Unless you're planning on picking up a Surface Book, Microsoft would very much like you to leave the laptop behind. That's always been the premise with the Surface Pro series of business-capable 2-in-1 tablets, but it's the new Surface Pro 4, with its Intel Skylake processors, Windows 10 Pro OS and reworked Type Cover attachment, that makes the strongest argument yet.
Its performance in the enterprise will be crucial to Microsoft, especially with the iPad Pro entering the scene at the same time. We'll return to the subject of comparisons, but for now there's a question that needs answering: can the Surface Pro 4 really replace a laptop?
Surface Pro devices have never looked particularly elegant with their barely-rounded corners and trapezoid profiles. The Surface Pro 4, however, is the slimmest and lightest yet at 292x201x8.45mm and 766g to 786g depending on the internals. That's not as airy as the iPad Pro, and still a bit too weighty to hold in one hand, but this is still a perfectly portable slate that can be stuffed in a satchel much more easily than a laptop.
It's well built as well, with a magnesium case that confers a reassuring firmness, despite looking and feeing almost like plastic. The fully adjustable kickstand uses a multi-point hinge for extra firmness and stability.
The Surface Pro 4 covers all the bases where connectivity is concerned. In addition to a Mini DisplayPort and microSD card slot, the series' trademark full-size USB 3.0 port sits on the right edge. As always, this port is a small but significant inclusion that allows the easy use of thumb drives and USB peripherals. It's a big advantage for productivity over most microUSB-equipped, consumer-focused tablets. These devices also commonly charge via USB, unlike the Surface Pro 4 which keeps the port free by including a separate power connector.
There's also a new and stronger magnetic clip for the redesigned Surface Pen, which, unlike with the Surface Pro 3, doesn't obscure any ports when fastened on. The Pen is excellent. Drawing and handwriting feels silky smooth, changes in pressure are seamless and the 'eraser' on the rear tip is highly intuitive to use. We didn't use this feature much, but holding down the eraser will now open the Cortana digital assistant, in addition to the older controls of pressing it once to open OneNote and twice to take a screengrab.
We also like the new Type Cover, although this isn't included with the Surface Pro 4 as standard and will cost an extra £109.99. Instead of being crammed together, the backlit keys now have a bit more space between them without being overly shrunk, which makes for a more familiar, and thus more accurate, typing experience for our laptop-accustomed fingers. The glass trackpad is also slightly wider than on previous Type Covers, which will be good news for fans of low cursor sensitivity.
The Type Cover's thinness still means that the Surface Pro 4 is top-heavy when used in this faux-laptop configuration. Nonetheless, the kickstand does an admirable job of preventing it toppling backwards, even on an uneven surface like, say, a lap.
We have only one problem with the Surface Pro's design, and it isn't even a problem on certain models: with an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, the fan can emit a highly conspicuous whirr under heavy load. Most of the time, though, it remains quiet, and models with a more power-efficient Core m3 chip are fanless, so won't suffer from this at all.
Next: Display, operating system and software