Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review: A bargain at £649

Latest news: Microsoft has got an excellent deal to clear out old Surface Pro 4 stock. Right now at the Microsoft Store, you can buy the 128GB Core m3 model for £649 – including the Type Cover in black, blue, red or teal. If you feel like adding an extra £25, you can upgrade to a Type Cover with Fingerprint ID or a Pro Signature Type Cover in one of three colours. No Surface Pen included, but for the price you can’t really complain. 

This is an excellent deal, but it won’t last long. Act fast if you’re interested, or read on to find out why the Surface Pro 4 is still worth buying in 2017.

The original review continues below

The improvements evident in the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 are mostly small and incremental, then, but don’t, whatever you do, make the mistake of thinking they’re “only” iterative. As Apple has proved time and time again, constant iteration leads to products that end up head and shoulders above the competition. That’s where the Surface Pro 4 finds itself, and it’s why its stablemate the Microsoft Surface Book – though quite, quite lovely – isn’t at the same level just yet.

In case you haven’t seen a Surface Pro, or you’ve been hiding from the multi-million-dollar advertising campaign Microsoft has run since the first one launched, it is designed to be the tablet that can replace a laptop. It runs Microsoft’s desktop OS software, Windows 10, and as such allows you to run any Windows application on the planet, as well as apps from the Windows Store.

That makes it a very different proposition to the Apple iPad Pro, which only runs iOS apps. It’s all at once a powerful laptop replacement that you can use in a business environment to run legacy Windows apps, browse networks and copy and paste files, and a consumer tablet you can use to run casual games and watch Netflix. It’s truly a one-size-fits-all machine.

The Surface Pro 4 is built around an Intel processor – in our case, the latest Skylake Core i5-6300U – although you can go up to an i7 or even step down to a Core m3. Prices start at £729 on Amazon UK inc VAT (on Amazon US $849) it’s  for the model with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD and rise to £1,799 for an i7 with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. As usual, you’ll have to add on £110 for the (pretty much essential) Type Cover, which means a top-of-the-line Surface Pro 4 won’t leave you much change from £2,000. Microsoft is indeed following the Apple model with this one.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review

Surface Pro 4 review: Design and build quality

That’s not to say, though, that you’re not getting value for money – you’re getting a design and build quality that’s at least as good as Apple’s. Although the design of the Surface Pro 4 doesn’t stray too far from that of the Surface Pro 3, there are little touches that improve it.

There’s still the same beautiful kickstand, which you can adjust to almost any angle, so it’s close to being a laptop-like experience. You can even angle it all the way back, which makes the Surface Pro very usable without your keyboard attached in a lap – think the iPad with a Smart Cover on it, folded back, and you have an idea of the angle at which it sits.

How does it compare with the competition, though? Well, it’s a sight better than the iPad Pro’s keyboard stand. Although I don’t mind typing on that keyboard, the lack of adjustability – it’s set at one angle – backlight and touchpad set it at a significant disadvantage.

And, while Google has made a much better attempt with the Google Pixel C’s great magnetically attachable keyboard, which allows you to adjust the keyboard at any angle and has a rigid, solid base, it suffers from similar shortcomings. It also lacks a touchpad and backlighting, and its small size means it isn’t as comfortable to use as the Surface Pro 4’s Type Cover.

The body is the same as its predecessor, as is the array of ports: USB 3, mini-DisplayPort, and a microSD slot hidden under the stand. Microsoft hasn’t taken the opportunity to shift to USB Type-C, which I think is a shame. The lack of USC Type-C means we’re also stuck with the weird proprietary power connector, rather than being able to charge from a wide variety of chargers. Oh well, perhaps next time.

One small design tweak that’s welcome, though, is the addition of a few magnets on the left-hand side. These hold the Surface Pen – which is included with the device – firmly to the side. How firmly? Strongly enough that, on a flat desk, I can drag the Surface Pro 4 along just by holding the pen and pulling. It isn’t quite as secure as an internal docking slot, but it comes close enough for me to stop complaining about not having a place to put the pen.

Overall, though, the design and build quality remain the gold standard for this kind of convertible. The Surface Pro 4 looks, and feels, like an expensive, high-quality product. And that’s because it is – on both counts.

The biggest question mark over the design remains its “lapability”, as Microsoft has taken to calling it. As with the Surface Pro 3, the Surface Pro 4 is helped considerably by the stand’s ability to tilt the screen to a wide range of angles. While it’s now very steady, it’s much longer than a conventional laptop on your lap, which means people who have shorter legs (like me) are likely to find it less comfortable.

Although this is something that’s raised again and again by journalists, how much of an issue it is in the real world is debatable. Most laptops in daily use are on tables – lap use tends to be a much rarer event for ordinary people than it is for journalists. If you’re someone who spends a lot of time using your laptop on your lap, the Surface Pro 4 will be less suitable for you. If on the other hand, you’re largely desk- or table-bound, it will be perfectly fine.

Surface Pro 4 review: Type Cover

I didn’t hate the Surface Pro 3’s Type Cover. I could happily type on it for hours, but was always happy to get back to a proper keyboard. It wasn’t so much the size of the keys or the travel, but the slight feel of flexing that you got when you hit it.

The good news is that Surface Pro 4’s Type Cover largely fixes this. Microsoft has added some much-needed rigidity to the cover – it’s hard to bend it now – which means the keyboard doesn’t bounce in quite the same way. The keys themselves are still a bit clicky, but it’s a pleasant experience, and I’d be more than happy to type on it all the time.

The trackpad is also improved. It’s now a little bigger, and topped with glass, with a much better feel. The improvements to the trackpad move it from the “I want a mouse now, please” category to “yeah, I can use this”. There are a few small nice extra touches here. For example, the function key now has a tiny light on it and acts as function-lock. The backlighting has also improved, although the keys still leak light in a way that will alarm those used to Apple keyboards, with their highly precise lighting.

There’s also the snappily-named Surface Pro 4 Type Cover with Fingerprint ID. At £135 inc VAT, it isn’t cheap, but it works very well indeed. Enrolling fingerprints operates in a similar manner to Touch ID on an iPad or iPhone, and once done you’ll be able to tap the sensor – located just to the right of the touchpad – to instantly unlock the tablet, even directly from sleep. That’s perfect for right-handed people like me, but a little bit awkward for left-handers.

It’s so good, in fact, that if you’re considering buying a Surface Pro for the first time, I’d recommend seriously considering paying the extra £25 for the privilege. Also worth noting is that both versions of the Surface Pro 4 keyboard work with the Surface Pro 3 as well. So, if you have an older Pro, I’d recommend running out and buying the Type Cover with Fingerprint ID as soon as you can.

Buy now from Amazon – Surface Pro Type Cover with Fingerprint ID

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