Surface Pro: My week as engineer and train commuter

Surface Pro: My week as engineer and train commuter

Summary: I bought my Surface Pro last week and my experiences since then have convinced me it is the right device for my needs. Ultra-portability and full Windows in one package is quite attractive.

Surface Pro: My week as an engineer and train commuter

The Microsoft Surface Pro is not for everyone.

But after snagging the elusive 128GB Pro and using it daily for over a week -- at home, at the office, and during my two hour daily train commute -- I find that so far it is perfect for me.

I wrote why the Surface RT couldn't cut it for me while I was on the road, which drove me to the Surface Pro. While I could have purchased another Windows 8 computer or a MacBook Air (running Windows for my engineering apps), the attraction of the Surface Pro was the extreme portability with the two pound weight and ultra-slim form factor. I used to carry my 4.5 pound work laptop during my daily commute; having the Surface Pro at less than half the weight is great.

Engineering applications and use for work

In my previous article, people wanted to know what types of applications I needed to run on a Windows computer. Some of the apps I use include GHS (General Hydrostatics), Deadweight, Deltek Vision, Microsoft Project, Rhino, and AutoCAD. I also need full access to the drives on my company's servers and the VPN connectivity of the Surface Pro works perfectly.

I was concerned that the screen size of the Surface Pro would limit the usability of these kinds of applications. While the smaller screen is not optimal for design work, it works just fine for when I am out and about. Previously with the Surface RT or iPad, I couldn't even use these applications so the ability to get most of the same experience on the Surface Pro meets my needs.

I also have the ability to output to a second larger screen and am setting up an external display to test this out this weekend.

My friend Johan Tweeted that he found a way to change the viewing angle of the Surface Pro and also use a larger keyboard. I ordered the Microsoft Wedge Mobile Keyboard and should be able to try it out this weekend. So far I haven't been bothered at all with the viewing angle, but if I am going to make the Surface Pro my main computer for when I work at home then I need a larger keyboard to increase my writing speed.

Windows 8 Metro applications

I was a bit confused about Windows 8 after using the RT first and thought the Metro UI was simply a front end part to full Windows apps. After the Pro arrived, I discovered that all the great apps I used on the Surface RT also worked on the Pro in the Metro interface. This was made apparent after I logged in and saw all the app icons I had on the RT appear. This means I get slick apps like ABC Player, Netflix, Nook, Kindle, Audible, and more with a great touch interface while also having full Windows applications accessible from the home screen.

I looked at my iPad and compared it to Windows 8 apps in the Microsoft Store to see if there were any gaps on the Surface Pro. I have been using my iPad primarily for media consumption and -- after loading up several apps on the Surface Pro from the Windows Store -- I have a difficult time justifying the iPad. The social apps, Twitter and Facebook, are better on the iPad, but I primarily use my phones for these types of applications. While the Surface Pro is not a direct competitor to the iPad, in my case it can replace the iPad while also meeting the needs of a laptop.

Media consumption

I rented a movie, streamed Netflix and ABC TV, enjoyed Audible, and listened to songs on the Surface Pro. There is plenty of available content and everything looked and sounded great to me. I honestly don't find any limitations on media consumption, other than the battery life, and don't see why someone can't use it as a media device. It's actually nice to enjoy Xbox Music content in the background while working on the same device.

Form factor

The Surface Pro is clearly optimized for landscape orientation with the keyboard, but over the last week I have been using it quite a bit in portrait mode with the pen and finding that to also be a good experience. It is heavier than the iPad and other tablets, but so much lighter than any laptop I have ever used.

I was worried about fan noise and heat, but honestly haven't heard the fans even running over the past week. The Surface Pro design is excellent; I love the quality feel of it when walking around to different conference rooms at the office.

I do wish there was an integrated silo for the pen, since the magnetic attachment to the side doesn't keep the pen in place while in my bag. The pen comes in handy, especially when using the BlueStacks Android emulator, but it is not essential.

I have a charger at home and at the office for the Surface Pro and I do top it off in both places before my commute. I haven't yet been out and killed the battery, but I do notice it getting quite low as I get around and I do wish it was more like the Surface RT in that regard.

I have many more things to test out with the Surface Pro, but after a week I am convinced it was the right purchase for me. I'll be taking a business trip to New York next week and another to Alaska the week after. I  plan to travel with my Surface Pro serving as my computer.

Related ZDNet Surface coverage:

Topics: Mobility, Microsoft Surface, Windows 8

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  • Form Factor is just ok

    Surface Pro is not a bad device, although I would prefer it in a clam shell form factor. Not a big fan of convertibles and detachable keyboards... Otherwise great device!
    • The market is flooded with clamshell Windows 8 computers

      so fortunately you're not going to be lacking in choice.

      In fact the Samsung ATIV 700 model is a clamshell form factor that is also detachable and has very similar specs compared to the Surface Pro. So if you ever change your mind on wanting a detachable there's one to consider.
      Michael Kelly
    • Clam shell

      I wish it was a clam shell form factor too. Or Clam Case and Crux Case would make a clam shell case for it. My Surface with RT is near to impossible to use on my lap unless I sit just right.
      • NickA55 ...I give you credit for saying that Surface RT is near impossible

        to use on your lap and even if its just long can a person hold that position? for many that could be some what of a problem...............

        I hope Loverock Davidson reads your post.........
        Over and Out
        • Surface PRO is a big mistake

          - Surface with Windows 8 is a brick ( 910 grams )

          - Very Expensive $889 or 999

          - real bad battery life

          - A tablet with no GPS, no 3G, no NFC, ...all for the low price of $889 !!

          - windows uses more than 30 GB 64 GB

          -the tablet has cooler

          does not work like tablet

          Henrique Dourado
          • Your full of it.

            Take your real bad battery life complain. Pure nonsense and has been proved.

            If you dont like it, fine.

            Just take your stupid lies someplace else. We dont need them in a rational discussion.
          • Typical boilderplate response

            This is the typical response you get from indivduals who have never touched or used the device. TROLL ALERT!!!
          • Surface Pro is not an Ipad and doesn't want to be an Ipad

            Henrique, your ignorance is showing. The surface pro is a new category and I for one am excited to finally have a tablet that will fully integrate with my other computers. I've had the Ipad and can hardly wait to trade it in for this. So it may not be right for you if all you want is netflix and kindle, but for people who do work on their computers, this is a great unit.
      • Using Surface on your lap

        I dunno, I haven't found using any laptop or other device on my lap as being very comfortable. I has to do with the angle required for my hands to use the keys. However, those who say it is difficult to balance, I agree, especially if you have a wide sitting stance (legs spread apart). If you use the Type Cover, you might have less of a problem as it isn't as flexible.
  • $$

    Overall, how much have you spent so far including keyboards, power bricks, etc.?
    After adding all your apps, how internal storage space do you have left?
    • A lot of $$ and still lots of memory

      I was able to use the same keyboard from my original RT purchase so that was good. I do have an extra power adapter and bought the Wedge mouse so I have indeed spent a lot of money on this setup.

      I have quite a few apps installed and still have something like 75GB available on the internal drive. I did not remove the backup partition that I understand will recover more memory too. I also don't yet have a microSD card in the slot, but may get a 64GB one in the future.
      palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
      • you're only qualifying criteria is

        It's made by Microsoft. You could buy two, more powerful, ultrabooks and still save money. You could even have bought a more powerful Macbook air, with a bigger screen, for less money.
        Troll Hunter J
        • Why would you buy a MB Air

          When you could be a real laptop/ultrabook for less? He is also a business professional, so a fluffed up BSD GUI shell just won't cut it.
        • The fundamental problem with the MacBook Air

          isn't the 11.6 inch or 13.3 inch display. It is the lack of absolute resolution.

          11.6-inch (diagonal) high-resolution LED-backlit glossy widescreen display with support for millions of colors

          Supported resolutions:
          1366 x 768 (native) at 16:9 ratio, 1152 x 720 pixels and 1024 x 640 at 16:10 ratio, and 1024 x 768 and 800 x 600 at 4:3 ratio.

          13.3-inch (diagonal) high-resolution LED-backlit glossy widescreen display with support for millions of colors

          Supported resolutions:
          1440 x 900 (native), 1280 x 800, 1152 x 720, and 1024 x 640 at 16:10 ratio and 1024 x 768 and 800 x 600 at 4:3 ratio.

          Apple, at a minimum, please go to the 1920x1080 Full-HD resolution standard everywhere. No need for any transcoding artifacts or distortions.

          Come on! Even the Google Samsung Nexus 10 tablet has a 2560-by-1600 (300ppi) display.

          Okay physically smaller than the MBA, but I will choose better resolution over 11" or 13" display size anytime.

          That said, my HTPC has a 55" Samsung display, my gaming rig has a 40" Samsung display FYI. But at least they are native 1920x1080 resolution. Everything else is pretty much 28" as second display monitor.

          At least, the Surface Pro is Full HD @ 1920x1080.

          A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.
          ~ Wayne Gretsky
          • All designs are compromises, WinTard

            Display resolution is only one parameter for a successful computer design. And, let's make no mistake about this point, both MBA models are a successful laptop design.

            Your arguments are not without merit. But the same logic was applied by pundits suggesting that the iPad Mini would sell less than predicted based upon it's non-retina display characteristics. History proved that extra long battery life and a better ergonomic design trumped display resolution. However, like many potential iPad Mini users, I passed on it's initial design and will wait until it's display resolution is upgraded before making a purchase decision.

            I suspect that your desire to see Apple improve it's MBA lineup will not have a long wait. Rumor has it that it will include the new Haswell chipset and perhaps that elusive retina display so many potential users desire.
      • Docking station

        I'm currently using an old Samsung Series 7 Slate upgraded to Windows 8. It is very nice, if a little on the fat side for a tablet. I have it connected to the dock, which has a USB mouse and keyboard attached and a 24" monitor.

        The dock means I don't have to constantly plug and unplug the peripherals, otherwise it sounds much like the setup you are going for.

        I only have the device on loan from the developers, because I upgraded it to Windows 8 last week, so it has to go back.

        But using it as a desktop replacement is great. I get my RDP into the terminal server, plus local applications, plus Metro apps at my desk, plus the flexibility on the move.

        The biggest plus point is the ability to have all of my data and apps on one device, using it in tablet mode on the move and like a 2-screen desktop or laptop at my desk - althought the 11" screen looks a little out of place next to the 24" display. but is good for displaying secondary information and Metro, sorry "new UI" apps; which often look kind of lost on a 24" display.

        I am seriously thinking about getting an Atom based tablet to replace it, I don't have excessive needs, just MS-Office and the like as a rule, on the move, with serious "lifting" done on the terminal server.

        That would give me the functionality I need on the move, with longer battery life (10+ hours).

        But I keep looking at the Surface Pro and wondering if I should wait for it to be released - after the shambles of the US launch, I haven't heard anything further about international availability...
  • Siting position?

    How do you sit on the train in order to hold the surface on top of your knees? I try to imagine someone in that position and all I get is a funny mental image, unless you require a table on your train.
    • Is actually alright

      In tablet mode, it is fine in sitting (or laying on the couch) position, you just fold the keyboard back to form a triangle. I was also at first concerned about using the keyboard on my lap, but it actually is alright... as long as you don't have a wide sitting stance :-).
      • toilet

        Larry Craig dropped his surface in the toilet.
        • was thinking the same thing

          I actually put in a Craig reference and than removed it :-)