July 1, 2022

Surface Pro 4 vs. Surface Book: Choose Portability over Lapability




Since I am writing for this blog site, people would come to me and ask what I think about the new Surface Book and Surface Pro 4, specifically which one to buy. My first advice is don’t read too much into reviews.

In real life, a CPU performance improvement of 10% is barely noticeable to anyone unless you test it on special software or hardware. We IT professionals, office workers, software developers, field workers, bankers, brokers, artists, designers, engineers, social workers, high school students care about real life performance, not those numbers on paper. Technology reviewers care about specs, bench marks, color accuracy, pixel density, and so on. They will draw charts to show you how much greater a Skylake i5 CPU is to a Broadwell i5 CPU. That might make sense to people who understand those numbers, but to most people, real life experience is more relevant. For example, today’s CPUs are far beyond what a regular user need, the performance bottle has turned to something else, like SSD vs. HDD.

Back to Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book, I have never had a hand on either of them yet. However, I am a owner of Surface 3 and Pro 3, watched enough videos of Surface Book, and spent enough time research its specs and so forth. I am now pretty confident to make a preliminary statement about those two.

Buy Surface Pro 4 instead of Surface Book. The reason is the former is lighter, light enough to make a difference.

Saying that, I know many of you don’t agree: wait, different people have different needs. I know, but I speak for the 99% of the percent of computer users, which I think is good enough. There are people who would find Surface Book suits them better, but that’s a small group of people.

Speaking of the Surface, many reviewer put their focuses on lapability. They want to see how comfortable it is to use a Surface on the laps. That kind of nonsense goes on and on. Lets now put that discussion to a rest: I have had three laptops during a 10 year period, I only had a chance to put them on my laps when I had to commute on the train in about 4 years. After that, I have never had my laptops on my laps for even once. I never find a need. I say that only because my experience is representative to vast majority of computer users. If you commute on the train or you are a technology journalist who attends technology briefings that have no desks, you will use computers on the lap for sure. Wait, I know why those reviewers talk about lapability that much, because that’s important to them, maybe important to their readers too, but makes little sense to most computer users.

Ask yourself this question: in the last 3~5 years, have you ever use your laptop actually on your laps? If the answer is no, you shouldn’t care about lapability. A laptop is called lap-top doesn’t mean it has to be used on laps. Even though you need to use it on the laps, the Surface Pro 4 is good enough on laps for a short time.

Every time I saw technology writers talking about lapability, I want to tell to shut up. They are talking about their own needs, not most people’s.

With lapability out of way, we can talk about Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book. The main problem with Surface Book is its weight. It weighs 3.4 lbs, while SP4 + Type cover weighs 2.4 lbs. That’s a huge difference. A Surface Pro 4 is very portable: compact and light. The Surface Book is still in heavy category. Some would argue, you are comparing different things. I don’t care. All I care is I need a computer I can put on my desk and do my work, carry it from room to room in my house, or carry from home to work, or anywhere, regardless what category they belong.

One problem with Surface Pro 4 is screen size. 12″ is not enough for day to day work. Surface Book gets 13.5″, better but still not good. For long term productivity use, screen size has to be over 17″, there is no way around. My setup at home is Surface Pro 3 + 21″ monitor. In my opinion, this is a perfect setup, you need a second screen anyway. Once you are used to second screen, you will find out use one screen is unworkable. Surface Book’s 13.5″ screen is good enough for a short time use, but if you use it for hours, I still suggest you get an external monitor. To put things together, Surface Pro 4 is almost even to Surface Book regarding screen sizes.

Last thing, you will find out Surface Book is considerably more expensive.

However, if they make the Surface Book weighs 2.5 lbs, I would buy it over anything, but it is not going to happen in a couple years.

For the time being, Surface Pro 4 is the champion in the world of personal computing, the only thing that is comparable to it is Surface Pro 3.


  • Matthew Langley

    I’m sorry but this is a bit ridiculous. You talk about getting upset about reviewers who comment on things typical users don’t care about, then you dismiss the screen size differences based on “long term productivity use.” I also think capability is more important to a typical user than an enthusiasts. Tablets had a surge of popularity since they are so easy to use while you are sitting on a couch or in a chair, maybe watching tv, hanging out with your family etc. In that case lapability is extremely important for the average user.

    • Sean Leith

      Matthew, I have rewrote the part that criticizes reviewers. Not that I think my logic was wrong, but it is not a good idea to make people feel: what the heck! you think you are right and everybody else is wrong. Not my intention any ways. Also, the lapability I am saying here only limits to the two products, not in general.

  • Adam

    I think you maybe meant Broadwell and not Broadview?

    • Sean Leith

      Right. Thanks, corrected