Microsoft Surface Pro 4 – The Return

I’ve been using the Surface Pro 4 as a primary machine for the last 3 weeks. A week of that was spent in a bag, because I got fed up with it crashing, and was especially annoyed to find it had run out of battery between being put into sleep at full power, and getting it out on a flight some hours later.

You can read part 1 and part 2 of my review, if you so wish.

A week later, I was ready to give it a last try, and put some power into it, and saw it installed yet another round of updates. To my surprise, it has since stopped crashing on resume.

Windows Hello

I didn’t see Windows Hello earlier (maybe it wasn’t enabled for the SP4?), but it prompted me to configure it this week. It’s a fantastic and simple feature which (assuming it works) dramatically improves device security.

Basically it uses facial recognition to unlock your device, which means you can have a long backup password just in case, and not suffer any inconvenience when logging on. It works in extremely low light and takes just a few seconds – a fantastic feature. And it works every time.

I haven’t tested how it performs with a picture of me; that is a concern, but this is definitely an example of Microsoft being ahead of Apple. Bravo.

Also, Bitlocker Drive Encryption is enabled by default, which makes me very happy. My customers have to be able to trust my ability to keep their information safe, so I am always impressed with devices that feature good security.

Battery Life (or lack thereof)

Now my device can come in and out of sleep reliably, it has revealed a new problem, which is the SP4 has a terrible sleep function. My MacBook Pro, which has 3-year-older Intel hardware, can happily sleep with no discernable drop in battery life, and it supports Power Nap, which means my email stays up to date even when the Mac is sleeping.

The SP4 by comparison drops at least 10% an hour, which makes it basically useless for business travel. Tomorrow morning, I’ll leave home at 5am and get to my first meeting around 11am. The SP4 cannot handle 3 hours of sleep and 3 hours of work on the flight and taxis, and that makes it basically useless.

Folks on Reddit also complain about bad battery (3-4h) and Windows Central have reported that Microsoft are working on a fix.

Keyboard / palmrest issues

The other issue I’m plagued with is the keyboard. When using it, as I am right now, as a laptop, with the keyboard on my upper thighs, you have to be very careful how much pressure you put on the palmrest. If you put too much, it starts doing weird things, like clicking the right mouse button with no finger on the trackpad.

I also had problems typing this article on Microsoft Edge – it was very slow to type, and just switched to Google Chrome, where I found the issue went away. That’s a shame, because I’ve generally been impressed with the Microsoft Edge browser.

Wireless issues

The wireless is problematic too – many of the public wireless networks I used didn’t work. It won’t tether to my iPhone, for example, and it took 5-10 minutes to connect to GoGo on a flight, and I couldn’t get it to connect to a few public hot spots at all. So unless I’m at home, I have to operate off-line much of the time.

Can I survive with the Surface Pro 4?

In short… No. Microsoft have decided to release a potentially amazing device which isn’t fit for purpose. They failed to address the basics and focused on making an amazing piece of hardware.

To Microsoft’s credit, they know about the issues and have openly issued an apology. I understand the sleep issues are hard to fix and will take some time. But in my opinion these issues are so basic that they should have delayed the product launch, rather than try to get a spike in holiday sales.

As for my SP4, it’s going back to the store that it came from. Edit: I found a workaround for the power issue on Paul Thurrott’s site, which is to change sleep to hibernate. The SP4 is quite fast (7 seconds) to turn on from hibernate, so this is workable for me. I’ll give it one more week and see if it’s now usable.

P.S. Shane recommended I try out the Surface app. I’m not sure what it does on the Surface Pro 3, but on the SP4 it has only three options. You can adjust the pen pressure sensitivity, you can do an ink test, and you can provide feedback to Microsoft. I’m just about to do the third.

One thought on “Microsoft Surface Pro 4 – The Return

  1. Shane

    Hi Jon,

    Windows Hello – the facial recognition part of Windows Hello will only work if the device has one of the new Intel cameras. These map a 3D imprint of your face using infrared – therefore a photo of you will not work – your security is assured.

    Battery Life – I’ve done a bit of recent research. If you’ve turned Hyper-V on then it disables a very important power feature called ‘Sleep Connected’ – basically sleep mode but with wifi/network connected. This then ‘adjusts’ your power mode to just “on” and “hibernate” with no in between. So if it hasn’t hibernated it is using your power more than it should.

    Wireless issues – yep – tethering to iPhone via bluetooth or wifi is troublesome. Cable has been the only reliable method.

    The overarching issue is that (rightfully so) you’re expecting a device to work out of the box. Traditionally, a PC advocate would have blamed the gap between the hardware manufacturer and Microsoft (usually defending the manufacturer), but now that those two are one and the same – there is an expectation that these sorts of issues simply shouldn’t exist.

    That being said, with all the flaws, I am incredibly happy with my SP3 – I don’t have the power reliance that you have as I don’t travel like you do, so it suits my requirements well.

    I’ll let you know when you should try to come to the dark side again 🙂

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