The Surface Pro 4 is Microsoft's latest high-end tablet/laptop hybrid. Its incredible desirable design and powerful hardware still, months on, make it one of the most desirable devices on the market today.
The market for high-end tablet has become a lot more crowded. Most significant is the two-pronged assault from Apple, which includes the 12.9-inch and 9.7-inch iPad Pro tablets. Both of these can seriously challenge the Surface Pro 4, depending on your use case. If you're more of a casual artist, for example, and only have fleeting use for a full laptop experience, the larger iPad Pro looks tempting. The newer, smaller iPad Pro is perhaps too small for those looking for a proper laptop experience, but could be a handy secondary device.
Also in the fray is Microsoft's own Surface Book. This is a much more powerful device that comes with dedicated graphics hardware and a proper keyboard dock that contains a battery and plenty of ports, making it a laptop first and a tablet second. Worth considering if you want something with more oomph.
At Computex, Asus unveiled its Transformer 3 Pro, a Surface Pro rival that could massively undercut Microsoft's showpiece device. It's unclear whether build quality will be up to snuff or whether battery life will match expectations, but it's due in the UK soon so we don't have long to wait to find out.
Also worth considering are bugs. Early on in the Surface Pro 4's life it was plagued with bug reports, but Microsoft has now released several firmware updates. So if you were put off buying a Surface Pro 4 because of this, it may now be worth revisiting it now. The changes include fixes for the sleep/battery drain bug that meant putting your machine to sleep did not necessarily mean it wasn't burning through the battery, and there have also been several fixes released for various graphics driver-related bugs. The most irritating of these was the Intel HD Graphics 520 drivers' habit of simply crashing at random, but there were other issues that also meant the tablet screen wouldn't switch on even when the device was awake.
It's not clear whether these have been completely fixed, though; a test unit we've been using seems to have been updated to the latest firmware and still suffers from the sleep battery drain issue, but it may not affect all models.
Another point worth bearing in mind is that the Surface Pro 5 is very much on its way. One hint is that in the recent Amazon Prime Day sales, Amazon slashed the price of the Surface Pro 4 by nearly £200, suggesting perhaps Amazon wanted to make some room in its warehouse for some new stock. Pure speculation, of course.
Watch our iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 4 comparison video:
The Surface Pro 4 doesn’t rework the wheel on the design front. The tablet section of the Surface Pro 4 looks almost identical to the Pro 3 from a distance. It has the same metallic-grey magnesium finish; the same adjustable kickstand; and only slightly more svelte 292 x 201 x 8.4mm dimensions.
Some will view the lack of immediately noticeable changes as a negative, but for me it’s no bad thing. The Surface Pro 3 breathed new life into the Microsoft series of devices when it replaced the boring, boxy black design of the Surface Pro 1 and 2 in 2014, and it remains one of the nicest-looking convertibles on the market.
The Surface Pro 4 Intel Core i5 model I reviewed was also suitably satchel-friendly, weighing a meagre 786g – the Intel Core M variant weighs an even more modest 766g. It also has the same USB 3.0, mini-DisplayPort and microSD connection options as the Surface Pro 4, meaning that it will happily meet most users' connectivity needs.
If you take a more thorough look at the Surface Pro 4, however, you’ll realise that Microsoft has addressed several niggling issues with the design. The most obvious of these being the Surface Pen’s new docking mechanism.
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In theory, the docking system works in the same way it did on the Surface Pro 3, using a magnetic lock to hold the stylus on the tablet’s short side. I wasn’t a fan of the system on the Pro 3, because the magnetic lock was quite weak and the pen would detach itself when met with even the slightest of nudges. The position of the lock itself was even more annoying, since it placed the pen over the tablet’s physical power and volume keys.
These flaws have been fixed in the Surface Pro 4 by first, moving the power and volumes keys to the tablet’s top, long edge; and second, by increasing the strength of the locking magnet. Using the Surface Pro 4 as my main laptop and tablet, the Surface Pen never once detached itself from the device, and proved capable of clinging to the tablet section even when the Pro 4 was thrown into a fairly full satchel and lugged around London.
You can pick up the Pro 4 with either 128GB, 256GB or 512GB of SSD storage. The wealth of cloud storage services available on Windows 10 means that running out of space won't be a concern for the majority of people.
These changes may sound insignificant, but it's systemic of Microsoft’s overall strategy with the Surface Pro 4. The company has made a series of subtle improvements that are small when viewed on their own, but add up to create a vastly improved user experience overall.