Microsoft’s Surface line-up’s newest member, the Surface Pro 4, boasts some cool display and pen qualities. But will these be enough to compete against Apple’s iPad Pro?
It is fair to say the Microsoft is getting better and better at hardware. Not quite “Apple excellent” but certainly more refined and stylish.
From the very first Surface RT device I checked out three years ago, Microsoft has been making steady progress. I don’t entirely hold with Apple CEO Tim Cook’s prognosis that the Surface is a diluted product. If anything, Surface represents some value for money in that it is a tablet and a full-fledged PC running Windows. Now, where Cook actually scores a victory is that I use it primarily as a personal computer and a tablet of last resort. But when I do use it as a tablet its screen dimensions make it particularly useful for watching movies. As a workhorse tablet, its weight still goes against it.
Windows 10 is a vast improvement on the confection that was Windows 8 and 8.1, it is more stable and uncluttered. Metro has given way to a more active Start menu and it’s easy to see why it is proving so popular.
While devices like the Apple MacBook Air, which I love, are versatile and powerful, the Surface Pro is not far behind.
To me, both PC and Mac devices have their uses and it’s fair to say that computer buyers today have never been better served in terms of choice and value for money.
The Surface Pro 4 isn’t vastly different from its predecessor, and differentiates mainly through slight tweaks in design and performance.
If you already have the Surface Pro 3, stick with it, but if you don’t and you are in the market for an ultra-portable workhorse that exudes style and refinement, the Surface Pro 4 is definitely worth considering.
Look and feel
The most obvious thing that is different about the Surface Pro 4 compared with its predecessor is the screen. Microsoft has reduced the bezel space so the screen diameter goes from 12ins to 12.3ins and, while that doesn’t seem like much, it is immediately discernable.
This means almost the entire display is in use and gone is the Windows button that used to also exist on the front of the device, making the whole screen look bigger and wider.
The body of the device features the same grey magnesium casing that has appeared on the Pro 3 and Surface 3 and the kickstand at the back has a more stubborn resistance, so you feel you are protecting your investment.
The effect of the reduced bezel means the 12.3-inch PixelSense display feels brighter, more cinematic and intimate, making it ideal for viewing and interacting with content and watching videos.
The next innovation – a very welcome one – is the inclusion of a magnetic area to the right and left of the screen for clipping on the Surface Pen. This was a huge oversight in the design of the Pro 3, meaning you had to stick the pen onto a fabric holder on the Pro 3’s keyboard.
The pen has been redesigned to have a slimmer profile and a flat surface along one side to make it ideal for clinging magnetically to the Pro 4. Just like with predecessors, it works amazingly well with the PixelSense display, responding to your pressure to go lighter or harder with your handwriting. In fact, Microsoft is bringing out a new assortment of nibs to suit your handwriting style in a Surface Pen Kit, so you can go for a pencil-type nib or something more ballpoint. While the Surface Pen is optimised to work with OneNote in particular, I have to say I’m a big fan of how it can be used with apps like Microsoft’s new Explorer browser to annotate web pages and share your notes.
The next big change is the keyboard – the Surface Pro 4 Type Cover. All the keys are nicely separated and not only does this look better but it gives it a nice, springy and tactile feel as you type.
Another big improvement on the keyboard is the mouse pad, which is much bigger and what you would expect on a device you intend to use as a notebook/laptop. I admit the small size of the mouse on the previous generations of Surface was a turn-off and I much preferred using a USB mouse to be able to work productively.
The Surface Pro 4 is also Microsoft’s slimmest and lightest Pro device yet, weighing 786 grams and it is 8.4mm thick. While this is an improvement, it is only a slight improvement and I agonise about its use as a tablet in terms of all that glass – it just feels fragile and you feel it needs a casing of some kind to protect it, which will add to the weight and negate the exercise.
But what wins you over is that screen, it’s a beautiful screen ratio and should prove to be an able competitor to Apple’s new iPad Pro, which has a 12.9in display.
Microsoft has also overhauled its accessories and has come up with a new Surface Dock that comes as a block that doubles as a power charger and which has two HD video ports, a gigabit Ethernet port, four USB 3.0 ports and an audio output.
The Surface Pro 4 represents a 30pc boost in processing power over the Pro 3, making use of the 6th Generation Intel Core m3, i5 and i7 processors.
The device is capable of packing up to nine hours of steady video playback and the 12.3in PixelSense display has a resolution of 2,736 x 1,824, approximately 267 pixels per inch. The display has a 3:2 aspect ratio, which is positively cinematic!
The Surface Pro 4 comes with a solid state drive in three options 128GB, 256GB or 512GB.
It also comes with all the ports you would expect like a USB 3.0 port, a microSD card reader, headset jack, Mini Display port, Cover port and SurfaceConnect.
In terms of sensors, it has an ambient light sensor, accelerometer and Gyroscope.
The Surface Pro has a 5MP front-facing HD camera as well as an 8MP rear-facing autofocus camera capable of 1080p video recording.
In fact, one of the biggest surprises in the Surface Pro 4 is the ability to secure your device with eye recognition, which I’m sure is currently an industry first. The camera scans your iris and lets you access the device without a password. Unfortunately, we didn’t have long enough with the device to put it to the test but this is sure to be a game-changer.
The Surface Pro 4 is certainly Microsoft’s most stylish and refined personal computing device that I have seen so far (I have yet to see the Surface Book) and it shows that Microsoft is trying to catch up fast with Apple in the design stakes.
Technologically, it doesn’t fall down anywhere, but neither does it represent that giant leap ahead from the previous Surface Pro 3 if you consider it is only slightly lighter and represents just a 30pc boost in processing speed.
That said, it has the potential to be a pretty good workhorse and is very versatile.
If you are considering a new Surface device, this one I heartily recommend. But if you are still on a previous Surface Pro 3 I wouldn’t feel overly anxious to upgrade just yet, you aren’t missing much.
The device starts at €1,029 and accessories like the Surface Pro 4 Type Cover cost €154 and the Surface Pen cost €69.95. It can be bought online at Microsoft.com and in store at retailers like Dixons Carphone.