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Hands on: Microsoft's Surface Pro 4 outdoes itself with more power and refined features

Mark Hachman | Oct. 7, 2015
Intel's Skylake chip, a revamped Surface Pen and Type Cover, and gobs of memory and storage pump up this productivity tablet.

surface pro 4 
The new Surface Pen (available in five colors) also includes a choice of nibs. Credit: Mark Hachman

Moving to a Skylake chip slightly improved the battery life. Microsoft says that the Surface Pro 4 lasts nine hours, as opposed to just eight with the Surface Pro 3.

While newcomers to the Surface lineup will certainly appreciate the power, it’s the external accessories that also help make the Surface Pro 4 intriguing.

An improved Surface Pen

First off, Microsoft revamped the Surface Pen, doing away with that awkward fabric loop that clipped previous pens on to the tablet. Now the Surface Pro 4 grabs the Pen magnetically, holding it tightly to the side of the tablet. It’ll likely still work its way free in your laptop bag, however, because there’s nothing preventing the Pen from sliding off. 

Still, the new Pen boasts 1024 levels of pressure, which works quite well with the PixelSense technology built into the display. There are even interchangeable nibs to vary the tip's shape. The idea is to make inking feel more natural on the Surface Pro 4 than it ever has, and I'd say Microsoft accomplished that goal. I also like the 'eraser' on the top of the Pen, which doesn't necessarily erase an scrawl in one gesture, but acts more like a natural eraser, partially erasing each bit. 

microsoft surface pro 4 pen
The new Pen magnetically attaches to the side of the Surface Pro 4.

As before, tapping the eraser once launches OneNote; twice, and the tablet saves a screenshot. Press and hold, though, and poof! - Cortana appears, for those who have had some problems awakening her with “Hey Cortana,” presumably.

We didn’t have a chance to test the SP4’s new dock, but connecting to a pair of 4K displays seems like a nice way to surf the Web—or do some graphics work. Hopefully we’ll have more of a chance to play around with that soon.

I’m intrigued by the new Type Cover. As before, it’s backlit. But the keys are spaced a bit farther from one another, more like the chiclet keys found on most laptop keyboards. They also have a bit more travel than the the Type Cover used by the SP3. It felt completely comfortable under my fingers.

microsoft surface pro 4 fingerprint reader
Some Type Covers will include a fingerprint reader next to the touchpad, which is also larger than the SP3’s Type Cover.

The Surface Pro includes an 8MP rear camera and a 5MP front camera, but neither is capable of recognizing you via Windows Hello. That’s been left to a small, optional fingerprint reader built into an optional Type Cover. Over time, I’ve found Windows Hello has had some problems with my unkempt beard—we’ll see if the fingerprint reader improves on that at all.


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