Feb 10 2016

Product Review: Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Successfully Straddles Desktop and Tablet

Great processing power and handy tools for studying and sharing move this device to the head of the class.

Microsoft’s new Surface Pro 4 is one of the first tablets powerful enough to become either a user’s main system, acting as both a desktop -computer and a portable tablet.

Surface Pro 4 improves upon the excellent Surface Pro 3 design in nearly every way, including areas that are important to higher education environments. Most come with either an Intel i5 or i7 chipset. Our test unit had a 2.4-gigahertz i5, and nothing we threw at it slowed it down.

Photoshop documents, complex spreadsheets and even a CAD drawing program all opened in just a few seconds, at speeds one might expect from a desktop computer. After attaching an optional keyboard via a magnetic clip, we found that the newest Surface Pro functions almost completely as a desktop, running a full version of Windows 10 and every program available for that OS.

Despite the increase in power, the new Surface Pro manages to improve functionality when being used as a tablet, including superlong battery life to get through both morning and evening classes without needing a charge. When running an HD movie, the model provides continuous power for 8 hours and 47 minutes. More reasonable use could stretch that time out even further.

A stylus pen is included, adding even greater functionality. Clicking the pen automatically performs tasks such as launching OneNote, taking a screenshot or alerting Cortana that help or a search is needed. The stylus allows for very precise writing on the touch-sensitive screen, allowing complex formulas to be sketched out quickly and shared with other Surface Pro users — no chalk required. In an educational environment, the Surface Pro 4’s features, power and flexibility will go far to enhance student learning.

5-Megapixel Camera Offers New Options for Video

The cameras were also treated to an upgrade in the Surface Pro 4: The user-facing camera is now a 5-megapixel model with a wide-angle lens, perfect for video conferencing or remote teaching. The rear camera, an 8MP model, includes autofocus — a first for the Surface lineup.

Another, user-facing camera might go unnoticed: an infrared model included as part of the Windows Hello secure login. Users introduce themselves to the unit, and the device stays on the lookout for them ever after. When an authorized user steps up, they will be logged in automatically and securely. Because it’s infrared, the camera also allows the device to detect and verify users in nearly dark conditions, a nice perk for those who log in and take notes in darkened lecture halls.

New Edge Browser and Win 10 are Winning Combo

The Edge browser represents another remarkable feature. Of course, Edge works with any Windows 10 device, but it seems tailored to tablets.

While Edge is more stripped down than Explorer, the new browser offers several built-in features that also seem tailor-made for higher education environments. Distraction-free reading, and the ability to create reading lists of articles or assignments that users might like to look at after class, come first to mind.

To create a reading list, users simply click a button to add an article to a personal reading list. Users can save the page on the list so that it can be examined offline later, even where no Wi-Fi is available.

The distraction-free reading mode — also available with a single touch — removes all ads and peripheral data on a web page, leaving only the actual text of an article on a plain background, with little to interrupt study time.

Edge allows users to write directly on web pages with the Surface pen. Notes can be taken directly on articles or photographs while browsing, and the whole experience can be saved and shared with other Surface Pro users through the included OneNote program.

The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is a powerful tool that would be an advantage to almost any type of user. Integrated with the new Edge browser, it shines more brightly for higher ed.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4

Processor: Intel i5-6300U dual-core 2.4GHz CPU
Memory: 8GB RAM
Hard Drive: 256GB solid-state drive
Display: 12.3-inch PixelSense LCD touch screen
Dimensions: 7.9x11.5x0.03 inches
Weight: 1.73 pounds