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5 Reasons To Buy The Microsoft Surface Pro 4

Forbes logo Forbes 26-11-2015 Jay McGregor, Contributor

Microsoft Surface Pro 4© Bloomberg Microsoft Surface Pro 4 I said in my recent review of the Surface Pro 4 that Microsoft’s latest tablet/laptop concoction was ‘confusingly excellent’. It’s a device that, despite its popularity, is still yet to find its feet. The hybrid design means that it compromises in both categories: in width and weight as a tablet, and the sturdiness of a conventional laptop. 

But its versatility as something that sits in both categories is clearly striking a chord with its users. Comments under my review made that abundantly clear.

As we approach Black Friday and the holiday shopping period, I ask: is it really worth your money?

If you’re not familiar with my buying guides, then don’t forget to check out my run-downs of the Nexus 6P , iPhone 6S , Samsung Galaxy Note 5 , Sony Xperia Z5 Premium and others .

1. Versatility

Let’s tackle the versatility first. Microsoft is leading in this new category and it’s clearly paying off. Each new iteration of the Surface range shows us another glimpse of Microsoft’s vision for PCs.

That vision? A versatile computer that adapts to the task, but doesn’t compromise on power. The Surface Pro 4 certainly achieves some of that. Breaking off the display from the magnetically-attached keyboard is a flawless process, quickly transforming your Surface from a typing tool into a touch-based tablet experience.

Why is this useful? Because of the Surface Pen, which adds another dimension of interaction with your computer. Microsoft has cleverly incorporated features that both make use of the Pen and work well with a tablet: namely annotating and drawing on webpages, signing documents and generally using the Pen like a mouse.

It’s simple ergonomics. Imagine trying to draw on the display of a normal laptop. It wouldn’t work because it’s limited in how far the display goes back. Even flexible laptops, like Lenovo’s Yoga range, still have large and clunky keyboards attached, constantly reminding you that you’re playing with a bent in half laptop.  

With that said, the Pro 4 still suffers from the same design drawbacks of its predecessors: it’s too thick and heavy to be a proper tablet; and the keyboard is too flimsy to be as good as a conventional laptop. 

2. Pen

The improved pen is impossibly fun to use. Image credit: Jay McGregor© Provided by Forbes The improved pen is impossibly fun to use. Image credit: Jay McGregor We’re entering a new dawn of stylus wars, with Microsoft and Apple standing on either side aggressively waving their writing weapons at each other. Is the Pen mightier than the Pencil? We’ll know in more in my upcoming comparison. But for now, Microsoft is laying down a serious challenge to other stylus makers, because the Surface Pen is excellence in cylindrical form.

Why?  It’s more sensitive than ever (it can register 1024 levels of pressure, which is four times as much as the previous Pen). There’s also the reimaged design, which has a flat side to mimic a pencil, an eraser that can be used as (shock horror) an eraser and the fact that it magnetically attaches to the Surface.

The Pen’s main ‘draw’  is how it can be used to navigate around Windows 10. Smart ideas like annotating webpages, sketching (the tip is interchangeable for different types of pens) and shortcuts via clicking the Pen’s buttons make it a delight to use.

My only gripe is the latency. It’s certainly improved since the Pro 3, but the ever so slight delay between drawing something and the Surface registering it makes me question Microsoft’s claim that this is the go-to tool for designers.

3. Power

In raw performance terms, the Surface Pro 4 is a powerhouse. Obviously it depends on the version you buy, but even the cheapest model comes with impressive specs. The version I reviewed – 6th generation Intel Core i5 with 8GB of RAM – was lightning fast. You can comfortably run programmes like Premiere Pro and Photoshop without any hiccups, as you’d expect with those specifications. The fact that you’re getting a rapid desktop experience on a tablet shouldn’t be sniffed at.

In my initial review, I said not to bother with graphically demanding games on the Pro 4. I stick by that (I only tried Fallout 4 on the Pro 4 out of pure curiosity because the limitations of integrated graphics are well-known). A reader, however, pointed out to me that he’d managed to get Tomb Raider and Bioshock running, so I decided to give it a go. I loaded up Batman Arkham Origins and, to my shock, it worked. I mean, it was pretty choppy and most graphics options were switched off, but it was certainly playable. 

4. Display

Surface Pro 4© Bloomberg Surface Pro 4 The actual display itself is a thing of beauty. The Surface Pro 4 comes with an unnecessarily opulent resolution upgrade from  2160×1440 to 2736 x 1824, with 267 pixels per inch. That’s better than the main Apple competition in the iPad Pro (264ppi for 13-inch) and even the MacBook Air (128ppi).  

It’s also brighter than the last Surface and has better colour accuracy, which is good news for both film watchers and artists alike.

5. Windows 10

Windows 10 is tailor-made for the Surface Pro 4’s versatility. The operating system supports both tablet and desktop devices, of which the Surface Pro 4 is both. You can switch easily in and out of ‘tablet mode’ by tapping an icon in the action centre. There’s also smart features like quick access to Cortana via double clicking the eraser button on the Pen. Meanwhile, facial recognition unlocking (called Windows Hello), which measures depth as well as an image so you don’t have to be directly in front of the camera for the Pro 4 to recognise you.

Windows 10 makes the Surface Pro 4 a more complete device because the OS and hardware work in perfect harmony- this is where previous Surface devices were lacking. 

_MG_0742: The Surface Pro 4 magnetically attaches to the keyboard. Image credit: Jay McGregor© Provided by Forbes The Surface Pro 4 magnetically attaches to the keyboard. Image credit: Jay McGregor The Surface Pro 4 exceeded my expectations as an awkward laptop tablet hybrid, particularly in the gaming department. Nifty features dotted around the device like Windows Hello, webpage annotation with the Surface Pen and its versatility make the Pro 4 a delight to use.

But there are  still some niggly issues that Microsoft needs to tidy up in the next model. Three issues immediately come to mind. First, the Pen latency; second, the awkward design, that makes it difficult to use on your lap because the kickstand simply doesn’t feel very comfortable or sturdy. And third (and most gallingly) is the shocking battery life. My PCMark 8 tests came back with an expected run time of 3 hours 40 minutes on a single charge, which wouldn’t be acceptable either as a tablet or laptop.

Then there’s also the fact that as a tablet, it’s heavy and thick, but as a laptop it doesn’t have the requisite rigidity to withstand some aggressive typing. Also, since the keyboard doesn’t come bundled with the device, you’ll be paying an extra $129.99 for the pleasure.

My concerns notwithstanding, Microsoft is nicely carving out a new category that should cause concern for tablet and laptop makers. With the Surface Pro 4 you’re getting two devices for the princely price of one, which performs the tasks of both and does so with aplomb.  

Now, check out Ian Morris’ hands-on with the Surface Pro 4′s direct rival, the iPad Pro

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