Microsoft’s Surface line-up of devices has always been an inspirational one for hardware and software makers alike. Ever since Windows 10 became official, Microsoft has been flaunting its new found ideology of integration, continuation and hybridization. With the new OS being native to both mobile and PC platforms, that gave the opportunity for the Redmond giant to release the first ever, full-blown Microsoft Laptop, the Surface Book. When the company announced that it would be launching the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 convertible, nobody expected another device to show up, aside from the Lumia 950 family. The company surprised everyone with the Surface Book launch, in a pleasant way. The combination of the Surface Book laptop and Surface Pro 4 convertible is a powerful one that demonstrates that high-quality products made with power users in mind can also be niche products for professionals, among others.
In an unprecedented move, the Surface Book was launched as the first Microsoft laptopt that aims to take on Apple’s MacBook line-up but also tries to compete against other devices like the iPad Pro. The duo of Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book together form one of the most comprehensive productivity setups that we’ve come across in recent years, and even though Microsoft is going for a premium price with both devices, they made the gadgets well-worth the investment. So the question is: which Surface is the better pick for you?
In this comparison, we will look at what sets the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 apart and how those features and properties differentiate the user experience between the two devices. At the same time, we will be looking at what kind of users each device is targeting and what kind of features are most appealing for that target audience. Last but not least, we will be discussing value for money and device pricing, to get an idea of where the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 sit in the convertible- and notebook industries.
First off, let’s slook at the Surface Book, because it is clearly the novelty product of the year and the main player in Microsoft’s demonstration of software and hardware working together. Windows 10 is of course the star of the show, no matter which device we are looking at, but there are subtle differences between how it makes use of the hardware at its disposal. Windows 10 is a unified operating system that is native to both mobile and PC platforms, offering users an easy way of switching between devices and continuing their work. Virtual assistant Cortana and the Edge browser are two incremental parts of the user experience, and although the former is not quite at its “final form” yet, it has proven itself quite powerful.
The Surface Book is the company’s first laptop, while the Surface Pro 4 is the newest in the Surface line-up. Microsoft has had plenty of time to work on the Surface Pro 4 and its final variant confirms that since the first Surface device, the company has polished its ideals and design and has come up with a culmination of all that work in the form of the most recent convertible, hybrid device. Being the latest generation of a family that has been around for years, the Surface Pro 4 encompasses everything one could have wanted from such a device. Moreover, the Surface Pro 4 adds functionality to the Surface Pro 3, but more on that later.
The Surface Book remains the most impressive release from Microsoft this year, even though the Surface 3 was also a pivotal step in the company history. Being the first laptop, the Surface Book objectifies the company’s vision of how desktop computers should be perceived and how they should perform. With a strong focus on portability and versatility, the Surface Book demonstrates how easily users can become accustomed to a unified platform that can easily discern between usage patterns of the user. As such, the company focused a lot on the design of the Surface Book and how it would play into its functionality.
At first, the Surface Book design might present some odd features and elements, but ultimately, they do not negatively impact the user experience. With a sturdy metal construction, the Surface Book has been designed with versatility in mind. The Surface Book design revolves around a 20-80 % arrangement of hardware: the display houses the hardware necessary to turn the tablet part of the Book into a powerful computer that is fit for designing and drawing, as well as photo- and video editing, while the keyboard part of the device houses much of the battery and the GPU configuration of the laptop. Depending on the variant that you choose, this might be a standard or a powerful discreen integrated GPU which will add to the price tag of the device considerably.
The Surface Book is comprised of two parts: the detachable tablet and the keyboard. Both these elements of the hardware are unique in their own way. The 80-20 split is there in the design because Microsoft made this device for those that need a portable, thin ultrabook that can double as a tablet sometimes. The idea behind the Surface Book is to make it comfortable to use as a laptop all the time, while making it pleasant to use as just a tablet on occasion. Microsoft calls the tablet mode of the Surface Book Clipboard mode, fittingly. The Clipboard is detachable either through a software command or a button on the keyboard, conveniently placed to the top right of the keyboard.
Microsoft probably took a long time to design the Surface Book, because its appearance and maneuverability have truly stepped up laptop standards. Much like Apple’s MacBook, Microsoft tried innovating and pretty much succeeded, although there are still obvious fault in design – which will take some time to figure out. The Surface Book measures 12.30” x 9.14” x 0.51 – 0.90” in its closed state, with the tablet part of the device measuring only 7.7 mm. The tablet alone weighs 1.6 pounds, which is pretty impressive for a tablet this size. The whole device weighs about 3.5 pounds, which is good for a laptop. It’s not the lightest there is, but it’s close. It weighs as much as the MacBook Pro, so it’s obvious that Microsoft is targeting Apple with this launch.
The Clipboard is so lightweight and thin because the company chose to place the larger battery into the Surface Book keyboard. The tablet part of it has a smaller unit within which will carry up to 3 hours of charge on regular use. Real life tests corroborate that claim, although resource-hungry apps like Photoshop will shrink that time frame to about 2 or 2 and a half hours. This is one of the places where there is room for improvement and where the Surface Book shows its limits a bit. Although the device is the first true consumer hybrid from Microsoft, its caveat is that it’s first generation hardware. There will be a Surface Book 2, and that will be what the first one was supposed to be. The Clipboard will get at least 7 hours of battery life. Battery technology is improving, and will catch up with the Surface Book. We just have to wait for that. Nonetheless, the Surface Book with the keyboard attached gets about 13 hours of video playback, which is rather impressive. Microsoft nailed the laptop part of the device.
The design of the Surface Book is unique because of its hinge mechanism. Besides the proprietary connector, the hinge also sports an extension mechanism that is activated when the Clipboard is placed into the stand. The connector is reversible, which means you can put the Clipboard in facing the keyboard or facing away. That’s convenient for portability because it lets users benefit from the touch interface in comfortable way, fit for reading, note-taking or what have you. The hinge itself is called the dynamic fulcrum hinge and it actually folds itself when the Clipboard is connected to the Surface Book keyboard. It holds the screen in place and still allows for viewing angle adjustment. The Surface Book does bounce a bit when typing on the touchscreen with the keyboard attached, but that’s something manufacturers haven’t figured out how to counter yet. Physics is hard to trick. The hinge does its fair share by extending the base to ensure more stability, and the user experience isn’t really impacted by the bounce it has.
Moreover, Microsoft resolved an issue that Surface users have had for years: lapability. The Surface line-up has not been one to use in your lap that easily so far, either because of instability, uncomfortable kickstands or bouncy weight-distribution. The Surface Book resolves those issues and we found that using it in your lap is quite comfortable. The weight distribution is great, meaning that it won’t tilt off your lap with a sudden movements. Its lightweight construction doesn’t exactly make you feel like it’s safe to have it bounce around on your knees, but the sturdy design and the connector of the keyboard keep everything in place.
The Clipboard of the Surface Book connects to its keyboard via a proprietary connector unique to Microsoft, which transmits data and charge simultaneously. The Clibboard is a 13.5-inch IPS PixelSense™ display with a 3000*2000 resolution that is on par with the resolution of current MacBooks. The display is stunning and the fact that it comes with full touchscreen functionality and special drawing and note-taking features designed for the new Surface Pen (which is included in the Surface Book price, by the way) only makes the user experience all the more sophisticated. The interesting part is that once you detach the Clipboard from the keyboard, the Surface Book suddenly turns into a full computer in a tablet form factor. Around the display, the Surface Book touts a fan. Indeed, ventilation goes around 3 sides of the tablet, letting the barely notceable whirring of the fans through.
Mind you, detaching the two by accident is not easy. Microsoft’s Muscle Wire is in charge of keeping the two connected. However, Windows 10 is still in need of some minor tweaks to work seamlessly with the Surface Book. The software occasionally misunderstands whether the keyboard is being used or the user is in tablet mode and thus accidentally displays the on-screen keyboard. It’s a minor occurrence which will most likely be fixed via a software update soon.
The keyboard part of the Surface Book is a refined Type Cover. The new glass trackpad and the slightly smaller, but intuitively designed keys that travel longer make using the keyboard a breeze. Moreover, the keys never touch the display when the laptop is closed, although that does leave room for a visible gap between the tablet and keyboard parts of the Surface Book. While we didn’t have much issue with dust falling in, although in a cluttered bag it will collect bits and bobs. The missing feature from the keyboard is the fingerprint sensor, which is featured in the Surface Pro 4 Type Cover (compatible with Surface Pro 3).
The Surface Book is available in a wide array of configurations, most of which impact the way in which the laptop works, but also the way in which the tablet works. While the full configuration with the tablet and keyboard together is of course more powerful, because the GPU is built into the keyboard, the tablet part of the device serves resource-hungry apps like a champion, sporting very fast hardware of the latest generations.You can check out all the Surface Book models available below. They are all up for pre-order in the Microsoft Store.
- Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 128 GB – $1,499
- Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 128 GB + dGPU – $1,699
- Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB – $1,699
- Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB + dGPU – $1,899
- Intel Core i7, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB + dGPU – $2,099
- Intel Core i7, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB + dGPU – $2,699
- Intel Core i7, 16 GB RAM, 1 TB + dGPU – $3,199
Seven different Surface Book models with 7 prices not everyone can afford. Right off the bat, it should be clear that this is not a device for casual users. These prices are rather expensive and require considerable investment. Those on a budget might be better off building their own PC if portability is not a factor, while those who want powerful tablets can go for Surface Pro 4. At such a high premium, expectations of the device are high and surprisingly, in most areas it manages to fulfill them. Which is why, ultimately, it’s worth it.
The higher-end models of the Surface Book are more geared towards power users and even gaming to some extent, thanks to the discrete GPU of the keyboard. Mobile gaming isn’t that popular on the Windows platform yet, so the productivity-oriented approach that Microsoft took with the Clipboard ultimately pays off. The performance of the Surface Book as a whole is admirable, which is thanks in part to Windows 10, which is really an enormous step forward for Microsoft’s Windows department. It takes everything that was good in Windows 7 and 8.1 and lumps them under a universally improved UI and architecture. If you like Windows 10 and you would like to experience it to its full potential, the Surface Book is the device you need. Merging the benefits of a touch interface with the processing power and easy task handling of a desktop computer, Microsoft ultimately created the first real hybrid between a laptop and tablet.
But we’re definitely not referring to gaming laptops here. Although the Surface Book packs performance and even with discrete GPU, high-end games like Battlefield, Dying Light, Star Wars and others will most likely fail to run. Slightly older games run fine on the base model of the Surface Book, but only with medium graphics. Most likely, the higher-end models with 16 GB RAM might be able to run more resource-hungry games, but we haven’t had the chance to test those models yet. The Surface Book is a productivity machine, but it’s not meant for gamers. On the other hand, the Surface Book handled video and photo editing like a champ, using software from Adobe, Sony and others.
Microsoft targets Apple’s iPad Pro as well as it does the MacBook with the Surface Book hybrid. The device tries to outdo both these Apple novelties in one try, and it kinda manages to do so. The Surface Book comes with a new PixelSense display that is made with artists in mind. The display can sense pressure to higher levels than the iPad Pro, which is a bonus for graphic designers and artists. Although the device is still well-behind Wacom’s professional drawing tablets, Microsoft is on the right path. The Surface Book and Pen work together for a universally improved user experience that is much higher rated than what we got with the Surface Pro 3.
The Surface Pen comes with its own improvements. While Microsoft did remove one of the buttons on the side of the Pen, it added new functions to the eraser. The Surface Pen is however a weak point in the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 as well, because it cannot be customized to the extent users would like it to be. Pens are very personal devices to artists and graphic designers and each would like to assign functions that are right for them to each button. One missing feature is the ability to recalibrate the Pen and the PixelSense interface. Microsoft could have done better with the Pen, but it still features improved sensitivity and accuracy, as well as an unnoticeable lag, compared to the previous Surface Pen. Moreover, the tip of the Surface Pen is now made out of glass and has four different exchangeable tips. Palm detection of the Surface Book display has been improved, and drawing is made a whole lot easier by the updated filters. Although Pen customizability is missing, it is possible that Microsoft adds that in a future update.
The Surface Book’s less impressive features are its cameras. To be fair, ultrabooks such as this don’t really need to have their own cameras, so there would be no reason to spend extra money to have better sensors. On the rear, there’s an 8 MP camera and there’s a 5 MP camera on the front. One of the neat features of the front camera, however, is that it is outfitted with an IR sensor that is used for authentication within Windows Hello. The camera setup is there as a bonus, and they are decent cameras. Skype calls are pleasant on both ends, regardless of what mode we’re in. One other less impressive feature on the Surface Book is its speakers. Although they are front-facing stereo speakers with Dolby Audio enhancement, they’re on par with previous Surface speakers. The sound experience is pretty neat, though, so no complaints there, but volume levels could be a bit higher.
The Surface Book is outfitted with two full-size USB 3.0 ports, a full-size SD card reader, the SurfaceConnect port for the keyboard, a headset hack and Mini DisplayPort. At the same time, it has dual-microphones, both front- and rear-facing ones. A magnetometer, gyro, ambient light sensor and accelerometer are also part of the sensor array within the hardware. Bluetooth 4.0, Wo-Fi 802.11ac is board as well. The finishing touch is Windows 10 Pro, with Windows Hello and other new features.
The Surface Book is certainly one of the best devices Microsoft has ever released. The top tier model, according to the company, is two times as powerful as the MacBook Pro from Apple, although Microsoft does not clarify what they mean by “powerful”. The design and versatility of the device make it worth the money and the included Surface Pen make the high price a bit more friendly. Although the Surface Book price is definitley high to pay for a laptop, it is warranted by the high-end touchscreen, excellent performance, versatile design and decent battery life.
The Surface Pro 4 must be fading from your memory at this point, seeing as the Surface Book is indeed a very impressive device to own and use. Many of us probably won’t have the chance to buy something like this until we can save up, but the prospect of this device could be intriguing to anyone. Thinking of the Surface Book as a future investment is certainly a good idea, but if you’re in more urgent need of an upgrade and of a seamless Windows 10 experience, the Surface Pro 4 is the option that might suit you.
Although these two devices are meant to complete each other as well as compete with each other, it comes down to pricing more than it does to features. Even though the Surface Book has a lot to offer, the Surface Pro 4 is very close in the user experience. As such, if the price of the Surface Book seems much too high, you can get close to the experience of the device with the much more affordable Surface Pro 4, price starting at $899. While that’s also expensive, it’s still more accessible than the starting price of the Surface Book. So how come the two devices have such different prices but still offer comparable user experiences? Let’s find out.
The Surface Pro 4 is the perfected version of all the previous Microsoft Surface devices. Although it keeps much of the design aesthetic of its predecessor, the Surface Pro 4 is improved in key areas of both hardware and design. Adding the Windows 10 user experience that is coupled with Windows Hello, Cortana, Microsoft Edge and the new user interface only make the device a more portable and affordable version of the Surface Book. With smaller tweaks in design and quite the improvement with the hardware, Microsoft made the Surface Pro 4 a great device. Although it is not a huge upgrade over its predecessor, it’s a better model which is better suited for those looking to get their first Surface machine. Those who already enjoy the Surface Pro 3 might not want to shell out on the Surface Pro 4. They also have an option.
The good thing about Microsoft’s launch this year was that it happened under the veil of cross-compatibility. The Surface Pro 4 Pen and Type Cover are compatible with the Surface Pro 3, which means users of the previous model can benefit from features like the fingerprint sensor, which is embedded near the new track pad of the Surface Pro 4 Type Cover as well a the new eraser function and increased pressure sensitivity of the Surface Pro 4 Pen. With these accessories and a small investment into the keyboard, you can make your Surface Pro 3 feel new. You can buy the new Surface Pen from the Microsoft Store from $60, depending on whether you want extra interchangeable tips for it. The new Type Cover price is set at $130 and you can also pre-order that from the Microsoft Store. That means that with an investment of $190, you can revamp your Surface Pro 3 completely. That’s a pretty nice move from Microsoft and users of the device will definitely appreciate it. Microsoft, in the meantime, will enjoy the profits from the accessories instead of forcing people to buy hardware they don’t want just to get better accessories. It’s a worthwhile trade-off, I suppose.
The Surface Pro 4 is not all about accessories though. The device has a lot of improvements in its own hardware and user experience and can be a good alternative to the Surface Book. The new hybrid refined and built upon the predecessor and became a device that is made for productivity and portability, as well as versatility. There are a couple of hardware improvements that set the Surface Pro 4 apart from its predecessor, and from the Surface Book.
Compared to the Surface Pro 3, the Surface Pro 4 comes with newer latest-gen Intel Skylake CPUs, a larger display with a higher resolution, a lighter body, better Surface Pen support, IR sensor camera for facial recognition authentication through Windows Hello, updated thermal configuration for better cooling, more storage options, more RAM and a higher starting price. Compared to the Surface Book, the Surface Pro 4 matches up pretty nicely in a couple of areas.
Compared to the Surface Book, the Surface Pro 4 has a slightly smaller display that measures 12.3-inches and comes with a resolution of 2736*1824 which adds to up a similar ppi pixel density to the Surface Book. The same PixelSense display is on board to help with Surface Pen input and a variety of inferior configurations that are priced lower than the Surface Book are available. You can check out all the Surface Pro 4 models and their prices below. You can customize your own Surface Pro 4, too, with the components of your choice. The price varies on the setup you choose, of course. You can pre-order the Surface Pro 4 from the Microsoft Store, although some models are already sold out.
- Intel Core M CPU, 4 GB RAM, 128 GB – $899
- Intel Core i5 CPU, 4 GB RAM, 128 GB – $999
- Intel Core i5 CPU, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB – $1,299
- Intel Core i5 CPU, 16 GB RAM, 256 GB – $1,499
- Intel Core i5 CPU, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB – $1,899
- Intel Core i7 CPU, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB – $1,599
- Intel Core i7 CPU, 16 GB RAM, 256 GB – $1,799
- Intel Core i7 CPU, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB – $2,199
- Intel Core i7 CPU, 16 GB RAM, 1 TB – $2,699
The Surface Pro 4 is certainly not in the affordable realm, but it’s not the most expensive laptop or hybrid that we’ve seen. While the base model is priced pretty affordably, the Core M CPU might not be worth the money. It is the only model in the line-up to feature a fanless design however, so if portability and a silent machine are among your priorities, the Surface Pro 4 offers you that and good performance, too. Ultimately, it comes down to what each user needs, which is why the customization options are there. It’s a nice move to see from Microsoft and the broad range of available configurations caters to a wider audience than the MacBook for example.
Performance is key in the Surface Pro 4, and Microsoft did good in improving on that aspect. Performance is on par with MacBooks and the Surface Book, although the entry level model does not get the highest scores in this respect. The Surface Pro 4 variant with the Intel Skylake chipset inside is faster and more stable than the Core M variant and it does match the base model of the Surface Book when it comes to performance, but it’s no match for higher-end models of Microsoft’s new laptop. It’s considerably faster than the Surface Pro 3, which means those wondering which to buy can more easily go for the Surface Pro 4. Those who own the predecessor should consider the higher-end models of the Surface Pro 4 if they want to notice a difference, but it they already own high-end Surface Pro 3 variants, then their best bet is just getting the accessories. Those new to the Surface family, however, should no doubt check out the newer model because the light price difference is worth the upgrades that you will be getting within.
The design of the Surface Pro 4 stays the same as on the Surface Pro 3, but the device is slightly larger and lighter. Measuring 12.30” x 9.14” x 0.51 – 0.90” in its closed state and weighing 3.34 pounds with the keyboard included, it’s a pretty light device. The Microsoft Surface Book is just a bit heavier, so that’s a bonus for the Book this time. Nonetheless, the thin body of the Surface Pro 4 and the larger display make for a great user experience regardless of usage mode. The display of the device is better than on the previous model and on par with the Surface Book display. There is some slight bleed on the edges of the screen, but nothing too disturbing. Nonetheless, the light bleed was not present on the larger Surface Book. Thinner bezels let the device stay at a portable size, while the crisp, sharp and reflective display allows for great viewing angles and brightness levels even in brightly lit environments.
Like the Surface Book, the display is top-notch and premium and justifies the higher price that the convertible carries. The Surface Pro 4 might improve small, but it improves significantly, compared to its predecessor. The cameras and speakers are the same on both the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 and both rear cameras feature autofocus, which is a neat small addition to the user experience. Dual-microphones are also on board, alongside a similar battery.
The Surface Pro 4 battery life is on par with that of the complete Surface Book. Getting about 13 hours of screen on-time a day, the autonomy of the device is rather good. It’s not that much of an improvement over the Surface Pro 3, but it is a sensible one. one full-size USB 3.0 port, microSD card reader, Mini Display Port, cover port and Surface Connect are also on board the device. The sensor are the same and so are the connectivity options. All in all, there are quite a few similarities between the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4.
One downside of the Surface Pro 4 is that the Type Cover is sold separately. If you want the new Surface Pro 4 Type Cover without the fingerprint sensor costs $130, while the one sporting the biometric security add-on costs $30 more. It’s good that you can buy it for the Surface Pro 3, but it does bring up the starting price of the Surface Pro 4 base model. It depends on you whether you would like the minor upgrades like the Pen and Cover for the predecessor or if you want the improved performance of the Surface Pro 4 with a slightly bigger investment.
The added benefit of the Surface Pro 4 is of course the kickstand, which allows for more usage modes than the Surface Book. It has all the same usage modes of the Surface Book, but adds a few different angles that you can place the device in. Lap usage is improved, thanks to the improved overall design of the device, but if you’re a fan of using laptops in bed, the Surface Book might be a better option. That’s because the keyboard of the Surface Book is free of the CPU, which means it won’t overheat in your lap that much. The Surface Pro 4 has the same benefit, seeing as the Type cover doesn’t contain the hardware that the Surface Book’s keyboard does. The kickstand isn’t perfect for lap use, which is why the Book might be easier to use.
The Surface Pro 4 Type Cover has a much improved keyboard with stretched out keys and a new layout. Microsoft ditched the Windows 8.1 function buttons and added a more streamlined layout for easy access to important settings such as volume controls and print screen. The keyboard also has a much-improved trackpad which is wider and taller and allows for a better gliding of your fingers. Although it would have been nice to have a more customizable driver for the trackpad with which we could set productivity shortcuts to our trackpads, this will have to do.
A conclusion is hard to draw this time around. Both the Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Book are expensive devices with high-end specifications and design. They cater to professionals, casual users as well as power users, but it is matter of choosing the right configuration. If you are a power user thinking about getting in the Surface game, the Surface Book’s base model might be the best for you. If you’re a casual user who needs a lot of portability and a silent system, the base model of the Surface Pro 4 might be your best bet. If you want the best of both worlds, you have to decide between the high-end model of the Surface Pro 4 and the high-end model of the Surface Book. While I would choose the Surface Book because I enjoy the design and appreciate the extra graphics in the keyboard, the Surface Pro 4 could be just as much of a productivity device as the laptop. Which would you choose?