Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but in the tech industry, it is the cue for an arms race.
At its launch, Microsoft's Surface head Panos Panay quipped that the new Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is the company's attempt to "bring the thunder" to the competition, namely Apple and Google. The two tech firms recently introduced new tablets that are, like the Surface Pro, designed for productivity rather than media consumption.
To further distance itself from its new rivals, the Surface Pro 4 has more memory space (up to 16GB) and internal storage (up to 1TB) than before. It also runs the latest Intel sixth-generation Core processors. Microsoft claims that the new tablet is 30 per cent faster and runs more quietly than its predecessor. In other words, the Surface Pro 4 is as capable as a premium laptop.
On the surface, Microsoft's new tablet looks very similar to the previous version. It is silver with a magnesium alloy chassis. In fact, both tablets have the exact length and breadth, though the new Surface Pro 4 is slightly thinner at 8.4mm compared with the Pro 3's 9.1mm.
Despite the identical dimensions, the Surface Pro 4 has a larger 12.3-inch screen (the Surface Pro 3 has a 12-inch display) as the bezel is now thinner than before. The screen resolution has been bumped up to 2,736 x 1,824 pixels (the Pro 3 has 2,160 x 1,440 pixels). The display is protected by a thin 0.4mm layer of Corning Gorilla Glass 4. Viewing angles are excellent.
What has remained unchanged: the integrated kickstand continues to support a variety of positions so you can vary the tilt of the screen. The Surface Pro 4 also has a full-sized USB 3.0 port, SD card slot and mini-DisplayPort like its predecessor.
The pen supports 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity, or four times that of the Surface Pro 3. By varying the amount of pressure, I was able to draw anything from a thin faint line to a thick marker-like scrawl. It makes using the Surface Pen even more like an actual pen-and-paper experience.
Bundled with the Surface Pro 4 is a new Surface Pen. A big improvement is that the pen now attaches magnetically to the left side of the tablet (in landscape orientation). At the end of the pen is an eraser that lets you delete what you have written. Holding down the pen's button triggers Microsoft's Cortana personal assistant.
More importantly, the pen supports 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity, or four times that of the Surface Pro 3. By varying the amount of pressure, I was able to draw anything from a thin faint line to a thick marker-like scrawl. It makes using the Surface Pen even more like an actual pen-and-paper experience. Its battery is said to last an entire year. It comes in five colours. You can even choose from a number of interchangeable pen tips.
The optional Type Cover keyboard is the thinnest and lightest version yet. The glass touchpad, which supports five-point multitouch, is wider than the previous version. The island-style keys feel less mushy and are spaced out to take advantage of the full width of the keyboard, unlike the older version, which had unused space at the sides. Key travel is good, too.
In the US, Microsoft will also sell a Type Cover with a fingerprint sensor. While this is not available in Singapore, the Surface Pro 4 supports facial authentication via the Windows Hello feature, so you do have a biometric security option.
The Type Cover costs $199 and works with both the Surface Pro 3 and the Surface Pro 4.
The Surface Pro 4 is available now for preorders online at the Microsoft Store. The device will ship to local buyers on Nov 19. Prices start at $1,338 for an Intel Core M model with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, and goes up to $3,278 for an Intel Core i7 with 16GB of RAM and 512GB storage. A docking accessory that adds four USB 3.0 ports, Ethernet port and two DisplayPorts is also available at $314.