Surface Pro 4

28 November 2015

So I bought a Surface Pro 4 a little while ago. I change between loving it and hating it almost daily.

It has pretty impressive hardware, apart from the “cheap” $899-$1199 models only having 4 GB of RAM and a small, slow 128 GB SSD. The 128 GB Samsung NVMe SSDs used are painfully slow by modern standards, usually getting only 7200 RPM hard disk drive sequential write speeds of 80-100 MB/s. On the plus side, the little Core m3 is an impressive little CPU. Despite the low clock speed and 2 cores, it runs the OS and most software beautifully quickly, even at the high native resolution of the display. An extra annoyance is that the keyboard cover (which is amazing by the way) is an extra $130, and fairly essential to getting everything out of the Surface Pro 4. The on-screen keyboard isn’t bad, but is hardly usable for any real work, especially in my field where I need quick access to arrow keys (of which the Windows 10 keyboard only has left and right, no up and down) and special symbols. It’s worth buying the keyboard, but it really feels like it should just be included with a tablet this expensive, especially when Microsoft is branding it as a laptop replacement.

The capacitive touch screen is absolutely perfect, and the included upgraded Surface Pen is a breeze to use, my only complaint with the pen being that it’s initial pressure required to register a touch is higher than feels natural. When used for drawing, this can be a bit of an issue, since very light strokes will often not be registered, while a Wacom tablet registers the same light strokes perfectly. I’ve only drawn a bit on it so far, but that was actually my original reason for buying it. I’ve been particularly impressed by the pen vs. finger detection, allowing you to rest your hand on the screen while writing or drawing without any accidental touches registering, while still being able to use fingers to use the UI. The Core m3 is fairly responsive even when drawing at very high resolutions in Photoshop, and runs OneNote’s pressure-sensitive drawing with no noticeable pen delay, making sketching and handwriting feel fantastic.

Sadly Windows 10 is still not really stable. Everyone keeps telling me they haven’t had any issues with it. Maybe I’m just incredibly unlucky, but I’ve got five devices running Windows 10, and every one of them has some serious usability issue with the OS. Most noticeably on the Surface Pro 4, the lock screen sometimes gets stuck and won’t respond to touch or keyboard input, and more annoyingly, the device never wakes from sleep about one in ten times the power button is pressed.

Overall, I’m not sure whether I’d recommend the Surface Pro 4 to anyone. I absolutely love it a lot of the time, but the quality issues I’ve experienced feel like something you’d have on a $200 tablet, not a $900 one (plus the $130 for the keyboard cover). I look forward to seeing what Microsoft does with the future Surface line. There’s a long way to go before it’s perfect (or even worth the price, probably), but so far this thing is awesome.

Update (Dec 4):

The latest Windows Updates included a new display driver that has somehow prevented my Surface Pen from working, including crashing OneNote on startup even when the pen is off. Installing updates for Windows Defender somehow fixed this, not sure why. I’m really considering an iPad Pro, which isn’t really what I want at all.