Microsoft Surface Review
Despite being Microsoft's flagship tablet, the Microsoft Surface is hard to pin down as either a tablet or a laptop. It has a tablet-like design with laptop-level performance and bulk. The Surface Pro 4 isn't without its unpolished edges, but from the inside and outside, it comes the closest of all the tablets we've seen to achieving the ideal balance between these two product families. With its strong specifications and stellar build quality, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 earns the Top Ten Reviews Gold Award.
Internally, the Surface Pro 4 benefits from its reliance on full-powered Intel Core processors. While most tablets are built with mobile-optimized processors, the Core series has a high enough performance ceiling to accommodate business and power users.
In benchmarking from our colleagues at Laptop Mag, the midrange Pro configuration put up exceptional marks. With its 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-6300U processor, the Pro 4 had respective scores of 6,811 and 60,424 points in benchmark programs Geekbench 3 and 3DMark. In practice, the configuration provides ample overhead for processor-intensive tasks like rendering and editing. While the Surface isn't optimized for high-end PC gaming, it still has a significant graphics bump up from other tablets. Comparable premium tablets averaged a score of around 20,000 3DMark points.
Through Microsoft, you can build the tablet with Intel's Core m3 and i7 processors, which respectively provide entry- and enterprise-level processing ability. The Surface can also be configured with solid-state drives from 128GB up to 1TB, which offer flexible storage options and fast performance.
Portability & Design
The Pro 4 doesn't have drastic design changes from past Surfaces. The tablet features the standard integrated back kickstand and durable metal body. The Surface's large size in comparison with other tablets is its most distinctive feature. With dimensions of 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.33 inches and a weight of 1.7 pounds, the Surface is thin but still has notable bulk for a tablet. If you're accustomed to using a small tablet on the couch or while sitting down, the larger Surface can take some getting used to.
Connectivity options include a USB 3.0 port, micro-SD slot, headphone jack and a Mini DisplayPort. The Pro 4 also comes with Windows 10 Pro, the latest iteration of Microsoft's operating system. Like Windows 8, the operating system features a mix of traditional laptop and tablet-style user interfaces.
Elsewhere, the middling battery life of the Surface is a stumble. Battery testing from our colleagues at Laptop Mag revolves around simulated web browsing at a constant brightness until the tablet powers down. In this test, the Pro 4 only put up a mark of 6 hours and 5 minutes. While the Pro 4's specifications are more power-hungry than a standard tablet, most premium tablets can still reach around nine hours of battery life.
The lack of a keyboard Surface bundle is another sore point for the tablet. The Type Cover combo keyboard cover provides a physical keyboard for the Surface, but Microsoft only offers it as a separate accessory.
The Pro 4 features a 12.3-inch, 2736 x 1824 display that is a notable upgrade from past Surface models, which featured a 2160 x 1440 display. Laptop Mag also found a brightness rating of 382 nits for the tablet, which was in line with comparable premium tablets. High brightness levels make it easier to read content like text and photos.
Microsoft provides incremental improvements for the Pro 4's camera. The Surface 4's front-facing camera is still 5MP, which provides high-fidelity image quality for video calls. This is well ahead of the standard 1.2MP for tablets' front cameras. The rear-facing camera has a slight bump up to 8MP, which makes it easier to shoot high-definition photos and videos and is standard for tablets' rear cameras. In Laptop Mag's testing, the camera had occasional software issues that caused pixelation in images and delays in adjusting focus and exposure.
Help & Support
By default, Microsoft includes a standard one-year warranty on the Pro 4. It also offers support through a variety of standard channels. These include phone agents, live chat, social media and online support, along with in-person troubleshooting through Microsoft Store retail locations. In all of these channels, Microsoft maintains a strong presence. It regularly maintains its accounts on services like Twitter, and the company's online support page is easy to navigate.
With the tablet market moving toward larger screens, give Microsoft its due credit for being ahead of the curve. While the Pro 4 has some portability limitations in light of its size and battery life, Microsoft's flagship tablet earns our best ranking on the strength of its specifications and design.