Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Review
Microsoft have tried pitching its Surface line with promises of “a tablet that can replace your laptop” for over three generations, albeit with mixed success. Now the formula that has evaded them for far too long has finally clicked. The 2015 release of the Microsoft Surface line packs the latest Intel processors, and finally the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is taking a victory lap – and a well-deserved one at that.
Although most evangelists have been skeptical on the device truly replacing a laptop, but Microsoft have tweaked the previous iteration and built on the strongest points while maintaining the original DNA. Some of the major improvements over 2014’s Microsoft Surface Pro 3 include a bigger, better display, a well-designed Type Cover and Surface Pen, and much stronger battery life all of which qualify the Surface Pro 4 for a top-spot as our Editors’ Choice for the high-end slate tablets category.
The Surface Pro 4 measures 7.93 by 11.5 by 0.33 inches (HWD) and weighs a paltry 1.73 pounds, which is slightly smaller and lighter than last year’s Surface Pro 3 (which measures 8 by 11.5 by 0.36 inches and weighs 1.75 pounds). Microsoft outfitted the Pro 4 with a larger display packed into a slightly smaller frame 12.3 inches compared with 12 inches—by decreasing the bezel size to create more screen real estate. This is a big contrast from the Apple iPad Air 2’s 9.7-inch tablet, keeping in mind that it does not run on a full PC OS, which makes it slimmer; while the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2, an android tablet, is way bigger and thinner at 9.34 by 6.65 by 0.22 inches (HWD).
Like the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, the Surface Pro 4’s body is made of high-quality silver-magnesium alloy, and the back is adorned with a shiny, mirror-like Windows logo. The unit keeps the same kickstand as the one in the Pro 3, but now it is designed to be more adjustable and feels sturdier, which is quite decent for most comfortable positions especially when using it on your lap.
On the Surface Pro 4’s 2,736-by-1,824 resolution display you’ll get Microsoft’s new PixelSense technology, which improves on higher contrasts but cuts down on glare. The display looks brilliant on the Surface Pro 4, and is extremely bright, with rich colors. Text is sharp, and video is crisp and clear on the screen. The adjustable stand works well in conjunction with the display, allowing you to find the best angle depending on how you’re seated without a loss in picture quality. The included Surface Pen goes a long way in making the tablet more viable to use while holding in one hand.
As with the Surface Pro 3, clicking the eraser button on the Surface Pen brings up OneNote instantly, which still works like a charm. You can also double-click the Surface Pen to take a screenshot, which you can crop and draw on right away in OneNote. Holding down the eraser button now also brings up Cortana, a digital assistant that can help you with searches, set reminders, manage your calendar, and more. Interestingly, the Type Cover is superior to the last iteration in every regard. The backlit keys are more spread out, and have better travel and it works with the Surface Pro 3, and vice versa.
The system has a USB 3.0 port, a Surface Connect port for the new Surface Dock, and a microSD card reader on the right side and a headphone jack on the left. The Power button and the volume rocker are on top of the tablet, and the port for the keyboard is on the bottom. An additional USB port would have gone a long way—its disappointing Microsoft chose to stick with just one, which is an issue we had with the Pro 3.
The system features stereo Dolby speakers, which don’t have visible grilles and instead produce sound from the interior of the tablet and through the ventilation. They can get pretty loud, and don’t lose too much quality at high volumes. There is also an accelerometer and a gyroscope. For wireless connectivity, you get 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. Microsoft backs the product with a one-year warranty.
Inside, you are at liberty to choose from Intel Core M, Core i5 or the Core i7 processors, all part of the latest Skylake generation of chips just hitting products since its debut in August 2015. Our Surface Pro unit came with a 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-6300U processor and 8GB of memory. With this configuration, we had snappy general performance with a notable boost in quick boot up and smooth running of tasks thrown its way. In productivity tests, a solid score of 2,612 points on the PCMark 8 Work Conventional test is generally above standard for the category.
Our test unit came with midrange configurations of the Surface Pro 4: that’s a sixth-generation (Skylake) 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-6300U processor with integrated Intel HD Graphics 520, 8GB RAM, and a 256GB solid-state-drive (SSD) for storage. In the same line are five other Surface Pro 4 models with the lowest in the category being powered by an Intel Core M3 processor, 4GB memory, and 128GB SSD storage, while the leader in the pack features an Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB memory, and 512GB SSD storage. Now you’re spoilt of choice on your ideal configuration of the Surface Pro 4, but remember, as you look in the specs the deeper you dig into your wallet for the additional power.
In our previous tests, we’ve only seen almost matching benchmark scores in similarly configured systems, like theAsus Transformer Book T300 Chi (2,615) and the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 14 (2,410). However, last year’s iteration-the Surface Pro 3– scored relatively higher (2,699) than the Pro 4 on the same test, which is partly attributed to its lower-resolution display. We also put the Pro 4 on an encoding test against the Surface Pro 3, and the former topped with over 39 seconds and was even faster on Photoshop CS6 tests than even the 13-inch MacBook Air with a score of 3:10 versus 5:13. These improved scores can be attributed to the brand-new processor, providing an overall bump in performance compared with the Surface Pro 3 and the competition.
One thing is for sure, the Surface Pro 4 will never be the ideal machine for an enthusiast gamer, but it does pull the strings to run some games at Medium-quality settings. For slow-paced games like Civilization or Football Manager, it will deliver, but the latest titles will fail terribly since the system doesn’t even come close to reaching the ultra-quality settings. The tablet features Windows Hello, facial-recognition software that’s built into Windows 10 and saves you the trouble of typing in a password every time you reach for the device, and will protect it from falling into the wrong hands. There’s also an 8-megapixel, rear-facing camera that can record in 1080p. The image quality of test photos was good, not great, but videos recorded with the rear camera were particularly sharp in testing.
Battery life is where the Surface Pro 4 really shines, lasting 10 hours 19 during our tests. This is a remarkable upward jump from the already great 8:55 battery life of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, and significantly longer than the Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi (5:54) and the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 14 (6:13).
The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is evidence that after a few “hits-and-misses” a company can finally up its game and the result is a refined, versatile system that can pull through any day-to-day task thrown its way with enough power. Unlike most tablets, the Pro 4 runs full Windows 10 (64-bit) smoothly, and the kickstand and Surface Pen are now revamped and better than they’ve ever been for working on the go. Missing from a traditional laptop in the Surface Pro 4 is a keyboard, but now you’ve got a Type Cover that does the magic. While a Surface Pro 4 + Type Cover may cost slightly more as compared to units such as the 13-inch Apple MacBook Air, it does give you a taste of both worlds: powerful tablet functionality and a high resolution touch screen, and for that it deserves a top spot in your shopping list and is our new Editors’ Choice for high-end slate tablets.