18 Nov 2015

Surface Pro 4: What are technology reviewers saying?

Microsoft announced the fourth iteration of its Surface Pro tablet-laptop hybrid last month, boosting the screen quality, boasting under-the-hood improvements, and revamping the pen.

In the six weeks since it was unveiled, the Surface Pro 4 has been lauded by technology reviewers the world over – though some of the quibbles experienced by earlier Surface users remain unaddressed.

A survey of early reviews of the device shows almost universal admiration for the display, which is only slightly larger than the Pro 3 but offers 60 percent more pixels and “surprisingly low power” consumption.

As if screen on the Pro 3 wasn’t already unbelievably sharp,” quipped the Australian Financial Review’s John Davidson.

The Surface Pen – which still comes free with the Pro – is also much improved. It offers 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity instead of 256 for better accuracy and performance, and the top of the pen also functions as an eraser (in addition to retaining functions like opening a new page in OneNote).

However’ the pen’s biggest improvement is that it now attaches to the side of the Pro 4 using magnets.

Owners of previous versions of the Surface Pro will likely have been frustrated by the adhesive fabric loop that could be used to store the pen – but which inevitably fell off owing to its poor design.

The Surface Pro 4 offers a new way to log called Windows Hello, which uses the camera for facial recognition.

“It’s quite liberating not to have to log in with a password,” The Australian’s Chris Griffith said, adding that it presented him with the Windows 10 tiled screen “in a split second”.

However, it appears Windows Hello could be a significant drain on the device’s battery life, with WinBeta reporting massive connected standby power gains by turning the feature off and reverting to the standard username-password login.

Although Microsoft said that the Surface Pro 4 is capable of “up to nine hours of battery life” using the standard power-hungry test of non-stop video playback, reviewers have found the battery to offer far less.

“Battery life, at under six hours of video playback, isn’t bad, but may not be enough for jet-setters who need all-day run time,” Wired noted.

The Australian managed to eke out even less performance.

“Unfortunately, battery life on the Pro 4 isn’t great; at 75 percent brightness, the Pro 4 played back video for just under five hours. That’s disappointing given the price tag of the device in Australia,” the newspaper noted.

Users of the Surface Pro 4 will also see some minor usability bugs carry over from previous versions. Both Wired and Neowin note that the type cover keyboard and trackpad still occasionally just stop functioning, and nothing short of a device reboot can fix it.

It is also still slow to awaken after entering hibernation. The Australian Financial Review noted that you “sometimes have to fumble with the power button for 10 seconds, sometimes 30 seconds before it powers up again”. Again this will be familiar to pre-Surface Pro 4 users.

However, as most of the reviews state, these are but minor bugs. The Surface Pro 4 is a meaningful improvement on its predecessor, and continues to be a credible laptop alternative.

The Surface Pro 4 starts at $1349 and ranges up to a top-end model of $3399, with various delivery dates beginning November 12. The type cover costs an extra $199.95.