Microsoft's upcoming Surface Pro 4 might be the best 2-in-1 tablet for business yet. Reports indicate that the rumored device ─ which hasn't been officially announced ─ is ready to debut at a special Microsoft event Oct. 6. Expected enhancements include a bigger display, faster performance, longer battery life and better security features.
Here's a rundown of the features that could make the Surface Pro 4 a dream tablet for workers.
Last year, Microsoft promised that the next-generation Surface Pro would have the same dimensions as the 12.1-inch Pro 3, ensuring the new tablet's compatibility with accessories like the Pro 3 desktop dock. Now, new rumors suggest that Microsoft might be prepping to launch an even larger slate alongside a 12.1-inch model, with reported screen sizes as large as 14 inches.
A 14-inch display would put the Surface Pro 4 on par with midsize business laptops like Lenovo's ThinkPad T450s. That could be good news for workers, since a 14-inch display would finally provide enough space for screen-intensive productivity tasks. It would be particularly useful for split-screen multitasking, which can feel pretty cramped on the Pro 3.
The Surface Pro 3 may be just a year old, but its processor dates all the way back to 2013. Because Intel's fifth-generation Broadwell-series processors were delayed last fall, Microsoft went ahead and launched the Pro 3 with older, fourth-generation Haswell chips. In other words, the Surface Pro line hasn't seen a processor upgrade since the launch of the Pro 2 two years ago.
Now, rumors say that the Pro 4 will launch with the full range of Intel's fifth-generation "Skylake" processors, in Core i3, i5 and i7 configurations. A newer chip doesn't just mean faster performance; it also means better efficiency. The older processors in the Pro 3 models tend to run hot, which can slow things down and, over time, wear on your device's internals. Skylake processors, meanwhile, can achieve faster performance without generating so much heat.
Longer battery life
The Surface Pro 3 is an impressive hybrid device, but its battery life is a letdown. The machine ran for 7 hours and 27 minutes in our battery-life test. This is a decent showing, but about 15 minutes less than the average ultraportable laptop, and roughly a half hour less than the average tablet. It's even more disappointing next to the 13-inch MacBook Air, which ran for an epic 12 hours and 20 minutes in the same test.
Fortunately, there's good reason to expect the Pro 4 will have better longevity. For starters, a more efficient Skylake processor should be able to eke out a few extra hours of productivity. And if a 14-inch model actually surfaces, it could pack a bigger battery and thus offer better battery life.
An updated keyboard for the Surface Pro 4 is a no-brainer, since the latest non-pro Surface 3 keyboard already introduced some notable improvements. Specifically, that accessory offered snappier keys with better tactile feedback than the slightly mushy keys on the Surface Pro 3 keyboard.
It's also possible that Microsoft could introduce some more radical changes for the Surface Pro 4's keyboard. Perhaps the add-on will feature chiclet-style, spaced keys similar to what you'll find on the iPad Pro's Smart Keyboard.
Better pen support
Pen integration is one of the best reasons to choose a hybrid PC like the Surface Pro 4 over a traditional laptop. Like the Pro 3, the new model is expected to ship with an N-Trig stylus, which offers excellent pressure sensitivity and makes it easy to take notes directly on your tablet's display. And thanks to Windows 10, the Pro 4 should offer a few new ways to use the pen.
For starters, Microsoft's new Edge Web browser offers built-in inking capabilities. At any time, you can snap a screenshot of a document or Web page, annotate it using the pen, then save it to the cloud or share it with employees or co-workers.
Windows 10 also features a redesigned handwriting-to-text input panel; to use this tool, you write in text with the stylus, and the tablet converts it to digital text. It works in any text-entry field on your tablet PC, and unlike older versions, the revamped text-recognition tool now can convert text and directly enter it as you write, making the tool more intuitive to use.
A couple of rumored hardware additions could make the Surface Pro 4 a lot more secure. For starters, some reports say the slate might come with a fingerprint scanner, embedded in either the device itself, or possibly in its snap-on keyboard. The biometric scanner would allow users to sign onto their device with a fingerprint instead of fussing with a cumbersome password.
Another rumor says the Surface Pro 4 will come with a new 3D camera that will let you log in just by looking at your device. The camera would take advantage the new "Windows Hello" facial recognition software included with Windows 10. Early impressions of the technology say it's smart enough to spot the differences between identical twins, and it can't be fooled by photos, so it should be pretty secure.
This one's a no-brainer, but it's worth remembering that the Surface Pro 4 will launch with Windows 10. Microsoft's latest desktop operating system is a big step forward over Windows 8.1, the operating system that powered the Pro 3 at launch.
Crucially, Windows 10 offers separate tablet and desktop modes, making the hybrid design of the Surface series feel a lot more practical. When your device is docked to a keyboard, it defaults to desktop mode, with a standard interface that will be very familiar to Windows veterans. But when you undock your device, you have the option to enter tablet mode, which features full-screen apps and a more touch-friendly interface.
Microsoft has a lot to prove with the Surface Pro 4, as numerous 2-in-1 imitators begin to crop up. Lenovo just introduced the Miix 700, a Surface Pro 3 clone with a 12-inch display and a zippy Intel Core M processor for just $699 – that’s $100 less than the cheapest Surface Pro 3 model. And Apple's iPad Pro offers a whopping 13-inch screen and starts at $799, though that price will go up if you add the keyboard and active pen accessories, which are sold separately.