Surface Pro 4 or Surface Book: Which suits you?
MICROSOFT is on a roll. In a few short years, it managed to turn its Surface hardware business around. Sales are increasing steadily, as are revenue and profits. And on Tuesday, Microsoft dropped the bomb by announcing the new Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book.
The 12.3-inch Surface Pro 4 slate is the successor to the excellent Surface Pro 3. It's thinner, lighter and, thanks to Intel's latest Skylake processors, it's also more powerful. It's a tablet that can replace your notebook.
Microsoft also upgraded the slate's accessories, namely the Surface Pen stylus and the Type Cover, which acts as a cover for the tablet and a detachable keyboard.
The Surface Book is Microsoft's first notebook and came as a bit of surprise. Like the Surface Pro 4, the Surface Book sports Intel's latest Skylake processors, but it also has a discrete Nvidia graphics processor unit (GPU).
Also, the Surface Book's screen is detachable and doubles as a 13.5-inch tablet.
It can be hard to decide between the two devices as both are distinct yet similar, so here's some help:
The Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book are powered by Intel's latest Skylake processors and can accommodate up to 16GB of RAM and a solid state drive with up to 1TB of storage space.
Microsoft does not detail the exact processors used in the devices. But as the central processing unit must be housed within the tablet display, we are guessing the Surface Book uses the same 15W parts as the Core i5 or i7 chip versions of the Surface Pro 4. So, we do not expect the Surface Book to have any computing performance advantage over the Surface Pro 4.
That said, the Surface Book does have the benefit of a discrete GPU from Nvidia. As good as Intel's integrated GPUs are, there is no substitute for a separate GPU. The discrete GPU should allow the Surface Book to better tackle GPU-intensive applications and even gaming.
The Surface Book is definitely more ideal for users who need more punch, especially if they frequently use GPU-intensive applications such as modelling programs or video editing.
The Surface Book will also be a better pick if you intend to do some gaming.
When it comes to form factor, the Surface Pro 4 is significantly thinner and lighter than the Surface Book, even if the Type Cover is factored in. On its own, the Surface Pro 4 is just 8.4mm thick and the Core i5 or i7 chip model weighs around 780g. Add the Type Cover, and those figures go up to 13mm and 1.07kg.
The Surface Book was designed first and foremost to be a notebook and is around 22.8mm thick at its thickest point and weighs about 1.57kg with the keyboard. That is neither thin nor light, to be completely honest. It is compact, for sure, but many ultrabooks these days come in at around 15mm and weigh around 1.3kg. The Surface Book sacrifices some portability in exchange for performance - the discrete GPU requires additional cooling provisions.
If portability is your main concern, take the Surface Pro 4.
The Surface Pro 4's lighter weight and more compact dimensions mean it is more portable. The Type Cover has been improved continuously over the years, and the latest one even sports a larger glass trackpad, but it's still no substitute for a proper keyboard.
So the Surface Pro 4 is, in our mind, more suited for users who are constantly on the go.
They can also get by mostly with just the touch display and only need the Type Cover for the keyboard and trackpad for short periods of use.
All in, it is a great device for users who need to do more mainstream tasks on the go, such as checking and replying to e-mail messages, as well as reading and editing documents. It boasts nine hours of battery life.
The Surface Book is a proper notebook that offers performance. The detachable tablet display is a great feature and offers greater flexibility for use, but the reason for the Surface Book's existence is that it has a discrete GPU - something you do not see often in detachable devices.
We would also argue that because of its more rigid form factor, it's more suited for use on laps - the Type Cover can feel a little wobbly and does not offer as much, to borrow a term from Microsoft, "lapability".
The Surface Book also trumps the Surface Pro 4 in terms of connectivity. It has an additional USB 3.0 port for a total of two and accepts full-sized SD cards, unlike the Surface Pro 4 which accepts only microSD cards.
Its larger display also means that the Surface Book is more suited to productivity tasks, especially large and lengthy spreadsheets.
The device, which has a 12-hour battery life, also features a proper notebook-class keyboard and trackpad. In contrast, the Surface Pro 4's Type Cover's keyboard is still a compromise for some people.
Tough call. This really depends on your own needs and preferences. That said, both are great portable devices.
In Singapore, the Surface Pro 4 starts from $1,338 but local pricing for the Surface Book is not known yet.
Over in the United States, the Surface Pro 4 is priced at US$899 (S$1,270) onwards, whereas the most affordable Surface Book goes for US$1,499.
That seems like a big difference - US$600 - but it is not a fair comparison because the entry-level Surface Pro 4 has only a Core m3 processor and 4GB of RAM. We need to compare the two based on models with similar processors and RAM.
The Surface Pro 4 with a Core i5 processor, 256GB of storage and 8GB RAM is priced at US$1,299, whereas the Surface Book with a Core i5 chip, 8GB RAM and 256GB storage is US$1,699. So, the price gap is narrower at US$400.
But do note that this Surface Book model does not have a discrete GPU. If you opt for it, the price jumps to US$1,899. In fact, with the discrete GPU, prices start to go up pretty quickly. The Surface Book, with a Core i7 processor, 8GB RAM, 256GB solid state drive and discrete graphics, costs US$2,099.
Finally, the Surface Pro 4's Type Cover is an optional accessory and will set you back US$129.99. So the price difference between the two devices is not as big as you might think, such as when comparing a Pro 4 with the Type Cover and a Surface Book without a discrete GPU.
The Surface Pro 4 is more affordable, but the difference is not as great as you might be led to believe. Surface Books with discrete GPUs are pricey, however.
Based on what we know now - processor details and GPU details are sadly missing - the Surface Pro 4 looks set to be the mobile warrior's best friend. For the utmost portability, it is hard to beat the Pro 4. Furthermore, the Type Cover is thinner, lighter and has been improved with more tactile keys and a larger trackpad.
As for the Surface Book, it looks set to be the 13.5-inch notebook to beat. Based on our hands-on experience, its build quality is top notch and oozes quality. Its specifications also suggest that it will be a capable machine. That the Surface Book's display also detaches to become a tablet is icing on the cake.
If you are looking for a notebook that can do it all, the Surface Book looks like it could be that notebook.