Surface Pro: Three months in, here's what I've learned

Surface Pro: Three months in, here's what I've learned

Summary: Three months after buying a Surface Pro in the middle of a Canadian blizzard, how's it holding up as my everyday laptop?

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With Microsoft's Surface Pro about to arrive in UK stores, it's probably a good time to round up my experiences of using a Surface Pro as my main laptop for the last couple of months.

My HP touchscreen PC was starting to show its age, and its first generation Core i3 wasn’t quite powerful enough for some of the tools I’d added to my workflow since I first bought it more than three years ago.

Windows 8 had certainly given it a new lease of life, as I’ve mentioned in the past, but it was time to bite the bullet, hand over the credit card, and start the migration to a new PC.

Moving from one Windows 8 machine to another isn’t hard, especially when you’re keeping the same Microsoft account. Settings move across as soon as you log in for the first time, and Surface Pro’s bundled Office 365 click-and-run installer just needs an Office 365 account (or an Office 2013 product key) to start working.

There wasn’t much more software I needed to install: TweetDeck, Lightroom, the Flickr Uploadr, Skype and Chrome are about all I need on a Windows desktop these days (well, along with Steam to install my cloud copy of Civilisation…).

A Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM make the Surface Pro fast and responsive – and that makes it an excellent machine for working with photography. The 1080p screen is bright and clear, and it has some of the best and deepest blacks I’ve seen.

Microsoft ships the Surface Pro configured for 150 percent scaling, and I’ve left it on. While 100 percent scaling is crisp, fonts are just too tiny to be easily legible.

That screen scaling is probably the Surface Pro’s biggest flaw. If software has been written to support it correctly, you’ll have some of the best text and graphics Windows can give you. But if it isn’t you can end up with massive windows that can’t be shrunk, or teeny tiny fonts that need an additional magnifying glass to be read. Microsoft needs to get developers to build scaling-aware software that can give you the GUI the Surface Pro’s screen deserves.

No matter what amount of storage you opt for, you’ll find an SDXC card a worthwhile investment. I bought a 64GB card with my Surface Pro, and use it for additional document storage, and to hold pictures I take while on the road.

It’s worth considering using the trick of mounting the SD card in an NTFS directory, so you can use it in Windows 8 libraries (especially if you want to use it to host backup files for Office documents and for OneNote notebooks).

There’s a lot to be said for Surface’s pen — especially if, like me, you use OneNote a lot. The size and weight of Surface make it easy to hold while taking notes (something that was a little difficult with earlier iterations of the Tablet PC).  It took a while for Microsoft and Wacom to release driver that supported pressure sensitivity in applications such as Photoshop.

One thing about the Surface Pro’s mix of touch and pen is that it’s easy to use the two together. If you’re drawing with the pen, you’ll quickly find yourself scrolling the screen with one finger, or using your other hand to make selections.

Mixing pen and touch turns out to be faster than just using touch or pen on their own; and if you throw in the Type Cover, you’ll also find yourself using the keyboard as well. UI research specialist Bill Buxton has talked about multi-modal computing, using MSR’s natural medium Degas art software (itself the basis of Windows 8’s excellent FreshPaint app) to demonstrate how mixing input methods would work. Surface Pro’s multi-modal hardware makes it an ideal platform for exploring these ways of working — and it’s fascinating to realize that those features are at the heart of everyday tools like Office.

Not everything is perfect. You do need long legs to type using a Type or Touch Cover on your lap, and mine just don’t quite make the grade. There are persistent rumours that Microsoft will be launching additional covers, and extra connectors that aren’t there on the Surface RT make a heavier keyboard case with an extra battery a distinct possibility. While Surface Pro’s battery life isn’t too shabby, a little extra wouldn’t hurt — and adding more stability and comfort to the mix would certainly be a bonus.

I did find buying a couple of accessories useful. Surface Pro doesn’t have an Ethernet port, and if you don’t want to be limited by the vagaries of wireless networks, you’ll want a USB to Ethernet adapter. I decided to invest in a USB 3.0 to Gigabit adapter to take advantage of the fast network I’d put in my office. I also invested in a case, getting Incipio’s ballistic nylon case — which, while originally designed for the Surface RT, turns out to be a good fit for a Surface Pro and a Type Cover keyboard, with plenty space for a pen.

Surface Pro is to Microsoft’s hardware range as the MacBook Air is to Apple’s. It’s a light, modern laptop that’s easily portable, taking up a lot less space in the bag than the last generation of Windows machines. The addition of touch makes it that little bit different, and it’s an attractive machine that gets attention wherever you might use it – on a plane, in a coffee shop, or even (in tablet mode) on the Tube.

And that’s what’s probably the most different about Surface Pro; despite one or two niggles, it truly is a laptop you can use anywhere. 

Topics: Microsoft Surface, Laptops, Tablets

Simon Bisson

About Simon Bisson

Simon Bisson is a freelance technology journalist. He specialises in architecture and enterprise IT. He ran one of the UK's first national ISPs and moved to writing around the time of the collapse of the first dotcom boom. He still writes code.

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83 comments
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  • Surface Pro is the best All-in-One laptop, tablet, hybrid or whatever you

    want to call. I am not taking my iPad + Lenovo Laptop for meetings and presentations any more. I am taking my Surface Pro, and I keep my Surface RT as a stand by, just in case I run out of battery. More over I have Visio on Pro in desktop mode for heavy S/W Arch diagramming and Grapholite Diagram Pro and espresso Mind Map available on Modern UI, which I use regularly for diagramming and brainstorming which I can switch between RT and Pro easily.
    Ram U
  • Surface Pro: Three months in, here's what I've learned

    Great write up from someone who has actually used the Microsoft Surface Pro instead of some of these armchair bloggers who only read about it and wanted to give their opinions. From this review and a few others the Microsoft Surface Pro is the portable device to buy for your computing needs.
    Loverock-Davidson
    • Loverock-Davidson...Funny to hear you complaing about armchair bloggers

      when your nothing more than a armchair poster.

      That so funny ....Its like you calling the pot black and your that old 1900 iron kettle............
      Over and Out
    • Leap of logic .....

      lost on LD obviously.

      The Pro MAY be the "portable device to buy for your computing needs" for SOME users, perhaps MANY users, if it meets their needs.

      The price alone puts it out of contention for the majority of consumers at least.

      Is this just one more example of your muddled thinking, or is it just another MS commercial from a MS shill?
      D.T.Long
      • Pro is not for entertainment or consumption

        Pro is for power users who need very portable and who are mobile.
        Ram U
        • But in that case ......

          why not just make/sell/buy an "Ultranetbook" with the high resolution touch screen if you wish, minus the Atom of course.

          I get portability, I get a quality (touch) screen, I get the need for the MS/Windows environment, but I cannot get past the relatively heavy screen supported by a stand. It lacks adjustability and and looks like an accident waiting to happen.
          D.T.Long
          • Well to each their own

            You could go with ultranetbook with cheaper specs with 10 point multitouch capacitive screen. In my case wanted something in 10" form factor where I could remove the keyboard or add one if necessary, use it as a tablet or netbook or ultrabook or whatever and found Surface Pro very good in my situation. I like the Wacom digitizer and pen. I have used Windows Tablets previously with resistive screens and digitizers and so drafting notes or modifying drawings with pen is almost built into my hands.

            At the same time I embrace other technologies too. I have chromebook, iPad, MacBook Air, and couple of Windows 8 Laptops in addition to Surface pro and RT. One of my Windows 8 laptop runs Ubuntu and Mint side by side.

            finally even if accident happens, I have good coverage for that. thank you very much for your concern.
            Ram U
          • tablet mode

            it's less a heavy screen and more the screen is the whole PC; and relative is a relative term. Surface Pro is lighter than the Samsung ATIV Pro tablet, for example. If you want a tablet that is also a Core i5, the tablet is going to be a certain weight. Horses for courses. And it's not nearly as accident prone as you might expect.
            mary.branscombe
          • It's made by MS

            so he has to find as much fault as he can with it. If the un-adjustable stand is the only thing he can find, then that's what he'll harp on.

            Though I suppose he could tell us all how great the built in stands on the other tablets work.
            William Farrel
        • Power users....

          are guys who can start an RDP or Citrix session using nothing more than birch bark and a pigeon. :)
          Mac_PC_FenceSitter
          • Why do you need the pigeon?

            You already have the birch bark...
            dachba
      • Obviously Surface Pro is aimed at a small market segment of ultrabooks

        and it seems to be doing rather well all things considered

        The MacBook Air is considered to be the best selling notebook on the market.
        Q1-2013 total comined Mac sales were 4.1 million
        Q1-2013 Surface Pro was 900,000 units and that is still with limited sales distributions.

        I get the LD comes off like an informercial sometimes, but what point are you trying to make?
        Emacho
        • That he comes off like a mindless infomercial .....

          as usual.

          It bears pointing out, again and again unfortunately.

          He is either VERY slow or VERY stubborn. Given how many times he has posted the lie about having
          to compile Linux among others lies, he is highly deserving of all the scorn he receives.
          D.T.Long
          • Funny you think you are any different

            Seriously, you believe you are better? Really?
            toddbottom3
          • To what point?

            Feeding the trolls only empowers them. I can tell Loverock enjoys the replies he gets.

            He is not stuborn. He is winning, but you and others don't get it.


            Consider how the regulars here see his posts and the replies it generates.
            Consider how someone who is only viewing this post for some information on Surface.

            The first group sees the trends and the blood fueds. Much of the history is brought to the post and replies it generates.

            The second group sees a fairly rational post the suggest writers who use the surface enjoy it, those who have not used it have not and that it is a good buying choice. The replies that follow appear to be petty personal attacks aimed at loverock for being a bad person, but nothing disputing the points he actually set up. As if they are so afraid of his truths they can only make personal attacks in response.


            I don't have any actual marketing background, but I would suspect a paid poster would not be paid to market to the locals here, but to those who just swing by to get information to base a purchase on.

            In that regard I think he is winning, if that is his goal.
            Emacho
          • Disagree

            Corporations try to control and influence public debates and public opinions. They do it through various means including advertising and shill postings in public forums.

            In my view it needs to be exposed and countered. LD is just particularly bad at shilling. He is not "winning" at anything. He is just the forum idiot.

            Some of the other MS shills here are much better at it (Owlllllnet excluded of course) but in the long run it becomes very difficult to hide your true motives.

            I make my motives pretty clear: I believe the dominance of any commercial enterprise of any market is inherently bad for the consumer. Technological progress stagnates and prices remain high.

            That is generally why I post what I post. The shills may hate me for it, but that does not bother me at all.
            D.T.Long
          • then accept Google is bad

            got it, you just admitted it. Thank you.
            Ram U
          • Wow, not the sharpest knife in the drawer

            I thought you had managed to build a little bit of credibility lately and then you go ahead and destroy it all with that stupid snarky post.

            Is Google causing technological stagnation? No. You fail.

            Do prices remain high? I have never given them a dime. You fail again.

            What an idiot.
            D.T.Long
          • Well it seems you are being called as idiot and stupid over the time

            again and again and thats why you insult people by calling them as idiots and stupid if someone disagrees with you. Google is heading like Microsoft of 90s, and definitely will be stagnated if not today. I don't care whether I have any credibility here or not, I really don't care whether you give me any credibility or not. You clearly are one of the paid shill to post bad about Microsoft here and probably all over the internet.
            Ram U
          • My post was pretty clear

            The criteria I used were clearly spelled out. You just felt the need to blow off some anti-Google steam, in my direction I might add. MS shill by any chance, after all?

            Think before you post.
            D.T.Long