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Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review

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  • Surface Pro 4

Summary

Our Score:

9

Pros

  • Great screen for consumers
  • Robust performance
  • Solid battery life
  • Untouched version of Windows 10

Cons

  • Type Cover costs £110 extra
  • Missing key features for designers

Best Deals for Microsoft Surface Pro 4

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Key Features

  • Intel Core processor
  • Bundled Surface Pen
  • Optional Type Cover
  • 12.3-inch display
  • Manufacturer: Microsoft
  • Review Price: £749.00

What is the Microsoft Surface Pro 4?

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.

Surface Pro 4 rivals

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.

Buy Now: Surface Pro 4 at Amazon.co.uk (£665.99) | Amazon.com ($843)

Watch our iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 4 comparison video:

Related: Everything you need to know about the Microsoft Surface Pro 5

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 – Design

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.

Related: Best laptops 2015

Surface Pro 4

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.

Best Deals for Microsoft Surface Pro 4

  • amazon
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Dead Words

November 23, 2015, 9:43 pm

There's also a 1TB SSD option.
Nice review. The Surface reviews here are always a tad strange because they get such praise yet the entire review is written like they only got a 7/10 instead of a 9/10. Still, pretty good, well-written, unbiased review.

LeeTronix

November 23, 2015, 11:11 pm

I agree nice review, I own the SP3 and intend to keep it for now as it works sufficiently for me. As a side issue I definitely prefer the SP series to the new SB series I find the surface product just works.

Kulti Vator

November 24, 2015, 9:33 am

Nice device - impressed with the feel and responsiveness of the new stylus. This may be the device that prompts me to ditch my Cintiq+laptop combo and travel a lot lighter!

Will probably hold out for benchmarks on the i7 edition - that 540 GPU in the i7 is quite a bit beefier than the 520 in the i5, so it'll be interesting to see how the performance & battery life compare.

Coburn_Alpha

November 24, 2015, 10:33 am

Sometimes it feels to me like they are specifically picking things to mark it down on. The type cover keyboard for example...no surface has ever sold with a keyboard that didn't cost extra. I find this a bit of a moot point, especially as you can easily plug a usb keyboard in to it and your sorted.
As a business tool, you can buy a usb dock for it and it will be good to go.

Dead Words

November 24, 2015, 12:22 pm

Or use a Bluetooth keyboard.
The point is, the keyboard is still cheaper than Apple's keyboard for the iPad Pro and is actually better to use. Keeping it separate means we get a choice on color and there ARE bundles that include the Type Cover. I think how Microsoft is doing it is best, as I'd rather buy a Type Cover separately and get the color I want (or get a fingerprint scanner) rather than pay extra to get it bundled with the Surface and only get black.

Coburn_Alpha

November 24, 2015, 1:25 pm

Agreed. I like having the option as well.
Also, don't you have to spend £79 on the Pencil for the Ipad Pro?? It doesn't get marked down for that!

Curtis Quick

November 24, 2015, 3:42 pm

Honestly, the composite score should be above 9. Not only is the SP4 the best Windows tablet yet, it's also the best productivity tablet yet. Asked to mark it down for not providing a keyboard is not fair as the top iPad and top Android productivity tablets also don't bundle their keyboard (and they cost much more as well without providing a trackpad or adjustable screen angle). There is so much greater capability that the SP4 provides with its full featured desktop OS compared to the mobile OSes that the other top tablets offer that there really is no contest. I currently use an SP3 and I make daily extensive use of the digital pen without the issues the author mentioned. Also, while I'm sure the SP4 type cover is much improved, my current keyboard cover its quite good for my daily needs. Honestly, even the lesser Surface 3 is more than a match for the best the competition has to offer.

Dead Words

November 24, 2015, 9:55 pm

And the Surface Pen comes bundled with the Surface Pro 4 (and Pro 3)...so where's the argument?

chasmm

November 30, 2015, 8:37 pm

I may be wrong, but as an owner of the SP3, the following sounds incorrect. I don't believe I can magnetically dock my SP3 pen to the SP3. I don't have the pen handy to check this...

"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."

Joseph Murdock

January 26, 2016, 3:27 pm

What detailed review. Appreciate it.

You did briefly touch upon Surface Pen but I was looking for some in-depth review on the performance of the pen and its use-cases. May be a hands-on review by an artist would have been great. While I was searching for that, I came across this site fanreviews.co and found some video reviews by the users. There's an in-depth video by a graphics designer touching all aspect of using surface pen and more videos on other aspects as well. If I was searching for it am sure there are others also looking for it so thought of sharing it with you guys here - https://fanreviews.co/mobiles/...

Hope this helps to others.

YP Actually

March 31, 2016, 4:51 am

Does the surface Pro 4's keyboard works on virtual machine (ubuntu/linux/win7)?

Alastair J. Archibald

July 5, 2016, 10:52 am

Coburn would agree with you. He was pointing out the fact that you have to pay extra for the Apple Pencil when you splash out for the iPad Pro (as well as a keyboard) , but the reviews never mark it down for that.
It's true: I read reviews on the iPP and they never, ever mention the need to pay extra for a keyboard and pen. Yet ALL the reviews on the Surface Pro moan about exactly the same thing.

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