Normally I don't write an article about a new device, but a lot of people have asked me how the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is holding up as a professional tablet and a potential laptop replacer. Will it fit my needs?
I bought the Surface Pro 3 two weeks ago in the Microsoft Store. My model is an i5, 256 GB SSD and 8Gb or RAM. Quite impressive figures if you look at the fact these are actually crammed into a tablet. This is indeed the most solid model according to the Microsoft Store Sales rep who pointed out that this is: "the ideal mix between performance and cost" So, I set out to see if this would fit my needs and I wanted to share my experiences, in the event you have similar requirements as I do.
In the beginning…
At the beginning of this year I bought myself a Dell Precision M4800 laptop to replace my Dell Latitude E6510. It had served me well for over 3 years. It came with an i7, dual SSD and 32 GB ram to serve as both my laptop for day-to-day use and a replacement for my lab servers at home.
Unfortunately, this came with a price. I’m not talking dollars or euros here, but more in terms of mobility. The laptop itself weighs a little over 3kg and that’s not even taking into account the clunky, brick-like power adapter, which is approximately 4kg on its own.
Now, as I visited more and more customer sites for meetings and get-togethers, the weight started to become bothersome. So to solve this issue I bought the Surface Pro 3. I store all my files on OneDrive anyway, so I really sought to eliminate much of the weight burden.
When I first unpacked the Surface I was actually stunned by the resolution of the screen. The resolution of the screen is just awesome and the backlight and quality makes it possible to work on this device a full work day without headache. The "any-position" kickstand allows any viewing angle, making it more than sufficient to work together with other people on the same screen.
The fact that you can change the viewing angle without limitation with the kickstand is helping a lot to avoid reflection when working at different client offices and surroundings.
The device itself is behaving as a standard laptop actually. It does the trick and it does the trick well!
I want to be very clear about this. The battery life will get me almost through my entire day. To me, this is amazing. My Surface is used approximately 8 hours a day for mailing, web browsing, and spreadsheet and word processing. That's my normal day-to-day business stuff, so the Surface Pro 3 works a treat. Just the normal day-to-day business stuff actually.
My big issue here is the power adapter. Why couldn't Microsoft follow standards and just use Micro USB? I appreciate the magnetic connection, but this means I still have to carry multiple adapters.
Because I needed the AZERTY layout (yep we Belgians have another funky keyboard layout) I ordered it online at the Microsoft store in Belgium. Good service as usual because 2 days later the typecover was delivered. Great! Awaiting arrival, I used the Microsoft Wedge Keyboard.
This did the job perfectly but I still wanted to have a keyboard/cover all in one to also protect my screen. The first thing I noticed was in fact the weight of the typecover. It was heavier than I expected and it added noticeable weight to the overall Surface package. Still, it's a lot less than my previous setup. The typecover is doing its job perfectly. It types like a normal keyboard and it’s fast and responsive. The only thing I’ve noticed right away is in fact that some keys are missing on the typecover. I’m not talking about the more exotic FN keys or something but the Prnt-screen key! I spend a minute searching for it and after consulting the internet I found out I’m not crazy (yet). It doesn’t come on the typecover. Which is quite a shame actually because I’m using the prnt-screen a lot for creating my articles and blogposts. I managed to solve the issue by defining a new hot key in SnagIt but still. The volume up and down keys are also missing on the typecover. In my opinion they could have been added by FN+up and FN+down but hey that’s life. The most annoying thing I found after 2 weeks of working with the typecover is in fact the Enter key. I’m used to working on a full laptop keyboard so the enter key is quite large. On the typecover it’s crammed up all the way to the side and is rather small. So a lot of times I get the $ or µ sign instead of an enter key. Probably something to get used to, but still, if it were a just a little bit bigger I would have been even happier with the typecover.
The typecover does the job perfectly and snaps on the bottom of the device. If the surface is used as a tablet, the keys at the back are in fact completely disabled so no accidental key strokes. This is a good design.
The type cover also comes with a touchpad which is quite sensitive and does the job if you have no room to pack an external mouse. I, however, use the Bluetooth Logitech t630. Just a small mouse to complete the setup as shown on the picture below.
This mouse is all about mobility, so it’s light but also rather small. For a full day at the office I propose to use a larger mouse but for getting the job done while on the road this is just perfect. It comes with a rechargeable battery, that connects through a micro USB and battery life is quite long. The upper half of the mouse is also a touchpad so you can easily scroll through your apps, bring up the desktop and other cool features. It slips right in your pocket so no need to carry any extra cases whatsoever. Because it’s using Bluetooth technology no additional dongle is needed to be installed, so the one USB slot stays free to use while you have the full setup at your desk.
So, now, how well does my setup work out "in the field"? When I started in IT people who were working outside the office with computers were mockingly called "mobile warriors". It should have been a cool thing but I personally saw most of them struggle with the different devices they had to drag around. A laptop, clunky power adapter, mouse (nope not the wireless ones) etc… Those days are changed but still the people who work outside of the office want a device that will fit their needs and get the job done in a very efficient way.
After the laptop, Ultrabooks came along. Some went as far as to say that the smartphone would to take over laptop market share but the need for a bigger screen made sure this never happened. So the smartphone screen sizes are still increasing but people want to have a tablet to get the job done. My first attempt was not a real a success, with the Lenovo tablet 2 being an underperforming device. So I still doubted that owning a Surface would make a big difference. I held off on the first 2 Surface versions, primarily because I loved the battery life, but also because I wanted to run a full version of Windows and not have to give up on long computing times.
Small points of annoyance
I’m now 2 weeks in in the Surface 3 Pro experience and I must say I’m pretty pleased with the device. The laptop is now in the docking station which I can fire up from remote when I need access to my lab. The Surface has now become my day to day device and front end weapon in the mobile battle. Along the way though I noticed some small design annoyances. Not big things, but still some things I think could have been already addressed in the 3rd lifecycle of the Surface devices.
The first thing is the pen holder:
A small sticky pad which adds a loop to the side of the typecover or the surface itself. It’s not sturdy and in fact I just choose not to use it. Microsoft could have (should have) designed a pen holder in the tablet itself. This would almost eliminate the "oh, I forgot my pen" and even "oh, I lost my pen" situations. This pen is quite expensive going for 50€ in the Microsoft store. I ended up buying a tablet sleeve and placing all my travel items, including the pen, in there.
The second thing I noticed is that there's only 1 USB slot. Sure, you can use a USB hub, but if you have a mouse with a dongle connected there’s no way you can use it simultaneously with a USB key. In addition, the USB port is too high on the frame, if you ask me. If you use a device that has an attached cable, or dongle, it just sort of hangs off the side.
The third thing I noticed was the lack of a lock hole. This was particularly clear to me when one day I left for lunch and realized I had no way to secure the device to the desk. I normally carry a Kensington lock with me to secure my laptop. The Surface is considered a mobile device – something that can easily be carried off by anyone.
Conclusion for now
I know I can be a very critical consumer of electronics sometimes because these are in fact my tools to get the job done. A craftsman will also use high quality tools to get his job done so I see my laptop / tablet as my tools to do my magic. They may not fail nor bother me when I’m using them. I must say that the Lenovo tablet 2 bothered me more than it was beneficial. That’s why it got a one way trip to my closet. I was afraid at first that the Surface tablet would probably get the same treatment after a while, but I must say that it has me completely stunned. Just 2 weeks into using this tablet I've found that it is perfect for what I’m using it for and even more. The battery life is more than sufficient to work through the day (face it: how long will you really be separated from a power outlet to charge your device?). The weight is more than acceptable if you look at what the Surface is packing under the hood. Small annoyances aside, it did not let me down once during those 2 weeks and is still going strong as my main device.
So did Microsoft did a good job with this tablet? Absolutely. Despite a few annoyances, it’s a good looking, well thought through device that allows me to get the job done anytime, anywhere.
- Quick boot time
- Screen size is brilliant
- Writing with the pen is awesome
- Battery life is more than sufficient
- Just add more storage with a micro SD card
- Portable and still packing enough power to do the job
- Typecover really is a keyboard replacer
- Enter key on the type cover could be bigger
- No "Kensington" secure hole to install a security lock
- Just 1 USB port
- Type Cover adds significant weight to the tablet
- Would be nice to store the pen IN the tablet itself instead of the sticker thing on the side.
- Why not a Micro USB power adapter?