The Surface Pro 4 is one of the more powerful mobile devices on the market today. With the top model running the latest gen Intel Core i7 chipset with 16GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive, one might jump to the conclusion that battery life might be horrid, join us as we take a look and identify a few ways to extend your time between charges.
First things first, Microsoft claims that your new Surface Pro 4 will offer up as much as 9 hours of screen on time for basic video playback. Not bad. However, admitting that we’ve not tested just video playback, our average real world use battery life is in the 4 and a half, sometimes 5 hours of screen-on time range. Half the claims.
We all know that reported battery life and actual battery life depends greatly on the apps and services that you have running, not to mention things like display brightness, network connectivity state and much more. It is our experience thus far that display brightness is possibly the greatest factor in your battery life with the Surface Pro 4.
Bringing brightness back down to a comfortable daytime office brightness of about 75 percent, I used the tablet to write this very article. My normal workflow has about a dozen tabs open across four browser windows (two browsers,) I’m connected via HDMI to an external monitor, the Surface Type Cover is connected and illuminated, but back-lit USB keyboard is in use, I’ve got a USB adapter driven wireless mouse, a self powered USB HDD connected and USB DAC pushes music out to my headphones. (Picture above is not my current setup, but not far off.)
I really should be using the Surface Dock under these conditions, but I wanted to stress test the tablet to see how well it stood up under fairly normal PC circumstances.
Now that I’ve explained all of the various peripherals I have connected to this poor Surface Pro 4, you should be pleased to know that I am seeing battery drain eating up that first 25 percent in 1 hour and 10 minutes. Bringing things down to that 6 percent warning in 3 hours and 44 minutes.
Bottom line, your Surface Pro 4 should net you somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 and a half to 4 hours of screen-on time with peripherals attached, add an hour if you are just running the tablet. Then, when you plug back in, we are seeing about 2 hours to fill back up.
How to improve battery life
Before I dive in here folks, let’s be fair, I’m not about to blow your mind, most of the following ideas are the same as you’ve practiced and read about most other tablets and laptops. That said, let’s do it.
Remember earlier how I told you about all the USB peripherals that I have attached? Yeah, that’s not good for your battery life. Each attached USB device is drawing ever just a little bit of juice from your Surface Pro 4, so if you do not need it, disconnect it.
If you can’t disconnect it, can you manage it’s power consumption? The Surface Type Cover, for example, is a back-lit keyboard, turning off that illumination goes a long way to save you some power. Take a look at your gear, you might be surprised at all the little things that are stealing screen-on time from your tablet.
There are two main things that you can do with your display to save some battery, first, turn down the brightness as much and often as you can. Second, turn off the display when not in use. Obviously, we’re saying stop using your tablet to save battery, that’s just how it goes.
To change display brightness, you can tap on the notification icon in your system tray, then simply tap on the brightness tile, it will toggle through some nonsensical terms that coincide with 25 percent increments. I’m kidding, but Darkest matches 0 percent on the brightness slider, Darker is at 25 percent, Recommended is 50 percent, Brighter and Brightest are 75 percent and 100 percent, respectively.
Tap on the battery icon in your system tray, then select Power & sleep settings to access some basic screen, power and connectivity settings. Decide on timings to turn off the display when on battery power and when plugged in, then decide when to turn off the device entirely on battery and when plugged in as well.
Obviously, the easiest thing to do here is close out apps when you are done using them. Windows 10 will handle RAM appropriately, removing apps from RAM as needed, but you can do more. Close apps and close browser tabs, but did you realize you can do more?
Let’s look at our company communications program, Slack, as an example. I leave it up and running at all times, as a browser tab it idles at 0 CPU utilization when there is just text on the screen, however, if there is an image displaying in the stream, usually after a bit of Giphy nonsense, the tab jumps to at lease 12% CPU utilization. By ensuring that I jump into a channel that does not have an animation running, I can improve battery life by an estimated 30 minutes per charge, that’s huge.
This sounds like basic stuff when you read it, I just find that Android and iOS handle this stuff for us, so I forget about it on my Windows powered devices sometimes.
After the display and apps, one of the larger power eaters is your network connectivity. This section will read like you would see on a phone or tablet battery saving list. If you are not actively using the internet, consider turning off your WiFi. if you are not connected to a Bluetooth keyboard, mouse or speakers, no point having it turned on either.
Again, you will have to consider your workflow and needs, turning things off may not be feasible for you. No worries, modern radios and antennae consume far less power than they used to, so your power savings may have been negligible anyway. The fact remains, however, you will consume less juice with these services turned off.
If you’ve used a Windows laptop in the last few years you may have noticed the available Power plans in the power settings. Several plans are available, High performance is nice when you are plugged in, but Balanced is the recommended option. These plans have editable settings for all the things from display timeout, sleep timers, hard drive sleep timing, network wake-up and much more.
If you do not care to take the time to manually configure your device settings, these default Power plans should cover most of the important stuff.
Battery saver mode
Let’s round out this list with a tool provided in the OS itself, Windows 10 includes a Batter saver option. Look for the button in the notification panel, or click on the battery icon in your system tray, the button will be right there.
Battery saver mode dims your display, manages your connectivity settings, throttles your processor and more. You need not bother with setting it up, the default will eek the most out of your device that it can, provided you do not go trying to play a game or something fun like that.
I think that is a decent list to get you started. There is no doubt you can really go crazy taking measures to improve battery life on your Surface Pro 4, but I don’t imagine the average user wants to get into lo level hardware controls for management of the CPU, RAM and more. Truth is, there are a few things here that are good to keep in mind, but for the most part, ‘don’t use it and it won’t die’ is the name of the game.
Me, I say bring a larger bag and carry the power adapter when you head out the door, nothing extends the screen-on time of your tablet like plugging it in. You have a powerful tablet in front of you, plug it in, if needed, and enjoy it to its fullest. For those that can’t hug a wall outlet, I do hope some of the above helps you get through the day.
Does your Surface Pro 4 get you through your day? Any nifty power saving tips to share?