Pen and tablet fail: Surface Pro 4 frustration forces return to older Pro 3 model

Microsoft continues to provide updates to improve the Surface Pro 4, but if you want to use the Pen or enjoy tablet mode it may still be a frustrating experience.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

Last year I wrote about my Surface Pro 3 and thought it was the best computer I ever owned. Three months ago, Microsoft sent along a Surface Pro 4 for me to test as part of my Microsoft March madness experiment. I'm now convinced my Surface Pro 3 may be the more stable computer and switched back earlier today.

What's frustrating about the Surface Pro 4?

ZDNet's Ed Bott recently posted his full Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review and discussed many updates that Microsoft released over the past six months to make the Surface Pro 4 a better device than it was at launch. In my experiences, these updates have indeed improved the stability of apps, the WiFi connection, and the ability of the Surface Pro 4 to function as a primary PC connected to an external display.

Most of my frustration comes when trying to use the Surface Pro 4 as a mobile computer. I bought the fingerprint-enabled Type Cover back in October for my Surface Pro 3, but had to resort to using my first generation Type Cover because the Surface Pro 4 refuses to work with this fingerprint-enabled Type Cover and the other newest one without the fingerprint scanner. I tried removing and reconnecting it, updating drivers, and restoring the Surface Pro 4. Someone on Twitter recommended I disable and disconnect the Surface Pen and that seemed to work at times.

So without being able to now use the Pen, these Type Cover keyboards still only connected and performed as designed about 80 percent of the time. The only way for me to use the Pen as intended was to disconnect the keyboard in the settings, reconnect the Pen, and then use it. If I want to use the keyboard again, I have to go through the entire process in reverse in the settings. This is not the way to have a functional tablet and mobile computing experience.

I also wanted to start using the Pen more with the Surface Pro 4 so decided to just set aside the Type Cover and go with only Pen use when the Surface Pro 4 wasn't docked. That was great, except there is no longer an auto-rotation button in the Action Center and automatic rotation was not working at all. I searched all over online, including at the Microsoft site, and followed every recommendation to try to resolve the issue. I uninstalled the I2C HID device driver in the device manager, downloaded the MSI driver package from Microsoft, and all the other tips without success. I still cannot get any kind of auto-rotation to work on the Surface Pro 4 and this was the straw that broke the camel's back. I am not going to go into the display settings and manually rotate the display every time I rotate the device.

What's better on the Surface Pro 3?

When I bought the Surface Pro 3 it was running Windows 8.1. Even with the Windows 10 update installed the pen, keyboard, and rotation continue to work flawlessly.

Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book

In addition to a better tablet and pen experience, I personally prefer the Surface Pro 3 dock where you can simply rest the tablet into the frame piece and connect with a flawless experience. I purchased, and then returned, the newest Surface Dock, but the performance was flaky and required me to extend the hinge to prop up the Surface Pro 4.

There is supposed to be some kind of adapter piece to use this dock with the Surface Pro 4, but I still am unable to find where it can be purchased. I decided to set the Surface Pro 4 into the dock anyway and even though it isn't a perfect fit and you have to be careful to line things up, it works more reliably than the new Surface Dock.

The Surface Pro 4 is a good device and if you never use the Pen or tablet mode, then you may be perfectly satisfied with it. I want a Surface that lets me work on my commute, on my couch, on a plane, and on business trips away from a dock or external keyboard so I'm going back to the Surface Pro 3.

Update: As I mentioned above I tried individually reinstalling drivers and restoring from an earlier backup, without success. I decided to try a full hard reset back to factory condition and am pleased to report that the Surface Pro 4 has worked as intended over the last day. It now rotates orientation automatically, works with all the Type Covers, and works with the Pen. I'll continue to test it and hold out hope that future updates won't break it again.

If anyone has any unique advice on resolving these Surface Pro 4 issues, I'll give them a try, but I've researched online for hours and think I've tried everything to resolve the issues without success.

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