Surface Pro 4 review: Finally! The tablet you’ll actually want to replace your laptop

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It is thinner than many flagship smartphones yet packs lightning fast internals and a pin-sharp multitouch display.

Coupled with Microsoft’s improved stylus and redesigned keyboard cover and there is little the Surface Pro 4 can’t handle.

Microsoft has always claimed its Surface Pro tablets were good enough to replace your laptop.

The Surface Pro 3 proved that to be true, but the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is the first tablet you’ll actually want to replace your laptop. has been drafting emails, watching movies, surfing the web, writing articles, doodling on FreshPaint and editing images on Photoshop CC with the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 and redesigned Type Cover for the last week.

And we have been very impressed – save for one, monumental flaw.

Out of the box, little appears to have changed with the Microsoft Surface Pro 4.

Microsoft has not radically altered the industrial design it debuted with the Surface Pro 3 but simply refined the stylish, angular 18-month-old design. That’s not a criticism though, the Surface Pro 4 looks reserved, smart and professional.

The Redmond technology firm has managed to thin the bezels around the display to squeeze a larger 12.3inch display into the same footprint as the Surface Pro 3, which means previous keyboards, accessories and docks can be shared between the two devices.

The improved, larger display is also sharper and brighter than last year, too. And it looks amazing.

On paper, the screen resolution of the Surface Pro 4 display clocks in at an impressive 2736 by 1824 – some 267 pixels per inch.

That pixel-packed screen lets the sharp, angular windows used in Windows 10 really shine. High resolution photographs and films look great on the revamped and pleasantly vibrant 3:2 screen, which works much better in a landscape orientation.

Compared to its predecessor, the fourth generation Surface Pro is also 7.6mm thinner and 14g lighter, although you will be hard pushed to notice unless you are comparing the two models side-by-side.

However you will notice the upgrade to Intel’s sixth generation processors, dubbed SkyLake, which run much cooler than the chipmakers’ previous generation processors and result in a faster, quieter device.

Microsoft offers its new Surface Pro 4 with either an m3, i5 or i7 Intel processor, coupled with either 4GB, 8GB or 16GB of RAM.

Our review unit was powered by a 2.4GHz Intel i5 with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB hard drive, which was more than enough to handle photo editing high resolution images in Adobe Photoshop CC, skipping between dozens of tabs in Microsoft Edge and a healthy amount of doodling in OneDrive, too. 

Relying on the Surface Pro 4 as our primary machine, the stylish, svelte fourth-generation Microsoft hybrid tablet consistently impressed with its stellar laptop-esque performance. 

As a result, it’s sometimes easy to forget the Surface can be detached from its keyboard, USB mouse and used as a standalone tablet.

The blockbuster laptop experience offered by the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is helped by the redesigned Type Cover keyboard, which throws out the flimsy and cramped keys used in last year’s model in favour of a full-sized chiclet keyboard.

The redesigned keys are fast, pleasantly clicky and enjoyable to use.

Microsoft has enlarged the trackpad on the Type Cover keyboard by 40 per cent, which is also now made from glass and as a result, is much smoother and more accurate than its predecessor.

Thankfully, Microsoft has also ditched the small material loop on the Surface Pro 3 Type Cover which was used to attach and store the Surface Pen. Instead, the Redmond firm has fitted the left and right side of the device with some powerful magnets.

These invisible magnets keep the Surface Pen locked in place throughout the day.

It is difficult to accidentally knock the Surface Pen from the side of the device, even as it is wrestled in and out of a packed bag.

Unfortunately, while the Surface Pen is attached to the left-hand side of the Surface, it does block one of the cut-outs to flick open the kickstand at the back of the device. Granted, there is a mirror image on the right-hand side of the device, so the stylus won’t stop you setting up the Surface Pro and starting to work, but it does seem like a little bit of an oversight by the design team.

But for all our lofty praise for the Surface Pro 4 Type Cover, it still doesn’t manage to solve a four-year-old issue with the Surface range.

The Microsoft two-in-one tablet hybrid cannot be used comfortably in your lap.

The trademark kickstand remains solid as a rock when the Surface Pro 4 is placed on a desk and it can be adjusted and held at any angle.

But as soon as this cutting-edge device is placed on your knees, it becomes a cumbersome and an unstable nightmare.

A similar story to the rest of the Surface Pro 4, the Microsoft stylus has been refined and tweaked – rather than overhauled.

The new Surface Pen ditches its complicated, two button set-up in favour of a single select button which runs the length of the pen.

Microsoft’s updated stylus now supports 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity which results in an enjoyable and accurate drawing experience in the technology firm’s own OneNote app and powerful third-party desktop applications, like Adobe Photoshop CC.

The eraser on the top of the Surface Pen is also a welcome addition. As are the updated motion sensors, which put the Pen to sleep whenever it detects that it has been placed on a table, or attached to the device. 

These improvements extend the battery life of the AAA-powered Pen to a full calendar year.

Unfortunately these advances in battery life do not extend to the Surface Pro 4. In fact, battery life is easily the single biggest failing of Microsoft’s almost-perfect mobile work machine. 

In a nutshell, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 will not last an entire day of work.

Depending on which applications you have running and your screen brightness settings, it might not last you the morning.

With the brightness of the stellar 12.3inch display cranked up and with some heavy-duty desktop applications running, the Surface Pro 4 was only able to last a meagre four hours before screaming for its charger.

That’s simply not good enough, especially for a device which advertises itself as being more than a match for any laptop computer.

Microsoft claims nine hours battery life for video playback, but our review unit fell short there too – checking out after four-and-a-half hours, with screen brightness at its highest and bluetooth and wifi turned on.

If you spend the majority of your 9 to 5 away from a power outlet, it’s probably worth looking elsewhere. Apple’s comparable MacBook Air lasts for a staggering 12 hours, for little weight gain over the Surface Pro 4.

But if you can swallow the inconvenience of carrying a power block around in your bag at all times and don’t mind dropping the brightness of the eye-wateringly good display, the Surface Pro 4 is still a great purchase.

Switching between tablet and desktop modes automatically as you attach and detach the keyboard Type Cover is a monumental improvement over the tablet-focused Windows 8.

Windows 10’s new universal apps scale and expand intelligently as you resize windows and the operating system’s sharp angular software design looks its best on the 267ppi display.

Unfortunately some of the menus and dialogue boxes in Windows 10 and third-party apps (VLC Player is especially bad) are just too small to action with your fingers, which can be a little frustrating when using the device in tablet mode.

And the biggest problem with Windows 10 remains its lacklustre App Store offering.

There is still a drought of any compelling indie developers in the App Store, especially when compared to its Mac counterpart, which is brimming with beautiful third-party alternatives to system apps like calendar and notepad, as well as desktop clients for social media services like Twitter, Facebook and cross-platform messenger, WhatsApp.

But it’s a small quibble and one that’s unlikely to affect most Surface Pro 4 users, since the two-in-one boasts the ability to download and run any .exe system file – bypassing the Windows App Store entirely.

That means you’ll be able to run Adobe’s full Creative Cloud suite, or access the entire Steam gaming library, stream video games from your Xbox One or edit large video files with Sony Vegas Pro.

The Surface Pro 4 is an impressive work-horse. Although, it would be nice if the Microsoft bundled a complimentary years’ subscription to Office 365 with the device, which works in read-only mode out of the box.

But that’s another minor quibble with an otherwise powerful work machine.

Final Verdict

The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is an almost-perfect laptop replacement.

It’s svelte and lightweight but packs powerful laptop-like internals and a vibrant, pixel-packed touchscreen display.

Microsoft has carefully tweaked and refined the design of its tablet, Type Cover keyboard and stylus to its nexus with the Surface Pro 4

The full Windows 10 desktop operating system, USB 3.0 port, microSD card reader and Mini DisplayPort mean this device is endlessly flexible and productive, even with the most memory-intensive professional apps.

Microsoft has carefully tweaked and refined the design of its tablet, Type Cover keyboard and stylus to its nexus with the Surface Pro 4.

Granted, the Surface Pro 4 still doesn’t work as a recreational tablet, with too few compelling apps in the Windows App Store and an aspect ratio that leaves a lot to be desired when held in portrait mode. 

Microsoft’s flagship hybrid carries a hefty price tag, too. Especially since as the essential Type Cover is sold separately.

The New Microsoft Surface Pro 4

Hopefully Microsoft will fix the lacklustre battery life with future OS patches, as the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it battery falls well short of the US firm’s “nine hours of video playback” claim.

But despite these faults, its impossible not to love the Microsoft Surface Pro 4.

The powerful and endlessly flexible set-up proves you can replace a traditional laptop with a tablet and keyboard accessory – a statement that seemed like the feverish day-dream of a madman when Microsoft first unveiled the Surface Pro back in 2012.

Without a doubt, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is the best hardware ever shipped by the firm and heralds the arrival of a credible new device category.