I have now been using the Microsoft Surface Pro tablet device for almost 3 months and wanted to share my thoughts. I have so many thoughts that it may be hard to organize them all, but I certainly will try!
Maybe I shouldn't start out a blog post with this and is better saved for the end, but my general opinion of the device is that it is very much a version 1 product and a device of compromises. Believe it or not, I do like the device quite a bit, but do find it hard to recommend to most people... but I'm sure I'll unpack many of the details that fold in to that opinion as we go along.
It's a nice high resolution screen. It is 1920x1080. This is the same resolution as my 15" laptop and 23" desktop monitor. I'm a bit of a resolution snob, love this resolution, and typically want all my screens to run at this resolution, but for the Windows desktop, it's not quite ideal.
- For the "Start Screen" apps, the screen is very nice
- The default settings have font scaling at 150%. For a lot of Windows desktop applications this is acceptable; however, not all applications respect this setting and there can be some oddities in how things look due to this scaling.
- For Remote Desktop Connection, it's a bit painful. Since the remote computer doesn't respect scaling, things are TINY.
- I believe some of these issues may be resolved by Windows 8.1 that should be coming later this year.
You may know there are two keyboard options that "click in," the Touch Cover and the Type Cover.
- Neither keyboard is an iPad "Smart Cover" that closes by magnets. This is too bad, as you kind of expect it to stay closed and then automatically turn on/off the device. Even though I expect this, it has not been a huge deal.
- Touch Cover (right) - available in a variety of colors and is very thin and light. It's a flat surface and it's surprising that it is better than using an on-screen keyboard, but it doesn't compare to an actual keyboard.
- Type Cover (left) - as you can see it's about twice as thick and maybe twice the weight. It has physical keys and for as small as it is, it's pretty good and I can type pretty well on it. Not quite a full laptop keyboard, but it is the keyboard I have been using exclusively on my device. It may not stay closed quite as well as the touch cover.
- They do connect/disconnect easily. The connection is sturdy.
- Both covers feature a trackpad. It's probably the worst trackpad you've ever used, but it's nice that you have this option. Often I find myself just touching the screen - which is actually nice. I do use the trackpad, but its far from perfect... It is small, and it doesn't seem to handle 2 fingers on it very well and of course doesn't support multi-finger gestures.
One of the well advertised features is the stand. This is an innovative feature as most tablets do not have such a thing. It works well if you're at the right height (Sitting at an average table on an appropriate chair); however, since it's not adjustable it can make using it in other situations quite difficult. I've tried to use it as a laptop on the floor and it's just awkward.
- USB - Since this device is trying to be a laptop replacement in addition to a tablet it should have more than 1 USB port. It's great that it has USB 3.0, but 2 ports would be nice. (Note: It does have a charge-only USB port on the power supply)
- Battery Life - Since this was based on the current (third) generation Intel Core i5 processor and not the upcoming "Haswell" (or the lower performing "Clovertrail" Atom) processors, it's battery life is between 4-5 hours. This is pretty typical for laptops, however underwhelming for a tablet.
- External Displays - It has a mini-DisplayPort and I've used HDMI and VGA adapters to connect it to other displays. This works as expected. (Of course on larger displays the Font Scaling seems a bit big) I have not tried it with multiple external displays using a USB 3.0 docking solution. I have one, and may try this in the future.
I find that when I'm using it as a tablet, therefore using "Start screen apps," I typically find it inconvenient to have the keyboard connected so I rip it off. With it connected you don't get an on-screen keyboard and the device is harder to hold. Even if I'm setting it on a tablet with the stand, I like it without the keyboard. If I am in the Desktop, I really want the keyboard attached.
I have tried to make this the only laptop I use and really like the idea of carrying only 1 device. This is nice to grab anytime I leave the house for the times when I might need a computer, or to use when at a restaurant. However, the screen is too small to use for a majority of a work day. When I was working on a big project and was not in my office, I tried to work from the Surface for a full day. After 4 hours, I had to give in and get my larger laptop out.
I, personally, have no issues with Windows 8 and I think it especially makes sense on this type of device. I do use Widows 8 on a desktop, and have to say I use it differently there then I do on the Surface. There is a learning curve to figure out how to do some basic things, but Microsoft recently released a nice brochure to assist with this. Once you get past that, you realize the desktop is pretty much the same as it has been for a few years, and the Start Screen is an all new thing that is pretty simple to use.
Since this is a real computer and I get the "start screen apps" and real windows applications, the possibilities are endless. I have heard complaints about the built in email and calendar apps, but for my purposes, they work fine. Yes, they are not as full-featured or powerful as a full client such as Outlook (which I also use on the device), but when I'm in a tablet/phone type interface, I want something a little simpler. It seems like they keep improving it and so I wouldn't discount it. I can read email and see my calendar. That's what it's supposed to do. Also, I like the "People Hub" where I can read Facebook and Twitter at once. There are other apps (News, weather, etc) that are quite nice as well.
Unlike the Surface with Windows RT, which is bundled with a version of Microsoft Office, the Surface Pro does not come with any version of Office. As I mentioned above I do use Outlook in addition to the built-in mail app. Even though you may have an older version of Microsoft Office around, I'd recommend Office 2013 as there are some improvements for touch screen devices.
I like to think of this device as almost 2 devices in one - it is a tablet (Start Screen) AND a notebook (Desktop) computer. For a tablet, the screen is a little large and the device is a little heavy, and for a notebook/laptop, the screen is a little small (the weight is nice for a laptop), but it is nice having a portable device that can be a computer in a pinch. I guess I'd call it a really nice companion device... although it's probably a bit expensive to be classified as a companion device.
I know I just said I can't work from this device for a full day, but I'm about to leave on a business trip for a week and I do plan to travel with this as my main/only computer. Hopefully I won't have to do too much "real" work and just will be taking notes and looking up information on the internet as well as reading the occasional email. I think the biggest issue will be battery life, but I know I'll find a place to plug in to remedy that. (BTW, I fully expect if they release a "Surface Pro 2" the battery life issue will be solved as it will be based on the newer chips that are more power efficient)