Microsoft is well-known as one of the world’s biggest software makers, but as a hardware maker the company’s success has been a bit rockier.
As a hybrid tablet, the Surfaces of past and present have modelled themselves as the Windows 2-in-1 detachable device - allowing you to treat it like a laptop with the keyboard (known as the Touch Cover), or like a tablet without the keyboard.
But the reception has been mixed thus far, with notable criticism aimed at the Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 operating systems.
Microsoft has pinned its hopes on the ultimate universal user experience with its latest operating system, Windows 10, which has been built to work across desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones.
As the strongest Surface yet on the spec sheet, the Pro 4 serves as a critical indicator of Windows 10’s strengths as well as Microsoft’s role as a hardware maker.
There are several price points for the Surface Pro 4. We got our hands on one of the cheaper ones with 256GB of storage, an Intel Core i5 processor and 8GB RAM which costs £1,079. Watch the video above to see the Surface Pro 4 in the flesh and find out whether it’s worth the expense below:
Design and display
It’s hard to deny that the Surface Pro 4 is sleek, but it hasn’t changed a great deal from its predecessor. The changes that have been made are subtle and a move in the right direction – slimmer (8.4mm thick), wider (11.5 x 7.93 inches), lighter (786g).
The bezel (the border around the screen itself) has also been reduced to make way for a wider 12.3 inch touch screen – the widest for a Surface tablet yet – while the display itself has a 2736 x 1824 resolution that provides stunning images, making photos and videos appear crisp.
Although it’s light and thin, it’s not necessarily easy to carry about given its width. If you’re commuting and working on the go, it’s more comfortable to handle in portrait mode.
The Surface Pro 4 has a limited amount of connections along the side – one USB 3.0 port and a Mini DisplayPort, as well as a power port and a jack for headphones. Given that so much is done wirelessly now, having the one USB port is unsurprising. You’ll still be able to do many of the things you’d usually do with a USB, just not simultaneously.
Inside, you’ll find wi-fi support as standard, plus Bluetooth – ideal for connecting with other devices using the new Project feature, which allows you to wirelessly stream the Pro 4’s screen to another display using the Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter.
Tablet and laptop modes
Windows 10 works like a dream on the Surface Pro 4. Microsoft has finally found a user-friendly way to couple the elements of a desktop PC experience with a tablet, allowing you to easily switch between the two.
In standard mode the desktop feels like an ordinary Windows 10 PC with the taskbar and Start Menu, but sadly you’ll have to buy a Type Cover keyboard separately (costing £110) if you want to do some power typing. The Type Cover has also been greatly improved – Microsoft has separated the keys and expanded the touchpad giving it a more authentic feel. This improves your typing compared to previous Type Covers, but having to spend more to have it is off-putting.
Swapping to tablet mode, there is an on-screen keyboard, as well as Microsoft’s new Pen (which comes with the Pro 4). The Pen is particularly great if you’re taking notes using OneNote, doing annotations of web pages on the new Edge web browser, or having fun painting with the Fresh Paint app. It’s pretty good at deciphering even the scruffiest handwriting, but it still doesn’t beat a physical keyboard when typing up documents.
The good news is that Surface Pro 3 accessories are compatible with the Pro 4.
The device seems able to withstand demanding tasks with relative ease thanks to the Intel Core i5 processor. We had about a dozen programmes open simultaneously and noticed no lagging. Likewise, we tested Snap, the feature that allows you to run two programmes alongside each other. On one side we had a video playing, on the other we played a game and both performed smoothly.
Apps and features
Some apps work beautifully on the Pro 4, thanks to Microsoft’s Universal Apps technology, which (if successful) should help the company expand its choice of apps from developers. Netflix is one of the early adopters – with it, the Netflix app adjusts automatically to the size of screen, whether on a tablet or a smartphone using Windows 10 mobile.
Unfortunately the Windows app store is still lacking, with notable omissions including official apps for YouTube and Google Maps. But of course, you can still access and use these services via the web browser.
Microsoft Hello and Cortana
Microsoft is also trying something new with security in the form of Microsoft Hello, a facial log-in alternative. It’s really easy to set up by allowing the Pro 4 to securely take some shots of your face. Then, whenever you face the screen it will log you in without typing anything. For those wondering, no, it can’t be fooled with a photograph, as it uses high-tech sensors to check.
Elsewhere, there’s digital assistant Cortana who understands voices well on the Pro 4 and is able to keep you organised while dealing with your web searches too – but sadly for Google search fans, Cortana only uses Bing.
As proven before, Cortana is incredibly useful for handling your schedule, setting reminders or alarms or asking about places. It’s obviously not as portable as using Cortana on a smartphone – although it can do the same things – but it is a valuable addition to Windows overall.
The Surface Pro 4 is a great, high performance piece of kit but it’s just too pricey for most people (even the cheapest build is still £749). When you consider that you have to buy the Type Cover separately, the cost just keeps on rising.
If you like to have the very latest technology that is powerful, portable and reliable, then look no further. Windows 10 really shines on board the Surface Pro 4, which is promising after a mixed reaction from those who upgraded on older machines, and criticism of Windows 8/8.1. Put simply, Windows 10 feels natural on the Pro 4.
With the more refined Pen, the Pro 4 would suit creative individuals (especially for the changeable pen tips). Those who work constantly from a computer could also benefit from the Surface Pro 4 because it can handle multiple tasks seamlessly and keep you organised at the same time.
The Surface Pro 3 may have weaker specs and lack some of the new features like Windows Hello, but with the cheapest version at £549 we think this is a more reasonable price for average users who don’t need such a powerful machine, but want the Windows 10 experience.