Review

Microsoft Surface Pro(s)…and Cons

Surface Pro

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Well, here it is. On Feb. 9th, Microsoft unleashed the Surface RT’s younger, fatter, heavier and faster brother for public consumption: The Surface Pro. I managed to snag one on release day because I’m kind of a crazy person when it comes to the gadgets that speak to my heart. When Microsoft announced the coming of the Surface Pro, it was a love connection. Now that I’ve had this device for a few weeks, I thought the time was right to jot down a few thoughts and share my feelings in regards to this device.

First Impressions
Pictures did not do it much justice. I couldn’t begin to appreciate the size difference between the RT and the Pro from the pictures posted by various bloggers during CES and early reviews. The Pro is definitely thicker. Before knocking it for being fatter (or thicker or whatever), keep in mind that the Surface Pro is NOT a tablet. Nor is it a laptop. It’s something else completely. I suppose you can call it a convertible but how many convertibles out there can boast full HD display, a pressure sensitive digitizer screen and pen, and a full blown mobile Core i5 processor? This is a true convergence device. It takes qualities from both laptop and tablet worlds and melds them together into an extremely difficult to classify mobile device.

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Pros
This device is fast. Cold boot from off to log in is about eight seconds. The device also has a full BIOS which would, if a user chooses to do so, allow a person to install other operating systems on it. The Surface Pro also has a full installation of Windows 8 which means you can install apps from the Microsoft app store or install legacy applications like Steam or MS Office 2007. The RT could only support apps from the mobile store and that was it. The desktop mode was there only to run the trial version of Office 2013 (weird, I know).

The display is gorgeous. 1080 is nice and the colors seem okay out of the box. The scaling of objects in Windows is set to 150% by default to address the 1080 display squeezed into a 10.1” form factor.

The Surface Pro comes equipped with a range of I/O options. First, there is a micro SD card slot for additional storage. A Mini DisplayPort port can be found on the device as well. With dongles, VGA, DVI and HDMI displays can be connected to the Pro at resolutions up to 2560×1440 on the external display. That is pretty darn impressive! Last but not least, the Pro comes with a single USB 3.0 port. It’s a full sized port. You can connect anything USB into it for…whatever.

I have to put this down as a “pro.” The weight of the device which comes in at around 2” is really not bad at all. Most folks out there complained about the weight when trying to hold it like a true tablet – and I can definitely sympathize but as I’ve stated earlier, one cannot judge this machine on being just a tablet.

I love the digitizer. Yes, it’s not a Cintiq but dammit for the common doodlers and inkers like me, this device is great! I use OneNote quite simply, almost every day. I also use ArtRage and Sketchbook Pro during my commute regularly. The pressure sensitivity isn’t as great as my old standby Intuos 3 but it gets the job done. Inking in OneNote is great. Although I do not have the best handwriting in the world, the program actually successfully detected what I wrote. I was able to search for my handwritten note as well.

CONS
Well, here we go. I’m sure you’ve all heard about the hard drive space issue already. Pretty much everyone in the supposed “blogosphere” reported this shortcoming. Let’s clear something up here. I own a Samsung Series 9 Ultrabook. It has the same processor and a same sized HDD at 128GB. I had a little less than 95GB of usable space when I performed a clean installation of Win8 and drivers. Do you know how much I had when I deleted the recovery partition? 98GB. That’s not bad. It’s actually better than the amount I had to start with on the late 2011 Macbook Air.

Why all the hubbub?

Well, taking the 64GB version of the Surface Pro into account, I can see how free HDD space can sway so many reviewers out there. With the 64GB version, more space management comes into play and after installing a few large programs, users end up with relatively little usable space. While I can sympathize with the reviews, I have to say that the negatives are hugely overblown. Remember that on all PCs usable space is always first taken by the operating system and any crapware that the manufacturer may include. That’s the same case with the Pro except you’re only dealing with Windows 8 without all the fluff you’d see from HP, Dell Acer or Samsung. I know it’s not much consolation especially if you enjoy large program installations but using the micro SD to store additional files definitely helps. In addition, don’t forget to use Skydrive or any other cloud services out there!

While the display is lovely in its glorious HD resolution, I have run into some issues. With the scaling cranked up to 150%. I noticed that some programs look fuzzy. It’s hard to describe but unless I turn down the scaling to around 130%, some applications run with a weird hazy fuzzy look to them. However, when full screen gaming, I’m happy to report that they looked just fine but the text in some applications were a bit too small to read comfortably.

Although I love the digitizer pen integration, I noticed a few things that really annoyed the hell out of me. The accuracy for the most part is spot on. However, when you approach the edges of the screen, you will run into tracking issues. The cursor speeds up and for some reasons jitters a little causing your handwriting to look shaky. When jotting down notes furiously, this can really throw you off. I don’t always have time to adjust the placement of the window I’m writing on so some of my notes at the beginning of the lines look really off. This apparently has something to do with digitizer panels in general. After looking this up in various forums, this is apparently the norm.

In addition to the edge woes, please keep in mind that fans of Photoshop would do well to keep tabs on THIS particular issue: Photoshop does NOT support pressure detection on the Surface Pro. After a small finger pointing war on Twitter and Adobe’s support forums, both parties acknowledged that this issue is being worked on. I’m not going to take sides but if Microsoft wants to expand its user base, both parties better get it together quickly (link for info).

I also noticed that during regular use, the Pro does get warm. It’ll actually always be warm. There are two little fans inside the Pro to keep the i5 CPU cool when it’s under heavier load but look out when you’re using the Pro AND charging it at the same time. The thing gets hot. It doesn’t get hot enough to cook eggs but I wouldn’t recommend holding it – especially near the charger port for more than a minute or two because you will NOT be comfortable.

I hate to do this but I’m going to have to put the battery life into the CONS zone. Of course, feel free to read this portion while spoon feeding yourself a healthy dose of salt. The battery life can vary greatly when you use the Pro. If all you do is browse Reddit, shop on Amazon, and create quick memes to share with friends, you will probably see about 5 hours. If you manage the power settings within the Control Panel, you may even squeeze out about 6 hours of battery life. When I typically use the Pro, I’m running several sessions of remote desktop, LogMeIn, OneNote, and web browsing. I even game a little. I get about 3 hours. I understand sacrificing battery life for the sake of keeping weight and thickness down but it kills me that I have to plug this beautiful machine into the wall every few hours.

Conclusion
With all things considered, the Surface Pro is definitely not a perfect device. Does it come close? Dare I say it? Not really. However, Microsoft definitely flexed its muscles in terms of design and taking a big risk by tying an untested device with a generally poorly received operating system. Personally, I really enjoyed using the Surface in the last few weeks of ownership. I will concede that this device isn’t for everyone.

If you are looking for more of a simple tablet with all day battery and a bevy of bite sized apps to choose from, go with an iPad (blasphemy, I know).

If you enjoy using a tablet but not the iOS or Android, go with the Surface RT. The app market is growing day by day and with the exception of a few performance hiccups when running apps, the RT does a fine job of mixing things up in a stale and oversaturated tablet market.

If you are looking for a machine that can handle everyday tasks and a device that can replace a traditional ultrabook, the Surface Pro is definitely for you.

Road warrior? This device is for you. IT guy who needs to run around doing a lot of in-person helpdesk calls? This device is for you.

Serial doodlers will also love this device as long as you can wait out the entire Adobe/Microsoft pressure sensitivity fracas. The price is a bit on a high end as the device starts at $899 (64GB version) and can reach up to and over $1200 (128GB version with type cover, MS Complete, Office, etc.) when all desired peripherals and software are purchased.

This is a good direction for Microsoft to take. They are definitely late to the game but if the Pro is an indication of what’s to come in the near future, I can’t wait for the next iteration of Surface products. If you are still on the fence, wait it out. The app store is still growing and I’ve noticed a regular influx of new apps and applications since I purchased the Pro. If Microsoft decides to address the battery life and pricing I think they will have a real winner on their hands and I will be more confident about recommending this device without hesitation.

UPDATE: As of writing this piece, Samsung had released their latest version of their ATIV line of mobile devices. Here is the link. It actually sports similar features: S-pen support, full HD display and a slightly longer battery life! The Surface already has competition in its little market niche!

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