Update (2020): This original guide compared the Surface Pro 4 to the Surface Pro 3, as many were waiting for the Pro 5. At the time, a question was if the Surface Pro 4 had enough for Surface Pro 3 owners to upgrade. Nirave Gondhiahad used both hybrid tablets extensively, and offered thoughts on whether you should go for the newer 2-in-1 or whether the refined Surface Pro 3 experience offered everything.
In 2020, the question is more Surface Pro 7 vs Surface Pro 6. But this original article from 2016 stands as is, and if you are still looking to compare and contrast these two, or find out key details, the original review by Nirave stands in place.
Design & Display
Both Surface models share a very similar design with a 12-inch display and at first glance, the Surface Pro 4 looks almost identical to the Surface Pro 3. In all pictures here, the Surface Pro 4 is the darker grey Typecase model, with the updated Windows logo on the back, while the Surface 3 has a blue Typecase. After all, the Pro 4 is a newer version of the Pro 3, but the noticeable changes in the design might need to be pointed out at first!
To begin with, the display is actually larger on the Surface Pro 4 despite being the same size as its predecessor, thanks to smaller bezels, which result in a much more compact experience. The 0.3 inches in extra real estate may not seem like much on paper but the 12.3-inch display on the Surface Pro 4 is definitely noticeably larger than the 12-inch screen on the Surface Pro 3 when you begin to use it. The volume rocker has also shifted spots, into a better place in my view.
The Surface Pro 3 screen offers 2160 x 1440 pixels resolution, which equates to a pixel density of 216 pixels per inch, but with the Surface Pro 4, Microsoft has increased the screen size and also bumped the resolution to 2736 x 1834 pixels. This increased resolution offers a vastly improved pixel density of 267 pixels per inch which, while still lower than the ~400ppi limit for the human eye, offers a much better experience. Yes, individual pixels are discernible but the overall experience is certainly vastly improved
The Pro 4 is also thinner and lighter at 8.45mm and 766 grams – versus 9.1mm and 800 grams on the Surface Pro 3 – and the lighter, more compact body, results in a more ergonomically friendly experience. Consider that many 2-in-1 users (like myself) do carry the tablet around in the hand – similar to how you might carry a portfolio or large notebook – and the smaller thickness and lighter body is certainly more than welcome.
One particularly nice feature is that by keeping the same width as the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft has ensured that any keyboard accessory designed for the older Surface also works with its successor. This is also accurate in the opposite direction, with newer accessories working with the older model. Considering that the cover retails for over $100 (and even more in other countries when you consider the dollar equivalent of the local price), the compatibility between different versions is certainly nice to have.
Talking of the Type Cover, the Surface Pro 4’s upgraded Type Cover also brings some welcome improvements, as it offers a larger 19mm pitch and 1.3mm travel for a much more comfortable typing experience. The trackpad is made from glass and is 40 percent bigger than on the Surface Pro 3’s Type Cover and the overall experience is definitely better. That being said, I’m not personally a fan of the Type Cover as it still lacks in lapability but the Type Cover is essential to making the most of the Surface Pro experience.
What a difference a year in technology can make as while the design is similar between these two tablets, there are significant changes and improvements under the hood.
The most important of these is the processor choice as the upgraded Intel architecture inside the Surface Pro 4 provides a welcome power boost. The Surface Pro 3 comes with a choice of Core i3, i5 or i7 processor but these are 4th generation chipsets, while the Surface Pro 4 comes with 6th-gen Skylake processors in the same configuration (although the base model is now a Core m3 processor).
For the heavy user, the amount of available RAM will also prove to be a welcome improvement as the Surface Pro 4 is capable of supporting up to 16GB RAM. The Pro 3 is limited to a maximum of 8GB RAM, which can be somewhat limiting for intensive tasks such as gaming and photo or video editing, but a configurable option for 16GB RAM means the Surface Pro 4 is more suitable for heavy users.
Other hardware specs remain mostly similar, with both models also supporting 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 and a front-facing 5MP snapper. Microsoft has upgraded the rear camera to 8MP but this is a near pointless upgrade in my opinion as you’re unlikely to use the rear camera. Instead, Microsoft would have been much better off upgrading the front camera but it’s worth noting that the Iris front sensor on the Surface Pro 4 is compatible with the Windows Hello biometric security feature found in Windows 10. As a result, you’ll be able to unlock your Surface Pro just by looking directly at the camera.
Overall, the hardware differences may not be striking between the two generations of the Surface but the changes that do exist, do improve the overall experience. That being said, do the improvements offer enough to warrant the upgrade and how does the battery stack up?
Like smartphones and other mobile technology, the battery life on a PC will vary widely and depends on exactly how you use your machine. On paper, Microsoft claims the Surface Pro 3’s battery offers around 9 hours web browsing and mostly, the tablet definitely lives up to these claims. Running the Powermark benchmark – which tests a combination of web browsing, video playback and productivity – the Surface Pro 3 lasted seven hours and 11 minutes.
With newer architecture under the hood and the efficiencies it offers, the Surface Pro 4 should easily outlast the Surface Pro 3. Microsoft claims its latest machine can last the exact same 9 hours as its predecessor but this is where the machine proved to be a let down for me personally. While it can last up to 9 hours, my average usage found that it actually drained in less than 5 hours. Running the Powermark benchmark resulted in a score of seven hours and 49 minutes, but this didn’t translate to the real world sadly.
This may be fixed at a later date but the battery life is definitely a concern for me personally when using the Surface Pro 4 and even running Microsoft’s own Word apps resulted in considerable battery drain. Considering others have reported similar battery life to the Surface Pro 3, this may just be an issue I’ve experienced but it’s worth keeping in mind. That being said, the charger is nice and compact and if you are planning on using it out in the field for a few hours only, the battery should easily suffice.
There’s no denying that the Surface Pro 4 does bring some welcome improvements over its predecessor but these do come at a cost, namely the extra cost. At approximately $300 more than the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft’s latest 2-in-1 does offer some improvements but whether it’s worth the money largely depends on your particular needs.
I’ve personally found that, as much as I’ve enjoyed the Surface Pro 4, the older model is more than suitable for my needs. In fact, despite being newer, the Surface Pro 4 does have some performance concerns with random crashes, the blue screen of death and general stability all an on-going concern which, surprisingly, doesn’t happen on the Surface Pro 3 with Windows 10. Microsoft may fix its hardware/software combination problems before long, but my experience with the device out of the box stands.
Which of these should you buy? If you require the latest graphics and architecture and/or up to 16GB RAM for resource-intensive tasks such as gaming and photo or video editing, you should definitely go for the Surface Pro 4 over its predecessor. That being said, if the above doesn’t apply to you, then the Surface Pro 3 is definitely a very capable machine and as its compatible with both the new Type Cover and the new Surface Pen, there’s even less separating the two models.
Which one are you going to buy and do you think the Surface Pro 4 is a worthy upgrade over the Surface Pro 3? Let us know your views in the comments below guys!