Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review: An excellent laptop replacement, but expensive
Microsoft’s Surface device, which, although a tablet with a snap on keyboard, is renowned as a laptop-first product. So is this the 2-in-1 to go for?
Microsoft announced the Surface Pro 4 last year and it has taken quite a while for it to make it to the Indian shores. Launched officially in India in January 2016, the Surface Pro 4 is Microsoft’s fourth generation 2-in-1 device, which, although a tablet with a snap on keyboard, is renowned as a laptop-first product. While India did not get the top of the line Surface Pro variant, it is at least better than not having any option at all. So is this the 2-in-1 to go for? Let us take a look.
Build and Design: 8/10
The Surface Pro 3 was a good product and Microsoft hasn’t tweaked much with the overall design philosophy, which makes sense. ‘If it ain’t broke, why fix it?’ Having said that, the Surface Pro 4 is thinner and lighter than the Surface Pro 3. It measures around 8.5mm thick as opposed to the 9.1mm on the Surface Pro 3. Even with the heft, the Surface Pro 4 weighs around 766 grams whereas the Surface Pro 3 weighed close to 800 grams.
Looking around the tablet, the Surface Pro 4 has a magnetic connector at the base where you get to attach the Surface Type keyboard cover. On the left hand side at the top you have the 3.5mm audio jack, the volume rocker and power standby buttons are present on the top and it takes some time getting used to operating them blindly. There were occasions when we accidentally pressed the power/standby button when we wanted to increase the volume. Along the right hand side you have the mini-DisplayPort, a single USB 3.0 port followed by a power port towards the base. All along the Surface Pro 4, you will find vents for cooling.
The rear of the Surface Pro 4 is made of silver metal with the Windows logo right in the centre. The kickstand mechanism on the Surface Pro 4 is quite sturdy and the hinge can stretch back almost all the way. Once placed in a particular position, the kickstand stays steady and will require pressure being applied from both ends for the kickstand to move. The attention to detail on the hinge is worthy of praise.
Surface Type Cover and Surface Pen
This is one area where there has been sufficient improvement. The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Type Cover Keyboard feels a lot more spacious thanks to the chiclet keyboard, unlike the closely spaced keys on the previous generation Surface Type cover. The keys on the Surface Type keyboard have a lot more travel and it actually feels like you are typing on a regular keyboard on a laptop, it’s that good. Getting used to the keyboard and typing fast takes just a couple of hours. It adds just a 4.54mm thickness to the Pro 4. It also comes in as many as five colours and it is backwards compatible with the Surface Pro 3
Microsoft has paid a lot of attention to the trackpad, making it much larger than the one on the Surface Pro 3’s Surface Type keyboard. The rectangular trackpad also covers gestures such as two finger scrolling, pinch to zoom and so on. It is a single slab of plastic and has a nice soft click. The palm rest area around the Surface Pro 4 Type cover is made of grippy material.
However, there were two things we did not like about the Type cover:
1. When you close the Type cover, there is no magnetic mechanism on the edge opposite the hinge to hold the keyboard in place. If you are holding the Surface Pro 4 by the connector edge, many times you will notice the keypad portion falling off.
2. When attached to the hinge, you can either have the cover flat or at a slight angle. While on the table that may not be a problem, but the kickstand tends to bury itself in your skin if you are trying to work by placing the Surface Pro 4 on your lap. Lappability is not a strong aspect of the Surface Pro 4, unless you are alright with the vibrating keypad as you play the part of the keyboard warrior.
The Surface Pen actually looks like a pen complete with a clip on design on the top half, which lets you carry the pen easily inside your pockets too. The Surface Pen comes in four colours and we got the elegant, silver coloured model. It provides a good grip and the top of it has a button to which you can assign some gestures. By default, a single click opens up Microsoft OneNote and a double click takes a screenshot, it can also function as an eraser and so on. One side of the Surface Pen is flat and this comes with a magnetic strip, which lets you attach the Surface Pen sturdily to one edge of the Pro 4, so there are less chances of losing it.
It weighs around 20 grams and it connects to the Surface Pro 4 via Bluetooth 4.0. The palm rejection with the Surface Pen is great, but we felt that the Pen was a bit slower in terms of response. It never gave us the feeling that one gets when writing on a paper, something we experienced with the Galaxy Note 5’s stylus or even the Apple Pencil. Not that it's terribly unresponsive, but the writing does not flow as well as we would have liked to see. It does come with pressure sensitive tips which you can take advantage of while drawing. There are different pen tips as well that can be bought separately. Also, the Surface Pen is great only if you are going to use it on illustrations or drawings - so that’s a really niche use case scenario. If you just want to take notes, then the keyboard is good enough.
The sad part is that the both the Surface Type cover and the Surface Pen are accessories that need to be purchased separately. Microsoft could have certainly bundled in the Surface Type Keyboard cover at least.
Another area which is a sheer pleasure to work with is the display of the Surface Pro 4. The 12.3-inch IPS LCD PixelSense display has a high resolution 2736 x 1824 pixel resolution with a 3:2 aspect ratio. This works out to a pixel density of around 267 ppi. This is very sharp and there was barely any noticeable pixellation. Sure, there are applications that are not optimised for this resolution, but that is more of a developer issue than of the device display.
The colours appear vibrant without appearing too saturated, as in the case of AMOLED displays. The contrast levels are good enough to enjoy a movie or two on your Surface Pro 4. While the glass is certainly reflective, you can adjust the kickstand to a point where you can get rid of reflections. This is a major advantage that the Surface Pro 4 offers over the fixed Origami cover of the Apple iPad Pro.
The Surface Pro 4 comes in multiple variants depending on the processor, RAM and storage configuration you select. We reviewed the base model that is selling in India, which houses the 6th generation Intel Core i5 6300U and is a dual-core, hyper-threaded part clocked at 2.5GHz. It comes with an Intel HD 520 graphics solution. The processor is paired with 4GB RAM and 128GB SSD storage.
It runs Windows 10 Pro operating system. In terms of connectivity you get Wi-fi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, microSD card slot, one USB 3.0 slot, a mini Display port and so on. We liked the fact that the power adapter has a USB port for charging your devices such as phones, thereby keeping the USB port on the Pro 4 free.
Since the Surface Pro 4 is a Microsoft product, it naturally runs the latest Windows 10 Pro operating system. There isn’t any pre-loaded bloatware on the Surface Pro 4 which is great. So you do not have to spend time deleting unwanted software. Getting the hang of Windows 10 Pro does not take much time if you are a Windows user, but there are certainly setup issues which irritate even the most seasoned of Windows users.
Windows Hello is the feature that certainly stands out. It basically lets you login to your Pro 4 using facial recognition technology which can be enabled after you have set a PIN to login. Once set, the logging in using Hello is near instantaneous. It did not have any issue with bearded faces as well. And since it uses IR for the scanning part, it works in lowly lit rooms as well. Just to test the security, we tried testing it with still photographs, and the Surface Pro 4 did not unlock.
Now, we know that Microsoft designs products keeping primarily its fans and loyal userbase in mind. But simple things such as setting up Cortana or the Surface Pen, for instance, involve hunting on Microsoft forums and website. Now a geek will have no issues with that, but if you think from an elderly or business user's perspective, it's an exercise in frustration getting it to work. Something as simple as a wizard to set up Cortana or the Surface Pen, the backup passcodes and so on would certainly have helped.
There were a couple of instances when the Surface Pro 4 just refused to turn on. And when we finally did get the display working, the Windows Hello function threw up an error saying that there were too many sign-in attempts - and we were locked out. This may seem like a ‘learning curve’ exercise, but Microsoft certainly needs to make things a bit easier for its newer converts. Also considering that the Surface Pro 4 has launched in India after such a delay, these software glitches surely should’ve been taken care of.
The Surface Pro 4 display is touch sensitive, but we noticed that unless you're using it in tablet mode, it's not really optimised for touch. Using it as a regular laptop, the icons become too tiny for you to be interacting with the tablet using touch. In fact, the trackpad is so good that you will not feel the need to use touch at all. You can of course change the scaling to your preference. But we noticed that when we detached the keyboard from the tablet, it did not get into the tablet mode by default. We had to actively change it to tablet mode from the Action centre.
Palm rejection, which means not registering the touch associated with the palm touch, when using the Surface pen was quite good. We did not face any issues while using the Surface Pen to write down notes or while drawing.
When you talk of a tablet, the only thing that comes to mind is media consumption. There are very few tablets out there which are as good with productivity related tasks outside of the Microsoft Surface Pro series. The Surface Pro 4 carries on that trend thanks to its desktop like configs and a full blown Windows 10 Pro OS. Add in the Surface Type Cover and you have a proper mid-range laptop at your disposal.
Office related tasks such as working on word, excel and editing photos with Lightroom are tasks the Surface Pro 4 performs without breaking into a sweat. It's a great device for multi-tasking and we did not face any lag or slowdown, no matter how many applications or Chrome tabs we had open. The Pro 4 just gets the work done. It's great for sitting back and watching movies as well, with the speakers on board being loud enough to fill up a room with sound.
Gaming is certainly not a strong area, understandably, but we could manage to get playable frame rates for maximum settings at full HD resolutions for Counter Strike: GO and Team Fortress 2. But you may want to have the Surface Type cover flat on the table while playing lest you damage it.
The only problem area, as mentioned earlier, is the OS itself which clearly needs some optimisation. From a purely performance perspective, the Surface Pro 4 offers a much better experience than the iOS sporting Apple iPad Pro.
Battery Life: 7/10
The Surface Pro 4 easily lasts an entire workday. We used it as our daily driver at work and that involves a lot of mailing, watching YouTube, streaming audio, working on office documents and some photo editing work. The Pro 4 would easily manage the 8-10 hour work days with some 10-15% charge to spare. The PC Mark 8 gave an on screen time close to 3 hours.
Verdict and Price in India
So should you buy it or not? That is the ultimate question, we have to say that it's not such an easy decision to make as the pricing starts from Rs 89,900 - and that's just for the tablet portion. The Surface Type keyboard cover and Surface Pen need to be bought separately at Rs 12,499 and Rs 8,896 respectively. If you drop the Surface Pen, the Surface Pro 4 along with the type cover still costs over Rs 1 lakh, a big sum by any means. You could get more powerful laptops in that price range, not to mention a MacBook Pro Retina (2015) display as well.
Between the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 and an Apple iPad Pro, the Pro 4 certainly offers a better value proposition if you are looking at a productivity-heavy device. The iPad Pro is just a larger iPad, and certainly has a limited appeal when it comes to productivity - unless you are a sketch artist or illustrator that is.
The Windows 10 Pro OS certainly will take some time getting used to and the initial setup will require some patience from users. With constant updates, it should improve over time, but you just need to realise that the OS isn’t without flaws out of the box.
The Surface Pro 4 is certainly a laptop replacement, but the pricing as compared to the features on offer is certainly on the higher side. If you can overcome that, it is a device well worth the investment. Existing Surface Pro 3 users needn't upgrade, but could certainly get the new Surface Type Keyboard cover. If you feel the Pro 4 is out of your budget range, but you need a device like it, then the Surface Pro 3 has recently got a price drop and it now begins selling from Rs 58,990 onwards.
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