The Surface Pro 3 and the Surface Pro 4 Head to Head

I was recently fortunate enough to have an extended hands on with a friends, Surface Pro 4…

Over the past ten (10) months, I’ve been working with a Surface Pro 3. It’s been a good supplemental work PC for me, in that I can use it to take hand written notes in meetings… that is, when I can get it to do that without the ink disappearing.

The Surface Pro 3 is a GREAT machine (again, when it works correctly and when it has a stable OS, but I most certainly digress. That’s a rant for another day, another time…), but nearly everyone is wondering if the Surface Pro 4 is compelling enough for those that own the Surface Pro 3 to upgrade.

Again, I’ve been fortunate enough to be friends with someone in the office who has purchased a Surface Pro 4. I was able to place the two devices head to head today and have the following to report.

Pen
These are general pen observations and comments. I was able to use the Surface Pen 4 on the Surface Pro 3 without any kind of pairing or other convincing. I just took the device in hand and was able to tap, select and ink with it. It worked very well.

The Surface Pen 4 is nice, and it will stick to the Surface Pro 3, but only on either the left device side or the right device side. Unfortunately, these are at spots where the Pen really wasn’t meant to sit – like on top of the power port, covering it up. This is problematic, as there really doesn’t seem to be a good spot for the Surface Pen 4 on the Surface Pro 3.

The following are additional observations I was able to make about the Surface Pen 4.

  • Magnet is strong, but not strong enough
  • Doesn’t stick on all sides of the device
  • Can be knocked off without you really knowing it
  • Surface Pen 4 only has a single button along its magnetic strip
  • Surface Pen 4 has an “eraser” function on the top button of the pen
  • Surface Pen 4 has a top button that starts OneNote when clicked
  • Surface Pen 3 has a top button that makes a sound when it clicks (grrr… this should work, Microsoft. It did under Windows 8.1)

Keyboard
The keyboard works with Surface Pro 4 and Surface Pro 3, but there seem to be driver issues with the Surface Pro 3, especially with Fast Ring Insider Builds on it. It was just a bit more than a tad quirky.

For example, when I tried to bring up the device’s About screen (All Settings –System – About), Settings froze. I tried to close Settings and relaunch it, but Settings wouldn’t restart; and I had to bounce the device. Bounding the device produced the same results. Ultimately, I had to remove the Surface Pro 4 keyboard from my Surface Pro 3 in order to get All Settings – System – About to display.

I noticed that when I originally attached the Surface Pro 4 keyboard to my Surface Pro 3, a “You must restart your computer for these hardware changes to take place,” dialog appeared, indicating that the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Pro 3 keyboard drivers are different. Since I’ve got the latest Fast Ring Insider’s Build installed on my Surface Pro 3, I think there might be a driver issue here…

By far, this is – or will be when the driver issues I noted above are resolved – the biggest, best overall hands, on, noticeable improvement on the device. Now, before you go losing your mind wondering what about the better, upgraded processor, and other enhanced guts the Surface Pro 4 has over the Surface Pro 3, you have to admit, that all things being equal between the two devices, the keyboard is the best reason to upgrade. However, if that isn’t compelling enough on its own (and it’s not, at least not in my opinion…) then you can always go and purchase the Surface Pro 4 keyboard and use it with your Surface Pro 3.

The following are additional observations I was able to make about the Surface Pro 4 keyboard.

  • Biggest hands on improvement
  • Same overall size as the SP3 keyboard
  • Keys are “island-styled” and set further apart. The Surface Pro 4 keyboard offers better key travel
  • Better overall typing experience
  • Trackpad is bigger than the one on the Surface Pro 3 Type Cover
  • Better trackpad experience, as its more responsive and has a different overall feel
  • Issues when working with SP3. All Settings – About wouldn’t display until I removed the keyboard, indicating some level of driver incompatibility (perhaps with the latest Windows 10 Fast Ring Build…??)

The Devices
Unfortunately, my friend wasn’t too amenable to me taking the device for a couple of weeks so that I could review it… and I really can’t blame him. I love my Surface Pro 3. If I had a Surface Pro 4 or Surface Book, I wouldn’t want to part with it for very long, either. The point to all of this, is that you should take the following with a grain of salt. I didn’t have a lot of time with the device… only about an hour or so.

Screenshot (1) Screenshot (1) SP3
The Settings – System – About screen for the Surface Pro 4 The Settings – System – About screen for the Surface Pro 3

The two devices weren’t completely identical. The most glaring being the difference in processors and the amount of device RAM each had. The Surface Pro 4 had 8GB, twice the amount of my Surface Pro 3. I think that, more than anything, would through the task comparisons between the two off; and… quite honestly, it did. Everything on the Surface Pro 4 was much smoother and more natural.

Aside from the external, physical differences – and there are a few – for example,

  • The bezel on the Surface Pro 3 is a tad larger on all four sides,
  • The Surface Pro 4 doesn’t have a haptic-enabled Windows button on the bezel,
  • The volume rocker on the Surface Pro 4 is on the top to make room for the Surface Pen 4 on its left, landscape-oriented side

the devices are nearly identical. Telling them apart is difficult without a real, hard look at the two. Once you know what to look for, telling them apart is fairly easy. The point is, however, that the devices are very similar.

The following are additional observations I was able to make about the Surface Pro 4.

  • Surface Pro 3 seems slightly bigger
  • Left edge, top edge device variations to allow for pen placement (volume rocker moved to the top)
  • Ports don’t align exactly
  • No active Windows button on the device bezel of the Surface Pro 4

 

IMG_2356 IMG_2357 IMG_2358
Head to Head! SP3 & SP4 left edges, vertical with Kickstand Left Edge – SP4 on top
IMG_2359 IMG_2361 IMG_2362
Top Edge – SP4 on top Right Edge – SP4 on Top Bottom Edge – SP4 on Top
IMG_2363 IMG_2364 IMG_2365
Notice the slight size difference – SP4 on top Keyboards – SP4 keyboard on the right SP3 keyboard up close
IMG_2366
SP4 keyboard up close

 

Conclusion
I think it’s pretty obvious… The Surface Pro 4 is a great device and worthy of a purchase – if you don’t have a Surface Pro 3. If you have a Surface Pro 3, then the Surface Pro 4 keyboard is the best and most value added way to get perhaps, an additional year or more out of the device, especially if (theoretically) you purchase the new Type Cover with the Windows Hello compatible finger print sensor.

Between now and the time that Threshold 2 is released (as the Windows 10 Fall Update), I would wait. There are driver issues with the new keyboards, that even with the released version of Windows 10, may cause issues. However, after that, the keyboards should be 100% compatible with Surface Pro 3, as Microsoft indicates.

Do you have a Surface Pro 3? Have you considered purchasing either a Surface Pro 4 (to replace your Surface Pro 3 or as a new device), or the new Surface Pro 4 Type Cover as an upgrade for your Surface Pro 3? If you have the Surface Pro 4, what are your thoughts on the device? Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area, below, and give me your thoughts on the subject?

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  • Ovidiu Lazar

    It has been a long time since I have touched any laptop/desktop in favor for the Surface Pro 2.. I was wondering of getting the 3rd version before the new one just got released but I was and still am quite happy with the SP2. Right now, Sp4 seems to be the greatest toy that can go into productivity as well.

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