Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book – first impressions from the Windows 10 Devices event

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So, right, well that was unexpected. When your man brought out the Surface Book I was initially a bit confused – but when he broke it in half I honestly had an involuntary gasp type moment. It’s an awesome thing. I’ve not had the time to get my head around the specs and processors and look at proper comparisons but I wanted to share my impressions from having a bit of a touch and a feel of these new bunnies.

First here’s a terrible picture of Thavius Beck demoing Bigwig 1.3 on the two new machines. Many people commented how they haven’t seen one of my Lumina 820 phones for years – apparently the new ones take better indoor photos these days.

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Right, so, the Surface Pro 4 is thinner, lighter and 30% more powerful than the SP3. Basically it does the same thing, no magical new stuff, no thunderbolt or additional ports. The keyboard is better, larger trackpad, slightly larger screen in the same form factor. Kick stand is the same. The pen is improved, now does pressure and stuff, you can use the rubber end to…. rub out like a pencil and it has a proper magnetic connection to the side of the SP4 – awesome. So, you know, it’s a decent upgrade on the SP3. But then I got talking to a Surface engineer and we got deep into the cooling and thermals which is when things got a bit more interesting. They put a lot of work into the cooling, so much so that the cooling was built first so the rest of the components have to fit around it. Here’s another terrible Lumina 820 picture (I need a new phone, I know that now).

What we’re looking at is the cooling system of the SP4 – there’s two, a passive and an active one. In normal use the CPU is kept cool by the passive heatpipe and the fan only gets involved when it needs to. They hate the throttling issues they had with the SP3 and they have done everything they can to totally remove that issue and they believe that the combination of the Intel technology and the hybrid cooling achieves a stable power configuration that doesn’t suddenly drop through the floor. How well that works remains to be seen but just to know that this was one of their biggest concerns is very heartening. The other bonus is that the speakers are much better and louder, even louder than the Surface 3 and the speakers/headphones use the same driver – hooray!



I can tell you less about the Surface Book in terms of performance and cooling because I haven’t had those conversations yet but what we know is that it’s a lovely looking extremely powerful laptop…. that’s also a hybrid… that’s also a tablet. It looks a lot like an Apple device (am I allowed to say that?) in laptop mode – it’s perfectly designed and built beautifully. There’s some crossover in power between it and the SP4 but ultimately it leaves it in the dust. But what’s important? What are the factors that influence your choices or my choices as a musician using a device in live performance. I’ve spent the last year telling you why the SP3 is an amazing device for live performance and the SP4 is more of the same, no problem. The Surface Book is different – it may have more power for your plug-ins and VSTi’s, but all the ports are in the base so if you pull off the screen you lose all your interfaces. The kick stand on the SP4 gives good solid resistance to fingering – the Surface Book not so much, it gives way if you angle it up and you have to fold it all the way back to really use it in tablet mode. You also have this powerful GPU in the base which you’re not really going to need making music and yet it will bring its own heat and noise to the party. So, in the live performance space the SP4 does some things better than the Book – which is a good thing because these devices need to be different.

Alas it leaves me in some what of a quandary. Which would I choose? I haven’t had this problem before, I’ve been totally focused on a single device, I’ve been banging on about the advantages of this form factor over a laptop and in some way I feel the momentum that’s been built up with the Surface Pro has somehow been dissipated by the Surface Book – the clean focused message is now a bit confused and choice anxiety perhaps begins to rear its ugly head. It will become my most frequently asked question and the only way I can answer that is to run them side by side – but how will I manage that? I didn’t anticipate investing in two devices but we won’t know anything until I can run some plug-in performance tests. We’ll have to wait and see. On the other hand it is pretty fabulous having to compare two amazing Microsoft products – unexpected that is.

Other stuff – Hololens, wow! At the party tonight apparently there’ll be a lucky dip as to see who gets to try out the Hololens as they can’t do us all – I would love a go. New phones – yeah, nice, i’m loving the whole continuance thing, so obvious and yet never been done until now. The Band – yes, sure, nice. All good stuff really. Hopefully I can play a bit tonight and find out more and in the meantime Bitwig have released version 1.3 which contains all the cool touch and pen stuff that Thavius demo’ed at NAMM – so go check that out.

So that’s it from New York for now. Back to reality shortly. And i’ll leave you with the view from where us Surface people had lunch.

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14 thoughts on “Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book – first impressions from the Windows 10 Devices event

  1. Hi Robin,
    So great to read your thoughts on these new products.

    I have to admit, I too had one of those gasp moments when he removed the Surface Book’s screen from the keyboard!
    It’s really exciting to see Microsoft push innovation with this form factor.

    Now that the dust has settled, I also have some reservations.
    Namely the decision to put all the ports on the keyboard/GPU dock does now limit its portability.
    What also struck me as strange was their decision to omit a USB type-C port of any kind (or Thunderbolt for that matter) when they were shouting from the rooftops about its implementation on their new phones.
    It’s almost as if they intentionally held back on this first generation device.

    The only other similar product in the pipeline is the upcoming Dell XPS 12 which will reportedly include two USB Type-C ports with Thunderbolt support.
    Unfortunately, it looks like it will be powered by Intel’s M Skylake processors (thus nowhere near the power of Microsoft’s new offerings) & their own proprietary pen.
    Dell’s updated XPS 13 & 15 are also rumoured to have USB Type-C ports with Thunderbolt but will retain the laptop form-factor.

    I have recently sold my MacBook Pro and am now in the market for a new device that incorporates these new emerging technologies.
    Finding a product that I can use to process instruments live within my DAW with little latency is the key though.

    Sorry for the long message.
    Big fan of your YouTube channel by the way.

    p.s. Bitwig’s 1.3 update looks very promising!

  2. I was thinking about can surface book can handle the powerful plugins VSTs and effects?
    Or should I go with surface pro 4?

      1. apparently the surface book only has an edge over the surface pro 4 when it come to programs that use gpu power (games,3d applications and such) since the surface book has the additional gpu underneath the keyboard block. Seems to me there wont be much diffrence with the same spec build of surface book and surface pro4

  3. I got confirmation from a microsoft rep that the sp4 and sb have the exact same model i5 and i7 processors, yet I keep hearing people saying how much more powerful the sb is… So besides graphics, how would it be more powerful?

    1. Well, I think that’s right, it is to do with the discrete graphics in the base – that’s where you get proper rendering times in video editing and PhotoShop and of course frame rates in games – that’s why it’s more “powerful” because it ain’t just about the CPU. But it’s also a very good point because us muso’s don’t really use the GPU and so can get the same power with the SP4.

      1. My thoughts exactly. So now my only justification for it is screen size, which as we know for ableton would be nice, and battery life, which is really more of a trade off, since I’d really like to be able to use just the “clipboard” for extended sessions. I was running my ableton push off the sp3, before both got stolen, and it was my dream rig, but now with the new bitwig, and the on screen push of sorts, perhaps just the clipboard by itself would be a solid composition piece, if only for 3 hours? It’s a really tough call to me. Just wish they’d made a 14 inch surface pro like had been rumored… :/
        That said, they both look great! I’m hoping they get them in a store near me soon (la area) so I can get some hands on and make a better decision! Thanks again for all your great work robin.

  4. If you get your hands on this device. if someday you do. please let us know if the surface book or surface pro 4 the powerful plugins. thanks!

  5. I’m struggling. I want the Surface Book but all reasoning points me to the Surface Pro 4. For audio processing, I think it is about the same.

  6. you should of made a video telling us you were invited! I purchased the sp4 i5 8 gb
    Its a little corky right now so I am holding off a little installing my last ableton license. All downsides of the sp3 for audio production really seem to be addressed. Let us know

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