Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review: The Windows tablet for professionals

With the new Surface Pro 4, typing on a Microsoft tablet finally feels like typing on a regular laptop.

Although Microsoft has tried hard to sell the Surface as a laptop replacement, its keyboard has felt flimsy – something to tolerate when a real laptop isn’t available. The keyboard attaches magnetically and has to be thin enough to fold over like a book cover. Consequently, it has felt like typing on cardboard over my lap.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4

With the new Surface Pro 4, typing on a Microsoft tablet finally feels like typing on a regular laptop.

Microsoft says the Pro 4 keyboard cover is 20 per cent stiffer, so it no longer feels like cardboard. Each key is slightly taller, too, giving it a more natural feel. More room on the cover is devoted to the keys and the touchpad rather than dead space. Microsoft keeps the cover’s weight and thickness about the same as before by turning to different materials.

All this translates to a keyboard that’s enjoyable rather than tolerable. I made it my primary computer for two weeks, including travels through upstate New York and Ontario, Canada. The Pro 4 felt comfortable whether I was in a hotel bed, a friend’s living room or the tasting room of a winery.

Beyond the keyboard

Now that Windows 10 is available, the Pro 4 is the first Surface I can wholeheartedly recommend. The cardboard-like keyboard wasn’t my only gripe. Windows 8 felt like using two machines at once, with the system constantly kicking you to the one you didn’t want. Microsoft’s free Windows 10 update in July addresses the bulk of my frustrations.

I also like the addition of a magnet on the left side to attach an included stylus. The stylus still came off a few times during my travels, so I stowed it in my backpack after a few days and didn’t have it handy when needed. Samsung’s Note devices have built-in holes for their stylus, although in avoiding that approach, Microsoft was able to make the stylus larger and more like a regular pen.

The stylus might be useful for note-taking, though I prefer just typing notes and reminders. Artists might appreciate having it for drawing and sketching. The Surface is pressure-sensitive and responds differently whether you press hard or lightly. But it won’t let you shade from an angle like a pencil, which the Apple Pencil stylus for the upcoming iPad Pro will let you do.

Meanwhile, you can enable facial recognition on the Pro 4 to bypass a sign-in password. A premium keyboard cover offers a fingerprint reader.

I have been using Macs since 1987 and have invested a lot in software and accessories, so I don’t see myself abandoning my Mac laptop for the Surface. But the Surface could appeal to those already familiar with Windows and want compatibility with what they have at work.

Battery life isn’t as good compared with the MacBook Air. While the 13-inch Air has given me nine to 11 hours of general use, it’s closer to six or seven on the Surface. Among other things, the resolution on the Surface’s 12.3-inch display is sharper, meaning there are more pixels to light up. The Surface also has a touch screen, while Mac laptops do not.

Although Microsoft designed the Pro 4 as a tablet for professionals, it might not be powerful enough for some tasks.

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