Reviewed: Microsoft Surface Pro 4

As more and more of us look to work on the go, the battle is now on between manufacturers to create a device that performs just as well in the office as it does on an airplane or at home.

Microsoft revealed the Surface Pro 4 last October, showing off a device that was thinner, more powerful and faster than the previous generation as it looked to take on Apple’s super-sized iPad Pro.

But at a cross between a laptop and a tablet, can the Surface Pro 4 stand up to the expectations?

First impressions

As Microsoft’s most significant attempt to grab control of the mobile working space, the Surface Pro 4 has been built for two things – portability and power.

Featuring a 12.3 inch screen but weighing in at just 786g, the Surface Pro 4 fits easily into any rucksack or shoulder bag, and can even be carried in your hand (I took it to Mobile World Congress and did so over the course of three days).

The 267ppi display is incredibly bright and detailed, which really shows when surfing the Internet or watching videos. The Surface Pro 4 also performs extremely well in both low and bright light, with the screen adjusting depending on the levels detected, although you can also control this manually too.

Turning on the device and setting up Windows 10 was as smooth as you’d expect with the amount of investment Microsoft has put into the software, with Office 2016 loading quickly to show off the cross-platform abilities that Windows 10 can bring.

And physically, getting the Surface Pro 4 set up was also a breeze – the kickstand is sturdy and extends to a nearly flat angle, so you can let people around see your screen if needed. The (sadly, optional) keyboard itself is actually comfortable to use, with the rubber keys and fabric base combining to create a top-rate typing process. Even the touchpad, which is so often the feature that annoys laptop users, was great to use, being responsive and flexible, even when using two hands.

The only spurious feature (for me, at least) was the accompanying Surface Pen accessory. Developed more for collaborative working and interacting with services such as OneNote, PowerPoint and Microsoft Edge, it was the only part of the Surface Pro 4 I found myself not using (and even removing and leaving at home after a while).

Those in more collaborative environments might find it more useful though, especially now that it attaches magnetically to the side of the device, unlike the Surface Pro 3.

The experience

Our version of the Surface Pro 4 came with an Intel i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, which will cost you £849 here in the UK, so it was towards the lower-spec end of the device’s possible combinations, but even so it performed very well, handling a wide variety of tasks with ease.

As mentioned above, booting Windows is a remarkably speedy affair, as from pushing the power button to logging in to your Windows account takes under ten seconds.

Although primarily intended to be used as a laptop, the Surface Pro 4 is pretty comfortable operating as a tablet – just unclip the magnetic keyboard and you have a device with a hugely detailed screen perfect for watching movies or viewing pictures.

The battery life is enough to power a full day of working, as my schedule at Mobile World Congress (MWC)  included multiple occurrences of working, carrying the device to meetings, and booting up again, all whilst connected to Wi-Fi, and it comfortably lasted all day.

However, there was one fairly major issue. It had been reported that some Surface Pro 4 units were experiencing issues when waking up from ‘Sleep’ mode, and despite Microsoft issuing a patch for this several weeks ago, our unit was one of those affected.

There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to turn your device back on to start work or begin an interview and having no response, just a black screen – even though the keyboard appeared to be responding. The only applicable fix appeared to be holding down the power button for 30 seconds, after which the Surface Pro 4 would reboot and start working like nothing was wrong.

It’s a real shame, as this issue was the only negative I experienced when using the Surface Pro 4 over the course of several weeks – although Microsoft says it has now fixed the issue.

The verdict

It’s rare that a product makes quite an impact on my everyday working life as the Surface Pro 4 has done. At one moment, it’s a powerful, portable work PC, all set up with my Office apps and documents – and then the next it’s transformed into a media or gaming experience – it’s one of the best products I’ve ever used.

This is by far the most comfortable I’ve felt using something that isn’t a laptop throughout my working day, and then taking it home and still using it. The sleep/power issue is a big one, however, and let’s hope Microsoft issues a further patch to sort this problem out – as it really is the only thing stopping this from being the perfect product.

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Mike Moore

Michael Moore joined TechWeek Europe in January 2014 as a trainee before graduating to Reporter later that year. He covers a wide range of topics, including but not limited to mobile devices, wearable tech, the Internet of Things, and financial technology.

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