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A More Powerful Surface Pro 4 Puts the Pen at Front and Center

Microsoft's surprise entry into the laptop market with the launch of its new high-end Surface Book may have stolen the limelight at yesterday's Windows 10 Devices launch event in New York but the Surface Pro 4 will likely be the system that addresses the needs of most mainstream users.

There's no question that if you look at the Surface Book, which Microsoft calls the ultimate laptop, you'll crave one until you compare its cost with the Surface Pro 4. If you're a power user it may be worth the premium price but if not, you'll quickly determine that the Surface Pro 4 is no slouch either. The comparison is ironically the same as that of the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro, which Microsoft compares respectively to the Surface Pro and Surface Book.

While it certainly would be wise to wait and see some of the new systems that emerge from various OEMs before deciding on what to put on your wish list, the Surface Pro 3 has emerged as the most popular Windows device, according to our own reader surveys. With the new Surface Pro 4, which will be available Oct. 26, Microsoft appears to have made some impressive refinements. They include improved resolution, lighter weight, a thinner design and an improved pen that attaches magnetically.

By including the pen, Microsoft is making a clear statement it wants users to take advantage of the ability to annotate content and Web pages. A surprising 50 percent already use the pen, according to Microsoft. The new pen is more responsive and supports up to 1,024 pressure points, designed to provide the feel that you're writing with a traditional pen and paper. It's based on the pen technology gained in Microsoft's acquisition of N-trig earlier this year.

Customers will also have somewhat better configuration options. The popular version with an i5 processor is now available with 16GB of RAM for an extra $200, bringing the cost to $1,499 with 256GB of storage. The 8GB version is $1,299. A fully loaded system with an i7 processor and 16GB of RAM costs $2,699.

Surface Pro 4 is also 30 percent faster than its predecessor, according to Microsoft and it's slightly thinner (.33 inches) and lighter, weighing just 1.69 pounds. It has a slightly larger PixelSense 267 DPI display, generating 5 million pixels (12.3 inches versus 12 inches), thanks to a thinner bezel and the physical screen is the same size, allowing support for existing peripherals.

As a result of the added performance boost, thanks to the new Intel Core 6 processors, Microsoft said the Surface Pro 4 is rated at nine hours of battery life, which is no different than its predecessor, though an engineer at the event told me that the way the new CPU manages power, users could see a more efficient system. The new features, along with the improved PixelSense display and a new Microsoft Pen make the Surface Pro 4 a nice upgrade. But most people who bought a Surface Pro 3 last year will have a hard time justifying replacing it just yet.

Customers, especially enterprise buyers, may want to swap out the keyboard, which introduces a fingerprint scanner that'll take advantage of the Passport authentication based on the Windows Hello technology introduced in Windows 10. While the new keyboard's Windows Hello security feature for logons may make its $129 cost justifiable, the fact that the keys are also more responsive and quieter could be added incentives. The new keyboard will work with both Surface Pro models and likewise the older keyboards can connect to the new systems.

Another welcome addition is the new Surface Dock, an improved port replicator that is the size of a small brick. The Surface Dock, which is portable, works with the Surface Book, Surface Book 3 and Surface Book 4 and is configured with four USB 3 ports, two Mini DisplayPorts, 1 Gigabit Ethernet interface and an audio output port.

Considering it was once a drag on the company, the Surface line has become one of Microsoft's hottest offerings and presuming it performs as advertises, it stands a good chance of reaching new heights.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/07/2015 at 12:46 PM


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