Hands On With The Microsoft Surface Pro 4

Hands On With The Microsoft Surface Pro 4
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I’m over a month into my project to find a Windows 10 tablet that can replace the iPad Pro I’ve been using for the last few months. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been running with a Surface Pro 4. That includes time on planes, at home, in cafes and on public transport. Microsoft’s tablet is meant to be a standard by which other Windows 10 devices are judged. Here’s what I thought.

Speeds and feeds

The Surface Pro comes in a variety of different configurations ranging from $899 for a CoreM processor, 4GB of memory and 128GB of storage to the Core i7, 16GB of memory and 1TB of storage for a touch over $4000. The model I tested had a Core i5, 4GB of memory and 128GB of storage and retails for around $1200.

The minimum spec I was hoping to work to is:

  • 8GB RAM
  • 256GB storage
  • Pen input (preferred)
  • Detachable (preferred) 12 to 13 inch touchscreen display
  • Under $1500
  • Cellular comms (strongly preferred)

The model I tested fell a little short in a couple of areas. But with a new Surface Pro expected later this year, I can hit the target price as the 8GB/256GB model is being discounted at below $1500 at some outlets.

Interestingly, Microsoft has not included USB-C on the Surface. And while there’s just one USB-A connector, the presence of another connector on the power supply for charging devices is really handy – something other manufacturers would do well to emulate.

Although the unit I tested was under my minimum spec, I didn’t encounter any major performance issues. But whichever device I end up buying will need 256GB of storage. Without any movies of TV shows to entertain me while travelling, I had less than 20GB of free space once my OneDrive data synced across.

Why does Microsoft do this?

One of the things I have found annoying is Microsoft’s insistence on loading extra apps. With the Lenovo MIIX 510 and Dell XPS 2-in-1, I put some of the blame with those OEMs. But Windows 10 kept suggesting I install games and added icons to the Start menu that led to the Windows Market.

It’s very annoying.

Day to day use

One of the best things about using a Microsoft designed machine is that it is meant to run Windows 10 as Microsoft intended. Of the three devices I’ve tested thus far, the Surface Pro 4 feels the most “complete”. The fingerprint scanner and camera work well so I could use Windows Hello for logging in without entering a password.

The keyboard is comfortable to use. One of the hassles I had with the Dell was the arrangement of the arrow keys. The Page Up and Down keys were adjacent to the left and right arrows, resulting in my jumping around the page more than I planned. But the Surface keyboard retains a more traditional arrangement. The back-lighting worked well and made it easy to type in poorly lit conditions.

The screen, running at a resolution of 2736 by 1824, is excellent. I used the pen to mark-up documents which is something I’ve found to be very handy – and something new to me after a decade or more using Macs.


I really wish Microsoft would offer the Surface with integrated cellular comms. A good example of why I want this happened just this week. I needed to connect to a Webex session while out of the office. While I could use my smartphone as a hotspot, it’s much quicker and easier to use integrated cellular comms – something the less expensive MIIX 510 offers.

That aside, I had not other problems with the Surface Pro 4.

Would I buy this?

With the Surface Pro 4 being discounted, it is a very tempting option. The form factor, spec and performance all fit my needs – particularly as I can tick all the boxes other than cellular comms within my price constraints.

I still have a couple of other devices to test but the Surface Pro 4 is my current front runner.


  • I got the top spec model for work and have been using it for a while now.
    I like that its small, handles like a tablet but contains windows for ease of use and the battery life is pretty good, the magnetic power connector is nice and a small power brick is always nice.
    For work purposes the 4:3 aspect ratio and high resolution works against me for what I do and I generally run it at 1920×1080 16:9 to keep scaling but also allows me to read text.
    I really dislike the keyboard as mine started to fray on the edges and cracked in the middle, super flimsy and I often find it doesnt come out of power saving mode and hates being restarted / turned off (about a 15min process).

    For home use, I love it. Allows me to do everything I want with some decent hardware to back it up.

    For work I use the crappy keyboard so its self contained like a laptop but when im at home I throw it into a dock and use it like a regular desktop with regular desktop keyboard / mouse

    • Do you have a 3 or a 4? The keyboard on the 4 is much better.

      Well, much less bad. I guess.

      • Its the Pro 4 I have.
        Cant say iv used the Pro 3 so I cant really speak of its keyboard but the Pro 4 keyboard has to be the worst keyboard iv ever used and I once owned a black berry…

      • The keyboard on the 4 is “much less bad”? Seriously?
        Excuse me for not rushing out to buy one tomorrow!

    • “I like that its [sic] small, handles like a tablet but contains windows for ease”
      OK, so it EITHER runs Windows, OR it it is easy to use; please make up your mind!

  • Hands on with an 18m old laptop that’s about to be replaced.


    Can’t wait for your review of a KE35 Corolla, the bible and the abacus.

    • I’m looking for a replacement today. And its current today. And it doesn’t stop being useful when a new model comes out.

      As a wide man once so said: the best time to sell your tech is yesterday. And the best day to but tech is tomorrow.

      • The wide man also eats way too much… he also but techs in the privacy of his own home, but I don’t judge.

        More to the point, as you say the device is still current – I’m typing this post on a Surface 4 and use it for work and love it to bits. A review now is just as relevant as when it was released, most of the bugs have been ironed out now and the device is rock solid reliable.
        Scaling is a little painful with moving windows to external monitors but certainly not a deal breaker, and that pen/windows ink is awesome.

    • There are plenty of Mac units available TODAY which don’t stop being useful when a new model is released. For starters, get an iPad. If your role is text intensive, get an iPad Pro. If you need a fully-featured laptop and keyboard, then get a MacBook. If you are a power user, get a MacBook Pro with a separate keyboard.

  • I love my Surface Pro 4. There were a few initial niggles with scaling when outputting to external monitors but a few firmware/software upgrades and they have pretty much solved the problem. I essentially run two monitors out the surface dock and its a smooth transition to disconnect and take it with me. I especially love the ability to annotate PDFs etc, it is a godsend when needing to sign contracts. I have the i7/8gb/256gb model and couldn’t recommend it more. The one thing I had hoped it would have was cellular comms, but alas hotspotting it to my phone it is.

    • If you “essentially run two monitors out the surface dock” then why on earth are you using this overpriced hardware instead of something which would give you the same performance at a mere fraction of the price?

  • The lack of WWAN is one of the main reasons I didn’t get one of these either.

    Yes, it isn’t an essential feature. But like the OP, I find it hugely useful not having to tether or use public WiFi points.

    • Personally, I find it hugely useful not having to manage a second SIM and/or data plan.

      • I’m with Telstra and they allow (free on some plans, $5/mth on others) a second data-only SIm off your main account. SO there’s not secinfd account. It’s just a SIM with shared data from one account.

      • Good one. You’re kidding, right?

        I have 3 services on my business account. 1 voice/data and 2 data only. Data quota automatically pooled between them. All on one bill.

  • Avoid them, the power connector is proprietory and there is no way to charge the unit without the power brick, you can’t for example plug in a USB as a charger.

    Why this matters: If the power connector ever breaks (the plug has no strain relief so this is a high probbality) or if you leave it at home you are up the creek.

    My surface has broken 2 PSUs, and the internals have also died ones, in addition the pen died. All inside 2 years.

    Warranty on MS hardware in Australia is 2 years only, after that there is a $700 charge minumum to repair. The device is user serviceable and it’s fragile as a phone.

    My opinion owning a surface for 2 years : avoid i. I now regretting ever getting it.

    • Almost no laptops charge via USB, so that’s a weird gripe. If you leave any laptop charger behind, you are ‘up the creek’.

      It’s a magnetic power pin, too, so can’t really see why strain relief is an issue unless you wrap it or something and purposely bend it at the connector.

      MS replaced my Pro 3 well after 2 years when it developed some light bleed, without charge and without a hassle in the world.

      My wife and I have a 3 and two 4s between us, not a single issue with pens (which I use daily) or chargers. So what was the plural of anecdote again?

    • So like most laptops, it doesn’t charge off USB, cant see why that’s a deal breaker, just do what all normal people worried about that do and buy another adapter, crazy I know but it works. Shouldn’t penalise this device for a failing a majority of other similar devices have.

      There isn’t any strain relief possibly because it’s a parallel connection, so the connector doesn’t sit at an odd angle to the unit and the cable can easily and gently curve away.

      I’ve had Surface Pro original and SP4, never had any issues with reliability or power supplies failing. Granted my psu adapters were kept in open air and I didn’t stuff them in a bag while hot but they have been going strong for years now. Possible you just had a bad run or some other external stress causing the issue.

      I highly recommend Surface devices to my clients as use mine everyday for work and personal use, the pen is great with one note, use it for all meetings, no built in wwan is non issue as it’s not hard to swipe down on my phone tap hotspot and voilla I’m connected. Keyboard for a small device is incredibly usable, nice key travel and touchpad is great. I have the i5 8gb 256gb model and I’m happy with it, better battery life than the i7 and anything that will require that kind of grunt can be done on mg desktop anyway, and the i5 is more than enough for what I do.

      Highly recommend getting one, especially with the discounts going at the moment. If a SP5 is released, the update to Kaby Lake won’t change performance just battery life, no real reason to wait for a device that hasn’t been announced yet.

      • “So like most laptops, it doesn’t charge off USB”. Good point, except the surface pro is not a laptop, it is a tablet with a keyboard attached. Real laptops come with a mains charger. Tablets come with a USB charger and cable. Our MS surface book laptops at work must be plugged into a hub which makes them almost useful, or a *different* charger for direct connection. Too confusing. I much prefer my MacBook Pro which connects to a 27″ screen at home with ease or is easily useable in the field with the supplied AC power brick.

    • We have 400 sp4’s at work, and 200 macbooks. I have logged 30 faulty sp4’s in the past 2 months. I have logged 2 faulty macbooks in the same time frame. You can probably tell what I use at home.

      • Agreed. As for the other side of the coin, if you absolutely INSIST on having a Windows client (why is a whole other question altogether!) then why would you buy a surface (anything) at around $A4000 compared to an excellent Dell laptop for around $1500?

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