avatarby Jonathan FeistNovember 27, 20153 comments

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Microsoft began shipping their new Surface Pro 4 flagship tablet at the end of October, 2015. Announced at the beginning of October, this Windows 10 powered device rocks the latest of specs and the best of Microsoft’s software.

As we continue to test and produce a full review of this device, we thought we’d take a few moments to share our initial thoughts from our first 48 hours with it. Here are our first impressions of the new Microsoft Surface Pro 4.

First impressions

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Having been previously running around with a handful of other tablets, such as the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet, iPad Air 2, Huawai MediaPad X2 and iPad mini 4, the first thing you will notice is the size of the Surface Pro 4. As a comparison, Microsoft’s tablet is fairly large. Clocking in with a 12.3-inch display, that is nearly 2.5-inches larger than the Sony and larger iPad offering. That’s 5.3-inches larger than the MediaPad X2.

Where this size may have some concerned, the Surface Pro 4 also delivers in picture quality and clarity. Apple’s larger iPads, including the newest and largest iPad Pro, come with a pixel density count of 264ppi, Microsoft might have been playing the numbers game, clocking in at 267ppi. Ignoring the spec sheets, this is a vibrant display that is nothing short of impressive to look at.

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For those not accustomed to the Surface line of tablets, the Surface Pro 4 comes equipped with a standard built-in kickstand. This does add a little extra thickness and weight, as well as unpleasant pressure points when holding the device in hand, but the overall experience creates a flexibility just not found on the typical flat slate.

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Perhaps the feature that will most stand out for new Surface users is the magnetic connectivity of almost everything. The provided stylus simply sticks to the side, the detachable keyboard pops on and off, even the reversible power connector finds its way into place by simply getting close and letting magnetism handle the rest. It’s not magic, but sometimes it feels that way.

After the first day

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As you might imagine, the first day with a new Windows device is more about setup and updates than anything. This remains true with Windows 10, guiding you through user accounts, time zones, keyboard configurations and more. This was not an overly timely process, save for a little hiccup on our end, but we’ll chalk that up to user error. Note: Please make yourself a recover disk or recovery USB before you delve too deep into your new Windows 10 devices.

First came the tests, we had to check that all of our favorite apps and programs worked on the Surface Pro 4. We were not disappointed. Then came hardware, connecting all of our accessories from wired mice and keyboards, microphones and webcams, through to Bluetooth input devices and speakers. I do have a few reservations about how Windows 10 handles Bluetooth speakers, but that is not exclusive to, nor repaired on the Surface Pro 4. All in all, two thumbs up, five stars, or whatever it is that you use to state your approval.

The full 48

Software

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In the Software department, the Surface Pro 4, even our fairly entry level model, performs like a charm. Windows 10 is proving itself an intelligent leap forward for Microsoft, and the Surface Pro 4 was built to embrace the new features, techniques and overall ideologies of the ecosystem.

While we are very much enjoying Windows 10 as a desktop experience, there are glaring shortcomings in the OS when used exclusively through the touch display. The standard icon, button and font sizes are operational and far more accurate than you might imagine, but I find myself very carefully aiming my finger, in fear of hitting the wrong button or link. Having the Delete button close to anything else is just a problem at this stage in the game.

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This experience flows through to the typing input as well. The on-screen keyboard is fairly complete, offering up most of the features and functions you would expect from a hardware keyboard. However, there is a lack of intuition behind when the keyboard pops up and when you have to go hunting for it. It also has a few different modes – full size, split-screen and handwriting input mode – but it feels like a game of chance which version will pop up when you finally get the keyboard into view.

Please respect that I am comparing this keyboard experience mostly to the experience found on Android. Android has, for me, very predictable keyboard behavior. Primarily, on Android, when I tap into a text box, the keyboard appears almost without fail. In contrast, I find myself tapping into a text box on the Surface Pro 4, then waiting a moment until finally remembering I have to manually bring up the keyboard. But not always, sometimes it works.

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Despite these few grievances, which are more growing pains than actual problems, the overall software experience is solid, all expectations have been met or exceeded. I even find myself looking for reasons to use the Surface Pro 4 instead of my larger and more capable Windows 10 powered laptop.

Hardware

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It is important that we note, while still technically a tablet, the Surface Pro 4 will likely serve you best when treated as more of a laptop. Indeed, we gave Asphalt 8 a go on this 1.69 lbs (766g) device, admitting that it was a spectacular visual experience, twisting and turning it about for 15 minutes proved enough for our tastes. Let me try a different angle on this explanation, one-handed operation like you might with a phone or small tablet is not going to happen with this device.

Knowing that we must, therefore, think of the Surface Pro 4 as a laptop, we put it to the test on some heavy operations. Once again, we have the Intel Core M3 model in hand, but that proved enough for our test operations. Knowing the typical capabilities of the Core i5 and i7 processors, getting to the top end tier of Surface Pro 4 will provide you with a solid experience. We are still talking about integrated graphics processing here, so please don’t expect to overcome your gaming rig desktop PC that cost half as much, but you will be hard-pressed to find lag in your daily routine.

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The equipped 4GB of RAM on this model is proving adequate. Only once have we managed to run into memory issues, that was while using the stock Photos app to run through a slideshow. Upgrade to the 8GB or 16GB models to avoid this.

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Placement of I/O ports is taking some getting used to. There is one full size USB port that shares a short edge with the power connector and Mini DisplayPort connection. The opposite short edge houses a 3.5mm headphone jack, and nothing more. What we will call the top long edge contains the power and volume rocker buttons. The then bottom edge houses the connector pins and slots for the detachable keyboard.

Both the front and rear facing cameras live near the center of the device along that top edge with the power button. Down below, the back lower half of the backside of the tablet is the built-in stand. It sits flush against the tablet, but expand it out for an impressive range of angles of display. It is strong enough to handle your typing and touch input at any angle.

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Finally, we haven’t really had the chance yet to fully test the 9 hour battery life claims of the internal battery. Stay tuned for more on that. For now, we are seeing in the 4-6 hour range with heavy use such as playing multiple simultaneous HD videos, gaming and generally messing around with USB peripherals that draw from the tablet themselves.

Conclusions

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I feel like I’ve all but spilled the beans on this excellent tablet offering, but don’t worry, we still have more coverage coming. The Surface Pro 4 is proving a capable computing device with a pleasant experience that is more than pleasurable to look at. Do we have complaints? Sure we do, and I fear that the price is primary among them, but for our first forty eight hours with the device, no regrets.

Starting at $899 for the Core M3 model with 4GB of RAM and 128GB SSD, the Surface Pro 4 steps up quickly to the $3000 price point with Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD.

Check out the Surface Pro 4 at Amazon

Stay tuned for more great coverage of the Surface Pro 4. Be sure to leave us any questions in the comments below, we’ll do our best to answer them for you.

  • os1019

    Nice write up. I would love to see a review of the Pro 4 in use with the new Surface Dock.

  • MakingaDifference

    So, in my first 48 hours I had nothing but issues. The device would not wake from sleep and the only remedy was a hard shutdown. Then the touchscreen would randomly stop working. The only remedy was rebooting the machine. All of this fun happened when I needed it for teaching or a meeting. After 4 devices, I opted to get a Macbook. While not as sexy, it works. The Surface Pro line should have been delayed to ensure the issues were resolved. Lastly, working in Windows 10 is like asking for directions in LA. Say what you want, Windows 10 is not a tablet friendly OS.

    • So sorry I missed your comment MakingaDifference. Those are crazy issues you had. We got ours from a supplier that had pre-activated the OS, so the absolute first thing I did was a full reset/recovery of the OS. We certainly had no issues after that with hardware or the software.

      I’ll admit it took a few hours to get into the flow of things, learning when to use your hand, when to use the Pen and when to just connect a mouse, but once that was figured out, it worked great for me. I still find the touch experience pretty handy. I wrote a good portion of the full review whilst a passenger in a car, I could have benefited from a friction hinge instead of just the kickstand, but it went as well as a Chromebook or small laptop has for me.

      I cannot imagine using Windows 10 using touch input on a smaller screen though, this is about as small as I would go.