Now that Microsoft's Windows 8 Pro-powered Surface Pro tablet has a launch date--February 9--readers are starting to ask the obvious question:
Is the 10.6-inch screen too small to get real work done?
Hands-on time with Surface Pro hardware has been very limited so far, but we have quite a lot of information to go on as to how usable it will be once it is launched.
First point worth making is that a 10.6-inch display isn't actually all that small. I've used quite a few netbooks that had smaller screens--both in terms of screen size and resolution--and they were quite usable, despite running old operating systems such as Windows XP and Windows 7. Like Windows 8 or hate it, the new touch-powered user interface will mean that 10.6 inches of screen real estate on the Surface Pro will be a lot easier to use than an earlier version of Windows.
Another factor worth bearing in mind is that the Surface Pro's screen is 0.9 inches bigger than that of the iPad, and only an inch smaller than the screen on Apple's MacBook Air. People can do "real work" on these devices, so the same should be true of the Surface Pro.
That said, I do have concerns when it comes to the Surface Pro, and these are related to the keyboard and applications.
First, the keyboard. Having had some hands-on time with the Touch Cover I'm going to rule that out as a keyboard if your job involves serious text input. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that this onscreen keyboard is better than the Touch Cover. If you're going to be serious about typing with the Surface Pro, you're going to need the Type Keyboard.
And this is the first rub I have with the hardware. All of a sudden, that $899 Surface Pro is costing you $1,029. That's a serious chunk of change that would buy you any number of Windows-powered notebooks--or, for that matter, a MacBook Air--and still leave you change for a few coffees at Starbucks. Spring for the 128GB Surface Pro, and the tablet and keyboard costs you a whopping $1,129.
Another problem I have with the whole Surface Pro concept is legacy applications. The primary reason people will spring for a Surface Pro is to be able to run legacy applications on the tablet--otherwise, they can save themselves a whole heap of dollars and go for a Surface tablet, or an iPad, or any number of Android tablets on the market.
Problem is, I feel that running legacy applications on the Surface Pro's 10.6-inch screen is only going to be marginally less painful than having wisdom teeth removed. Applications designed for desktop usage are going to be incredibly painful to use on such a small screen. No doubt developers will write applications that will be usable across a broad range of screen sizes, but for now running legacy applications on the Surface Pro means running applications designed for big screens on a small screen.
This doesn't sound like a recipe for great productivity.