First Few Weeks with Microsoft Surface Pro 3

6 Jul

I have been using my same home computer more or less for over four years.  It is an HP system that I have upgraded the video card, case, and hard drive on over the years but it still dutifully plays every game that I throw at it.  I also got an iPad two years ago which helped offload some computer time however true to how the iPad has been derogatorily marketed it is just a consumption device.  I had been eyeing the Surface line of computers for some time and with the announcement of the Surface Pro 3 I was immediately online the night it was available to pre-order.

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I got the i5 256 Gb model Surface Pro 3 as what I am looking to do with it is surf the web, do my social media updates, and perhaps most crucially play games like Diablo 3 while on the road for work.  I also got frustrated with all things Google, most recently the changes they made to Google Drive (now Google Sheets?).

The unit arrived right on time on June 20th along with the newest Type Cover keyboard/cover.  I have never used a Surface unit before so all the changes brought about to this model are alien to me — I can only talk about using this device (which I’m doing this blog update from).

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The positives:

  • The screen.  First and foremost this screen is absolutely beautiful.  It is significantly better than my iPad with Retina Display.  The color and density of pixels are a thing to behold.  The fact that screen is also a touch screen is quite impressive.  I have to say that I use this unit 50% of the time as a laptop and 50% of the time as a tablet.  The Windows 8.1 UI makes a lot of sense as a tablet.  The problem is I think I’m in the rare minority of people who use a Windows device like a tablet.
  • The horsepower.  The computer has enough RAM, hard drive space, and a sufficiently good video display that I can play games on here.  Granted they are not at a crazy resolution but for the battery life and the form factor the fact that it works at all would be unthinkable just a few years ago.
  • The build quality.  iPad raised expectations all around the PC industry and I think the Surface is a direct response.  Microsoft has achieved success here in a major way.  The unit is solid and feels very well built in your hands.  It is very balanced despite all the hardware inside.  Of course the compromise here is the amount of space allocated to the battery (see below).

The neutrals:

  • The keyboard / Type Cover.  It is not as good as a dedicated keyboard on a laptop.  It is really good for what it is — a screen cover.  I find that I use the keyboard in a mode where it is flat against the table and not the slightly angled mode that it is capable of.  That said when the unit is on my lap the slightly angled mode actually makes more sense as it seems a bit more firm than when it is only connected at the base.  The touch pad on the Type Cover is probably the most frustrating aspect of the unit — it sometimes gets bumped when typing and once I had to reboot the unit as it wasn’t responding to “clicks”.
  • The battery life.  When I first got the unit I had the brightness cranked while playing Diablo 3 while I downloaded Battlefield 4 in the background.  This is a pretty harsh use case and I got about 2.5 hours out of the unit before it started warning me about battery life.  On one hand that is pretty good for all that I was throwing at it but on the other it is a lot less than I would get under any circumstances with an iPad.  Fair comparison?  Not really … but my expectations were elevated by the iPad.

The disappointments:

  • The fact that the Type Cover is sold separately is kind of silly – I wonder what percentage of Surface users across all models do not have a cover?  Why make them separate?  I guess because they come in different colors and styles … it’s just so necessary.
  • The Microsoft Store really needs to up its game.  The unit went on sale but the external power supplies were not even on line (with a “coming soon” option) until two weeks after I had the unit.  The docking station won’t be available until August.  This is less a comment on the unit itself and more frustration at how a company as big as Microsoft can stumble a bit at the launch of such a good product.
  • Lack of integrated LTE.  A computer without network access is basically useless in this day and age.  That a unit as portable as this is not even offered with built in connectivity in 2014 seems like a lack of foresight.  I’m sure it erodes battery life and increases up front cost — but people buying a Surface are not “value shoppers” in the first place — this is a premium product with the price to match.

I’ve gotten a subscription to Office 365 and Adobe Creative Cloud with the unit as I expect to use them a lot more.  The fact that I now have a solid version of OneNote and 1 Tb of online storage means that I am likely saying goodbye to Evernote and Mozy — saving me a few hundred dollars a year that I had not really planned on.

For people like me who are PC users at heart (and not a Mac convert nor a Mac native), this is a great device.  I’ve retired my iPad completely since its arrival and I expect that my usage will continue to go up over time.  If you don’t mind paying more for a very well built piece of hardware and work on the PC platform — this is the device for you.