Gadget review: Microsoft Surface tablet justifies the laptop comparisons

It has been nearly four years since Microsoft launched the Surface, a tablet aimed at persuading mobile professionals to ditch their laptops.

After tinkering with the for­mula for a few years, the Surface Pro 4, which launched in the UAE in December, is a genuine laptop killer, albeit one that comes at a steep price.

At its heart, the Surface Pro 4 is a solidly built, magnesium-bodied tablet with a 12.3-inch display slightly larger than its 2014 predecessor. The display’s resolution, however, has received a significant upgrade, with a pixel density that exceeds rivals such as Apple’s Macbook Air and (albeit narrowly) the new iPad Pro.

But the Surface’s main selling point against its competitors remains its Type Cover keyboard, offering a typing experience as good as any laptop, while remaining very light. Not only is there plenty of give in the backlit keys, the cover also sports a trackpad, absent from Apple’s iPad Pro keyboard covers.

Such a keyboard, coupled with Windows 10 (an immense improvement over the clunky Windows 8), makes working on the Pro 4 feel like you’re working on an actual laptop, as opposed to a tablet that is barely able to do the job.

A few words of caution before you ditch your laptop for good, though. Like its predecessors, the Surface’s battery life remains average, at best, far behind that of the Macbook Air.

What’s more, the Surface does not come cheap, starting at Dh3,395 and rising to Dh8,395 for a fully souped-up version, making it a more expensive proposition than a high-end laptop.

And that’s before paying Dh520 for the Type Cover, with the optional Surface Pen and docking station an extra Dh255 and Dh810 respectively.

And while working on the Surface is fine on a table or desk, typing on the keyboard on your lap is, as with all such two-in-one tablets, a precarious business, better suited to a, well, laptop.

But if you’re a mobile professional embedded in the Windows ecosystem with cash to spend, the Surface Pro 4 is the best laptop replacement going, and offers a serious alternative to the Macbook Air.

q&a beyond the surface

John Everington reveals more details about the new Microsoft Surface Pro 4:

So has Microsoft succeeded in persuading consumers to ditch their laptops?

Indeed it has. Windows tablets, driven by Surface devices, are the fastest-growing segment of the tablet market according to industry analysts Strategy Analytics. Shipments grew by 59 per cent during 2015, even as the overall market for tablets declines. Perhaps the greatest sign of the Surface’s success is its impact on Apple. But in September, it launched the iPad Pro, which its chief executive, Tim Cook, claims has now replaced his laptop.

I like my Macbook Air because it’s light. How does the Surface compare?

Pretty favourably. The tablet itself weighs about 786g, with an extra 310g from the Type Cover. Combined that’s just 1.1kg, about the same as the 11-inch Macbook Air but more than 250g lighter than the 13-inch versions.

And how does the Pro 4 compare to the iPad Pro?

The Surface Pro 4 wins out if you’re looking for a work device, given the Type Cover’s superior keyboard and its trackpad. The iPad Pro is the better device for media consumption, which, to be fair, isn’t really the Surface Pro 4’s main selling point. Despite falling a little short on pixel density (264ppi versus the Surface’s 267) the iPad Pro has a larger screen (with a movie-friendly 4:3 aspect ratio), better battery life and, crucially, far superior speaker sound.

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