With all the hoopla surrounding the unexpected and impressive looking Surface Book that was announced yesterday, it might be easy to forget that Microsoft also announced the Surface Pro 4, which is a rather respectable follow-up to the previously well-received Surface Pro 3.
Last month, we did a specs and feature comparison which pitted the Surface Pro 3 against the Apple iPad Pro — it wasn’t exactly a fair fight given the “elder” status of the Surface Pro 3, but with the arrival of the Surface Pro 4, the gloves can finally come off as Microsoft goes head-to-head against the best that Cupertino has to offer.
So let’s first take a good look at the Surface Pro 4 which, at first glance, could be a dead ringer for its 2014-era predecessor. However, there are some giveaways that this is a newer, more capable tablet. For starters, Microsoft has increased the display size from 12 inches to 12.3 inches, all while maintaining the same footprint. This means thinner bezels and the expulsion of the capacitive Windows button that used to graced the front of the Surface Pro 3. Speaking of the display, Microsoft has graciously increased the resolution to 2763x1824, up from 2160x1440.
|Model||Surface Pro 4
|Processor||6th-generation Intel Core m3/i5/i7 processors
|Graphics||Intel HD or Intel Iris Graphics||Apple A9X|
|Operating System||Windows 10 Pro 64-bit||iOS 9|
|Display||12.3-inch ClearType Full HD (2763x1824) Touch Panel||12.9-inch (2732x2048) Touch Panel|
|Camera||5MP front-facing camera; 8MP rear-facing camera||1.2MP front-facing camera; 8MP rear-facing camera|
|Memory & Storage||4GB, 8GB or 16GB of RAM
128GB, 256GB, 512GB or 1TB SSD
microSD card slot
|4GB of RAM
32GB, 64GB or 128GB Flash storage
|I/O Ports||1 x Full-size USB 3.0
1 x Mini Display port
microUSB charging port
|1 x Lightning Port
|Battery||Up to 9 hours||Up to 10 hours (Wi-Fi), Up to 8 hours (Wi-Fi + LTE)|
|Weight||1.69 to 1.73 pounds
|MSRP||Base Price: $899
||Base Price: $799|
There are also big changes under the hood, where you’ll now find Intel Skylake-based (sixth generation) Core m3 (w/Intel HD Graphics 515), Core i5 (w/Intel Graphics 520) and Core i7 (w/Intel Iris Graphics) processors. Microsoft also went on a “doubling spree” by increasing the maximum amount of available memory from 8GB to 16GB and maximum storage capacity from 512GB to 1TB — both are welcome additions to power-hungry professionals.
You’ll also find an 8MP rear camera (up from 5MP) and a 5MP front-facing camera. Other features are carryover, including Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11ac connectivity, a single USB 3.0 port and stereo speakers with Dolby sound.
Besides the hardware upgrades to the tablet itself, Microsoft has also revised the Surface Pen, giving it an eraser and 1024 points of pressure. In addition to allowing you to erase your digital ink, the pen’s eraser can also be pressed down to activate Cortana, which is a nice touch. The Surface Pen also attaches magnetically to the top of the Surface Pro 4 when not in use, which is handy if you need to quickly stow it while typing, but probably won’t be of much use when you throw the tablet into a carrying case (the magnets aren’t strong enough to provide a really firm connection).
The Surface Pro 4 continues to be one of the heftier tablets out there, weighing in at 1.69 pounds for the fanless, entry-level Core m3 model. Surface Pro 4 models that include Core i5 and Core i7 processors weigh slightly more at 1.73 pounds. Regardless, all Surface Pro 4 models are lighter than Surface Pro 3, which weighs in at 1.76 pounds.
When it comes to pricing, there aren’t any surprises here. The entry-level price of $899 will get you a Core m3 processor with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. A mid-range model with a Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD will set you back $1,299. If you go the customized route and tick off every option available, you will pay a whopping $2,699 to score a Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD.
The Surface Pro 4 represents exactly what we were expecting for a successor to the Surface Pro 3 — it’s slightly lighter, it has faster and more efficient Intel Skylake-based processors, and maximum RAM and storage space has been doubled across the board.
If you were excited about Apple’s iPad Pro before, the Surface Pro 4 may take a bit of wind out of your sails. That’s not to say that the iPad Pro isn’t a fine piece of hardware in its own right, it’s just that Surface Pro 4 is just that good. The iPad Pro is powered by Apple’s brand new A9X processor which comes with 4GB of RAM (the only configuration available) — twice that of the A9 in the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. We’ve already seen benchmarks that show the A9 is on par with the Core M processor found in the 12-inch MacBook, which means that the A9X is probably more than powerful enough to go toe-to-toe with the Core m3 found in the base Surface Pro 4. All bets are off, however, when it comes to the A9X versus the Core i5 and Core i7 — we have the feeling that those models of the Surface Pro 4 will likely have the upper hand in performance.
On the display front, the iPad Pro is slightly larger than the Surface Pro at 12.9 inches and carries a resolution of 2732x2048. It’s roughly comparable to the Surface Pro 4’s display in resolution, although the latter features a display ratio of 3:2 versus 4:3.
The iPad Pro’s Apple Pencil was the subject of a quick jab by Microsoft’s Panos Panay during yesterday’s unveil. Panay wondered aloud why there was a “Pencil” out there that didn’t have an eraser. The Apple Pencil is an optional accessory for the iPad Pro and costs an additional $99. It also last just 12 hours per charge, whereas the Surface Pen can last up to a year (and it also comes standard with the tablet). Apple does, however, note that users can get an additional 30 minutes of life out of the Apple Pencil with a 15-second charge from your iPad Pro’s Lightning connector.
When it comes to storage space, don’t expect to see anything approaching what Microsoft is able to offer with the Surface Pro 4. The base iPad Pro ($799) comes with just 32GB of storage space, while top-spec models come with 128GB (the same as the entry-level Surface Pro 4).
At around the $1,000 price point you’ll be able to configure an iPad Pro with an A9X, 4GB of RAM and 128GB SSD (128GB WiFi/$949, 128GB WiFi+LTE/$1,079). The Surface Pro 4 at that price point ($999) will net you a Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. That’s about as close to an "apples-to-apples" comparison as you’re going to get between these two tablets, and we’ll have to give the edge to the Surface Pro 4 just on the basis of its Core i5 processor and beefier system memory options alone.
But from there on out, there’s really no way for the iPad Pro to compete. The Surface Pro just stacks on more RAM, more storage, and faster processors — all for of course, more money. You also have to factor in accessories into the pricing mix. While the iPad Pro starts at $799, you have to spend another $100 just to get a stylus, whereas Microsoft includes a stylus in the box with the Surface Pro 4. Likewise, the optional Smart Keyboard for the iPad Pro costs $169. You can grab a standard Surface Pro Type Cover for $129 or pay $169 to add a better typing experience, a touchpad and a fingerprint sensor that is compatible with Windows Hello.
But in the end, we think that the Surface Pro 4 is the 2-in-1 tablet to beat, at least initially on paper (we'll need hands-on time for a full analysis) . It offers more value for the money and is arguably a more versatile tablet with respect to the amount of software available. And even when it comes to connectivity (the USB 3.0 port alone will be a saving grace for content creators, and storage can be further expanded via a microSD slot). The iPad Pro will likely still appeal to those that are content with the iOS walled garden, but what we’d really like to see is this potent tablet teamed with the full-blown OS X operating system. Unfortunately, if comments by Apple CEO Tim Cook are any indication, we don’t see that happening anytime soon.