Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book Impressions from the Press Conference

On October 6, 10am EST, Microsoft had their chance to show off their newest gadget/tech lineup. There was already plenty of speculation leading up to the show; including leaked specs for their new Lumia phones. Microsoft made a big show of their new line up, starting with their Hololens augmented reality headset, then moving onto the official debut of the new Lumia 950 and 950XL Windows Phones. Everything lead up to the Surface Pro update, which was well planned and delivered.

The Surface Pro 4, is an excellent update to the Surface Pro 3, sporting Intel’s new Skylake processors for better performance and battery life, a larger and higher resolution screen, a better pen, and an improved keyboard cover. Overall a new package all in the same size as the Surface Pro 3. In fact, all the new accessories will work with the Surface Pro 3, so the last generation is still a valid choice for folks mindful of costs. Here’s the new Surface Pro 4 commercial.

The screen on the Surface Pro 3 was already excellent, sporting a resolution above HD, at 2160×1440 at 12″. Microsoft increased that to 2736-1824 at 12.3″. A .3″ difference may seem small, but it is noticable, and the extra resolution will be a boost to clarity of what you see on the screen. Microsoft essentially decreased the bezel to make room for the larger screen.

The Surface Pro 4 also sports a new pen; the fruition of last years acquisition of N-Trig. The Surface Pro 3 pen was decent, but I always felt it lacked the feel of the Wacom pen that came on the Surface Pro 1 and 2. It was definitely noticeable to anyone used to using the pressure features on a digital pen. The Surface Pro 3 pen only registered 512 levels of pressure, compare that to the original Wacom digitizer on previous generation which registered 1024; it was noticeable. The only plus side was the tracking of the N-Trig was slightly better. Microsoft promises a more precise pen and 1024 levels of pressure this time around; they also touted the tighter integration of the digitizer to the screen and glass, so there is less of a barrier between the pen tip and the surface of the screen. Speaking of pen tips, the old N-Trig did not allow for you to replace the tip, so when they wore down, it was a complete pen replacement. The new pen has a replaceable tip! The pen is the only accessory in Microsoft’s new lineup that won’t completely work on the Surface Pro 3. It will work, but you won’t get the extra levels of pressure.

The Type Cover got an overhaul as well. The first Type Cover for the Surface Pro 1 and 2 was adequate, but the touchpad wasn’t very good, it was more of a better-than-nothing touchpad. Microsoft improved it with the Type Cover for the Surface Pro 3. But the keyboard was still not great for me. The biggest issue is there is no gap between keys, and I’m a very inaccurate typist, my fingers tend to fall all around the keys, and because there is no gap, I often made mistakes. The new one has spaces between the keys, more reminiscent of the ones you find on most laptops. Microsoft touted using their many years of keyboard experience to make this keyboard the best typing experience. Once again, this new Type Cover is backward compatible with the Surface Pro 3.

The biggest reveal of the press conference was their Surface Book, what Microsoft is calling their first laptop. I was very impressed by this device, and surprised at how well they managed to keep this under wraps. There have been rumors over the past year that Microsoft was to unveil a larger Surface tablet, but I had no idea they would have packed it into something like the Surface Book. The reveal at the press conference was very clever too, showing it as a laptop in a commercial, then showing an extended commercial with the screen being detached! You can see the commercial here:

Now, this reveal of a detachable screen from a keyboard isn’t new, but it’s what Microsoft put into this 2-in-1 that’s exciting. Microsoft calls the screen component the “Clipboard”, and it is essentially a 13.5″ Surface Pro tablet, which includes the pen functionality. The Clipboard will run for 3.5 hours, but lacks ports. The keyboard dock is where the extra magic is. The dock houses extra batteries that can extend the usage time to 12 hours, but the most exciting thing about the keyboard dock is the inclusion of a dedicated NVidia Graphics Chip! What does that mean? It means you can actually play games on the Surface Book! Microsoft didn’t reveal which NVidia chipset is in the dock, but some folks speculated that it could be an NVidia 950M, which is plenty of gaming power on the go; of course there’s no word yet on how much this will diminish the battery life of the entire system, I doubt you’ll get anywhere near 12 hours gaming. The hinge for the Clipboard is elegant too! It’s not a usual 2 part hinge, it’s a faceted hinge which looks amazing; it sort of reminds me of the hinge design Lenovo used on their Yoga Pro 3 laptop. In the end, Microsoft has made a very functional, powerful, and elegant workhorse that can also play. Microsoft raised the bar with their original Surface Pro, and now they’ve done it again with the Surface Book. Both devices will be available October 26, which coincides with the opening of their new store in Manhattan. Pre-orders have been available, but I hear the Surface Book is already sold out; which is a good sign for Microsoft. Sadly for me, I probably won’t be getting one on day one, but I might try to get one when they become available again. It’s exciting to see Microsoft come out of its slump and finally give Apple some competition.