I have been an avid user of laptops since the early 1990’s and have participated in their evolution from monochrome screens and batteries that lasted an hour to the current crop of ultrabooks. Over the years, I have owned excellent (for their time) laptops manufactured by Comaq, HP, Dell, Toshiba, Lenovo, and Sony (for a time, I kept all of them in a box in my garage). In early 2016, I purchased the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 and, at least for my needs, it has been a nearly perfect fit.
Configuring a Surface is cake. All have the same screen and form factor. Your only real choices are the processor, RAM, and SSD size. My primary uses would be for fairly mundane tasks such as managing my customer database, spreadsheets, email, internet browsing, movies, and reading. As a result, I went for their middle of the road configuration; I5 processor, 8 GB RAM, and a 256 GB SSD. For the vast majority of users, this configuration will more than satisfy their needs. It’s also the sweet spot for price/performance. Neither the processing boost of the I7 processor nor the larger SSDs would have a significant impact on most users’ experience.
Review:Since the inception of the Surface line, it has been considered the state of the art in Windows tablet computing. While neither a perfect tablet (largely a result of Windows remaining keyboard and mouse centric) nor a best in class laptop (no matter how good, a detachable keyboard will never be as good as the real thing), as a combination it’s close to perfect.
Portability: The first job of a laptop is to be portable. That is, in fact, their raison d’etre. The Surface is extremely thin, light, and, as a result, extraordinarily portable. You can slip it into a backpack, carry it in a sleeve, or toss it into a briefcase with aplomb. I take it everywhere and it’s never a burden.
Display: It serves no purpose to get into a pixel density comparison when your screen is only about twelve inches diagonal. That said, the screen is bright, crystal clear and distortion free. To my inexpert eye, it renders colors accurately and displays both text and graphics beautifully. Graphics experts might be more discerning but I suspect that the typical user will find the display quite pleasing.
Performance: For what it is, the Surface performs admirably in every day use. Opening multiple tabs in Chrome…no problem. Manipulating large spreadsheets…easy peasy. Watching a movie…aces. Rendering a long video, working with a complex file in Photoshop, or playing a game…not gonna happen. If you are a graphics professional, look elsewhere. Since I don’t do any of those things, I don’t mind. Otherwise, I can drive two 24” monitors at high resolution without flicker. That’s all I need and that’s all most people need.
Keyboard: It’s a conundrum wrapped in an enigma. There is no compelling case to own a Surface without the keyboard. If you don’t want a keyboard, just buy a far less expensive tablet (while I’m not an Apple fan, the Ipad is the best in class). Frankly, my biggest complaint about the Surface is that the keyboard doesn’t come in the package. Instead, you have to purchase it separately for about $100. That said, the keyboard is serviceable but can’t compete with the best keyboard built into laptops.
Pen: As anyone who has seen my stick figures will tell you, have no artistic skill. Fortunately, my daughter is an accomplished artist so I let her play with the pen. Her take is that for basic drawing, it’s OK. For anything really sophisticated, you need to go with a dedicated pen tablet such as those made by Intuos. That said, for annotating drawings or documents, it works fine. I don’t use it frequently but it can come in handy.
Dock: Just bite the bullet and buy it. It makes attaching additional monitors, keyboards and other peripherals a breeze. The Surface itself is limited to one USB Port, a mini display port and the proprietary charging/docking port. The dock fixes these limitations and allows you to use the Surface as a full desktop system.
Bottom Line: The Surface is pricey but it’s also best in class for a two in one. The screen is lovely, the form factor is convenient, and the performance is acceptable. For the right use case, it’s close to perfect. That said, if you are budget minded or you have no need to use your computer as a tablet, there are better, and far less expensive, options.
Allen Friedman is the owner and CEO of Techaerus LLC, an office efficiency consulting firm. He is also a licensed attorney. Allen founded and managed one of the largest consumer collections law firms in the country and managed over 50 attorneys as well as hundreds of non-attorney staff. Prior to founding that firm, he opened and managed the New York and Michigan operations for the largest consumer collections firm in the United States. Throughout his career, Allen has always placed great emphasis on ensuring that investments in office technology provide the greatest possible returns. In order to achieve these returns, he focuses on three pillars of office management; asset management, training, and automation. His expertise includes document/image management, software and hardware integration, training, and process management and automation. Allen lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with his wife Amy, his children Cassidy and Gideon, and two adorable dogs named Roxie (a labradoodle) and Bentley (an Old English Sheepdog).