's a beautiful device, whether in tablet mode or as an ultra-portable laptop. It has huge versatility, making it the one device you need at work and at weekends. It's powerful too, so there are few compromises involved in choosing the Surface instead of a laptop or a tablet.
Ultimately however, the price will be too high for many. You may be able to find a way to justify it, if you're a business traveller seeking ultimate portability and convenience, or a student demanding flexibility. Alternatively you may be considering an Apple product, in which case the price of the Surface Pro 4 won't appear high at all.
But for many users, a cheaper laptop will be a more cost-effective solution.
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 features include:
- Operating system: Windows 10 Pro
- Display: 12.3" PixelSense multitouch screen with 2736 x 1824 pixels
- 8 megapixel rear camera with 1080p HD video
- 5 megapixel front camera with 720p HD video
- Stereo speakers with Dolby Audio Premium
- Processor: 6th Generation Intel Core m3, i5, or i7 processor, TPM chip for enterprise security, 4GB, 8GB or 16GB RAM
- Memory: 128GB, 256GB or 512GB SSD plus microSD card reader
- Sensors: Ambient light sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi (802.11 ac/a/b/g/n), Bluetooth 4.0, USB 3.0, 3.5mm stereo headphone jack, Mini DisplayPort, Cover port
- Size: 292 x 201 x 8.5 mm
- Weight: 766g - 786g (depends on processor)
- Battery life: 9 hours of video playback
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