It’s been a solid month and a bit since I swapped out both my desktop PC and Chromebook (and tablet, technically) for a slick Surface Pro 4. I made the decision to do so based on the fact that I wanted to pare down on having so many screens but wanted a bit more mobility than my Chromebook could offer. I bought a used SP4 and it looks like almost all of my problems have been solved.
Versatility: My Chromebook came closest to what I needed in terms of daily use. However, I still needed to use desktop applications like Office 2016 and Skype on a semi-regular basis and unfortunately the Chromebook doesn’t support that. Even cooler still is that a few mobile apps from the Windows store work on the SP4, so I can use all the web, desktop, and mobile applications that I want (or at least those that are available).
Ease of use: Learning to get used to the stylus (which I’ll talk about in a minute) and Bluetooth keyboard cover felt like second nature. It is just as simple as either unfolding the cover or picking up the stylus and going from there. If I want to take the keyboard off, it snaps right out and I can use the SP4 as a tablet while I’m watching TV or taking notes. The screen orients quickly and smoothly when I return the tablet portion back into the keyboard.
Stylus and note-taking apps: Probably the best part of the SP4 is this nifty stylus. Like a mouse, I can use it to point and click; like a pen, I can jot notes or sketch ideas in my app or apps of my choosing. For notes, I use OneNote as it’s my second brain these days. For sketching, I’ve been using Sketchpad, the onboard app for drawing that comes with the SP4. Both have become so useful to me that I can’t imagine being without them.
Of course, the SP4 isn’t a perfect device. It has incredible strengths but a few nagging weaknesses, too.
Battery life: Though I can get a day of off-and-on use out of it, both the keyboard and a number of constantly running apps just eat power throughout the day under heavy strain. Resource heavy apps are not the fault of the SP4, but the keyboard’s power-suckage really, well, sucks. I’ve tried to adjust the power settings to be less consumptive on power, but it’s not quite as dramatic as my Chromebook.
Face recognition/fingerprint scanner: Neither one of these features work well on any device, but they’re especially bad on the SP4. For the fingerprint scanner on my power-sucking keyboard, it works about 60 percent of the time. The onboard face scanner within the SP4, however, worked once before never recognizing my big orange head ever again. It works if you 1. Always wear your hair the same way (I don’t) and 2 Never have any corrective lenses or obstructions on your face (my blue light glasses are almost always on). Furthermore, you have to be at the exact angle every single time otherwise the SP4 won’t recognize you.
Dock: perhaps the worse decision I made was to get the SP4 dock that sold separately from the setup. That was $150 down the toilet. Regardless of what state the device was in (off, standby, on, logged out, whatever), the dock only occasionally recognized my monitor, mouse, keyboard and sometimes even the SP4 itself. The monitor was the worst, though. When it did finally connect, the screen resolution reset to 640x480 and would not change regardless of what I tried. It was better to just plug in my keyboard and mouse receiver (a tiny USB drive thing) and hook my monitor cable directly into the SP4 rather than screw with the dock. What a waste of my time and money.
So if you’re looking to get one yourself, you’ll be impressed with how well the Surface Pro 4 consolidates at least 3 different devices. It’s easy to use and the stylus is perfect for notes and drawing. But there are some drawbacks in battery power and face recognition. And forget about that stupid dock -- it’s an expensive joke that doesn’t work.
Keep this all in mind if you want to buy one!