We’re a few generations into the Surface line-up, but we’re glad to see Microsoft has given up on the whole membrane-based “touch keyboard” concept, because it wasn’t really going anywhere with it, and has instead focused all its energy on making a super thin and easy to use button-based keyboard.
Over the years, the TypeCover keyboards have been getting better, but in the most recent iteration (Surface Pro 4 Type Cover), we feel like we have a keyboard with which we can call home.
Finally, the keys are spaced apart with gutter and margin, as Microsoft moves its super thin fabric-encased keyboards to the island-key design pretty much every keyboard arrives in these days, so that’s positive, and finally the trackpad feels like it matches, now including a lovely and slick glass button with the whole thing supporting multi-touch gestures, so that’s good too.
But perhaps what’s best about this unit is how it feels, and it feels simply stellar.
We write on a lot of keyboards, with our computer and tablet reviews written on the devices when they can be, and sometimes we go a lot further and even write books on them, too, and after writing a good 20,000 words on the Surface Pro 4 in a little under two weeks, we can say with certainty that this a lovely set of keys, with just enough travel to feel like you’re making the strokes count, an individual backlight for each key with four stages of backlighting, and a comfortable palm grip that feels more like a firm pillow than a cold hard block.
Microsoft Surface Pro keyboards don’t have the greatest of track records with this reviewer, mind you, so we’ll see how this goes, but the Pro 4 keyboard is already off to a good start, and being connected is part of what makes this good.
While some tablet keyboard cases rely on Bluetooth, the physical magnetic connection between the Pro 4 and its Type Cover case help it in the long run, not just because you can use it on every flight without the fear that flight mode will disable its functionality, but because it helps to make your words appear on the screen just that much faster.
Battery life hasn’t changed much either, and while the Surface Pro 4 feels like it would technically be “ultrabook-class” if people still used that term, its battery performance isn’t in the 6 to 12 hours that some ultra-light machines go for.
Rather, we’re getting closer to 5 hours all up, sometimes a little more, dependent on what we’re doing. Most of our work tests have had us writing (we write a lot) or working in Adobe Photoshop and Audition, though we’ve also spent a fair amount of time browsing the web in Google Chrome and even Microsoft’s Edge browser. When we stick mostly to WiFi, writing, and web surfing, we’ve been able to stretch the time to around 6 hours of life, but once you throw something a little more performance intensive in there, you see the time drop, with Photoshop able to push the life down to 3 to 4.
That’s not horrific life, but it’s not absolutely amazing either, though it does give us a gentle nudge that perhaps Microsoft’s Surface Book (or another laptop with a larger battery) might be a better option for our usage scenario.
We are a little critical over the “if it ain’t broke” philosophy in some areas, though, because as good as the Pro 4 is, some of these areas did need fixing, and one of these is the paint job on the back of the magnesium body which picked up scratches all too easily last year and, wouldn’t you know it, still picks up scratches too easily.
There’s not much in the GadgetGuy reviewer backpack, but apparently there was enough to cause a couple of scratches only a few hours after grabbing the Surface Pro 4 out of the box, which is just maddening. In comparison, we’ve been hauling a 13 inch aluminium MacBook Pro around for the better part of six months and it hasn’t picked up a single scratch.