Is Surface Pro's 10.6-inch screen too small for real work?

Is Surface Pro's 10.6-inch screen too small for real work?

Summary: Can you get real work done on a 10.6-inch screen? I think you can, but there are a few caveats worth bearing in mind.


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.

Topics: Microsoft Surface, Microsoft, Windows 8, Windows 8 in Business

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  • I'm confused...

    I just read no ZDnet where the iPad Mini is "setting the new standard in tablets", but we're not sure if you can do real work on the Surface, which has a 10.6" screen?
    • Don't be confused

      If Apple created a 10.6" laptop, it'd be hailed as the most portable thing to do work on.

      Apple didn't make this, however, so it's horrible.
      Michael Alan Goff
      • That's not true ...

        Clearly the only screen big enough is a 27" ipad.

        Ridiculous argument. How many articles have I read "apps to make your ipad productive" or "can an android user really use office apps" "is the surface good enough for the enterprise?" Or just "x number of apps you can't live without"

        I have been doing real work on my phone since I got a blackberry that had a screen "two thumbs" wide. You can do most of your work on a Windows Phone. This runs full Windows 8 and has mouse support. I also hada netbook... With awe full resolution and managed without much difficulty to use photoshop and gimp.

        As for the keyboard... Surely everyone is just going to use third party anyway, like they do with their iPads? At the end of the Tay a tablet is a trade off. It is not a lap or desktop. If you want a lap or desktop... Um... Well it feels like there may already be a solution for you. As for 12" or 15" tablets... Um the current ipad is heavy enough not to be a true single hand held device for extended work.

        So yeah, the consumer needs to work out how they plan to use a machine before they drop $1000 ... That's the least I expect from someone shopping for a pc. Pro tablets - basically flipped ultrabooks were always going to be niche. No they aren't for everyone, or even most. But I can guarantee you I could do any task on a surface pro with a mouse and keyboard that I could on a 27" iMac running W8. Heck I spent 2 months doing spreadsheets on a 3GS about a year ago whilst an insurance claim went through.
        • Well, yes

          It would be great if people did a little more research before they purchased anything, but that seems to be a bridge too far for some.
          Michael Alan Goff
        • Screen-size is the biggest user experience

          Every laptop or tablet is too small to be comfortable compared with desktops.
      • I too was confused..

        I was going to wait on the 52" surface then I realised I could simply output to my 52" screen without too much hassle and NO extra adapters. Silly me; problem solved. LOL

        Seems the only screen size that is in any way valid is whatever the Apple guys tell us on any given day. The ipad was defacto and anything smaller irrelevant; then the mini came out (I have both from work) and now it's cool to go smaller. I think the only thing 'irrelevant' now is the badge. It has to say Apple or your screen isn't the right size. Gimme a break! Enjoy what works for you. I use Apple and Asus and enjoy them all.
    • Yes you are...

      You certainly are confused. Why would you bring the iPad mini into a conversation about Surface Pro? I don't think MS considers the iPad mini user as its target audience for the Surface Pro. Regular iPad maybe...MacBook Air maybe...but never the mini. If they do then MS is REALLY pricing the Surface Pro poorly!

      As I see it AKH's point is that the combination of the relatively small screen real estate and other design parameters (e.g.: perceived need for full type keyboard) make the Surface Pro less than ideal for more than intermittent, casual use with legacy Apps and that, for many users with more than the aforesaid intermittent, casual use, cheaper alternatives (such as Windows notebooks and even the aforementioned MacBook Air) might be more suitable.
      • Ipad mini

        Did you not hear, the ipad mini is the perfect size for the enterprise. 10.6 inch is therefore to big. :)
      • AKH has no points

        only his disdain for all things Microsoft
        Master Wayne
        • Que the Superheros

          to defend the weak and defenceless:

          • Nice man

            how stop shilling and get a real job

            i just laugh you've got the time to spend on this - i mean you should since you are getting paid by apple
            Master Wayne
          • Just a doodle

            But you are wrong about being paid to be here or apple. I ride with the 1%ers:

    • And yet running legacy applications on a laptop's 10.6" to 11" screen

      is not an issue.
      William Farrel
      • Absolutely right William

        Me, personally, I agree with Adrian: 10.6" is too small. So is 11". The 11" macbook air is a useless device. All the baggage of a legacy desktop with a screen far too small to support it.

        However, there are people who will claim that their work can be easily accomplished on a smaller screen. It will depend somewhat on the type of work you are doing. To those people, the screen on the Surface Pro will be plenty big enough.

        In other words, if Surface Pro's screen is too small, so is the 11" macbook air. If the macbook air's tiny screen size is suitable for the type of work you are doing, you'd actually be far better off with a device like the Surface Pro that makes the macbook air look like a huge, bulky, heavy, ugly desktop.
        • Oh Toddy!

          It pains me to say that I mostly agree with you on this one. I haven't had the opportunity to use an SP yet so I'll reserve comment on your usual Mac bash until I do. Seeing that it has Win 8, I can't believe the hardware will make-up for all the software shortcomings.

          Until then . . .
  • Surface RT should give you a few clues

    I've used the Office apps, notepad, desktop IE10 and Windows Explorer quite a bit on my Surface RT. I didn't find it particularly difficult at all. Applications with cluttered UIs like Photoshop would be the main offenders, but really, I am sure most designers don't try to do photoshop work in cafes or on planes... they do it in an office. And what do most offices have? Monitors.

    Attach the Surface to a monitor. Problem solved.
  • thoughts

    "People can do 'real work' on these devices,"

    Debatable, IMO. That's somewhat subjective.

    "Applications designed for desktop usage are going to be incredibly painful to use on such a small screen."

    So basically, you've pretty much contradicted the first half of your article. Lovely.
  • Adrian, you can do better than this.

    Really? Surface Pro has 10.6 inch screen with full HD resolution and supports touch, mouse, keyboard and a DIGITIZER PEN... is that not enough for productivity?

    If you have no subject to blog on a rainy day, stay out. It will save your reputation.
    • it doesnt have...

      an apple on it.
    • It's raining??

      Not where I'm's DRY, in drought conditions.