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Surface Pro 4: still an odd little machine


The Surface Pro 4 has many new features.

The Surface Pro 4 has many new features. Photo: Supplied

It’s impressive that Microsoft have been able to establish the Surface as a premium brand in just three years. We have hundreds of satisfied Surface Pro users in my day job, and the Surface name has become synonymous with quality – it’s even become a bit of a status symbol amongst the ‘always in meetings’ set.

The Pro 4 is worthy of the Surface name. It’s better in every way that the model it’s replacing: better screen, better keyboard, better stylus, better battery, all in a lighter shell. But it’s still a Surface, that strange tablet-laptop hybrid that doesn’t quite sit well on a lap, and doesn’t have a great selection of tablet apps.

The Pro 4 has a stunning display. The screen is one of the best on the market; stunning colours, impressive contrast, super bright, and clocking in at 2736 x 1824 pixels. The screen is slightly larger than that of the Surface Pro 3, but a reduced bezel keeps the overall size of the unit the same. This ensures the Pro 4 will work with docks designed for the Pro 3.

Above the display is a clever infrared camera that powers Windows Hello, a new way to log in to the Surface via facial recognition software. Just look at the locked screen, and your desktop appears. It works surprisingly well, I could not get Hello to fail even in a pitch black room.

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The Type Cover feels far better than the model it replaces. The keys on the keyboard are spaced further apart, for more comfortable and accurate typing. There’s a good amount of travel in the keys, considering how thin the Type Cover is. More impressive is the trackpad. Many PC laptops have awful, unresponsive trackpads that just feel cheap. The Type Cover trackpad is accurate and lightning fast, as good as any found in a MacBook.

The Surface Pen, included in the box, is a great little stylus. Microsoft are pushing the benefits of the Pen to creatives who live in apps like Adobe Photoshop all day, as a new way of touching up and drawing on photos and graphics. Like the soon to be released iPad Pro, this hopes to replace a laptop and a Wacom tablet. I’m not the target audience then, but I think the Surface Pro 4 would perform admirably. The stylus has a great feel to it, glides along the screen with almost no lag, and can pick up 1024 levels of pressure.

In my own use, I saw the benefit of jotting down notes in a meeting with the stylus, or adding quick scribbles to a PowerPoint presentation. But I mainly found myself grabbing it to hit the tiny little touch targets of Windows 10.

And that continues to be the Surface’s achilles heel. The standard desktop environment of Windows 10 is just not suited to navigate with fat fingers and a touch screen, and tablet-friendly modern UI apps are few and far between. Microsoft’s built-in Modern UI apps like Mail, Calendar and OneNote are fantastic, but don’t expect the rich app ecosystem of iOS, or, to a lesser extent, Android. The new Surface Book, which is laptop first and tablet second, seems the more compelling form factor for Windows 10.

Surface Pro has its legions of fans, but to me, It’s still an odd little machine. It balances too precariously on the lap to be considered a laptop, and has far too few tablet ready apps to be considered the best tablet available. But as long as you have a sturdy surface to balance Surface on, it’s a great, lightweight, premium quality portable computer.

The Surface Pro 4 starts at $1349.00 for the 128gb base model; the top of the line 512gb Core i7 Surface Pro 4 will cost $3399.00.

 



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