The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is finally here. I say finally, because this is actually the first Surface to hit the surface in India, just over three years after the first of these devices was announced. The Surface Pro 4 has come in time to take on the Apple iPad Pro, both of which will try and woo those people who want to do more with their computing devices, but will be really bothered by the extra kilo or so, a powerful PC or Mac adds to the mix. Yes, a rather small niche, especially in a price-sensitive market like India where buyers don’t mind lugging an extra kilo on their device as long as it doesn’t reduce the weight of their wallets.
I have just spent a week with the Apple iPad Pro and am pretty convinced it is the best and most powerful iPad yet, despite its size. However, I want to spend a week with the Surface Pro 4 before sticking my neck out and deciding which of the two is better for a creative, and highly mobile professional. Read on:
Day 4: Cortana and other stuff
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With Windows 10, Microsoft has finally rolled out Cortana in India. It is a worthy personal assistant, one that is aware that she is in India and we speak English with an accent that might be unfamiliar for her. The success rate is quite high and that is good those who are lazy enough to type a query. Also, Microsoft has integrated it well by giving the ability to summon her with just a long press on the pen’s top clicker. I would have liked a dedicated key on the keyboard too, as I might not have my pen handy at all times and I am lazy enough not to want to stretch my hands till the screen.
Come one, wake up
One frustrating thing about using the Surface is its tendency at times to slip into deep slumber. This happens when you have shut the device to catch up with something else. You return a while later to find that Surface is just not in the mood to wake up.
At time all it takes is a tap on the space bar to wake it up, but at other times you will exhaust all your options soon enough. In fact, I had to long press the power button a few times to restart the device because it just refused to wake up.
A battery of issues
Ultrabooks traditionally give you at least six hours of battery life, and I have used ultrabooks almost as thin as the Surface Pro 4 at least three years ago. On the Surface Pro 4, a full battery gives you about four hours of juice, if you have the battery saver switched on. And there is something really wrong with this figure. I would say given the size of the device, this figure should be at least double.
So, should you buy?
The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is a good computing device by all means. Of course, it is expensive and not meant for everyone. Also, let’s not think of it as a large, powerful tablet. This is actually a thinner, lighter, sexier Ultrabook, if anyone cares for that term these days.
It is a full-blown PC that can do almost all the tasks it is asked to, but is not exactly a mobile-first device in the true sense. There is a very PC heart at the soul of this device and that does come through at time. And that is not a bad thing. Buy this as a notebook replacement or as your second laptop and you will love every bit of it. It might not be able to replace a desktop just yet.
Day 3: The workaholic
I am convinced that if you have invested on the Windows ecosystem and need a good mobile device, then the Surface Pro 4 is a better bet than buying a regular expensive laptop. That is because, if the need arises this can a handy tablet device too. That said, the Surface Pro 4 is a computer in every sense and not really a tablet. And whatever Microsoft might say, Windows 10 is still not a mobile-first OS. The entire operating system will have to think differently to get to that level. Just making people wait for a minute to wake up the device from sleep defeats the purpose.
That said, I have seen very few portable devices that are really this good with full blown Windows Operating System. The Surface Pro 4 runs all your programmes without a stutter and that would include something as resource intensive as Adobe Photoshop. And that is where this device will have an edge over something like the iPad Pro. But look for good photo editing apps that you would want to use on the fly without yoking a keyboard and mouse and you will struggle.
All charged up
Microsoft could have thought of a common USB port to charge the device. Forget the proprietary charger and you have no option of bringing this device back to life till you get hold of your charger. If Microsoft was thinking mobile it would have thought this differently.
Day 2: Upgrade, update, upset
So the apps did finally update and started working like they should have. It might be a minor glitch, but if I have paid Rs 90,000 for a new anything, it better start working right away. The need for an update is particularly frustrating since Windows 10 was installed from scratch, so shouldn’t the apps that come with it also be fresh? Even if they are not fresh, shouldn’t they be able to work? Beats me.
However, they are now working and I can get on with my business. And I have to say that I really love the keyboard. In fact, I have written over a thousand words using these backlit keys and I just love typing on it. It is just perfect, even when you are working in pitch darkness like I am at the moment.
Still, typing away with the Surface perched precariously on my lap, I can’t help but say that this is not really made for the lap. The Surface needs a flat surface to be at its best and may be that’s why it’s called the surface.
The Surface Pro 4 is not a tablet; it is actually a full PC that is slim enough to masquerade itself as a tablet. And that is why, there is a tablet mode just a swipe away. In this mode there is no desktop available. A tap on the Windows button takes you to the now-familiar Windows tiles, which are certainly easier to use when you are using this device without a keyboard.
Now, that is not all good. Consider the situation where you are working on a mail and you need to open another app. You can go to the tile Windows menu, but not all apps are there. So you need to hit the hamburger menu on the left corner and click all apps on the left bar, that opens up a Windows Phone type list. You still need to find the app you are looking for. Quite a few swipes that could have been easily avoided.
Split down the middle
Windows 10 supports split view. But it is again not that easy to execute, at least not initially. You need to swipe from the left to see all the open apps and drag one them to the left edge to lock it to half the screen and see the other apps on the other. Not bad, but it will take some remembering. In fact, there are more of these gestures that are handy and effective, but will take time and effort to remember.
Day 1: Design, unboxing and setting up
The Surface Pro 4 is a really stylish device, though not exactly a run-off-the mill tablet. I say this because there are these vents on the sides, which are not common in tablets. It is easy to grip and use. The size is not awkward, though it is large. The pull out stand at the bottom is really practical and along with the full size keyboard it works like a full computer.
I like the fact that the slim keyboard offers a trackpad too, as I can’t resist the temptation of using one with a large screen despite the touchscreen. The keyboard offers the right amount of travel making it good for those who want to write. With the keyboard, Microsoft has clearly stolen a march on Apple.
Now, for the pen. Pairing the Surface Pen is something you do as part of the rather long Windows 10 installation process and that is good. The Surface Pen also feels like a proper pen and comes with a magnetic strip that makes it stick to the Surface thus reducing the chances of you losing it. A small feature, but something that makes it more practical. Also, the pen comes with a clicker on top that lets you open OneNote or take a screenshot. Good.
The setup, as I mentioned earlier, is rather long. It took me close to 30 minutes to get to the point where I was actually using the device. And that is a not a very tablety feature it have. It is very PC. Very Windows.
This is my first stint with Hello. I have seen and tested it at IDF 15, but this is the first time I have set up one and used it. And I must tell you, it works like a charm. But, it has to be faster and less of a song and dance. I think in a year or so it will unlock computers immediately, instead of telling you it is searching, verifying etc. It is a great start nonetheless. This is how technology should be: seamless and natural.
Houston (or should I say, Redmond) we have a problem
The Surface Pro 4 I have for review is a new device, and I installed the Windows 10 on it. So I just can’t figure out why it should have apps that are crashing. I had issues with both OneNote and the Mail apps. Someone suggested, I update the apps and see if there is a newer version of the OS as well. But then it took a couple of crashes for the Store to log me in.
Now, that’s not something you would expect from a flagship device from Microsoft. Certainly not one that costs close to Rs 90,000 and is running a spanking new OS.
More on this after I get the 28 app updates installed along with an OS patch. Will the apps crash again? More on that tomorrow.
In Pictures: The new Microsoft Surface Pro 4