There’s something about the Nexus range of devices when it comes to Android (check out our review of the Nexus 6P). There have always been several alternatives to the Nexus range and many devices have been better specced than the Nexus, but somehow when someone mentions great Android performance, the first name that seems to pop up in most people’s minds is the Nexus. There have been aberrations (the Nexus 2, the Nexus 6) but for the most part, the Nexus has been the flagbearer of Android, the benchmark of all that’s good in the OS.
Five days into using the Surface Pro 4, we feel that it is the device best suited to carry the Windows standard. Like the Nexus, it does have alternatives. Many of them are better specced. Many even will come with better specs at a much lower price.
But we are not sure that there are too many out there that can match the Surface as a whole. For five days we used the device with its keyboard and Pen as our only notebook. And while it did have its share of eccentricities (mostly with regard to the Pen and being used as a tablet), it seldom disappointed us on the performance front. And never ceased to surprise us with just how light and compact it was, especially with the Type keyboard (to repeat: it weighs lesser with a keyboard than an iPad Pro with the Smart Keyboard does). Yes, we have seen notebooks that have been relatively lightweight and have performed well before. But none of them came with this good a display, a detachable keyboard, this consistent level of performance, this sort of battery life and – yes, here we go again – THIS compact a form factor.
For over five days, the Surface Pro 4 took pretty much everything we threw at it. We even tried playing Crysis 3 (with some help from a friend) on it and while we had to pull down settings a fair bit, the game was playable, which is not something you can say about other 1 kilo notebooks – the MacBook Air, for instance, had not been able to handle it. Of course, in terms of routine jobs like browsing the Web, working on documents (all my articles on TechPP over the past five days have been written on it), checking social networks, pinging away on mail and the like, the Surface worked like a dream. And yes, it handled multi-tasking very well indeed. Yes, the use of Windows Hello, which is brilliant at its best, can drain battery rather heavily even when the device is sleeping but if handled carefully, you can easily get eight to nine hours out of it, which is quite brilliant when you consider the level at which it performs and the quality of its display.
It is light. Designed for touch and type. And handles both not just reasonably, but exceptionally well. It is great at handling audio and video. It gives you a proper USB port on its tablet portion and every connectivity option, bar data connectivity. It will be compatible with most of the hardware and software around (hey, our six year old Tata Indicom Photon data dongle worked with it easily). And it comes with very good accessories. The Type Keyboard is one of the best detachable keyboards we have used – we think the one on the ThinkPad Helix had better keys and the red navigation dot certainly helped, but the Surface Pro 4’s touchpad is a thing of joy: never once did we feel the need to use a mouse! Frankly, in terms of overall experience, this is easily the best 2-in-1 Windows device we have used. We have used other 2-in-1s ranging from the budget-friendly NotionInk Cain to the more heavy duty ThinkPad Helix series, but no one quite combined compactness of form (there, we said it AGAIN – but then we carried it along with us for five days, barely noticing its presence) and smoothness of performance quite as well as the Surface Pro 4 did.
And we are saying this in spite of the device crashing on us. Just as we were winding down almost five days of 2-in-1 perfection, our Surface Pro 4 simply refused to wake up from its sleep. No amount of power button pounding seemed to fix matters, so we headed online for solutions and were suggested two. The first was to hold the power button down for thirty seconds. That did not work. Then came the next: hold the volume up key and the power button together for at least 15 seconds.
That did it. The Surface came right back to life. Which is why you are seeing this article. No, we have no idea why the device did not turn on (battery life was a reasonably healthy 45 per cent.
What we do, however, know is that notwithstanding its aberrations (which some are blaming on a still relatively new OS), the Surface Pro 4 is perhaps the best blend of portability and performance in the Windows ecosystem. Yes, the Surface Pen needs more work; yes, we wish its charger did not have a brick in it; and yes, it would be great if more Windows Store apps were optimised for tablet mode, but even then – even then – there is no doubting that the Surface Pro 4 delivers as good a Windows experience you will see on any device, and certainly much better than any you would see with similar specs in this form factor.
The question, of course, is whether it is worth the price it charges. The base model we used for five days came with an Intel Core i5 processor, 4 GB RAM and 128 GB storage and a price of Rs 89,990 (~$1325). Add to that the Type Cover Keyboard, which costs Rs 12,490 (~$185), and you have a device that goes above the Rs 1,00,000 mark that generally is the preserve of super high-end spec devices (we call it “Alienware territory” out here). Does it outperform the Core i7/8 GB RAM beasts that inhabit these waters? Well, no, it does not.
But then, we doubt if it was designed to do so. Just as the Nexus series was never designed to bust benchmarks but instead to showcase what Android is capable of, so too does the Surface Pro 4 showcase what Windows 10 can deliver – great performance in a surprisingly compact form factor. Remember the defiance with which the Android fanboys brandished the Nexus 5 at Galaxy Note users, saying “we can do most of what you can, in a much smaller phone”? Well, we have a feeling that anyone who buys the Surface Pro 4 will get similar boasting rights.
No, we are not going to claim it is super value for money – hardware junkies can get more spec bang for fewer bucks in other devices. But if budget is not an issue (lucky you!) and what you are seeking is a device that blends super portability and performance with very few compromises (yes, yes, there will be those who will holler for more USB ports, we know), then the Surface Pro 4 has got to be among your best options, right alongside the best and brightest notebooks the likes of HP, Lenovo, Samsung, Dell, Acer and Asus can throw at you. And for the record: no, we do not subscribe to the “Surface is a tablet” line being trotted out by many – it is a 2-in-1/notebook, and a bloody good one at that, and its competition is more with the likes of the Dell XPS 13 than the iPad Pro. If you are looking to purchase it without the Type Cover Keyboard, we have just one word of advice for you: don’t!
No, it is not super affordable.
No, it is not perfect.
But Windows 10 has a worthy flagship. Or should we say, its Nexus?