I recently purchased a Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Surface Pro 4. I picked the lowest-end model, which includes an Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) Core m3 6Y30 processor, 4 gigabytes of memory, and 128 gigabytes of storage. After buying the separate Type Cover, the whole thing ran me around $1,030 -- a hefty price, indeed, for a tablet/convertible.
Microsoft says the Surface Pro 4 is a tablet that can replace one's laptop. Does the software giant's claim hold up? Let's take a closer look.
The Type Cover is surprisingly nice, but lack of "lappability" is a bummer
For the Surface Pro 4 to be, in my view, even usable, it needs to be paired with Microsoft's Type Cover accessory, which is essentially a keyboard and trackpad.
I must say that, even as somebody who is super picky about his keyboards, the Surface Pro 4's type cover delivers a pleasant typing experience. Additionally, although the trackpad isn't quite as good as the downright amazing trackpads found on Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) MacBook computers, it's still very nice and among the best I've used on a Windows notebook PC.
As a machine that's used at a desk or table, the Surface Pro 4 is very much a worthy substitute for a typical thin-and-light notebook. That said, the device still isn't really "lap-able" like a typical laptop, which could be a deal-breaker for some potential buyers.
Performance is good enough
Although I would have liked to purchase a Surface Pro 4 with the much faster Core i7-6650U or, frankly, even the Core i5-6300U, for my intended use case, I couldn't justify the additional cost. The bottom-of-the-barrel Core m3 6Y30 model would have to do.
For basic tasks such as Web surfing, email composition, and video playback, the system is certainly fast enough. I even found playing older 3D games such as DOOM 3, Half Life 2, and Borderlands to be a pleasant experience. From a total-cost-of-ownership perspective, it's really nice to be able to run many of the PC games I've purchased over the years.
That said, if the Surface Pro 4 is going to be your only PC, or even just your only portable PC, I would highly recommend moving up to the Core i5 or the Core i7, which should bring a substantial improvement in graphics and gaming performance, if your budget allows. A bump up to at least 8 gigabytes of RAM should also make the system much more future-proof.
I do think it was a mistake on Microsoft's part to go with the Core m3 6Y30 in its lowest-end model rather than, say, the Core m5-6Y54 or the Core m7-6Y75. These chips offer a substantial boost in maximum per-core clock speed, which should make common tasks, such as loading a web page, significantly smoother.
The Surface Pen is quite nice
One of the things Microsoft touts highly about the Surface Pro 4 is the included Surface Pen (thank goodness Microsoft isn't trying to sell this separately, too). I don't have a lot of experience with styluses, but one of the main reasons I bought this machine in the first place was to be able to never have to take notes with paper and pencil again.
I can say that, so far, it doesn't disappoint. Writing with the Surface Pen is a pleasant experience, and I believe that for many folks, a Surface Pro 4 should allow them to do away with traditional paper and pencil for things like note-taking, working out math problems, sketching diagrams, and so on.
Is the Surface Pro 4 a worthy laptop replacement?
I would say that the Surface Pro 4, for those who don't particularly value being able to use the device on their laps, is a solid laptop replacement. Microsoft got a lot of things right with the Surface Pro 4. It's highly portable, the hardware inside is sensibly chosen for the most part (although the choice of Core m3 for the introductory model is iffy), the display is very nice, and the Type Cover and Surface Pen accessories are well designed.
I think that for many customers -- particularly college students -- the Surface Pro 4 really can serve as a good laptop replacement.
Buyer beware: It's not really a great "tablet"
Although I really like the Surface Pro 4 as a potential laptop replacement and as a note-taking device, it's worth pointing out that as a pure tablet, it's not really all that great. The touch-enabled app ecosystem on Windows 10 simply pales in comparison with that found on iOS and Android.
I'm also just not all that big a fan of Windows 10 in "tablet mode."
In my view, this means that if you're buying the Surface Pro 4 under the impression that you're going to get a truly great tablet experience as well as a great laptop/PC experience, then it's best to dial back your expectations.
If touch- and tablet-like usages are the No. 1 priority for you, then I would wholly recommend getting an iPad Air 2, which, in my view, should deliver the best "pure tablet" experience on the market. Apple's upcoming iPad Pro should also be excellent, especially for customers who want a tablet first but want to do some occasional productivity as well.
Ashraf Eassa owns shares of Intel. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft. The Motley Fool recommends Intel. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.