MICROSOFT SENDS LAPTOPS RUNNING FOR THE HILLS WITH THE SURFACE PRO 4, THE BEST WINDOWS 10 TABLET YET
Microsoft gets its mojo working with a groovy new Windows 10 tablet. So hold fire on buying a new laptop until you read this
Microsoft has its mojo back. The Surface Pro 3 showed that the company’s tablets have come a long way since the disaster that was the Surface RT. The Surface Pro 4 is the most anticipated computer in ages. Can it live up to expectations? Can it convince us to ditch laptop for tablet?
Well, that depends on whether you prefer laptops to tablets – but there’s never been a better time to take the plunge. The Surface Pro 4 isn’t the radical overhaul its predecessor was, but it benefits from numerous subtle improvements. It’s iterative in the best sense of the word.
The sleek, all-magnesium unibody chassis is unmistakably Surface and feels premium to boot. The tablet sits nicely in the palm of the hand, thanks to its chamfered edges and the display’s paper-shaped 3:2 aspect ratio. The fact that it’s 7mm thinner and 0.7lbs lighter this time around only adds to the comfort factor.
The bezel surrounding the display has been slimmed down, enabling Microsoft to increase the screen size from 12 to 12.3 inches. That doesn’t sound much, but the extra space makes a real difference when it comes to productivity, watching video or playing games. Thankfully, the bezels aren’t so thin that you’ll mash the screen with your thumbs when holding the device in tablet mode.
By doing away with the capacitive Windows button, Microsoft was able to increase the screen size without altering the tablet’s dimensions. That’s excellent news for Surface Pro 3 owners, who can use their old keyboard, dock accessories and Surface Pen with the Surface Pro 4.
Around the back, there’s a multiposition kickstand. It’s sturdy and makes it easy to interact with the tablet at any angle when propped up on a hard surface. But it still has a tendency to wobble and even fall off your lap if you’re not careful. The new keyboard cover does little to help with this, which is a shame because it’s superior in every way to the Surface Pro 3’s mushy-keyed Type Cover.
Snap to it The Surface Pro 4 keyboard sports island-style keys similar to those on laptops and, despite being on the shallow side, they’re snappy and responsive. Combined with per-key backlighting and a thinner design, it all makes for an accessory that almost justifies the hefty £110 price tag.
The Surface Pro 4’s brightest feature – literally – is the gorgeous
display. It’s incredibly vibrant, to the point where you can use the tablet outside on a sunny day and read websites without squinting. Deep, but not over-the-top, colour saturation lends images an impressive hue.
Packing a pixel resolution of 2,736 x 1,824, it’s also one of the sharpest screens on any tablet. The Surface Pro 3’s 216ppi (pixels per inch) was hardly bad, but at 267ppi the Surface Pro 4’s display ups the clarity a notch or two. It narrowly beats the 264ppi on Apple’s iPad Pro, and far surpasses the 13-inch MacBook Air’s 128ppi. Your eyes soon adjust to its crisp fonts and sharp lines, and even Netflix binges are enjoyable thanks to the IPS display’s wide viewing angles.
Being a tablet display, it’s meant to be touched. Whether you’re prodding at menus with your finger or drawing using the redesigned Surface Pen, touch interaction is a delight.
Microsoft moved the Surface Pro 4’s power and volume keys to the device’s top edge to free up the lefthand side of the tablet, which now houses a reinforced magnet used for snapping the Surface Pen into place when not in use.
Drawing capabilities have improved on each Surface tablet, and the Surface Pro 4 continues the trend. The ever so slightly longer and thicker Surface Pro 4 Pen sports 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity, up from 256, which makes for more accurate strokes. It hasn’t eliminated lag completely, but it’s good enough to jot down notes with speed.
The top eraser button enables you to activate OneNote with a double click, while a long press springs Cortana into action. Better yet, Microsoft claims that the new Surface Pen can last for up to 12 months on a single AAAA battery.
The Surface Pro 4 runs Windows 10 Pro, which introduces a bold, transparent interface that shines on the Surface Pro 4’s display. The Start screen is out and the Start menu is (back) in, which makes the device feel more like a traditional laptop than a tablet most of the time.
Thankfully, Microsoft’s latest OS makes switching between modes much more seamless than Windows 8.1 on the Surface Pro 3 ever did. Windows 10 hides the task bar and maximises the current application to fill the display. This makes it quick and easy to detach the keyboard, launch an app and switch to a tablet-friendly view. Firing up the Spotify app and switching modes, for example, lets you pass the tablet among friends to
queue up and play tracks without the desktop getting in the way.
Windows 10’s Universal Apps are usually better designed for both desktop and touch, but some, such as Amazon’s Kindle app, are buggy, while others fail to respond to touch completely. That’s frustrating, and the excitement of being able to switch from, say, editing in Final Cut Pro or Photoshop on the desktop, to sitting back with an eBook, is soon dampened by apps that half-bake touch support, if they include it at all.
CORE OF THE MATTER
The Surface Pro 4 comes in two flavours, depending on the level of horsepower. The first, which is powered by an Intel Core M processor backed up by 4GB of RAM, is suitable if you’re only looking to do the basics.
It’s the cheaper option, but not recommended if you’re planning on delving into heavy multi-tasking activities such as editing large image and video files, or hooking up the Surface Pro 4 to an external display for catching up on professional work using multiple browsers.
If that’s you, opt for one of the other versions, which offer more grunt for chewing through tasks (either an Intel Core i5 with 8GB of RAM or an i7 with 16GB of RAM). Just don’t expect them to do modern PC games any justice: the Intel graphics cards inside simply aren’t up to the task.
The Surface Pro 4 can only be equipped with a fast SSD for storage, starting at 128GB, rising to 256GB and topping out at 512GB. Boot times are practically instantaneous, transfer times are nippy compared to traditional hard drives, and you’re rarely waiting for apps to load.
The Surface Pro 4’s battery life is good but not great, clocking in at around seven hours in T3’ s tests, which simulated everyday activities (browsing the internet, YouTube, document-editing and light gaming) with brightness set to 75 per cent.
The tablet has a 5.0-megapixel camera on the front that can record 1080p video and take passable snaps, but it won’t make you want to ditch your smartphone. Its rear-facing camera has an 8.0-megapixel sensor that’s slightly better quality.
If you do take images, they can be easily transferred to a microSD card or storage stick thanks to the on-board USB 3.0 port. Other ports include a headphone jack and a Mini DisplayPort for hooking up an external monitor.
Overall, the Surface Pro 4 has built on what made the Surface Pro 3 special in the first place. The hardware was already impressive enough, but nobody is ever likely to complain about a more portable tablet. Any changes to the design are rooted in practicality, which is helped by markedly improved accessories.
It’s undoubtedly Microsoft’s best tablet yet, and yes, you could replace your laptop with one. But would you want to? The Surface Pro 4 is great for doing desktop activities on a smaller screen, and if you’re also seeking a tablet, it offers double the value.
On the other hand, its flimsy (albeit improved) keyboard means that the tablet will never sit quite as comfortably on your lap as a laptop (the clue’s in the name), and its bright, high-resolution display comes at the expense of all-day battery life.
Drawing capabilities have improved on each Surface, and the Pro 4 continues the trend nick odant zis, deputy editor
WI NDOWS WONDER Having Windows 10 on board makes transitioning from laptop to tablet mode quick and easy, but many apps aren’t optimised for touch just yet
Connectivity includes USB 3.0, microSD, a headset jack and a Mini DisplayPort
The rear-facing 8.0-megapixel camera is superior to the 5.0-megapixel option on the front
The pixel-packed PixelSense Display lets you view photos and videos in pristine detail
The stunning display makes for a visual feast
Battery life is decent, but forget all-day use
Many Windows apps are buggy. Sort it out!