Surface Pro 4: Initial Thoughts


As I was saying in my previous post, I had enough with my iPad Pro and its limited functionalities. All that power being throttled by the mobile OS that is iOS was like having a Ferrari on wooden wheels: you could never apply the power it had. I was willing to spend money for a change, and that's exactly what I did by purchasing the Surface Pro 4.

No device is perfect, and the SP4 is no exception. Though this tablet is without a doubt an upgrade to my iPad, there still are some things that it falls short, even in comparison to Cupertino's finest. So in order to make this post more interesting, I'll list the pros and cons that I've found so far in equal numbers, and make frequent referrals to the iPad (even though they are completely different devices).

Love: Full Windows

It's the most obvious one, let's be real here. Having full Windows 10 in an uncompromising PC fashion was without a doubt the biggest pull factor for the SP4. iOS is a beautiful piece of software in its own right, but it's a piece of software that's far more suited for mobile phones, rather than tablets marketed for 'professional graphic designers'. With my Surface, I can play Steam games, and, god forbid, actually download files from the Internet.

Hate: Relatively unpolished interface

There's always a sting when it comes to using PC software on your tablet. iOS was designed for touch right from the ground-up, whereas Windows clearly wasn't. Try using File Explorer with your fat sausage finger, and you'll soon see what I mean. With that being said, Windows 10 has some decent touch options, with tablet mode being the main and obvious one. Still though, it ain't perfect, and it ain't uniform.

Love: Speed

Thanks to the strong processor range and SSD storage, the Surface really nips around. If you imagined this tablet as one of those mid-range laptops that take 20 seconds to open Chrome when you first boot it up, then you'd be pleasantly surprised by it. In my admittedly short period of ownership so far, it's yet to stutter or pause to 'think'.

Hate: Battery life

Even before I got the device, I knew the battery life wouldn't even be in the same league as my iPad. The iPad had its annoyances, but battery life certainly wasn't one. Because the SP4 runs full-fat PC applications and has a proper Intel i5 processor with a dedicated cooling fan, there's a fat chance you'll ever get to the claimed 9 hours of life. If you casually browse the web, expect around 4 hours of life. Decent by laptop standards, crap by tablet standards.

Love: Good screen

The screen of the SP4 is often pretty hyped on reviews, and I have to say it lives up to it. Resolution is sharp, viewing angles are excellent, brightness is good, and colours pop. The iPad was not a slouch by any means with screen quality, but the Surface either matches or even slightly trumps Apple's efforts, depending on who you ask.

Hate: Surface Pen needs a bit of force

Oh, how I wish I could lightly brush the pen tip against the screen to register a click. Through wizardry and witchcraft, the Surface knows when you're hovering the pen tip above the screen (thereby acting as a mouseover function), but you need to press pretty damn hard to register a click. It sounds petty, but you'd be surprised how much this conscious force you have to give can ruin your flow. I don't know how the Apple Pencil performs, because I wasn't quite crazy enough to pay £100 for one.

Love: Ports

By laptop standards, the SP4 is pretty skinny in terms of ports. We have a dedicated charging port, one USB 3.0, one mini DisplayPort, and one micro SD slot. But in tablet terms, that's awesome. That USB port allows me to connect Ethernet, plug in my DAC, and even plug in an Xbox 360 controller for games. The iPad had the Lightning connector... and that's it.

Hate: Poor speakers

Well OK, they aren't particularly poor. They're just very average. There's not much bass, and sound is fairly flat. My problem was that I was spoilt by the iPad Pro: single-handedly the best built-in speakers I've ever heard, and perhaps will ever hear. The iPad was good enough to make you never bother with headphones, whereas the Surface gets me reaching for my headphones whenever I can. Thank god I can plug my DAC in, then!

Love: Type Cover

I spit at Microsoft for making the Type Cover an extra item you have to buy instead of just including it with the tablet, especially when they market it so heavily as a hybrid. Thankfully they recover some points by making the Type Cover shockingly good. The trackpad is nice and the construction is solid, but we're missing the real star: the keyboard itself. Despite being fairly shallow, it allows you to type incredibly fast, incredibly comfortably. Touch-typing is a breeze, and the illuminated keys are a nice touch. Putting some mechanical keyboards aside, this is without doubt the best keyboard I've used. I tip my hat to you, Microsoft, you glorious greedy bastards.

Hate: The cost

The SP4 is a huge investment, and is flat-out expensive. If I wasn't getting my decent return from selling my iPad, there's no way I would pay £1,079 for my Surface. And that's not even the most expensive model - not by a long shot. If I really had money to burn, I could pay £2,500 for an i7, 1TB of SSD storage, and 16GB of RAM. Meaty specs for sure, but not £2,500 worth. My £1,079 got me an i5, 256GB storage, and 8GB RAM. That price leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, but I just need to remind myself I didn't pay anything near that after selling the iPad. Thank god.

So there we go. I'm currently loving my Surface, but it doesn't come without its flaws. I might do an update post later if it randomly decides to do something dramatic, like spontaneously set on fire. Who knows, the battery might be manufactured by Samsung.