So a few months ago, I decided I wanted a supplement to my desktop that I could travel with and hopefully get some more writing done on. Being a Windows user and a big gadget nerd, I settled on two principal options before deciding on Microsoft’s entry-level Surface Pro 4.
So, why did I buy this over the more powerful option? Sure, the lure of a faster processor and twice the RAM and storage space was appealing but at the end of the day, I realized that I wanted a silent computer. My previous laptop was a Dell Vostro that I used for school and sold after I graduated; a great performer with great battery life and a good (if slightly mushy) keyboard but the relatively loud fan kicked on roughly every few minutes, even under a minor load. One benefit of the Core M3 version of the Surface Pro 4 is that it’s passively cooled, so it doesn’t need a fan but if you listen especially closely, there’s a tiny, tiny amount of electrical noise coming from the upper right hand corner of the device (where the processor is situated) but it’s barely noticeable, if at all.
Plus, I realized that I don’t need a powerhouse laptop. I’m not doing any serious gaming, editing podcasts, transcoding video or processing RAW images on this thing since I have a very powerful and reliable (hand-built) desktop that can handle all of those tasks. I wanted something light, easily portable and inexpensive and the Core M3 Surface Pro 4 appears to have fit the bill nicely.
Of course, I ended up going for the Type Cover, which allows the Surface Pro 4 to pull double duty as a laptop. It’s a crying shame that the Type Cover isn’t thrown in at this point. Given its prominence in the Surface Pro branding and advertisements, the two are practically inseparable. It’s rare to see the Surface Pro 4 depicted without the Type Cover so it makes little sense that the Type Cover is still positioned as a premium accessory and not a pack-in device, well, aside from the obvious reason.
That being said, I’d definitely recommend buying the cover if you’re looking to buy a Surface Pro 4. The typing experience is comfortable with nicely sized and spaced keys with a good amount of travel. These impressions were typed entirely on the Surface Pro 4’s (optional) keyboard and I can’t think of a good reason (besides the added cost) not to buy it.
I actually ended up going for the $30 more expensive variant of the Type Cover that features a built-in fingerprint reader, for use with Windows 10’s biometric authentication tools. What I didn’t know was that the Surface Pro 4 features an infrared camera that works with what Microsoft calls “Windows Hello” and logs you in just by looking at it, regardless of lighting conditions. In my day-to-day use, I’ve found Windows Hello to be perfectly reliable even in near pitch darkness with only the dim light of the Surface’s screen lighting my face.
Because this feature works so well and so quickly, I’ve only used the fingerprint scanner a handful of times. I can imagine that Windows Hello might not be for everyone and the fingerprint scanner might be more secure for those who are obsessed with security but as far as I’m concerned, Windows Hello’s facial recognition is the way to go.
One of the bigger criticisms of the Surface Pro 4 line is that, despite what the marketing will tell you, it still can’t quite replace your laptop, though it gets awfully close. The infinitely adjustable kickstand does a good job of providing the device a stable platform and it doesn’t move around too much but it can dig into your thighs over longer periods. It’s not the best solution but it works. So no, it can’t quite replace a laptop but it does a pretty good job of approximating one, especially for less serious usage cases, like mine.
I was intrigued by the Surface Pen, now bundled with the Surface Pro 4. As a writer, I’m still a fan of putting pen to paper. There’s something special about that kind of physical feedback and watching the ink dry into the page? Ugh. Love it.
But I digress.
While the Surface Pro 4 can’t mimic the appearance of a fresh line of ink, glistening as it sinks into the page, the feeling of writing on it is surprisingly nice. Pen input feels worlds better than the standard capacitive styli out there, with their wide squishy nibs and is very precise and glides smoothly across the (virtual) page. It feels a bit like a quality gel ballpoint pen, smooth and responsive. It tracks quickly and accurately and performs as well as I’d hoped for taking notes in One Note and the occasional doodle.
So, after my time with the Surface Pro 4, I’m quite pleased with it. It’s a tad expensive for a tablet (especially once one factors in the extra scratch for the type cover) but it does a good job of justifying its price and its hybrid nature makes it quite versatile for a number of uses.