When Microsoft launched its Surface Pro 3 last year, it lead the charge of major manufacturers creating high-powered, big-screened tablets that claimed to be true laptop replacements. Now, in the wake of Apple and Google announcing the iPad Pro and Pixel C respectively, Microsoft has unveiled the Surface Pro 4.
Slimmer, broader and significantly faster than its predecessor (at least according to Microsoft), the Surface Pro 4 comes with the new Windows 10 Pro operating system and promises great things – and with a starting price of £749, it had better be able to deliver on them.
Best Buy tablets – the best tablets we’ve tested
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 – release date & price
The Surface 4 will be available from 26th October and is now available for pre-ordering on Microsoft’s UK store.
The basic entry-level model with 128GB of storage, 4GB RAM and an Intel Core M3 processor is £749. The same model is $899 on the US store, which is equivalent to around £590. That makes it a whopping £159 cheaper than the UK price, which looks like yet another case of us Brits paying more for the same kit.
If you have deep pockets, you’ll be able to upgrade to a Core i5 or i7 processor, with up to 16GB of RAM and 512GB storage, although a 1TB variant is also on the way. The most expensive model currently available (Core i7, 512GB) will set you back a whopping £1,799. That’s a huge sum for a tablet and big money even for a laptop.
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 – key features
Most powerful tablet ever?
It looks like Microsoft has flexed its muscles when it comes to the sheer speed of the Pro 4. By adding Intel’s 6th-generation processor, it claims the tablet will be 30% faster than its predecessor and 50% faster than Apple’s flagship ultrabook, the MacBook Air.
To help the Surface stay true to its mantra of being “the tablet that can replace your laptop”, in addition to the tuned-up processor it’ll be offered with capacious storage options, including the aforementioned 1TB SSD. That’s a serious amount of space – enough to hold hundreds of HD films or hundreds of thousands of songs. Apple’s forthcoming iPad Pro comes nowhere near that kind of storage space, maxing out at 128GB.
One of our problems with the Surface Pro 3 was its weight – it tips the scales at an unwieldy 808g, compared to Apple’s comparatively waif-like iPad Air 2, which weighs almost half that at 440g. The Pro 4 manages to shave off a few grams, with 766g for the entry-level machine or 786g for a device containing the i5 or i7 chip.
It’s slightly slimmer too: down to 8.45mm from 9mm in depth, which is still enough room for a full-sized USB port. Despite increasing the display to 12.3 inches, the bezel has been downsized leaving the Pro 4’s footprint exactly the same size. That all said, it’s still thicker and heavier than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, so Apple wins that battle.
Surface Pen included
If you always liked the idea of Microsoft’s Surface Pen before, but begrudged splashing out an extra £45 for it, you’ll be glad to hear that it’s throwing the new Surface Pen in for free with the Pro 4. It claims to offer a full year of battery life, and has 1,024 levels of pressure on the nib to give the impression of ink smoothly flowing out as you write on your tablet.
As with the old Surface Pen, a couple of clicks opens up OneNote so you can start writing immediately. It comes in five colours with interchangeable tips of different widths, so you can choose the best one for writing or drawing.
As well as a new Surface Pen, there’s another revamped accessory on offer with the Pro 4: a new Surface Type Cover ($130/approx. £85). It’s lighter and thinner than the last one, and with a 40% larger trackpad. And if you own a Pro 3 and never got around to buying a keyboard, the new Type Cover is compatible with your old device too. A new Surface Dock ($200/approx. £130) also seeks to turn your Surface Pro into a desktop PC by including two 4K-compatible DisplayPorts and four USB 3.0 sockets.
Which? expert’s view – ‘the rise and rise of the ‘ultrabet”
Like ‘phablet’, it’s an ugly portmanteau of a word, but Microsoft, Apple and Google all clearly believe that an ‘ultrabet’ – a cross between an ultra-portable laptop and a tablet – is what a lot of consumers want.
After the recent launches of the iPad Pro and Pixel C, the Surface Pro 4 has upped the ante with some impressive specifications. The original Pro 3 sprinted to an easy victory in this year’s annual tablet speed race and, if what Microsoft says about the power of its processor is correct, it should do the same next year despite the fresh competition.
These super-tablets won’t appeal to a traditional tablet audience though. If you simply want to buy a device for sending emails, surfing the web and watching the odd film, there’s little point splashing out big money. We’ve found Best Buy tablets that can do all of those everyday tasks for less than £250.
But if you are looking for a replacement for your laptop and want the portability of a tablet, then this new breed may just be worth a look. November will be a fascinating time in our Test Lab, as we put these new high-fliers through their paces.
Adam Marshall – Which? tablets expert