Microsoft Surface Pro 4 full review
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As Microsoft continues driving to make its own hardware with Lumia smarphones and other devices such as the Band 2, the Surface Pro 4 is here with the aim of being 'the tablet that can replace your laptop'. But has Microsoft achieved this by 'reinventing the Surface Pro'? Find out in our Surface Pro 4 review.
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review: UK price and competition
Starting at £749, the new Surface Pro 4 is more expensive than the previous generation but Microsoft has pretty much gone to town when it comes to improvements and upgrades. Remember that the price isn't comparable to tablets like the iPad Air 2 which costs £399. See also: Surface Pro 4 release date, price and specs.
Although that's the starting price, you can spend up to a whopping £2,199 on a top-of-the-range model. That's a lot of money especially considering Microsoft makes you pay extra for the keyboard Type Cover. The Surface Pro 4 isn't a winner when it comes to value.
The iPad Pro starts at a more affordable £679 but that price only gets you a measly 32GB of storage and doesn't include the keyboard or the Apple Pencil so the Surface Pro 4 doesn't look quite so bad with a minimum of 128GB and the Surface Pen included.
A spanner in the works here is that there are plenty of laptops around offering a decent Windows 10 experience for less money so the Pro 4 isn't necessarily the right purchase for everyone. Here's a table explaining the different Surface Pro 4 models you can choose from – ours is the Core i5 model priced at £1,079.
Update 30 June 2016: Microsoft has now made available in the UK its 1TB Surface Pro 4, which comes with an Intel Core i7 chip and 16GB of RAM. This model is available from the Microsoft Store for £2,199.
If you're deciding between the Surface Pro 4 and a MacBook Air, the latest models from Apple also start at £749 and, of course, come with everything you need. That price is a smaller 11in size, though.
See also: Surface Pro 3 vs Surface Pro 4 comparison.
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review: Design and build quality
Initially, you could easily mistake the Pro 4 for the Pro 3, but on closer inspection there are some significant changes that make a big difference to the overall experience.
It's thinner and has a bigger screen without a bigger overall size thanks to thinner bezels. Microsoft said that it's essentially as thin as it can get without being forced to get rid of the USB port – and we would have been pretty disappointed if the firm had chosen thickness over the USB.
Just 8.4mm is seriously impressive for a device with the kind of high-end specs on offer here. All of this also means the device is lighter at 766g for the Core M model. This is because it doesn't require a fan so you can add 20g if you opt for a Core i model which isn't exactly a big jump. This thing is seriously light and portable.
You wouldn't want to use it for long periods of time with one hand but it does make a difference overall with handling and carrying. Let's face it, the Surface is really made for being used on a flat, er, surface predominantly.
Otherwise, things are pretty similar with essentially the same design including the kickstand, camera placement and port placement. The thinner bezel around the screen means the touch sensitive windows button is gone and another small change is that the volume rocker is now on the top next to the power key.
This is so that the Surface Pen, still included with the tablet, can be attached magnetically to the left side. This is a lot better than the Surface Pro 3 which allowed you to attach the Pen on the right side but the hold was very weak and it covered the power port.
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review: Hardware and specs
As mentioned the screen on the Surface Pro 4 is larger but without increasing the size of the device itself. It's jumped a little from 12- to 12.3in which isn't a big jump but it does make a difference. Also important is the resolution which is now 2736x1824 resulting in a crisp and clear pixel density of 267ppi.
As you might expect, the Surface Pro 4 comes with Windows 10 Pro and it looks great on the PixelSense display. Overall, it's one of the best we've seen on any laptop or tablet offering excellent all-round performance. There are top notch viewing angles, plenty of brightness, great contrast and accurate colours – the list goes on.
Microsoft has listened to demands and provided up to 16GB of RAM and up to 1TB of storage so those power users out there will be pleased. Of course, those with lower requirements can simply choose a lower-spec model. Things start at 4GB of RAM with a 128GB SSD and improve the more you're willing to spend.
Note: The 1TB model is not available in the UK at the moment so the highest spec model you can buy comes with 512GB. This is a real shame as it's a big feature of the Pro 4 but things may change in the future. We received the following statement on the subject.
"We do not comment on pending market availability. That said, we have taken and will continue to take a measured and phased approach to Surface Pro 4 availability to meet customer demand and partner expectations."
Inside the new slender frame of the Surface Pro 4 is, at the least, a 6th-generation Skylake Intel Core M3 processor but you can also get a Core i5 or Core i7 if you wish. That's a lot of power on offer inside a 12in tablet but as mentioned earlier, you've got to pay a decent chunk of money if you don't want the entry-level model.
Ports are sort of boring but still darned useful and despite being thinner, the Surface Pro 4 still has USB 3.0, a Mini-DisplayPort and a Micro-SD card reader. The front camera remains at 5Mp but the rear camera has been upgrade to 8Mp should you find cameras on a tablet useful – arguably the front camera would be more suited to the enhancement for video calls.
Those are the core specs but it's also worth noting that the Surface Pro 4 comes with 11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 once again.
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review: Performance and battery life
Microsoft says the device is 50 percent faster than a MacBook Air and 30 percent faster than the Surface Pro 3.
As mentioned earlier we've been given a Core i5 review sample with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Handy since we have a Core i5 Surface Pro 3 at PC Advisor towers, too. We can't say we've seen a 30 percent improvement but it is certainly better than its predecessor. On the MacBook front, as you can see from the table, it's not 50 percent faster compared with a Core i5 model from 2013 – at least in a Geekbench 3 benchmark which primarily tests the CPU.
Benchmark figures, see below, are one thing but real-world usage can often be very different. On this front we can vouch, for this particular model at least, that the Pro 4 is a speedy machine indeed.
Microsoft touts a battery life of up to nine hours of video playback – that's the same figure given for the Pro 3 so there no change in this area. In our tests we recorded a battery life of 11 hours and two minutes - looping a local video with the screen set to 120cd/m.
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review: Pen and new Type Cover
As usual the Surface Pro 3 come with a Surface Pen – the digital stylus now comes in five colours and attaches magnetically which is a real boon. That's not all though, as the new Pen has 1,024 levels of pressure and an eraser on the end which is much more like an actual rubber. Pressing and holding it activates Cortana which is handy while pressing it will open OneNote – it's a shame you can't reassign the functions.
We've found the new model to be a lot better than its predecessor and the good news is that you can use it on the Surface Pro 3 if you like – it just won't attach with the magnets. You can also buy different nibs but this pack is an extra and we don't have a price for it at the moment.
The Type Cover is an essential piece of the Surface Pro puzzle and there's a new model with various upgrades for the Pro 4. It still costs extra so you'll need to add 109 to the overall cost if you want the full laptop-like experience.
It's been improved with more space between the keys (a 19mm pitch) and a 1.3mm travel for a better typing experience that we noticed immediately, and the trackpad is now glass backed and 40 percent bigger, too. It's smooth, responsive and a joy to use – better than a lot you get on a full-size laptop.
We can hardly express how much better the new keyboard is and you really notice the improvement when you go back to the old model and struggle to even type your name.
The new keyboard helps bring the Pro 4 one step closer to becoming a tablet that can replace your laptop, because it really feels comfortable to use whereas the Pro 3's keyboard took a bit of getting used to.
You may have spotted that some models also have a fingerprint sensor next to the trackpad for added security - these are designed for the Pro 3 since the Pro 4 supports facial recognition (Windows Hello). However, like the 1TB model, this is currently for the US only.
The good news for Pro 3 owners as the new Type Cover is fully compatible so you can upgrade without buying the new tablet itself.
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review: Can it replace your laptop?
Microsoft's big claim about the Surface Pro 4 is that it's 'the tablet that can replace your laptop' so we wanted to address this question as well as giving you our final verdict.
The short answer is yes but that's not the full story here. The Pro 4 is an amazing device which over the years has been tweaked, honed and tuned into something thin, light and powerful. As good as the Pro 4 is, it isn't the best choice for everyone.
Despite its portability, the design is still more awkward than a normal laptop when you use it in various ways – for example actually on your lap. It's also very expensive even for the cheapest model plus the essential addition of the Type Cover so that's another barrier. When it comes down to it, a traditional clamshell laptop might still be a better choice.
Microsoft Surface Pro 4: Specs
- Windows 10 Pro
- 12.3in PixelSense display, 2736x1824, 267ppi
- Up to Intel Skylake Core i7
- Up to 16GB RAM
- Up to 512GB storage
- USB 3.0
- Micro-SD card reader
- 11ac Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 4.0
- 5Mp front camera
- 8Mp rear camera
- Surface Pen included
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