Review: Microsoft Surface Pro 4 – hybrid tablet takes on Apple and Lenovo
The gloves are off as Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 faces heavyweight competitors in the tablet market including Apple’s iPad Pro, and while certainly packing a punch with new features, can its price be justified?
The Surface Pro 4 is a tablet computer, albeit one that Microsoft claims can make conventional laptops a thing of the past. With these so-called hybrid laptops – tablets with detachable keyboards – the software giant hopes to finally crack the computer hardware market.
But competition is heating up in this space. Apple has the iPad Pro, and Lenovo’s IdeaPad Miix700 is almost the Surface’s doppelganger. While I find the Pro 4 a perfectly well-designed mobile office, it is not easy justifying its premium price tag.
Like all hybrids, the Surface Pro can be used with a lightweight keyboard that doubles as a snap-on protective cover. Its metal, 150-degree kickstand takes up more space than a similar-sized laptop when it is propped up. But apart from when you are flying economy, it’s not really that big an issue. I like the full-size, backlit keyboard which, when placed on a hard surface, has a slight give because of how thin it is. Some reviewers have complained about the “flimsy” keyboard but I find that it makes typing quite comfortable.
This particular model comes from the middle of Microsoft’s fast-expanding Surface line and comes with a choice of either the Intel Core M, i5 or i7 processors. The review model runs on the i5 chip and comes with 8GB RAM and 256GB of storage, which retails for HK$11,336 when including the HK$1,048 keyboard.
The iPad Pro and the IdeaPad do not offer exactly that combination of specifications but just for comparison, the top-of-the-range Apple model is HK$10,424. It only has a 128 GB hard drive but it does come with a SIM card slot.
Compared with its predecessor, the Pro 3, the Pro 4 features a few improvements. It has a bigger screen (12.3 inches instead of just 12 inches) and even the size of the machine remains the same as an A4 sheet of paper.
The rear-facing camera is now 8 megapixels rather than five. The screen resolution is best in class at 267ppi. No other similarly priced laptop comes near it. The Dolby Sound speakers pack a punch and Skype conversations come through clear and crisp.
Another major update is the pen. The Bluetooth stylus now has an eraser function and it supposedly detects more than a thousand different degrees of sensitivity.
On the whole, this is one classy-looking computer, and running on the i5, it’s fast. But there are a few disappointments.
The Pro 4 is quite heavy. The specs look good on this front as the i5 model is supposed to weigh a mere 786 grams. But snap on the keyboard and you gain another 315 grams. You can shave off 20 grams by opting for the model running on a less powerful Intel Core M processor because that doesn’t need a fan.
This is the one big surprise with these hybrids, which look much smaller than conventional laptops but often weigh more. The iPad Pro is only slightly lighter than the Surface Pro 4, while Intel’s fanless Core M chip has made laptops slimmer and lighter.
On the power front, the Pro 4 is less than impressive. On paper, it lasts nine hours if you play videos continuously, compared with 10 hours for the Pro 3. This measure of battery life means little to daily use, of course. On a day out during which it was used mainly for writing and for browsing the web, a full battery dropped down to 20 per cent after about six hours of infrequent use.
Another shortcoming with the Pro 4 is the camera zoom. Indoor shots take forever as the camera struggles to focus in anything less than bright sunlight.
So who would the Pro 4 appeal to? Probably those who really appreciate a superior screen resolution. It may also boil down to whether you prefer a Windows or Apple operating system, which also determines how many apps you have access to until more developers launch Windows-compatible programmes.
Microsoft Surface Pro 4, HK$11,336 (including the HK$1,048 keyboard).