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Thoughts on the Surface Pro

I’ve been using the Surface Pro as my primary mobile system for about two weeks now.  While I haven’t been as mobile as I normally am (it’s a little refreshing, actually), I still end up logging 4+ hours on it per day.  How do I like it? It’s pretty good.

First, let’s start by saying the Surface Pro isn’t an iPad. Please don’t compare it to one. It’s a 10.5″ ultrabook (laptop) in a tablet form factor. Those of us who pined for tablets before Apple was putting them out would class this as a slate PC. If you’re going to compare it to anything, compare it to other full Windows tablets or (if you must) a Macbook Air (remember, it’s smaller).

The Surface Pro runs all your Windows applications. Unlike most of the Windows tablets out there, it has a Core i5 processor in it, which means it has more than enough horsepower to do just about anything you need. Where some of the Atom-based ones feel slow, the Surface Pro is very quick.

This is my 4th laptop in 18 months. Yes, I’m a bit of a gadget geek. I had a good Dell, then a Lenovo U300s (which I loved, until it died), a Thinkpad Twist (it replaced my U300s, which was ok) and now the Surface Pro. The Surface Pro is my favorite. It’s not without its quirks, which I bemoaned in the first few days, but it seems I’ve gotten used to them.

The Good

The Surface Pro, decked out with a Type keyboard, is much lighter than any laptop I’ve ever carried. It’s a little heavy for a tablet. I tote mine around everywhere and don’t notice it unless I’m trying to use it as a tablet – held up while I’m doing something. Most of the time, it’s on a table either flat for taking notes or using the kickstand.

I love the fact that I can ink on the Surface Pro. I tried doing this for a long time with the iPad, but being a lefty and using a capacitive stylus simply doesn’t work. The Surface Pro with OneNote is like a dream. Mindmapping and storyboarding interactively with a client is amazing.

Using my regular applications, including Office, Outlook and OneNote is one of the biggest pluses for me.  I have a single set of applications on my desktop and my tablet. All my data syncs (Office 365 for email, Dropbox for files (I’m testing Skydrive Pro)) live between my machines. It’s great.

If you like watching TV, gaming or run apps from the new Modern interface, the Surface Pro’s display is amazing.

The Quirks

The display, while is a strength for media or Windows 8 apps, is a major weakness for desktop applications. By default the Surface Pro runs all applications in 150% zoom. It works well on the tablet and makes things clear enough (except Firefox!). Unfortunately, when you plug in an external monitor, it is also in 150% zoom. To change zoom levels, you have to log off and log back on. A real pain.

The kickstand, while neat is not adjustable. If I were shorter, it would be perfect. For me, the angle of the display isn’t right when it’s on standard desk.

People talk about the short battery life (4ish hours) on the Surface Pro. Try comparing it to a full ultrabook (5ish hours), then consider that it’s a LOT smaller, thus having a smaller battery. Battery life is exactly what I’d expect. It hasn’t been an issue for me yet.

The Media and Windows 8

The biggest roadblocks for this device has been the media and Windows 8 itself.

There have been lots of reviews of the Surface Pro. When I read through them, I found them predictable. Those who like Apple devices mostly didn’t like the Surface Pro. Those who considered it as a slate PC, gave it pretty good marks.  Not amazing, which I agree with, but pretty good. Those who ended up using it long term generally have really liked the device.

Windows 8 … I’ve gotten to like Windows 8. Especially on the Surface and my ThinkPad Twist. It’s somewhat like a teenager: somewhat awkward, but full of potential. It’s faster, prettier and more stable than Windows 7, but things aren’t where you expect them to be. I really look to when this OS reaches adulthood.

Conclusion

If you’re a note taker and want a tablet that replaces your laptop, take a good look at the Surface Pro or one of the other high-end Windows tablets. The Surface Pro is a keeper for me.

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