Surface Pro 3: The Mobile Office

Surface Pro 3: The Mobile Office

Your office, wherever you are

While I tend to think of a portable PC like Surface Pro 3 as something to use on the road, many users will of course use this device as their sole PC, whether they're at work or on the go. For such people, Surface Pro 3 should work very well, thanks to its thin and light form factor, PC compatibility, and OneNote integration.

To be clear, I'm not talking about docking the device to desktop accessories, which is useful but probably not an option for many users. But I did write a bit about that previously in Surface Pro 3: Desktop PC Replacement?, and there'll be more to say on that topic in the future, too.

In this article, I'd like to instead focus on using Surface Pro 3 as your only PC while at your desk and moving around the office at work. This isn't a scenario that comes naturally to me, since I typically work from home. But this week, I was able to see how the device performed in an office situation thanks to a business trip to my employer's home office in Fort Collins, Colorado. I've had a lot of opportunities to sit in on meetings, take notes, handle my normal work remotely, and even record podcasts. And it worked well for the most part.

Truth is, I do personally prefer using a desktop PC at home, though of course a Surface Pro 3 with a docking station and the usual assortment of accessories would of course be acceptable as well. I'd prefer the same if I were going into an office every day, too. But when I visit Fort Collins, I get to work in a way that is a bit foreign to me. And it's always instructive.

What I found was that Surface Pro 3 is pretty much ideal for someone who isn't particularly interested in plugging and unplugging an external display, keyboard, mouse and other accessories but instead prefers to just work directly on the same machine regardless of where they are. I did use the Diamond USB 3.0 hub with gigabit Ethernet that I keep mentioning while sitting at my desk, mostly so I could use the faster wired connection and my mouse (a Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse, which requires a USB dongle) at the same time. But for the most part, it was just the Surface Pro 3 with Type Cover, and of course the power plug, which I kept at the desk.

The nice thing about this set up is that you can simply snatch the Surface off the table when you need to head off to a meeting. The power cable disconnects easily, and you kind of naturally snap the Type Cover shut as you go. When you arrive, you could use the one-button access to OneNote to take notes, though I didn't really do that per se. That is, I tested it, but discovered that the "above the lock screen" version of OneNote mobile that you get isn't full-featured: You can't take notes with the keyboard or do other things until/unless you sign-in. It's designed solely for the pen input. Seems odd.

Of course, the power management issues I've been seeing during the pre-release period we're still in further hampered the immediate wake-up performance that would normally make Surface Pro 3 such a delight. I won't hold that against the device, since it should be fixed soon, but suffice to say that the problems I described in When Bad Things Happen to a Good Tablet really do take away from the experience. And this morning, that same bug hit, causing me to semi-frantically perform the POWER + VOLUME UP secret handshake while mumbling nervously. (It worked.)

If you were following my antics this week, you may know that I recorded two podcasts while on the road, and I was curious to see how that would go. For such recordings, the office has a few tiny rooms with desktop PCs, but I always bring in whatever machine I have and set up shop.

This time, I mounted Surface Pro 3 up on the desktop PC's body to get the camera at a reasonable height, and I disconnected the PC's keyboard and Ethernet cable so I could use them with my own device. I attached the USB 3.0 hub and maxed out the ports between the keyboard, mouse and USB headset. (See the photo at top.)


It seemed to work well enough, though the USB hub was a mess of cables.

After recording Windows Weekly on Wednesday, I noticed two things. One, as expected, the Surface Pro 3's fan was running steadily and noticeably, but not overly loudly. And two... I had forgotten to plug in the power cable. I'm not sure what this proves per se, but the show was about two hours long and the battery life was reported as 48 minutes (27 percent) remaining when I realized what had happened.

After What the Tech on Thursday, I noticed the fan again—it's hard to miss—but this time it was louder for some reason. (The device was plugged in correctly this time, but I'm not sure how/if that might have impacted things.)

In both cases, simply closing the Type Cover and carrying Surface Pro 3 away seemed to pretty much shut off the fan and it wasn't running when I resumed working from the desk. If it does fire up, it also settles down pretty quickly.

Overall, Surface Pro 3 is a great choice for the office worker. It's light and thin and easily carried around the office. It works well in a standalone configuration at a desk, and you can of course start adding accessories or dock the device if preferred. It's a great note-taker, though I'll never revert to pen for this purpose personally. And when Microsoft sorts out the power management stuff, it will presumably provide a seamless experience with instant-on performance. Should you need to take it on the road, you will of course have you actual PC with you, too, something many will prefer.

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