Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review: The best hybrid tablet gets better

Alex Kidman 9 November 2015

Microsoft’s Surface Pro line improves in its fourth generation for those after a premium-priced Windows tablet/laptop hybrid.

Microsoft used to be a software maker whose only hardware experience was in providing keyboards, mice and joysticks. That changed with the launch of its Surface line of tablet/hybrid devices. Now into its fourth generation, Microsoft has had enough time to iron out the kinks in the Surface Pro line, producing an exceptional tablet device. We tested with the Core i5 256GB SSD 8GB RAM model.

The Surface Pro 4 is surprisingly the second tier of Microsoft’s current hybrid/tablet strategy, being slightly pipped in performance and pricing terms by the more laptop-esque Surface Book product. Here’s how Microsoft’s current Surface family compares, including the Surface Pro 3. The Surface Pro 3 is technically last generation’s Surface, but you may find some stock still in stores for a while if you’re interested.

ModelSurface BookSurface Pro 4Surface Pro 3Surface 3
Resolution3000 x 20002736 x 18242160 x 14401920 x 1280
Pixels per inch 267ppi267ppi216ppi213ppi
Rear camera8.0MP8.0MP5.0MP8.0MP
Front camera5.0MP5.0MP5.0MP3.5MP
ProcessorIntel Core i5/i7Intel Core M3/i5/i7Intel Core i3/i5/i7Intel Atom
Storage128/256/512GB SSD128/256/512GB SSD64/128/256/512GB64GB/128GB SSD
BatteryUp to 12 hoursUp to 9 hoursUp to 9 hoursUp to 10 hours
SoftwareWindows 10 ProWindows 10 ProWindows 10 ProWindows 10
PriceFrom $2,299From $1,349 Limited time price: $1,189.15From $699

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 from Microsoft Store

With its 12.3-inch PixelSense touchscreen, Windows 10 operating system and interchangeable Surface Pen tips, the Surface Pro 4 looks to improve upon every aspect that made its predecessor so popular.

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Upsides: Why you’d want the Surface Pro 4

  • It’s very portable: While the Surface Book is the hero product in terms of technical specifications, the Surface Pro is nearly half the weight for much the same processing power. It’s small enough that it’s even feasible, just about, to use it on economy plane flights where a more traditional laptop shape just isn’t workable.
  • Excellent display screen: The Surface Pro 4’s 2736 x 1824 display is crisp, bright and good for everything from traditional office style tasks to more entertainment-centric fare such as video watching or mid-level gaming.
  • Good performance: The Surface Pro 4 sells in Australia with either Core m3, Core i5 or Core i7 processors along with either 128GB, 256GB or 512GB of storage, although that highest storage tier is only available with the Core i7 Surface Pro 4. As you’d expect, it’s all running on Windows 10, and the end result is a machine that’s very responsive for most productivity tasks.
  • Improved Surface Pen: The updated model of the Surface Pen comes with a variety of tips designed to mimic pencil types, which is a big plus for the more artistically inclined. The Surface Pen itself attaches magnetically to the side of the Surface Pro 4 with a solid quantity of force, as well.
  • Improved Type Cover: The Surface Pro 4 Type Cover keyboard has been slightly tweaked with a larger touchpad and more space between keys, making for a more comfortable typing experience than previous Surface generations.
  • Great battery life: The Surface Pro 4 is positioned as a productivity device, and that’s usually the death knell for any kind of real long-lasting battery life, because the push of a high end processor normally depletes the battery rapidly. It’s true that if you do push the Surface Pro 4 hard, it’s possible to drain it rapidly, but it’s got battery capacity to match most needs.
    Testing a looped Full HD video running at full brightness and moderate volume on the Core i5 variant of the Surface Pro 4, its 39 Watt-Hour battery managed to run for an impressive eight hours and twenty-six minutes before going flat, which means that for most practical purposes, this is a hybrid device that you should be able to use all day away from a charger.


Downsides: Why you might not want the Surface Pro 4

  • The keyboard isn’t bundled: If you want the Surface Pro 4 with a keyboard -- and we suspect most users will -- you'll have to pay $199.95 extra for the privilege. Microsoft’s argument is that it wants to give users the choice, and you could use a cheaper Bluetooth or USB keyboard, but the Touch Cover and Surface Pro 4 work so well together because they were designed together.
  • Limited ports: If you look at the Surface Pro 4 as a tablet, it has more connectivity than any other tablet you can buy, with microSD card, mini DisplayPort and a full sized USB 3.0 port on offer. If you look at it like a notebook, however, a single USB port is fairly limited. You could opt for Microsoft’s very nice Surface Dock to dodge this problem, but that will again cost you extra.
  • Limited graphics: If you’re thinking of a Surface Pro 4 as a full replacement laptop option, the one area that the Surface Book, and a number of other premium priced laptops do outperform the Surface Pro 4 is in graphics options, because there’s no separate GPU on the Pro 4 as there is with the Surface Book.
  • Type cover is improved, but this still isn't quite a laptop: If you're used to typing on a rigid hinged device on your lap or at a desk, there's a learning curve to using the lighter Surface Type Cover that you may struggle with. The multi-position kickstand works well on the lap, but you'll never be able to balance the Surface Pro 4 in quite the same way as you would a conventional laptop.
  • Premium price: Microsoft has never positioned the Surface Pro line as anything but a professional product at a professional price. If all you need is a Windows 10 laptop or tablet, there are other, cheaper alternatives.

Who is it best suited for? What are my other options?

The Surface Pro 4 is a superb machine if you’re in the market for a beautifully designed professional tablet/hybrid device. If you wanted to keep things in the Surface family but wanted something more laptop-style with its own GPU, the slightly more expensive Surface Book may also be worth considering, although Microsoft will only sell that device through its own online store and in its flagship Sydney store.

It’s undeniably Microsoft’s intention that the Surface Pro line acts as something of a reference platform for other PC vendors offering Windows devices, so you could look to manufacturers such as Lenovo with its Yoga line or Toshiba with its Portege line for similar products.

There any number of lower-cost competing tablets that can also hook up to a Bluetooth keyboard that will either run Windows 10 natively, or qualify for an upgrade from their existing Windows 8 base under Microsoft’s Windows 10 upgrade policy, including Microsoft’s own cheaper Surface line of tablets.

Where can I get it?

The Surface Pro 4 sells in six different variants in Australia, detailed below:

Surface Pro 4 ModelRRP
Intel Core m3, 128GB storage, 4GB RAM$1349.00
Intel Core i5, 128GB storage, 4GB RAM$1499.00
Intel Core i5, 256GB storage, 8GB RAM$1999.00
Intel Core i7, 256GB storage, 8GB RAM$2499.00
Intel Core i7, 256GB storage, 16GB RAM$2799.00
Intel Core i7, 512GB storage, 16GB RAM$3399.00

Microsoft will sell you a Surface Book via its online store, from the Microsoft store opening in Sydney on 12 November, or via a number of retail channels including JB Hi-Fi and Harvey Norman.

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