Hands On With the New Surface Pro 4

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This morning at a local Microsoft Store, I got to spend some time with the forthcoming Surface Pro 4, which was announced at a Microsoft press event recently. It’s the latest iteration of the company’s first and most famous product made in-house.

Not to be confused with the Surface 3 or the Surface Book, two products which have similar names, but different use cases. The Surface Pro series is now the midrange hybrid product for Microsoft, coming in at a starting price of $899. Now before you balk at how expensive this tablet is, let me make something very clear: the Surface Pro 4 is first things first a serious productivity device. When it comes to performance and multitasking, the Surface Pro 4 can compete with pretty much any other ultrabook or even something like the MacBook Air.

From the very beginning, the Surface was always a device that showed promise, but always made a few serious compromises, especially in the software department. Made originally to show off the power of Windows 8, it instead became a great example of how deeply flawed the operating system was. The Surface Pro 4 though proudly runs Windows 10 Pro, and is a great example of what a big jump ahead this version of Windows is.

Gone are the dual versions of Windows 8—everything in Windows 10 is integrated into a single UI that makes sense regardless of what the use case is. Getting some work done? Click in the Type Cover keyboard (which will cost you an extra $129) and use Windows how you would on any other laptop of desktop computer. I started up the full version of Photoshop and despite some bugs with the Surface Pen, it seemed to handle it just as efficiently as a MacBook Pro.

Want to to recline and watch Netflix or scroll through Twitter feeds? Just swipe from the right edge of the display and tap “Tablet Mode”. The colorful tiles in the Start menu expand to the front and center of the UI and let you tap through things like you would on an iPad or Android tablet.

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The Surface 3 (on left) compared to the Surface Pro 4 (on right).

In the hand, using the Surface Pro 4 feels a little silly, just because of how big it is. It’s light enough to use by holding it in one hand, but it’s just heavy enough to make that uncomfortable if you aren’t resting it in your lap. It’s also not all that thin, especially compared to something like the iPad Air, but lets not forget all the horsepower that’s behind this thing. It’s actually the exact same thickness as the Surface 3, which was released in May and has less power behind it.

Microsoft has also come a long way in making the Surface Pro more easily used on your lap. The Type Cover keyboard can fold up into a second position using a magnet to offer a slight incline and some more stability when using the device in your lap. The redesigned keyboard attachment has also made some drastic improvements in layout and functionality. The keys are spaced better, the track pad is bigger and more responsive, and the version I used even had a fingerprint scanner. However, it’s hard getting around the fact that the keyboard is light and flimsy. If you have something in your pocket like your keys, they’ll get in the way—and I just still didn’t feel all comfortable sitting down with the thing in my lap. But this is no laptop and Microsoft doesn’t claim it to be.

So then what is it? When I asked the Microsoft Store employee how he explains it to people who don’t have a clue why they’d want a device like this, he described it as a high-powered tablet that is as good for casual web browsing as it is for getting actual work done. Microsoft still has some work to in fine-tuning the software for both touch and track pad, as well as some re-engineering of the keyboard to be a bit more stable, but if that’s what you’re looking for, Microsoft has hit the ball out of the park. The Surface Pro 4 is already looking like the best Surface ever made—but more than that, it’s the most convincing argument to ditch your laptop I’ve ever seen.