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Review: Microsoft Surface Pro 4

Ah yes, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4. Often considered the cream of the 2-1 crop, the Surface was one of the first mainstream devices to combine the concept of a laptop and a tablet with the strengths (and weaknesses) of both. Microsoft has a head start over the ever increasing competition, which has allowed them the luxury of having a few years to perfect their flagship 2-in-1. The results are the Surface Pro 4 ($1,150), their latest detachable keyboard based model.

So is Microsoft still at the head of the pack or has the competition finally caught up?

Below The Surface

The design of this product is probably familiar to most of you by now, and it still looks good. The tablet portion in particular is beautiful, made of brushed magnesium that feels and looks great. The kickstand blends in seamlessly to the back, and when you do use it to adjust your viewing angle, it too feels sturdy because of the metal construction. Our model has a 12.5 inch screen made from polished glass. I can’t say enough about how great the tablet portion looks and feels, though some might find it a bit on the heavy side due to the construction materials consisting of metal and glass.

My only real complaint about the design of the tablet is that there is only one USB 3.0 port which is really not enough in this modern age of extensive peripherals. There is also a Thunderbolt input and of course power and a headphone jack. The power supply is cool, not only is it only two pronged for those of you with older outlets, but there is also a USB charging output so you can use it to charge all the peripherals you can’t use with the Surface.

The Key to Everything

So we’ve established that the tablet portion feels great to use, how about the keyboard?

First and foremost, the Surface does NOT include the keyboard. You’re paying only for the tablet. the keyboard, or “Typecover” as Microsoft callis it, is an extra $100. The Surface is already expensive, so it’s disappointing that it isn’t included.

While the Typecover certainly isn’t terrible, it does leave a bit to be desired. It’s attached with a somewhat inelegant magnet system, and trying to put it back on feels clunky. The keyboard is small and light (and comes in a variety of colors for those of you who care) and also serves as a cover for the screen when not in use.

It works well enough, the keys are spaced well, and the trackpad, while a bit on the small side, feels pretty solid. I found myself primarily using the touchscreen to navigate instead of the pad. I have no real complaints about the keyboard other than that feels flimsy, though I don’t expect a detachable keyboard to have the same build strength as one designed for a desktop. I wish it wasn’t so awkward to attach and reattach though. It’s very light, especially when compared to the tablet portion of the Surface, so it’s nice and portable.

Performance Art

You want your electronics to look good, but that hardly matters if performance isn’t up to par. Luckily for the Surface Pro 4 it is. As with most modern systems you can customize the components you want, so price range and performance will vary dramatically depending on what you choose. Our model has an i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD, and ran quite quickly. It is refreshing to see full strength components in what is essentially a tablet, and I had no complaints whatsoever with speed or performance. It ran everything it could be expected to without a hitch. After detaching the tablet, it ran just as well in tablet mode. I found I prefer tablet mode for browsing, and really only used the keyboard when writing for extended lengths of time.

There are still a few hiccups when using Windows 10 as a tablet, but that is not unique to the Surface. Overall I was very pleased with the performance, and despite occasional slowdown when running several programs simultaneously everything was smooth as silk.

The Surface line is at the higher end of the price spectrum when compared to competing 2-in-1s, and starts at $899 for an m3 processor.

The Surface Pro 4 also comes with a stylus, creatively called the Surface Pen, which magnetically attaches to the tablet so it’s never too far. It works as well as you would expect, though it is easy to misplace the stylus as it is so easily detached. I prefer when the stylus can be placed inside a tablet, though I mostly used my fingers with the responsive touchscreen, so it didn’t bother me too much.

Battery life was stellar as well, and though it didn’t last quite the nine hours Microsoft claimed (we got closer to eight), that could be because we were putting it through very heavy use.

The Surface line is at the higher end of the price spectrum when compared to competing 2-in-1s, and starts at $899 for an m3 processor. You can go all the way up to an i7 for $1,599 which puts it in the high price category. But the components are solid, it feels incredibly well built so I don't mind paying a little more.

The Pro 4’s Fancier Cousin

It’s difficult to mention the Surface Pro 4 without talking about the upgraded version, the Surface Book. While significantly more expensive, it has everything we like about the Surface Pro 4 and so much more. You can read our full review here, but the primary difference is the keyboard. Like the tablet section of both, the keyboard of the Surface Book is also brushed magnesium, and feels and looks fantastic.

The Pro 4 keyboard feels very flimsy and small by comparison, and the detachment process is also better on the Surface Book. Typing on both is fine but typing on the Surface Book is vastly superior. If you plan to use the keyboard extensively, it might be worth the extra money to upgrade. You’ll get the same great tablet, but a truly exceptional keyboard, as well as more ports and an optional GPU for increased visual prowess. They’re both solid 2-in-1s, but the Surface Book is quite possibly the best.

The Verdict

The Surface line has had the distinct advantage of being one of the first to the 2-in-1 party, so Microsoft has had ample time to work out the kinks. For the most part they have succeeded, especially when it comes to the high performing, beautiful tablet portion. The keyboard is sufficient, though not exactly a game changer. I would recomend the Surface to someone who wants to use it primarily as a tablet, with only occasional typing. They keyboard isn’t quite there yet, especially when it comes to the clumsy detachment process. The Surface Book addresses this issue beautifully, but the high cost might be an issue for some.

The Surface Pro is a great 2-in-1 for sure, but I’m not sure it lives up to the “Pro” part of its name. I wouldn’t recommend this to a professional who is going to spend a lot of time drafting emails and working on Word documents, though you certainly can. It would be perfect for a tablet lover who wants to type only occasionally.

The Surface Pro 4 is a fantastic tablet with an alright keyboard, but that could be absolutely perfect for the right person.