Surface Pro 4: My Review/Thoughts

Hey guys, so this isn't really much of a review yet, but I picked up the Surface Pro 4 early today and have been on it since. I'm typing this review on it as a matter of fact. This is the 256GB HDD, i5, 8GB of RAM version, and I'm kind of considering to switch it out for the i7 16GB of RAM one maybe. Keep in mind that this is my first surface, although I've played around with the SP3 and 2. My previous laptop (from school) was a 2012 13" i5 with 8GB of RAM MacBook Air, so that's going to be my main comparison.

So for the good:

The keyboard is nice, it feels great, keyboard is just as good as the mac, a little heavier to press but very satisfying to type on. I appreciate the backlight and the noise they keyboard makes, its "meaty" if that makes any sense.

The trackpad is the same story, first trackpad on a windows laptop I've actually liked (sue me but that's one thing Macs have done and still do miles better than any PC and OEMs and Microsoft should take note), The only issue I've run into is a windows issue, see that in the cons sections. Otherwise the glass cover feels great.

The tablet itself is super nice, I love the pixel density and the overall screen quality, I notice that I use very small fonts, which will probably destroy my eyes on the long run but oh well, a great bum pup which makes even my new 1440p monitor look "bland" now. Congrats on that Microsoft.

The tablet is also very silent, and I only got the fan to turn on once or twice when I was first installing all the programs or when I tried some gaming, definitely a big plus, especially since that god damn MacBook sounds like a whirlwind. This isn't super quiet when the fan kicks in, but its not a big deal either. I expect the i7 will be hotter, and there has been reports of thermal throttling under load on the 3, including from Wendell, so I'm not sure how I feel about that.

Its a snappy experience with occasional lag, but only places where every computer lags, including my I7 4790K rig so that's ok. Stilt considering the i7 maybe tho. The i5 should be fine for most people, I just enjoy speed, just cost is the issue. I'm torn between keeping the i7 for 4 years of college or just upgrading in 2-3 years to whatever is new. Thinking I'll probably go that route in the end, just makes most sense. Curious what you guys think in the description.

The Pen itself feels nice, and is probably the best pen tablet experience so far. There's two cons however, 1. The click to one note feature stopped working, and I need to find a workaround for that, and 2. The Digitizer does "bend" or create marks on the screen if you press a bit, which is a little concerning. Also there is a slight delay which is still annoying.

The WiFi seems plenty fast, with my 5GHZ AC capping my 80Mb/s internet connection easily, so that seems fixed from the SP3.

Now for the not so good:

As of the time of writing, I have a couple tabs open, Skype and a word document, and my battery life is at 69%, and Windows says that I have about 2 hours and 58 Minutes remaining. Disappointed that its not even 4 hours 20 minutes left. Jokes aside though, I'm not seeing nearly the 9 hours battery life that Microsoft boasted, and I doubt the i7 variant is going to be any better. This might almost be a dealbreaker.

There is also a flickering issue while charging, the display will flicker on and off once every once in a while, and I think that has to do with the charging management IC just going between power phases. The same cheapens with brightness changes, which are less than subtle while charging. Again, hopefully can be addressed by software but come on Microsoft.

There is also the issue that the tablet takes just WAY too long to go from sleep to awake, as much as 10-15 Seconds. This shouldn't be the case with the specs in this. Sometimes it will just refuse to do anything until the power button will be pressed several times. I think this is also due to how the display manager will crash and recover, which again, should not ben an issue on launch day.

Lastly, there will be a speaker "pop" type noise every once in a while, as if the audio driver is turned on. What's up with that?!

And actually lastly, while the trackpad is nice, there is NO WAY to change the tracking speed on it! Changing the windows setting simply does nothing, and this needs to be addressed. Currently the tracking speed is just too slow on an otherwise great trackpad. Microsoft, FIX IT.

Overall Impressions

The surface pro 4 is a good device, but Microsoft needs to step up their game. I'm really curious for Wendell's thoughts on the device, and hope he'll get a unit to review as well. I don't think any of the issues above, aside from maybe battery life are deal breakers, and I suspect/hope that Microsoft will fix most of them, but I think that we have gone beyond the point where these excuses are valid. I'm also really curious how Linux will run on this, and I suspect that it would be quite fun to try out. I'll make sure to post about this soon.

Do you guys have any thoughts? Sorry for the long post, but I thought you might be interested to know before you buy.

BTW by the time I finish writing this review, I'm at 66% battery and it now says 2 hours 42 minutes left.

PS: Damn it Microsoft Wendell told you, 2A USB port on the charger. You didn't listen :D


Since windows 10 my SP3 battery life is basically shit. However, I can turn on 'battery saver' and I dont notice anything different and with that I get about 30 minutes out it more than I did on Win 8. Turn on battery saver?

I think also theres a lot of bs/updates running in the background.

I have been having hilarious issues out of windows 10 like the login screen displays, but its not ready to log in, you have to wait for it to flash or spazz or something then you can log in. Thankfully these days I spent more time in linux on the surface than windows.

Half the time the h/w windows button does nothing, but it does vibrate.

1 Like

Huh you're right yeah, just seems to dim the display a bit in battery saver. And yeah there's definitely a lot of bs running that shouldn't be.

How's the 3 under Linux? I know you did a video on it, but any weird issues? Might actually do that as well, I go through my Linux phases.

Yeah the hw Windows button they fixed by removing it haha! Didn't realize the tablet can vibrate? Maybe that's the weird sound I keep hearing? But I feel like I should feel it.

BTW: Your old Viking wool hat thing inspired this year's Halloween costume for me. Marginally creepy but I wonder if anyone will get it :D Don't take it the wrong way the thing is fun as hell to wear.

the touch experience is still not great under Linux. but everything else works great. then again I'm using a convertible laptop. but I'm sure the experience is the same on the Surface. and I'm using Manjaro with the latest stable kernel and all the updated packages.

And for me, the Windows button that's built on to the screen. it doesn't do anything from what i've seen.


Honestly the only thing holding me back form doing so on here is that I kinda need office and one note for school. Otherwise I would have been long off of Windows. (and adobe stuff). All my programming stuff is just plain better in Linux or even OSX and I love the 'challenge' or working in CLI. There's alternatives in Linux but I feel like they just don't cut it for me yet.

I might just try installing to micro-sd or a small USB3 drive to play around with.

see the thing with Onenote, as of right now. from what I've seen the CLOSEST on Linux that comes to a OneNote is Xournal. but realistically speaking it still doesn't compare to Onenote in the slightest but it's still a viable option.

@Wendell have you tried Xournal? it's the closest to a OneNote.

but touch features are still finicky. for example, touching any search bar, won't open up the touch keyboard at all. which is a big issue. and screen orientation stuff doesn't work. if i hold the laptop in tablet mode and in a portrait orientation it stays in Landscape. i still don't know how to fix this.

Yeah I haven't tried that yet. What irks me too is that Evernote devs refuse to make a Linux version, so we're stuck with the web version. I'll give Xournal a try at some point.

As far as the orientation goes, I feel like a good place to start would be to see if linux detects the accelerometer/gyro on the surface and go from there? If you can read values from it, or get it to work it should be possible to at least write a script as a background process to rotate the display. It might be janky as all hell but should work.

supposably Unity 8 on Ubuntu is going to have ALOT of touch based features. which as of now may be coming soon since canonical annouced that Ubuntu 15.10 is going to get updated to the latest kernel and all the features. and Ubuntu 16.04 is coming fairly soon. 16.04 LTS will have all the latest features, updates and Unity 8.

1 Like

Grippentech, thanks for your thorough and helpful review. I've preordered the same model, and the only concern for me is battery life. I'm curious: have you tried running it all the way down and then recharging? If I could get a decent amount of power back (80% or so) after a 60-minute charge, it wouldn't be such a big deal to find an outlet for an hour at lunchtime. Also, what browser are you running? Does using Edge make a difference?

I also waffled between the i5 and i7, and what made me go i5 were anecdotal reports that the i7 SP3's battery life was worse. We'll have to wait and see with the SP4 and Skylake, but if there's no hit with the i7, I'd consider upgrading.

Please do keep us updated on your issues as the fixes and improvements trickle in.

I ran it down twice today. Right now I'm at 37% and it says it will be fully charged in and hour and 33 minutes. So its not too bad in that sector. But battery life could definetly be better. So I don't know that it makes a huge difference, but all my reporting so far was using Edge. I know from experience that Safari for example is enormously better on a mac than chrome battery wise. I'm back to chrome now and I'll try and see how this works out.

As Wendell pointed out, batttery save will dim the screen a bit but add quite a bit of life into it.

When it comes to the SP3 I've been reading conflicting reports, as in the i7 thermal throttled more, but had better battery life because of better power management. I've also read the opposite. I don't see any reason why the i5 should get less battery life than the i7, it should be the inverse realistically but we'll have to see what shenanigans Microsoft is up to.

I actually have a couple of contacts with tech evangelists at Microsoft, going to try to see if I can get any info from them.

And I'll definitely keep you guys updated as best as I can yeah!

1 Like

Also to anyone still reading this:

Found a new bug in Edge! There seems some weird and broken "autocorrect" type feature that won't let you put a space after certain words. I thought it was the keyboard initially but its just the browser being really weird. It only happens in certain sentences but it will happen about one in 5 or 10 sentences and is really annoying. I tried turning off autocorect in both Windows and Edge but that doesn't solve anything. Chrome works fine in that aspect however.

Battery sacer seems tobdo other stuff other than dim the screen. Because I can take the brightness back up and still have very good battery life. But when its off its always a hit battery life.

1 Like

It would make sense that it does. I'm not seeing a hit in performance, nothing perceivable anyway. Would be interesting to do some benchmarks with that.

Are you guys planning to get a unit in to review at some point BTW?

Thanks for the reply, again this is very useful info. I've also read conflicting reports about i5 vs. i7 battery life on the SP3. Yes, it seems counterintuitive that one would outperform the other on the same tasks and with the same battery capacity.

I was hoping that they'd boost the battery life this year, and they sort of did by offering the Core M version and Surface Book, but it's disappointing that the sweet spot SP4 didn't get a bump. Microsoft says 9 hours on a charge, which probably means 6 or 7 for a fairly heavy user. If you can get 6 + 6 hours with a charging session in between, that should take you through even a heavy day. Disappointing, but it'll get the job done.

That's what I was hoping as well, but so far I'm not seeing even 6 hours web browsing, which is really odd. I'm looking at more like 4 hours. I'm going to do some more testing but it just seems odd so far.

1 Like

4 hours?! My, that's terrible. I'll wait for a couple of updates, but if it truly is 4 hours of web browsing, that won't cut it for me.

Yeah see what I'm talking about? Now it says 4 hours and 38 minutes or so at 99%. IF I put it in power save tho it goes to 6 hours 51 minutes, which might just be the answer. Hmm, this is interesting.

Also don't look too hard at that word doc lol, very much work in progress.

So a bit more digging and I found the magic number. Just set brightness to 25%, Battery saver on, and don't touch it and you'll get slightly less than advertised. Great. OK so now I'm back typing this, same settings as before, only this tab open in Edge and its saying 5 hours 30 - 6 hours 30. Its better, but just... come on, should be way better than this.

1 Like

I hope they officially bring these tablets to Turkey as soon as possible. I would definetly buy one for my university. Well, thats 4 years ahead. For know I can just wait :( BTW who makes these kind of walpapers. I have seen these in at least 4 places beforehand. And where can I get them.

@Grippentech, how is life with the SP4 going? Have you been able to eke any more battery life out of it?

There have been several reports over the last few days that Windows Hello was the source of some of the battery drain issues. Have you tried disabling it on yours?

It'll be about another week and a half or so before mine arrives.