Microsoft Delivers Surface Pro Firmware Updates

All three versions of Surface Pro hardware got updates this morning…

pro2_type_purple_cam8_pos-01I’m an update nut. Every time I turn on either my Mac or Windows machines, I always, always, always check for both system and app updates. Call it anal retentivity if you must, but with so many different vulnerabilities and exploits going around, computing on any connected devices can be dangerous without the proper OS and critical application updates. That’s why I check so often. I’m really online all the time, every day, out loud; and I don’t have time to deal with the aftermath of getting hacked.

I also just like making sure I have the latest version of everything.

As I said… anal retentive…

As a converted Mac user, you see app updates more often than you see OS updates. As a veteran Windows user, I’m used to running Windows Update at least 2-3 times a week to make certain I’ve got everything; and when you do run it, you run it over and over again until the service tells you there’s nothing left to update.

So imagine my surprise this morning when I got to the office and jumped over to SuperSite for Windows to read what will likely be Paul Thurrott’s last post there, when I saw this – an article on firmware updates for ALL three Surface Pro versions.

Microsoft missed a December update for the devices, and I honestly thought nothing of it. They should be pretty much done updating firmware for Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2, anyway. They’ve been replaced by Surface Pro 3, and I’d expect Microsoft to really be concentrating on this one. The updates here have some legs; and I’m really hoping they get up and walk around a bit… There are a couple things here, like the Wi-Fi and other wireless changes as well as the update to Surface Hub. Both of these should correct errors that have been hounding people around the world with Surface Pro 3 for some time.

Without further ado, here is the full list of updates, for all three devices.

Surface Pro 3:

Surface Pro UEFI update (v3.11.450.0) adds support for updated HD Graphics Family driver.
HD Graphics Family driver update (v10.18.14.4029) enhances display stability and performance, improves user experience when using Miracast adapters. Improves compatibility with DisplayPort monitors and daisy chaining.
Wireless Network Controller and Bluetooth driver update (v15.68.3073.151) addresses connectivity issues while Hyper-V is enabled. Adds an advanced feature to control the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz band preference.
Surface Home Button driver update (v2.0.1179.0) ensures compatibility with the Surface Hub app.
Microsoft Docking Station Audio Device driver update (v1.31.35.7) improves the user experience while using the Surface Pro 3 Docking Station so that sound is available when a speaker is not connected to the docking station.

Surface Pro 2:
Surface Pro UEFI update (v2.05.0150) improves the PXE boot experience with the 1 gigabit Surface Ethernet Adapter and further enhances the system security.
HD Graphics Family driver update (v10.18.14.4029) enhances display stability and performance, improves user experience when using Miracast adapters. Improves compatibility with DisplayPort monitors and daisy chaining.

Surface Pro:
Surface Pro UEFI update (v1.7.50) further enhances the system security.
These updates for the Surfaces will be listed as “System Firmware Update – 1/15/2015″ once installed and viewed in update history.

As a reminder, when delivered via Windows Update, the Surface firmware updates are pushed out on a staggered basis. Instructions for manually installing the Surface firmware updates are available on the individual Surface Update History sites.

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Where the Rubber Meets the Road…

…or (really) where my gut meets the treadmill…

Fitness-page-imageI’ve been doing a lot of spewing over the past few months about the quantitative self. I talked about it in my 2015 Predictions and in my big write up about smartwatches.

I also recently purchased an MS Band (usage article and review pending). I’m also likely going to have a review unit of the Fitbit Surge show up in a few weeks and will have a review on it. Needless to say, when Apple Watch is released later this year, I will also likely purchase one of those and will have a review of it; and ultimately a roundup of MS Band vs. Fitbit Surge vs. Apple Watch published shortly thereafter.

Yeah, I’m gonna be quantifying myself all over the place, and I figured that if I didn’t start having a workout program going, I’d find myself wanting and needing some sort of common ground needed. The whole idea is to have a standard work out setup so that I can rinse repeat with all of these devices through the same kind of activities for the same durations. At least that way, I will be able to say with a bit of confidence that “this” device performed this way during my standard workout and “that” device did that, etc.

So, the new job that I got near the end of last year has a “Biggest Loser” competition every year and this year, I am participating. I’m doing this partly because of the reviews and articles I need to write, partly because of the devices I have and will have, partly because I’m new to the company and need to get to know more of my co-workers (the company has about 200 people…), but mostly because I’ve lost sight of my shoes and my pants are harder to zip up than they were last year.

Yes… I need to lose about 25 pounds (ideally). More would be better.

So, I start working out this week. I plan to work out after work with my wife, and will also try to join some of my Biggest Loser team mates in the office gym during lunch. I’m not sure which days I will be where yet; but suffice it to say, that my goal is to really slim down this year. I’m tired of the clothes not fitting right…

And who knows, I might learn something cool about the smartwatches I’m looking at in the process. Stay tuned, kids. I should have something to post on the process in the next week or so.

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Take control of the heart of your computer with this Ashampoo HDD Control

Take control of the heart of your computer with this essential Windows utility.HDC-01

Your hard drive is the heart of your computer. If the CPU is the brain, then your hard drive is definitely the heart. It pumps information throughout your PC and allows you to perform and complete tasks that can make your life a lot easier. However, like any body, when the heart is sick, the body can’t do well. This is why you need to keep your PC’s heart – your hard drive – working as well as it can. This is where applications like Ashampoo’s HDD Control come in. It’s a Windows app that can help you keep your hard drive working at its best possible ability.

Ashampoo HDD Control monitors, maintains and defragments hard drives. The software supports not only all common IDE and SATA hard drives, but also provides improved support for external USB hard drives and SSD’s. The extended user interface gives an overview of the status of your hard drive’s health, performance and temperature. It also offers lots of technical information on the drive’s supported features and current status. The software supports S.M.A.R.T and will check for electric and mechanic problems of hard drives as well as adjustment of the noise level and power management, if supported by the drive.

With just a few clicks, HDD Control finds unused files and Internet traces, and then delete the data, with support for different erasing methods. If something goes south and you accidentally remove the wrong information from your drive, HDD Control can also help you get it back. Once you’ve got the space you need, the app can also proactively defragment your drive as well.

Speaking of SSD’s, HDD Control works well with Windows-based SSD’s. Its Duplicate Finder can help locate and delete duplicate files so you don’t waste space on these limited volumes. You can use its filtering mechanism to search for specific file types and extensions, to help you keep a handle on your disk usage.

Ashampoo HDD Control bundles all of the essential information about your PC’s hard drive on its start screen in a clear and concise manner. From here, you have a clear, detailed picture of the state of your drives within seconds and can take instant action of you need to.

The app’s history view can show you drive’s long term performance trends and allow you to predict if and when your drive may fail. You’ll be able to take the appropriate precautions in order to save your data from corruption or overall drive failure.

The app’s interface is non-standard; but it’s a decent application and it does a great job of keeping an eye on your drive and its performance. The app is a bit on the expensive side by today’s prices, but if you’ve got a home network and have a great deal of storage on it, this could be the tool that helps you keep things running at peak performance.

Download

 

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Keep your Windows drivers current with Driver Booster

1420722467_icon_256x256If there’s one thing that I know, its Windows PC’s. The life blood of a Windows PC is its hardware drivers. When they don’t work right, are out dated, or conflict with other drivers, then your whole PC can tank. Its performance can go right down the proverbial tubes.

When you have a notebook computer, you’re likely confined to a specific set of drivers, as much of the equipment is not upgradable or interchangeable. You aren’t going to be able to change out your graphics card or your drive controller on a notebook, for example, while doing this on a desktop computer is fairly common. Its here where apps like Driver Booster really shine.

Driver Booster is an easy-to-use hardware driver updater. It analyzes your installed drivers for outdated ones and then automatically installs the right update with just one click. It has a newly adopted online database insuring that your drivers are always the latest version. Moreover, it`s specially designed to tune drivers for peak gaming performance.

DB-08

Drive Booster protects PCs from hardware failures, conflicts, and system crashes. Outdated drivers heavily affect your PC’s performance and lead to system crashes. Driver Booster, designed with IOBit’s most advanced driver update technology, scans and identifies outdated drivers automatically. When it finds an update, it downloads and installs it for you with just one click, saving you time and a lot of headaches.

Drive Booster is specially designed to tweak drivers for better gaming performance. It insures better PC performance by enhancing security with Restore, Uninstall & Rollback features. It protects your PC from hidden security vulnerabilities, hardware failures, conflicts, and system crashes.

IOBit Driver Booster is part of Advanced System Care. The two apps kinda come bundled together; and while some may like that, I’m not a huge fan of program bundles. When I install something I only want what I’ve tried to install and not a bunch of other stuff that happens to come with what ever I’m trying to install. In many cases, the bundled apps are junk. While this is clearly NOT the case with any of IOBit’s products, I still don’t like getting stuff I didn’t expect when it comes to app installs.

Driver Booster in and of itself is a decent app. It does what it does very well; and can in many cases, save your bacon if your having driver issues. As of this writing, the app is also on sale. IOBit has it for 70% off, for a license that gets you a one year subscription for up to three PC’s.

download Driver Booster

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Fitbit Announces New Products at CES

The Smartwatch and fitness band markets just got an interesting pair of competitors…

FitBit

The quantitative self is going to be big in 2015. Apple’s Watch is scheduled to appear this year. Microsoft Band is here and I’m currently evaluating one and will have a review of it shortly. As it’s really the first serious fitness and smartwatch device out there right now, it’s likely going to be the base line that I use this year when I take a rather severe look at this particular category. As I’ve stated previously, it’s a bit confusing.

But as I eluded to in the title and teaser of this article, fitness band maker, Fitbit has announced the availability of two new products in the smartwatch and fitness wearables categories. Fitbit one of the market leaders in fast-growing Connected Health and Fitness category, announced the availability of the Fitbit Charge HR and the Fitbit Surge, which will begin shipping across North America with global availability following shortly after on 2015-01-06.

The company also announced it will extend popular features like on-device exercise summaries – already available on Fitbit Surge – to Fitbit Charge HR, as well as new features coming soon, like multi-device support across its entire product line. Fitbit is always working to enhance its full line of award-winning trackers to deliver even more advanced, game-changing features designed to make tracking more intuitive and efficient.

“[Fitbit is] focused on [their] mission to empower and inspire people to lead healthier, more active lives. [They] have always understood that activity tracking is only part of the journey to attaining better health. It is critical that the information users get from tracking is easy to understand and useful, and the experience is fun and engaging – so they stay motivated,” said James Park, CEO and Co-Founder of Fitbit. “With Fitbit Charge HR and Fitbit Surge, features like heart rate tracking are made simpler by being continuous and automatic so the technology works no matter what you’re doing and the experience is seamless yet powerful, giving users valuable all day health insights.”

Fitbit Charge HR helps users track their active and resting heart rates and delivers continuous, automatic wrist-based heart rate tracking all day (not just when you wake up) and during workouts to give a complete picture of your health and fitness. It has a bright OLED screen that displays all day stats including continuous heart rate tracking with steps, distance, floors climbed and calories burned.

Fitbit Surge is Fitbit’s Fitness Super Watch, and it includes all the powerful features of Fitbit Charge HR, plus a built -in GPS, Multiple Sport Mode, customizable watch faces, Caller ID, text alerts and mobile music control. Along with its GPS, it has 3-axis accelerometers, 3-axis gyroscope, a digital compass, an optical heart rate monitor, altimeter, ambient light sensor and a backlit LCD touchscreen display for easy viewing and navigation through real-time stats, workout apps and alarms. Most importantly, it has up to 7 days of battery life, to track everything from the work week to a full marathon on one charge.

Fitbit Charge HR and Fitbit Surge are available now on Fitbit.com and online at leading retailers nationwide. Both will be widely available in major North American retailers by the end of January. Fitbit Charge HR ($149.95) will be available in black, plum, blue and tangerine; and the Fitbit Surge ($249.95) will be available in black, blue and tangerine.

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2015 Predictions

Here are my technology predictions for 2015…

Businessman Consulting Glowing Crystal Ball

If there’s one thing that you can count on every year, its that nearly every website and [tech] publication will have a best and/or worst of the [outgoing] year feature as well as a [my] predictions for the coming year feature. In fact, in many cases, it can be laughable. Many have come to expect both of these types of articles; and in fact its something that I’ve tried to embrace as much as I can, believe it or not.

While I haven’t done a best/worst of the outgoing year set of articles here on Soft32, I do enjoy making predictions for the coming year and then reviewing those predictions at the end of the year to see how I did. Those micro-look backs can be kinda fun. A lot can change in a year.

So without too much pomp and circumstance, here are my predictions for the coming year of 2015.

2015 Makes or Breaks Wearable Computing

A lot has been happening in the Wearable Computing category over the past 12 or so months. While there’s been little to no news on Google Glass and one can likely (thankfully??) declare it pretty much dead, wearables have taken off here at the end of 2014. There are a boatload of new fitness bands out there. There are also a great many new smartwatches hitting the market and while you can’t figure out what’s what without a program, its clear that something is about to happen.

2015 is going to be the year that either makes or breaks this computing hardware category. Period. This middle of the road, undefined but possibly probable burgeoning market gets defined in 2015. Remember, it’s the year that the Apple Watch is going to get released.

And that’s the lynch pin.

Apple’s Apple Watch is either going to totally set this market on fire where we see a TON of companies trying to jump on the me-too wagon, or I think the category kinda just fizzles and cools off. If Apple Watch can’t make it, I don’t think anything really will.

Wearable computing has been sorta hanging out in the background waiting for something to define it. Fitness bands like the Nike Fuel Band or any number of Fitbit bands, for example, have been out there for a while, and while the quantitative self is big in just about every mobile OS on the market today, if tools like Apple Watch don’t hit and hit big, then I think the whole category of computing devices just bombs.

Cost may be the biggest contributing factor to all of this, too. Apple Watch starts at $350 bucks; AND you have to have an iPhone to pair it with, at least in the beginning. That’s a big investment to make on top of your new iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus, or even iPhone 5 or iPhone 5s, the latter two, just now can be considered, “paid for” or fully depreciated. Spending an additional $350 bucks on top of either a subsidized or financed iPhone may be difficult for some to shoulder.

However, suffice it to say, that if Apple Watch doesn’t kill it, you can pretty much count on the rest of the market dying and this computing category fading away.

Phablets become more Relevant, but not in the US (yet)

Most computing users I know, want a bigger screen than what can be found on their phone or tablet. Maybe is the crowd I’m hanging out with as I *AM* getting a little older; but while tablets and smartphones are GREAT for computing on the go, most everyone that I talk to or associate with prefers having a bigger screen to compute on. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why phablets are becoming so popular.

Phablets are huge in the Asian markets. Many people there have one computing device and only one computing device, and having something WITH a big of a bigger screen is where they’re headed; but they still need a mobile phone. This converged device, if you will, or the phablet, gives them the [mobile] computing power they want and need; but also keeps it [mostly] affordable and provides that bigger screen.

In the US, while phablets are gaining in popularity, and I expect that to continue somewhat even here, many people consider them to be a bit too big. In those Asian markets I mentioned where a phablet may be a user’s ONLY computer, I can certainly understand their popularity. In the US, where most have access to a smartphone and a secondary computing device like a tablet, notebook or desktop PC, the urgency or need for a phablet isn’t as high as it is overseas.

I don’t see this trend taking any real hold, here in the US. Phablets are cool. Some of them are very usable, but I don’t see them eating too much more into the smartphone or tablet markets here. Phablets run in the 5″ to 6″ screen size range, and I don’t see users leaving their 7″, 9″ or 10″+ sized tablets for a 5″ or 6″ screen. Especially when we have access to another device, likely with an even bigger screen. We just don’t have the need. I don’t see those market conditions changing much in 2015, and such, the phablet, while an interesting and amusing dalliance here, won’t cannibalize the US tablet market too much more than it already has.

There is a possibility that this may change, as devices like the iPhone 6 Plus and the Galaxy Note 4 gain in popularity, but I just don’t see it.

Mobile computing trends here in the States will likely stay the course in 2015.

Mobile Broadband becomes More of a Need than a Want

Mobile Broadband will see a HUGE gain in 2015. I think we’re going to see a big uptake on usage and you’re going to see carriers like AT&T and Verizon struggle to keep up with T-Mobile’s whole, no-contract, Uncarrier thing.

If Apple Watch takes off like I think it will – and I think it will end up being huge (and therefore the wearable market will also get bigger as everyone tries to jump on to ride the wave), you’re going to see more and more people need and want mobile broadband. I think we’re going to have issues going forward in this category. Mobile traffic is going to get congested, and there’s going to be an even bigger demand for additional mobile spectrum, beginning in 2015.

Competition is going to heat up and I think we’ll see the bigger carriers begin to shift away from prepaid and begin offering better postpaid (pay as you go) plans, as people find that they don’t want to be tied to contracts so much anymore.

Anyway you slice it, or how ever it happens, there’s going to be a huge push for bigger, better, faster, and MORE mobile broadband in 2015. Given the current spectrum allotments in the market that I’m in, I think mobile speed performance will also take a huge hit as a result. Its going to get slower before it gets faster with more available spectrum as the swim lanes get crowded with more devices and more mobile users.

T-Mobile Overtakes Sprint as the Number 3 US Wireless Carrier

I gave this its own prediction instead of piggy backing it on top of the last one simply because I think its big enough to deserve its own, separate prediction. T-Mobile is doing all the right things. I see them getting more and more popular in the bigger, more densely populated, metropolitan areas. As such, I see Sprint continuing to struggle to keep pace and T-Mobile will overtake the number three carrier spot, albeit, late in the year.

Microsoft Super Hypes Windows 10 Release, but it gets a Luke Warm Reception

It’ll be the thud heard ’round the world.

Microsoft is going to work their butts off unifying the Windows platform in 2015. There will be some really good things that will happen in the Windows 10 space before the replacement OS is finally released to the public in late 2015 (as in October – or Q4 – 2015).

I think Windows 10 is going to be a decent OS. I think its going to be better received than Windows 8 was. I think it will be preferred over Windows 8.x; but I’m not sure how much its going to matter.

Microsoft is making their apps and services available on other platforms – like iOS and Android – and doing so a lot quicker than on Windows. For example, Office for iOS and Android was available long before Office for Windows tablet or Windows Phone.

With Microsoft unifying the Windows Platform to include Desktop AND Mobile (Phone and Tablet) into one OS, I don’t see it being as relevant or as important as a Windows release may have been in the past. On the consumer side of the world, its not as critical as it used to be for me to have a Windows PC at home like I do at work. I can create and/ or modify documents for Work not only on my home PC, but on my personal tablet or smartphone, and those devices can be just about any device I’ve got. Microsoft no longer cares.

While Windows 10 is likely going to be a much better desktop OS than Windows 8.x, its not going to matter. IT departments are still not going to jump on the OS right away. They’re going to stick with what they have (most likely Windows 7) and continue to deploy that OS with new and existing hardware in the Enterprise. I also think Microsoft is going to unify development of Office versions for other platforms so that the same “version” is going to be available everywhere. It won’t matter what device or platform you’re on or using. Microsoft is going to have a version of what you’re needing to get work done on any and every platform so you don’t have to worry if what you’re updating at home is going to be usable or readable at work.

Computing is going to be a bit simpler as a result, and the emphasis is going to be taken off Windows as a platform. Windows 10 is going to be a good OS. Its going to be easier to use than Windows 8. Its going to have less issues than previous versions of Windows. However, its not going to matter as much, and as such, much of the thunder of a decent Windows 10 is going to be stolen by none other than Microsoft itself. When I say, “thud,” I don’t mean bad release. I mean, it ain’t gonna matter as much as it did in the past, because Microsoft is going to cannibalize their own market.

What do you think of my predictions? Am I on track, or off my nut? Will wearables fizzle out, especially if Apple Watch is a dud; or will it be a success even without Cupertino’s much anticipated contribution? Will Phablets be a big deal in the US, or will they continue to be a niche market here in the US? Are we going to need more mobile broadband beginning in 2015 or will usage remain flat? Will Sprint relinquish its number 3 spot in the Mobile Carrier market? Will T-Mobile become more of a success in 2015; or will things there maintain the status quo? Is Windows 10 going to be a big deal or will Microsoft sorta shoot themselves in the foot because they’re supporting all platforms, including desktop and mobile versions, of just about everything that matters to the world – meaning mostly Office in 2015; or will Windows 10 be a huge hit, breathing life back into the Windows PC market?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these and any other computing trends you think are going to take off or die in 2015. Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion Area below, and give me your thoughts on the year in tech to come?

 

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Microsoft to Release Another Browser

But it’s not all sunshine and daisies, like you’d think…

Microsoft to Release Another BrowserHonestly, I’ve struggled with this bit of news over the past couple of days. Initially, I wasn’t going to cover it, because there really isn’t too much to say about it. There aren’t any screenshots. There isn’t an alpha or beta version to play with; and knowing Microsoft, things could change long before ANYTHING is released. However, the latest scuttlebutt out of Redmond has Microsoft working on a new browser for Windows 10.

There’s good news and bad news related to this. The good news, obviously, is that Microsoft is leaving IE behind. The bad news is that they aren’t moving to WebKit. They’re sticking with Trident – IE’s current rendering engine – and it looks like even THAT engine is getting a rewrite; at least according to Brad Sams at Neowin.

According to my friend, Mary Jo Foley, Trident’s rewrite is part of an effort not to (necessarily) replace IE; but to create a new, light weight browser, currently code named, “Spartan.” While Spartan isn’t IE12, it does seem to be a new animal all together. The new browser should look and feel more like popular WebKit browsers, Chrome and Firefox, and it will support extensions. All of this is going to be done as part of the work behind Windows 10.

Microsoft may or may not show off their new browsers on 2015-01-21 when the company reveals the Windows 10 Consumer Preview. It’s very possible that it won’t be in a state to show off until later in 2015.

What Microsoft decides to do with IE and the IE brand is also up in the air. MJF made no mention of Microsoft discontinuing IE or totally replacing it with Spartan or any other new or revised browser.

All of this is a bit annoying if you ask me. IE has been such a pain in the butt over the past 15 or so years. Its broken the internet a number of times, and has really created more problems for web developers than it solved during that time as well. Why Microsoft is hell bent on staying with their own, proprietary rendering engine, is also completely beyond me. If they’re going to write something new for Windows 10, and knows that their development community and partners (as well as the general public) has issues with IE and Trident, why not totally embrace their new philosophy of customer – not Microsoft – first, and dump Trident for WebKit?

I’m fairly certain that the world won’t see the new browser and kick their love of Chrome, Firefox, Safari and other WebKit compatible browsers to the curb. Unfortunately, we’ll just have to wait and see where Microsoft takes this new effort, and how it’s received not only by the tech press and tech savvy, but the general public as well…. and if there’s one thing I really HATE doing when it comes to technology is, “waiting and seeing.”

What do you think? Is a new MS browser a good thing? Is sticking with Trident good or bad, regardless of its pending rewrite? Is this something that you’re looking forward to as part of Windows 10, or is this something that just seems to be an unneeded, unwanted, or misdirected effort? Why not sound off in the Discussion area below and let me know what you think?

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Time with a Surface Pro 3

Introduction

A couple years ago, I bought a Microsoft Surface Pro 1. I got the big boy… the 128GB model with the Intel i5 processor. It’s been a good PC, and honestly, it’s probably going to be a decent backup device, unless I break down and sell it. Honestly, I’m still up in the air about that…and for good reason – I don’t know if I’m going to keep the Surface Pro 3 that I bought a couple of weeks ago.

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 is Redmond’s latest entry into the hybrid ultrabook market. It comes with Windows 8.x out of the box, and will also run Windows 10, if you’re on the Technical Preview, Windows Insider program. I haven’t put Windows 10 on it for a couple of reasons –

1. Build 9879 is really buggy
2. The Surface Pen doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to in Windows 10 right now (the pen’s top button doesn’t start OneNote, like it’s supposed to)
3. The Consumer Preview of Windows 10 should be out in about 4-5 weeks from this writing (I’d say, on our about 2015-01-21, the date of their scheduled announcement)
4. I wanted to see how the device really ran under Windows 8.x, especially compared to my Surface Pro 1.

I’m not going to turn this into a review of the Surface Pro 3; however, I did want to give some thoughts on it vs. the Surface Pro 1. I’m not too happy with the fact that there are enough issues with it and Windows 10 that I don’t have it on the new OS yet, despite its beta or Technical Preview designation. At least for this article then, the two devices would be on equal ground. However, as I mentioned above, there are issues with the device on Windows 10 (and enough with Windows 8.x) that I thought it would be prudent to leave it on the OS it came with…

Form Factor

IMG_0683 IMG_0682

As you can see from the photos, the shape of the actual Surface Pro 3 is very different from either the Surface 1/2 or the Surface Pro 1/2. The aspect ratio of the device has changed from 16×9 to 3×2. The 12-inch screen has a resolution of 2160 x 1440. This new screen size and, aspect ratio and resolution should make the inking experience a bit better (see below), as a 16×9 aspect ratio is GREAT for watching movies, but made for a very thin, portrait oriented digital sheet of paper.

But let’s get down to brass tacks here… usability and such.

Let’s get one thing straight first – even though the Surface Pro line comes in a tablet form factor with a magnetized, clickable and easily removable keyboard, they are NOT tablets. They are full blown Windows computers, and are officially categorized as an ultrabook. They are NOT a tablet, and shouldn’t be confused with one.

Tablets are small, easy to use devices with batteries that last for days while watching one feature length film after another without needing to recharge or put it down because it gets too hot to hold in your hands or your lap (I kid about the battery life thing; but you get my point). The Surface Pro line of devices have extended battery life, but they’re not anywhere near as long lived as your iPad, Surface or Surface 2, or any number of popular Android variant tablets. They also have cooling fans in them, as they can get rather warm.

I did not try to make use of either the Surface Pro 1 or Surface Pro 3 as a content consumption device for the above noted battery and heat reasons, but also because until the recent updates where the Xbox Music and Xbox Video services started offering movies and music and such to a larger crowd, Microsoft didn’t really have an ecosystem in order to hock their wares.

I’ve noted a number of times that I’ve been using the Surface Pro and Surface Pro 3 as a digital notepad, taking it from meeting to meeting so that I can take meeting notes with the included pen. I’ve noted one big difference between the Surface Pro and the Surface Pro 3 in this regard:

  1. The Surface Pro 1 isn’t Wide Enough – The Surface Pro 1 isn’t wide enough to be a truly effective digital notepad. The way I have OneNote configured, I have notes organized by Year, Month and then individual note, on a number of different tabs, usually organized by subject. Individual notes get indented as a sub-note or sub-sub-note, depending on if they’re organized under a month or a year separator. This requires me to move the right sided, note organizer out a bit from the right edge of the app window so you can read the titles of all the indented notes so you can find what you’re looking for This makes the actual writing area a bit skinnier than it really needs to be on a 16×9 formatted screen.
  2. The Surface Pro 3 isn’t Long Enough – While the Surface Pro 3 is definitely wider than the Surface Pro 1 or Pro 2, it clearly isn’t long enough. While the visible screen is physically longer than that of the Surface Pro 1 or 2, given the 3×2 aspect ratio, its functionally shorter. There’s clearly not enough writing space; and depending on how big you write, and what magnification level you have the screen at, you’re constantly scrolling the used “paper” up the screen, out of the way.

I’m not entirely certain what the right solution is here. The 16×9 aspect ratio of the Surface Pro 1/ 2 is better for watching movies and other video, but I don’t use the device this way. It is better for longer pieces of OneNote “paper;” but it clearly isn’t wide enough. While the 3×2 aspect ratio of the Surface Pro 3 is better for writing, it clearly isn’t long enough.

It’s clear to me that no matter what I do here, I’m going to be scrolling horizontally or vertically a lot. While speaking about this topic to someone, they asked why I just didn’t zoom the screen out a bit. There’s a really good reason for that, and its twofold:

  1. My eye sight is worsening with age, and I can’t see the smaller stuff as well anymore.
  2. The hardware of the Surface 1/ 2 and the Surface 3 clearly show me they don’t handle writing and zooming very well. While you can zoom IN to make the print bigger or zoom OUT to show more white space or ruled lines, digital ink doesn’t do well on zoomed screens smaller than 80% and larger than 120%. (and I’m being generous with the range, here…)

Display and Digitizer

I eluded to much of what I am seeing with the Surface Pro 3’s display, above; but I wanted to talk about the screen itself a bit more.

The screen is gorgeous.

It’s really nice to look at and very easy to read computer generated text on it. What video I have watched on it, in the form of either Facebook or YouTube videos, has been clear, clean, with little to no pixilation or artifacting, even with the low-end Intel i3 processor running at just 1.5gHz and Intel’s Intel 4200 graphics chipset. However, I’m not really trying to push this bad boy too much, either. I know what the hardware can and cannot do, and I’m not trying to do more than just type or use OneNote with it. It’s never going to run Photoshop (I’ve got a high-end MacBook Pro for that) and I’m not going to play movies on it. I’ve got an iPad for that.

However, I did want to spend a bit of time talking about the digitizer layer of the device (and not necessarily the touch screen, per se, unless it plays into this). I’m having an issue on both devices, with both Windows 8.x (SP3) and Windows 10 (SP1). I use both for OneNote and both in portrait orientation while inking. I’ve noticed a big problem with pen accuracy as well as a bit of delay in showing digital ink on the screen after its been drawn.

I’ve tried on many occasions to resolve this with recalibration of the screen on the Surface Pro 1 with Windows 10, to no avail. The digitizer is just… off. This wasn’t like this on Windows 8.x on this device. My hope is that it can be resolved when the Windows 10 Consumer Preview comes out. However, I’m not overly confident that it will be. The issue also presents itself when the device is used in its default landscape orientation; and I’ve noticed that getting the screen to auto-switch orientations – especially after waking from sleep – isn’t always easy.

I’ve noticed the same issue on the Surface Pro 3 while it’s in portrait mode, but isn’t not as advanced there. On the Surface Pro 1, the location of the cursor on the computer image and the location of the digitizer pen on the glass screen can differ by as much as 1/32″ to 1/16″ of an inch. That doesn’t seem like much, but when you’re writing on the screen and you touch HERE only to have it display THERE, things can look really strange; and it makes writing very difficult. Add to that a very slight, but noticeable delay in digital ink display, and things can get difficult, quickly. This is further complicated by the fact that neither device’s RAM complements can be upgraded.

In the end, I’m not entirely certain what is causing the issue, whether it’s a driver issue, an OS issue or if there’s some kind of hardware issue or defect. However, I’m seeing it on both devices; and the Surface Pro 3 is two years newer, so I’m going to give myself and my expensive, executive travel backpack the benefit of the doubt and say it’s a software issue and not the way I’m handling the device.

Performance

The Surface Pro 3 comes in a few different flavors with a couple different options. In the end, there really are only three different tiers with a couple different variations per tier. You have three processor choices and four storage variations.

surface3

On the low end with 4GB of RAM, you have both 64GB and 128GB storage options. On the high end, you have 8GB of RAM and 256GB and 512GB storage options. Prices vary from $799 USD at the low end to $1950 on the high end; and it’s clear that the device was designed as a direct competitor with the MacBook Air and Microsoft is working hard to get switchers to switch back.

The Surface Pro 1 that I have has a 3rd generation, Intel i5 processor. While the i3 processor in the Surface Pro 3 is at least two years younger than the i5 in the Surface Pro 1, it’s clear that the SP1 has a bit more punch than the Surface Pro 3. It’s understandable, too. Despite the 2 years technology advantage on the SP3, the i5 in the SP1 is still an i5; and my daily usage experience with the SP3 clearly shows that the SP1 has a clear performance advantage at times.

At the end of the day, performance wise, this is a clear toss-up. On one hand, the current Intel i3 vs the two year old Intel i5 will and won’t make a difference unless and until you become processor bound or close to it. IN cases like that, the beefier processor is likely going to win out, despite its age, simply because it supports a turbo mode and the i3 does not. In most other non-processor intensive use, the SP3 is a clear winner as its newer, more efficient and faster components can clearly be seen. The problem is that it’s easy to become processor bound on a machine that only has – and only will have – 4GB of RAM. Neither the storage nor the RAM on the Surface Pro line of ultrabooks is upgradeable.

Conclusion
It’s clear – Microsoft has a winner in their Surface Pro line of ultrabooks. Both the Surface Pro 1 and the Surface Pro 3 are decent performers and will provide most Windows enthusiasts or users with a highly portable, highly usable ultrabook PC. If you’re in the market for a new Windows computer, then you owe it to yourself to give the Surface Pro 3 a long look.

The fact that it can shed its keyboard and also be used as a tablet is an interesting option, but not one that I see getting used very often. The problem is that its ecosystem is still disjointed, especially under Windows 8.x, and I don’t see that getting resolved until after Windows 10 is released, at the earliest. There is some consolidation of environments and operating systems that would give most anyone hope that Microsoft sees how its screwed up on the mobile side of its world, and they’re hoping that Windows 10 will right that part of the ship. How and if that happens is still up in the air and depends a great deal on how the company approaches mobility and content in late 2015 after Windows 10 is released. They have at least nine months to figure this out… if they don’t have a handle on it before June, you can likely count on it being screwed up for a good long time…at least that’s what I think.

The Surface Pro 3 is easier to write on, easier to read and in many ways easier to carry from place to place. This may be in some small part to the Maroo cover that I got with the Surface Pro 3. Microsoft is offering a free cover (up to $50 value) as part of the purchase of every Surface Pro 3 PC.

The Surface Pro 3 comes in many more variations and configurations than the Surface Pro or Surface Pro 2. Its enhanced screen make it easier to read and to work with. Its improved processor (when comparing like versions…) are clear improvements over their previous generations. The device has clearly grown up and come into its own.

If you’re in the market for an ultrabook and you aren’t a Mac, then you need to take a serious look at the Surface Pro 3. The device is light, easy to carry, performs well and runs the software you’re wanting for home or business. Once Microsoft gets the digitizer issues worked out so that the device is more accurate with inking and ink placement, it’s going to be the hit that I always knew it could be.

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