Out of the box and into our hands, and there’s no mistaking the computer, because this is clearly a Surface.
There’s the unmistakeable slight skew of the Surface rectangular frame, the 3:2 aspect ratio from last time continued emulating that of paper, the “VaporMg” magnesium casing Microsoft no longer likes to talk up but still uses, and even that hinge from last generation has stuck around, one of the excellent inclusions that means you can make the tablet stand up anywhere, or even lie close to flat.
While the design is still the same basic rectangle, Microsoft has managed to put the tablet on a slight diet, dropping the thickness from 9.1mm down to 8.5mm, and getting 24 grams off the weight. It’s not a huge dent, but in a world where size denotes quality and development level, it’s a move Microsoft had to do.
Some other changes are quite noticeable from the design, too, and one is the omission of the Windows logo on the frame, a move which appears to add a little size to the screen, which is now not just a 12 inch display, but a 12.3 inch screen utilizing “PixelSense” technology.
Yes, that’s a buzzword, or a buzz-name, anyway, but it also stands for something more than a new way of saying Retina, because for Microsoft, PixelSense demonstrates a new set of technology with a higher contrast ratio, wider colour gamut supporting the full sRGB range, and a minimal distance between the display and the Corning Gorilla Glass 4 protecting the display, with that last part measuring 0.4mm, something Microsoft says is the thinnest ever used on a device.
PixelSense isn’t just a screen, as there’s a custom processor, the G5, which can work with the display to figure out if it’s a pen or a hand touching it and accommodate the control based on that input.
In action, we found the stylus was a little quicker than our fingers, though unless you’re a stickler for total punctuality, you’d probably never even realise it.
Back to the screen, though, because the clarity is awe-inspiring, with the 12.3 inch display using a 2736×1824 display. That’s a larger resolution than Apple has managed in its MacBook Pro 13 with Retina, and as such offers more 40 more pixels per inch in detail than the slightly bigger MacBook.
You might think that you won’t notice it, but the detail is obvious to us, with clearer icons, less pixel-peeping, and an almost pristine look to it.
Seriously, we’ll take screens like this from now on, because it is just utterly lovely. Everything looks better on the Surface Pro 4’s display. More like this, please.
The sound is also better, and while the previous generation features front-facing side speakers, Microsoft appears to have tuned these, as they’re now just so much clearer, something you’ll pick up when Microsoft plays its default Windows sounds. We don’t normally like them, but again, they’re just so bright and bubbly that we found ourselves not being annoyed by their presence anymore.
Performance is the next area to improve, and in our review model, the Core i5 rarely felt like it was missing a beat, offering solid enough processing power to let us do the regular productivity and workday activities, but also a little bit more, getting in some image processing in Photoshop and sound-editing work via Audition.
That’s the thing about a Surface tablet, because this ain’t your ordinary iPad, Android, or content consumption device. Rather, this is built to make and create, and with the underlying chip and RAM inside set to 8GB in our review model, you can bet we got straight into that.
Few hiccups could be found here, and for once, the operating system design matched the hardware design, with the excellence that is Windows 10 and its combination of mouse and finger-based menus allowing us to get around the operating system clearly and easily. We prefer working outside of tablet mode in the not quite named “desktop mode”, but Surface handles each swimmingly.
That generally sits well with Microsoft’s “ain’t broke, don’t fix” design, because last year’s performed very well, and this year’s appears to, also.
There’s even the inclusion of some neato tech from Intel thanks to the sixth-generation “RealSense” camera and 3D depth sensor technology, and this will come into play with how you login.
In Australia, we’re not lucky enough to see a fingerprint sensor yet, though we’re told this may be available later on. Instead, though, you can login with the pretty cool “Windows Hello” feature, which became our default way of getting into the Surface Pro 4.
Simply put, Hello relies on an Intel RealSense setup which consists of the camera and a Kinect-like 3D depth sensor to not just take a photo of your head, but also work out its size and shape in a 3D space. When this comes together, it acts as a virtual fingerprint, even if it’s your head that’s being scanned, and from our tests, it works a good 80 to 90 percent of the time, which is enough for us.
With Hello engaged, you simply look at the screen and it unlocks. Mostly, anyway, because some dark environments and odd angles (if you’re looking down at your camera in a way too different from how you captured it) throw it off. Fortunately, you can login using the traditional password or PIN if you prefer, which helps when Hello fails every so often.
Overall, though, it’s a pretty solid performance, and part of this is thanks to the accessories.