The Surface Pro 4 tablet with pen attached

Putting the Pro in Pro

The rich functionality of a full version of Windows 10 Professional coupled with powerful and brilliantly designed hardware makes the Surface Pro 4 the single greatest computing device I have ever owned!

If I compare it to iPad Pro, that I have recently reviewed, that barely managed productivity functionality beyond that of a normal iPad because it is hampered by running an operating system designed for mobile phones.

Microsoft’s magisterial Surface Pro 4 does not run its mobile operating system. Even though Windows 10 Mobile is more richly functional than iOS, it would not do for Microsoft’s flagship tablet. As the iPad Pro shows, this would severely limit its potential for productivity.

You cannot find an operating system more suited to productivity than the full version of Windows 10 Professional installed on the Surface Pro 4. You can run any piece of Windows software you like – there is no app gap when it comes to running a full version of Windows!

Moreover, whilst the iPad Pro is blandly designed at best and has some severe design eccentricities at worst, the Surface Pro 4 is a brilliant piece of industrial design. With sharp lines and cunningly designed accessories it is a joy to look at and use. Have a look:

I have already raved about the Surface Pro 4 keyboard, which is as brilliant on the Surface Pro 4 as it was when I was using it on the Surface Pro 3, so I shall not dwell on it. There is plenty more to talk about.

I have the Core i7 version of the Surface Pro 4, with 8GB memory and a 256GB PCIexpress SSD. As I am sure you can imagine, this makes it rather fast. I have not put the number into the BeyondThePC ever expanding list of Geekbench scores because (even though it does not take full account of the Core i7 hyper-threading ability when calculating the CPU score) the Surface Pro 4 would dwarf every other device in the table with a score of 7059. This leaves most laptops, and certainly the iPad Pro, wheezing behind in the dust.

Moreover, the Core i7 variant of the Surface Pro 4 has Intel Iris 540 graphics capability built into it. This not only gives the GPU more Execution Unit parallel processing engines, but also has eDRAM embedded on the CPU to allow the graphics processor to act more efficiently.

Unlike the Surface Pro 3, which was distinctly pants as running 3D games or graphics processing in general, the Surface Pro 4 has no such problems. It has finally allowed me to play Elite: Dangerous that I purchased four months ago. I am yet to reach Elite-status…

Alas, I cannot give you the usual 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark as the Beyond the PC budget does not stretch to purchasing a Windows version of the software. However, the Core i5 Surface Pro 4 (that has only 24 Execution Units rather than the Core i7’s 48 and also lacks the 64MB of on-die eDRAM of the Core i7) has a score in excess of 60,000. This is double the score of the iPad Pro.

Disk benchmarks show that the PCIe SSD in the Surface Pro 4 is also incredibly fast, but I have had enough of numbers. I want to talk about actually using, and enjoying, the great experience that having a Surface Pro 4 is.

Something I love about the Surface Pro 4 is logging on via Windows 10’s feature ‘Windows Hello’. Watch the video below to see me waking up the Surface Pro 4 and accessing it using this feature. The video is only a few seconds long.

Is that not infinitely more preferable to having to type in a password? I have frequently forgotten things, but I have never forgotten my face.

Because Windows Hello uses an infrared camera, someone cannot log into your Surface Pro 4 just using a picture of your face (or your corpse, but then I do not suppose you would be in a position to worry about people accessing your computer).

The Surface Pro 4 pen is far better than the Surface Pro 3 pen. It has four times the pressure sensitivity and does not need a little loop on your keyboard to hold it. As you will have seen in my Surface Pro 4 gallery above, it sticks to the side of the Surface by powerful magnets. Neither my physical incompetence nor scent marking by Kisu, the Beyond the PC office cat, have succeeded in dislodging it.

The pen comes with a number of different tips you can use to simulate writing with different types of instrument. I am very happy with the one that was pre-inserted.

The Surface Pro 4 has a special chipset, dubbed by Microsoft the G5 (no doubt in homage to the crap PowerPC Macs), that specifically deals with tracking the pen on the screen. It certainly seems to make it more responsive than the pen on the Surface Pro 3.

Unlike the Surface Pro 3 pen the Surface Pro 4 pen has only one button on the side, set to map to a right click by default. You can change this behaviour easily.

The button at the top can also be re-mapped, but why you would want to I do not know. By default, one click opens OneNote (Microsoft’s brilliant, and yet to be remotely challenged by any competitor, note-taking app), two clicks allow you to take a screenshot and holding the button down activates Cortana (Microsoft’s digital assistant built into Windows 10).

You can also use the button on the top as an eraser for anything you might have drawn on the screen. I found this terribly useful when I attempted to sketch my co-blogger-cum-partner and he reported my picture, “was not your best drawing… in fact it is disgusting”.

Cortana is terribly good. She is the only voice activated digital assistant who actually understands me. I admit others have a hard time with me because once they have shown themselves to be imperfect in understanding my Oxbridge drawl I subsequently speak to them in my most waspish academic tone. This does not aid digital comprehension.

Cortana not only handles mundane tasks like setting alarms and reminders, but she can (if you let her) look inside your emails for travel or appointment details. She can then, largely automatically, put these into your calendar and remind you when you need to act on them.

If you highlight some text on a webpage in the wonderful Edge browser, that is the Windows 10 default browser, Cortana can search the web for more information about that which piqued your interest.

These are general Windows 10 features, though, let us get back to the Surface Pro 4.

The screen of the Surface Pro 4 is truly wonderful. We are told that each display is hand adjusted to 100% sRGB during manufacture. I do not quite know what that means, but it sounds jolly impressive to me!

The Surface Pro 4 is the same width and height (but thinner) than the Surface Pro 3, but Microsoft have shaved 5mm off each bezel to allow a larger screen. The resolution has been pushed up from 2160×1440 (216ppi) to 2736×1824 (267ppi). This craps all over the MacBook Air’s 128ppi and it is a brilliantly accurate touchscreen as well – Apple’s Macs (of any flavour) are yet to manage this ability.

A display of this pixel density means than even the tiniest text is readable and smooth as a particularly smooth bum. It is simply glorious to look at; so much so I fear my co-blogger-cum-partner is getting sick of me saying, “This display is so good!”

The stand on the back will adjust from ‘cramped in a scum-class aircraft seat’ to ‘arty drawing board’ and is perfectly strong and supportive in any position you choose.

With the keyboard the Surface Pro 4 changes from being the most desirable tablet one could wish for to a brilliantly powerful laptop. If you want to expand its connectivity between its built-in USB 3 port and mini display port, you can use a Surface Pro dock to turn the Surface into a wizard desktop.

I still have my old Surface Pro 3 docking station. This fits the Surface Pro 4 with the addition of a shim that you can get from Microsoft for free. The picture below shows my Surface Pro 4 in desktop mode driving an extra 4k display without even breaking a sweat.

Surface Pro 4 as desktop

If you prefer you can buy one of the new Surface Pro docks that has a cable that plugs into the weird magnetic power connector in the side of the tablet – it is Microsoft’s version of a Thunderbolt port. This also gives you several extra USB 3, a gigabit Ethernet and another mini display port.

If you just want to tote the tablet it, weighs a skinny 768g. This is perfectly easy to hold in one hand to browse the internet or play a game whilst your beloved partner is making him/herself angry by watching the news.

I can only sum up in the way I began: the Surface Pro 4 is undoubtedly the most utterly brilliant computing device I have ever owned. It is fast, it looks good, it can be a tablet, a laptop or a desktop, it has no problems playing modern games, it can run any piece of Windows software you wish to throw at it. It is the complete, and completely desirable, computing solution. I love my Surface Pro 4!


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