Julie’s gadget diary – Using the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (Day 4-7)


microsoft-sp4-20

I’ve been using a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 for almost a week now and I’ve enjoyed it significantly more than I thought I would. The size and weight make this convertible laptop perfect for everyday and travel use. I’m even seriously considering switching from MacOS to Windows 10 if you can believe that! Having said, that, will I ditch my one-year-old 13″ MacBook Pro for the SP4? Keep reading to find out.

Since Monday, I have only used my MacBook Pro for a few minutes to edit some review pics that I had stored on the MacBook’s hard drive. Other than that, I’ve spent every night using the SP4 at a desk or on my lap while I’m living the good life reclining in my double LazyBoy recliner with my better half while we watch TV.

Using the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 on my lap

I have mainly been using the SP4 on my lap with the kickstand open and the Type Cover attached. I like to use my laptop on my lap a LOT, so I have been aware of the comfort level due to the straight edges of the computer and the kick stand sitting on my thighs. Using the SP4 like this is not as comfortable as using a regular clamshell style laptop on my lap. I can deal with it, but I prefer the feel of a normal laptop on my lap.

Using the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 on a desk

Using the SP4 on a desktop has not been an issue. It feels just as comfortable as a normal laptop… at least to me.

I haven’t had any issues with the keyboard. I can touch type on it as well as I can other laptop keyboards. The Touch Type cover’s keyboard is very nice. The key layout is perfect, the key size is perfect and the feel is very good. When I use the SP4 on a desk with the Type Cover attached, I have noticed a very slight flex or bounce due to the fact that the keyboard does not lay flat against the desk surface. This is not a big deal for me because it’s barely noticeable.

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As for the touchpad, once I learned how to right click properly, it’s been fine. It pretty small, but it works fine for scrolling and moving the cursor around the display.

Using the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 as a tablet

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I thought I’d use the SP4 as a tablet more than I’d use it as a laptop. I was wrong. I actually had to force myself to use it as a tablet. This isn’t because I hated using the SP4 as a tablet, it is because I use Gmail and work on reviews more than I do anything else. So I am constantly typing. Using the onscreen keyboard works well enough, but it is very slow for me compared to typing with both of my hands on a physical keyboard where I’m able to type about 50-60 words a minute. It was suggested that I try the onscreen split keyboard, which did end up being better but not nearly as good as a real keyboard.

When I did use the SP4 as a tablet, I found that surfing sites like Pintrest and Facebook in tablet mode was enjoyable, as was playing games like Solitare. Using Windows 10 in tablet mode on the SP4 was not a problem like I thought it might be. I was able to touch and tap every onscreen button that I needed to activate without any issues.

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As for using the stylus, I thought I’d use it all the time, but just like the tablet mode, I had to force myself to use it. The stylus included with the SP4 is really nice and provides pen on paper feel. I’m not an artist and I prefer to take notes with a keyboard, so I just didn’t find a reason to use the stylus unless I just made myself do it.

The three main issues that I have with the Microsoft Surface Pro 4

During the last week of exclusively using the SP4, I only ran into three issues.

The first issue is comfort due to the kickstand on my lap. Using the SP4 on my lap is doable, but it’s slightly awkward and just doesn’t feel as natural as a laptop.

The second issue is that the Surface Pro 4 only has one USB port which means that I have to remove a USB dongle for my wireless mouse when I need to tether my Canon 70D to take review pics, use a flash drive, etc.

The third and least annoying issue is that the SP4 does not have a SD card slot. It has a micro SD card slot. That means I can’t use all my existing SD cards unless I use a USB card reader. Not a huge issue since I don’t use cards that often anymore because I tether my camera to the computer now, but something to be aware of if you’re thinking of buying this computer.

I can also add a four issue which isn’t really an issue, but more of a wish. I wish the SP4 had a USB Type-C port for charging. I bet the Microsoft Surface Pro 5 due out next year will have one…

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What’s the verdict?

The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is a great little computer and I have really enjoyed using it for the past week. I think that the weight and size are ideal as it only weighs 2 lb 7 oz. with the Type Cover attached. Carrying it around the house is a breeze, so I know that it would be great for travel too. But then I compared my 13 inch Dell XPS to the SP4 and found that it is only slightly heavier at 2 lb 12.8 oz. The Dell also has two USB ports and a full-sized SD card slot. Since I don’t think I’ll use the SP4 as a tablet or use the stylus, I don’t think the difference of 6 oz justifies keeping it, so I’ve decided to return it. If I didn’t already have the Dell XPS, I’d keep it the SP4. I also do not have any trips planned until the spring of 2017, so I’ll put that $1000  back in my checking account and wait till then to consider another upgrade. Maybe it will be an SP5.

Although I may not be keeping the SP4, this experiment did help me decide one important thing. I will NOT buy another Apple MacBook. Apple computers cost way too much and they don’t innovate anymore. No, I don’t think a touch bar counts as an innovation or removing all the ports.

I’m even seriously considering selling my current MacBook Pro and switching to Windows 10 now. Does anyone want to buy my 1-year-old 13″ MBP which is in perfect condition? 🙂

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29 comments… add one
  • RainyDayInterns December 3, 2016, 11:19 am

    We agree that Apple laptops are way overpriced if purchased new. Our strategy has always been not to buy new MBPs, but to buy the most fully-loaded used MBP that Apple is just about to discontinue. Those seem to offer the best value for the money. Our current MBPs are late 2012 units configured with: Retina 13″ screens, 2.9GHz Intel Core i7, 8G RAM, 750SSD…purchased used in 2014 for $1K apiece.

    Sure there are faster CPUs and better graphics GPUs out there now for MBPs, but our 2012 units are still doing everything we needed.

    • Julie Strietelmeier December 3, 2016, 12:00 pm

      There is nothing wrong with my current 2015 13″ MacBook Pro. I could continue to use it for years to come. I’m just considering switching and getting some of my money back since I also have a nice Windows 10 laptop (Dell XPS). Nothing is stopping me from switching if I really decide to go ahead and do it now.

  • Mike T December 3, 2016, 11:40 am

    You’re not the only apple head to make this switch. I have heard this from more than one apple fan. I actually just put Windows 10 on my 4 year old desktop and it works great. I spend 90% of my time in chrome, Lightroom, or photoshop. It matters not one whit what the underlying os is for those three applications. I can get a LOT done on a chrome book.

    I have iPhones, iPads, and iPods, but I can buy a nice laptop for the price of a fully loaded iPhone 7. Apple is pricing themselves out of all markets and they call that along with removing useful features courage. The tables have turned yet again….

  • Nicholas December 3, 2016, 1:15 pm

    Are you super attached to your current mouse? I can’t recommend the Logitech MX Anywhere 2 highly enough. It can switch between three devices on the fly and is compatible with unifying receivers or Bluetooth, which would address your port problem.

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00Y09IWGQ/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_UQWqyb02NWAFV

    • Julie Strietelmeier December 3, 2016, 4:55 pm

      No, I’m not super attached to the mouse. Does the Logitech MX Anywhere also sync to Android?

      • David Ferreira December 3, 2016, 9:10 pm

        Sure does. I have the bigger brother, the MX Master for my desk and the MX Anywhere when I travel. Like you, I tend to take a few devices and the MX Anywhere connects to my Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 and to my Pixel XL (not that I ever use it there, just wanted to do it so I could say I did).

        It is a rechargeable mouse and will work with either Bluetooth or the Unifying dongle. And it is reasonably comfortable (although the MX Master and it’s ergonomic design is much better at that).

        • Julie Strietelmeier December 3, 2016, 9:14 pm

          What’s the method for switching between devices?

          • David Ferreira December 3, 2016, 9:18 pm

            On the bottom there is a button that let’s you switch between 3 different devices. There are lights under the 1-2-3 stencils to let you know which device you are currently connected to.

            The charge on the MX Anywhere lasts about 5-6 months for me. The MX Master nearly the same even though the battery is bigger.

          • Julie Strietelmeier December 3, 2016, 9:21 pm

            Darn, I wish there was button press that would switch devices so you didn’t have to stop, turn over the mouse, flip a switch, turn it back over and start using the other device. I’m spoiled by the Logitech 780 which has keys right on top. Yes, I’m too picky for my own good 😉

          • David Ferreira December 3, 2016, 9:23 pm

            First world problems. 🙂

  • SuicideNinja December 3, 2016, 3:15 pm

    Definitely switch to a Bluetooth mouse. All mobile devices have Bluetooth at this point, so USB receivers are a hassle. I even put a bluetooth receiver on my deskstop so I dont need to worry about it anymore. I do agree with the rest though! Thanks for the review!

  • Ian Lim December 3, 2016, 5:37 pm

    Coincidently I am going through exactly the same conundrum at the moment. I’m testing a Dell Venue Pro 11 with soft keyboard against my aging but still very functional Toshiba R830.

    Still haven’t come to a conclusion yet unlike yourself.

  • Mark Rosengarten December 3, 2016, 9:06 pm

    Julie, I have a 2015 13″ MBPr loaded for bear and I adore it. I also have a Dell XPS 13 pretty loaded that I use for work. I use a Windows machine for work because I have to. It is glitchy, prone to BSOD and doesn’t work reliably with the WiDi adapter. It’s the best-designed machine I’ve ever used but glitchiness prevents it from being my primary machine. On the other hand, my MBPr is just a solid workhorse that never lets me down, built like a tank and Just. Freaking. WORKS. I tried a SP4 for a day and I ended up returning it. I needed, first and foremost, a laptop and the SP4 tries so hard to be both tablet and laptop that it falls far short on both accounts.

    • Julie Strietelmeier December 3, 2016, 9:16 pm

      Sounds like we have the same MBP 🙂 I don’t have any major complaints with my MBP other than it’s slightly too heavy to lug around on trips.

      • Mark Rosengarten December 4, 2016, 5:44 am

        Isn’t that funny!!! When the thinner Retina MBP came out, it was stunning how lightweight it was. In my camera backpack I don’t even notice the size or weight. It’s a machine I can get real work done on. I have been considering the new 15″ MacBook Pro but I’ve heard such mixed reviews about it and the price premium is a bit too rich for my blood…maybe the next one.

  • Uli Lachmuth December 4, 2016, 4:24 am

    I couldn’t help noticing there are numerous instances of double or triple same texts in your review. Could it be that the simple task of text editing is beyond the Surface Pro?

    • Julie Strietelmeier December 4, 2016, 8:38 am

      Argh, no. It’s some weird bug that has cropped up in Wordpress (the software that powers The Gadgeteer). If you move text around, sometimes it puts the old text back in a second or two after the fact. I usually read all our posts at least twice before publishing to catch these problems but I must have failed to do that with this one. I’ll go fix it now.

  • James December 4, 2016, 12:23 pm

    d rather buy the xps or the sp4.
    I carry an 18.3″ monster I bought off xoticpc.com 2 years ago. I carry it in a large Republic of Gamers backpack along with other odds and ends. When you complain about carrying a 13″ xps, I think, “first world problems”.
    I have had my eye on an xps 13″ for many years (I had an 18″ xps before my current rig) but I would buy an sp4 or surface book if I could afford it and ship it here too.

    • Julie Strietelmeier December 4, 2016, 3:57 pm

      18″ inch laptop? Yikes! I bet it weighs a ton. You’re right, “first world problems”. Now I feel guilty.

  • Brian December 5, 2016, 7:41 am

    I have a Surface 3 and agree with your issues. Couple items to fix your issues that I use. 1) I have a cover for my Surface that has its own “kickstand” Basically it is a folder that opens up. On the lap, it feels like a laptop now. 2) buy a small 3-4 port USB hub. Now I can use a normal mouse, hook up my camera, etc all at one time.

    • Julie Strietelmeier December 5, 2016, 8:12 am

      If I ever go for another Surface, I’ll definitely check into a cover like the one you described.

  • CEC December 5, 2016, 9:04 am

    Thank you for keeping an open mind and trying the SP4. I have been wondering if it was worth the switch back myself. Having spent the last 5 years with Mac OS with little to no problems and 15 years of hacking Frankenstein Wintel Machines I swore I never go back. I just am finding it very hard to now to see the value proposition in a $600 touch bar simply because Apple doesn’t believe in touch screens belong on laptop computers.

    The old Mac ethos was an ecosystem where everything just worked together. Now they are cutting costs left and right with shutting down Monitor division and partnering with LG. Which rumor has it is where they sourced their screens from before. And yet the new 5K displays are visually stunning to use but they lack the posh fit and finish that Apple once brought to the party.

    Gone too is their time machine product which I think they now want to sell you iCloud backup online instead. This one I can understand in tradeoffs and everyone pushing cloud services. Call this the cost of change to a brave new world much way all USB-C ports are.

    Worse still Apple killed their network wifi routers. The ecosystem shrinking trend is leaving gaps in critical areas and in the “It all just works” argument in tatters. What Apple leaders have to understand is one of the key reasons we paid the premium “Apple Tax” for in the first place was a coherent up to date ecosystem where everything worked.
    This was one of their key value propositions past the styling and thinness.

    I am hoping there is a wake-up moment where they realize the importance of ecosystem halo effect and cross-selling their other Apple product. Not every product is going to be the huge cash cow with tremendous markup and they dominate for years like iPhone was. Some products need to play a background role to support the ecosystem. They are not going to be super exciting but more importantly functional. They are not likely to be profitable hopefully just break even or be loss leaders. The whole needs to viewed as greater than the sum of the parts. This product ecosystem was a principle vision of Steve Jobs and yet Tim Cook is more worried about profit than vision. Steve was always more worried about getting the product right than profit believing one beget the other. I tend to agree.

    I am hoping that there are enough noise and enough people voting with their wallets for the current Apple management to wake up and listen to the voice of the customer current needs. They need to understand the importance of steady updates to their product line is of vital importance to maintaining the trust and social contract with their consumers. They must never again let a vanity project like the Touch bar get in way of a tech refresh. I get that innovation is hard and there has been very little in laptop space for years but for real work, this is daily bread and butter for most professionals. I agree with you that Apple no longer innovates where it is needed. Sadly the cost of this is their products are out of touch with current technology and professionals real demand. Apple has an ever dwindling and meager ecosystem where “It all just works” is replaced by ever creeping seas of other vendor’s product that are sub par that eventually makes Apple experience just another windows like experience and people stop paying the Apple Tax for weak products and crippled ecosystem.

    • Julie Strietelmeier December 5, 2016, 12:02 pm

      I feel the same way about Apple and the path they seem to be heading. It bums me out because I used to love their products and now all I seem to do is complain about them.

      I often wonder where things would stand if Steve were still alive.

  • John December 5, 2016, 11:20 am

    Lap desk. I had to get one to use with my Alienware laptop that ran HOT, and it is great to use with the SP4. When not in use, mine sits in a magazine rack. When in use, it gets used as a SP4 work surface (nice for being able to use a mouse as well), a dinner table, and a foot bridge for one of the cats to make it across my lap.

    • Julie Strietelmeier December 5, 2016, 12:00 pm

      I have a lap desk but I don’t like to use it with a regular laptop. It would be something I’d need to consider if another Surface Pro is in my future.

  • Andrew Baker December 5, 2016, 12:03 pm

    I still love my Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Tablet. I do agree with lots of your points. But Also enjoy the benefits of the convertible. (this reply probably will flag your spam filter)

    A. The “Kickstand” on lap. Although the Lenovo uses a slightly different method to prop up the “tablet-top” computer than the Surface it is still not idea and comfortable to use on a lap. It works awesome on a flat surface. I ended up getting this https://www.amazon.com/Readaeer-Adjustable-Foldable-Laptop-Stand/dp/B017XR0XWC/ref=sr_1_11?ie=UTF8&qid=1480954759&sr=8-11&keywords=laptop+lap+stand and I stash it under the couch I use. I’ve been using stylus and onscreen keyboard more and more in tablet mode when working on the couch but for those long sessions I pull this out. Much more comfortable.

    I often walk around the office in tablet mode to take care of issues when I do my walk arounds. Yes I’m a nerd, and I feel like I’m using a PADD from StarTrek, but Hey thats my life.

    B. Single USB Port. Yes this can be a problem. My Lenovo only has a single USB 3.0 port (two if I have expansion module installed) I did switch to BT mouse long ago (Logitech T630) so that is not an issue. But since I often use this as a type of Field Service laptop I am often plugging in other devices. I’ve ended up with these http://imgur.com/a/JcjAu staying in my tablet bag. This gives me a 3 port USB 3 hub, Ethernet port, Micro SD reader, and USB OTG adaptor to hook most of this up to my other devices. I keep them connected together as to not loose the parts.

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B015GZOHKW/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o01_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

    https://www.amazon.com/Excellent-Quality-Port-USB-Adapter/dp/B00J3NOR0O/ref=sr_1_17?s=pc&ie=UTF8&qid=1480957202&sr=1-17&keywords=j5+create+usb+ethernet+adapter

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0129X0JYW/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o02_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

    C. Yeah I use Micro SD all the time, but never full size. My tablet does have a Micro slot but I utilized it for storage and leave a card in it. I use the above when I need to image cards.

    Anyways the Tablet took awhile to get used to, but I don’t think i’ll ever go back to full laptop again.

    • Julie Strietelmeier December 5, 2016, 12:31 pm

      It took me awhile to switch from desktop to laptop, so I can see going through the same thing going from laptop to tablet. It’s not that I didn’t like using the SP4 in tablet mode, it’s just that I type A LOT, so it’s just much easier for me to use my computer with a physical keyboard.

      Thanks for sharing all your work arounds too!

  • Jay December 5, 2016, 2:54 pm

    I use both Windows & Mac everyday. I have a PC Win7 Tower, Win10 Bootcamp, and Fusion8 VM with XP, Win 7 & 10 on the MBP. I most recently upgraded to the previous (non-touch bar) 15″ 2016 MBP all spec’d out for about 50% of what it was on the Apple Store. That’s the best way to buy a Mac because they are extraordinarily expensive.

    Being immersed in both systems I’ll share my thoughts on people who feel like switching platforms (thinking the grass might be greener). Let me say this: The grass is NOT greener. Doesn’t matter which way you’re moving. Mac -> PC or PC ->Mac. I’ll credit MS that they finally pulled their heads out of their asses with Win10. I skipped Vista & Win8 and be glad you did too. Win10 is a solid OS, finally.

    Personally, I work more in the MacOS these days since I do video editing as part of my pursuits. Mac is solid, doesn’t crash, it just has a smooth workflow. Windows is fine for all things office, games and music production. But Mac has video in the bag (imo hands-down) with the suite of tools in FCPX, Motion & Compressor.

    The Mac is also a 2-in-1 system being able to run Win10 beautifully. I had a $650 Acer laptop that went on the road for work. It is a p.o.s. with decent parts & ports all squished in with a dismal display. I don’t need it for the display for it’s particular purpose but it is junk. This new MBP is a work of art in comparison when it comes to build quality and display. It’s night & day.

    Today I prefer the MacOS, which surprised me since I grew up in PC land. I like features on both systems. You can download a non-activated copy of Win10 from MS and install it via bootcamp right now. I just did it with Sierra and it was the easiest Win install I ever did on a Mac. It just worked. You do not (currently) have to activate Win10. It’ll nag you once in a while, but it operates 100% the same as paying $200 for it. This way you can play around until you feel that it’s worth the investment of switching platforms rather than moving too fast due to some little niggle and regretting it later.

    • Julie Strietelmeier December 5, 2016, 4:43 pm

      I also prefer MacOS because I have a simple workflow when I’m writing reviews, working up review pics, etc. But that said, I can do my work on any computer / any OS because the bulk of my work is in a browser or Photoshop.

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