Microsoft has spent three years honing the Surface line from a bulky, awkward 2-in-1 to the sleek, capable machine that turned out to be the Surface Pro 3. Along the way it has validated the existence of the tablet-laptop hybrid as something that people actually want.
The next generation of Surface Pro, most likely called the Surface Pro 4, is set to be released later this year and rumours have been spinning about what it will include, how much it will cost and when it will become available. Here's the roundup.
The key rumours
It will be unveiled in October, and potentially available by November
The next Surface could use either Intel's Core M Broadwell CPU or the new Skylake chipset
It will have a similar design to the Surface Pro 3
There will be the same 4/8GB of RAM with a potential 16GB high-end option
The Surface will have the same 128GB, 256GB and 512GB storage options based on price
Pricing will be from £639 ($799) to £1,349 ($1,799).
Over the past week there have been various reports that the Surface Pro 4 will be unveiled at an October event held by Microsoft, possibly in New York. Microsoft has not made the details of this event official yet so it may not happen, but enough industry observers are sure that Microsoft is going to do something, and there is no smoke without fire.
The Surface Pro 3 was released in June 2014 and so the current model is over a year old and in need of a hardware refresh. Intel has just unveiled the new Skylake processors, too, meaning that an October launch would be perfect timing for including the new chipsets.
We still have no idea when you will be able to buy a Surface Pro 4, however. Traditionally, it has been a month or so between the announcement and general availability.
In terms of specs, the Surface Pro 3 features a myriad of different options from a relatively tame Intel Core i3 processor all the way up to the most powerful Intel Core i7. RAM clocks in at either 4GB or 8GB depending on how much a user is willing to pay for, and storage goes from 64GB to 512GB, again based on price.
The Surface Pro 4 will, most likely, best these specs and may even get rid of the 64GB storage option, just as Apple did with the MacBook Air line.
The biggest story with the Surface Pro 4 will be which kind of processor Microsoft opts for. Right now, it has two choices: Intel's Core M i5 or i7 processors or the brand new Skylake chipsets. DigiTimes reported that Microsoft had chosen to include the "same ultra-thin form factor, bezel size and large-size display as the predecessor model" as well as Skylake, the brand new architecture.
Adopting Skylake has its advantages. For one, the chipset is brand new and is used by few other computers, which means that Microsoft has bragging rights about how innovative the Surface Pro 4 is, a selling point amongst high-end users who want to replace their laptop with a 2-in-1. Additionally, Skylake has serious performance benefits over its older counterparts including the ability to handle 4K video output at 60 frames per second, a fact that would validate the Surface Pro 4 even further in terms of being a serious machine.
Contrastingly, a Chinese publication reported that the Surface Pro 4 will be fanless—just like Apple's latest MacBook—and will include Intel's Core M Broadwell processor, the predecessor to Skylake. It's worth noting that Apple's MacBook uses Intel's Core M chipset in order to become fanless and so Microsoft will have to pull off a far harder engineering feat with the more powerful, and thus hotter, Skylake chips.
RAM and storage
In terms of RAM, Microsoft will likely retain the same two-tiered system of offering 4GB on the cheaper models and 8GB on the higher-end models. This is very similar to Apple's strategy with the MacBook lines. There may, if Microsoft opts for a faster CPU architecture, be an option for 16GB of RAM on the very highest-end model but it won't be available to all models.
Storage, too, will likely remain the same. The lower-end Surface Pro 3 models feature 128GB while the higher-end models can have either 256GB or 512GB. Due to size constraints all hard drives will be Solid State (SSD) which also helps speed.
There have been rumours that Microsoft may include a new Surface Pen based around the technology the company acquired by purchasing N-Trig, an Israeli firm that worked on pressure-sensitive stylus technology. Many users see the Surface Pen as a big selling point of the Surface Pro line—backed up by regular advertising of the feature—and this can only further this advantage.
The design of the Surface Pro line has evolved subtly but thoroughly from the first iteration to the third and the consensus is that little will change besides it becoming slimmer and lighter.
There have been rumours that Microsoft is working on a 14-inch version (the current version is only 12-inches) to go toe-to-toe with Apple's rumoured iPad Pro.
In a blog post (via TechRadar), Brian Hall, the general manage for Microsoft's Surface line, states that accessories that work with the Surface Pro 3 will be compatible with "the next generation of the 'Pro' line of Surface". This would suggest that Microsoft is not planning on changing up the design much from the current generation and could throw cold water on the rumour that it plans to make a larger model.
Pricing and Availability
The Surface Pro 3 currently runs from £639 ($799) all the way up to £1,349 ($1,799) depending on the specifications of the device and the pricing will most likely be a similar story for the Surface Pro 4.
Microsoft sold the Surface Pro 3 from its own online stores and various retailers, such as John Lewis in the UK and Best Buy in the US, and the same is likely to be true for the Surface Pro 4.