My Summer with the Surface Pro 4

By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

I rarely do hardware or software reviews. Patrick Cauley, here at IT Babble, is much better at those. However, I did swap my Apple Macbook Retina for a Surface Pro 4 for the summer. After the use and abuse, I can make a firm recommendation for schools thinking about buying these in bulk: Don’t Do It.

I hate saying that. I actually love/d using this machine. It is flexible, and should be the answer to many issues found in the day-to-day life of teachers and students. The model I had, had 4 GB of memory, and 128 GB solid state drive. I also had the keyboard and pen.

Daily performance was great. I had adequate battery life. The speed was good. The pen was extremely useful for me during a two week course I completed. I added a trial of Acrobat Pro, and the combo was outstanding.

I traveled alot. The Surface is so light, you don’t even realise you have it. The hybrid format is awesome from reading portrait style on the Kindle App. In hotel rooms with “smart TVs”, the surface can wirelessly project itself and stream audio. In a classroom, this feature means no wires for doing presentations. Imagine an iPad that actually does something real without 10 apps working in concert.

The Surface used the thunderbolt display, the same as Apple, so my Apple accessories worked seamlessly.

I have an iPad, and I feel the Surface has the same touch responsiveness as the iPad.

So why cannot I not recommend it? After 8 weeks of daily use, the Surface broke. The screen cracked from the inside out. The damage was very strange, and the final cause was attributed to me laying a book on the back cover of the surface. Just a normal book, not a full sized Oxford dictionary. This was a standard item anyone would have on a desk, and possibly place on top of their laptop when packing-up their bag.

The front glass and frame are fairly durable. I know, I dropped it several times. The back, however, is literally a thin [EDIT]thin flexible material shell[EDIT] with nothing to absorb shock or weight. The pressure from the book, and possibly the two items being picked-up at the same time, cracked the screen.

In a school, laptops and devices need to be able to handle the wear and tear of life for at least three years, and unfortunately, I do not think the Surface Pro 4 can make the cut.

As a personal device, I would recommend it. I am tough on equipment due to my rugged life as a commuter in Shanghai. People with a normal transportation plan, and a life void of pushing and shoving, would probably keep a Surface healthy for many years.

EDIT: I used the word “plastic”, but the material is not plastic. However, it is flexible and lacking a decent buffer between the back and the screen.

2 thoughts on “My Summer with the Surface Pro 4”

  1. Are you serious? Don’t do it because you managed to somehow break yours? There is zero plastic on the back of the surface (it is magnesium) so im guessing you dropped your’s one too many times. Its far stronger than any iPad, and its not like any school would buy them without adding a cover.

    1. I am serious :). I made an edit, I should have looked-up the material. However, as a Surface and iPad owner, I am still 100% against buying large numbers (40 units and above) of the Surface for children to use at school. You can see here the back is more like a shield, but the void in between the back and screen allow for the backing to actually be pushed into the screen.

      I did already say I dropped the unit. But you are mistaken in thinking I did not diagnose the damage correctly. I see 100s of damaged items a year. I work at a very large school with a variety of equipment. We are testing the Surface for use in some niche areas such as robotics and in the auditoriums.

      I have a supplier with repair technicians who work on iPads, various laptops, Apple products, etc. They demonstrated to me how the rear pressure caused this particular damage. Normally it is easy to see where impact damage originates. The damage was very weird.

      You need to understand that students ages 10-18, can be very hard on equipment. The purchasing schedule assumes we do not need a budget to replace items for at least three years. This means when vetting equipment we have to be tough on equipment. We do need to drop it. We need to put in a backpack and take it on a trip. We need to simulate the life of a piece of tech to know the risk and determine the age group who will have access.

      Currently, I am managing 300+ iPads. Only about 20 units a year need immediate repair from student damage. Another 20 units sustain damage that is mostly cosmetic, and can be fixed in the summers. This number has been constant since the iPad 2, the durability is very predictable.

      Teachers are also very rough on gear. The most common three types of teacher damage are:
      1. Dropping a laptop out of a bag on the way to work (3-5 times a year)
      2. Spilling liquids (5-10 times a year)
      3. Students knocking equipment off a desk (3-5 times a year)

      (Per Campus)

      I like the hybrid concept, but if I thought the purchase would be justified, I would go with Lenovo.

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