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.

Related Posts:

Is Surface Pro 3 Microsoft’s Last Chance

…as far as the tablet market is concerned..?  Uh…yeah.

Pro3

I’m a big fan of Windows Weekly on the TWiT NetworkPaul Thurrott is a former co-worker and friend, Mary Jo Foley and I chat every now and again on Twitter.  Leo is also full of awesome-sauce.  He’s done a huge amount of work to advance consumer understanding of the tech world in general… Do they give medals for tech-awesomeness..??  ‘cuz I’m just sayin’…

Anyway, I was listening to episode WW367: Mucho Calibre of Windows Weekly, and about three quarters of the way through the show, the Leo, Mary Jo and Paul begin discussing the immanent, public release of Surface Pro 3, and start talking a little bit about whether or not this is Microsoft’s last real shot at the tablet market (and whether Surface and Windows RT is dead or not…). I have a couple quick things to say about this that I wanted to follow up on before it evaporated.

1. Surface Pro 3’s Last Hurrah?
Um, yeah…  This is the last real chance that the platform has. I love Surface Pro and I’ll be excited to see Surface Pro 3 when it really starts making its way on to local Best Buy, and other retail shelves.  However, no one really knows what Surface Pro wants to be, either. Microsoft has done a lot of work to try to define what that is exactly, but I’m not convinced that the public will connect the dots.

In Microsoft’s eyes, it’s the perfect combo device – tablet and ultrabook.  However, most consumers just think its overpriced and unproven.  While Microsoft may be offering a $650 trade-in for users of MacBook Air’s (making the Surface Pro 3 a $149 dollar device…), a lack of confidence in Windows 8.x and the public’s unfamiliarity with Surface Pro devices, as well as its high price point make the Surface Pro 3 a NEAR non-starter for many.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the hardware is solid. They did a lot to improve the pen and writing experience on the device with Surface Pro 3; but $799 is a lot to pay for a digital notepad (the Surface Pro and Microsoft OneNote are a completely AWESOME combination); but I don’t know many beyond the tech-savvy, executive management type who will actually give Surface Pro 3 a shot…And because Microsoft rebuilt the device from the ground up – different size, form factor, aspect ratio power supply, and pen (just to name a few) – I don’t know how many current Surface Pro/ Surface Pro 2 users you’re going to see upgrading to the latest version of Microsoft’s premier hardware line.  If this one doesn’t generate the kind of following that the MacBook Air enjoys with Mac lovers, I doubt you’re going to see Surface Pro 3 last long (and you won’t see a Surface Pro 4…). I hope Microsoft got it right.

And yes… changes to desktop Windows to make the tablet/ ultrabook even more compelling, while leaving the train wreck that is Windows 8.x behind…will be a must.

2. Is Surface/Windows RT Dead?
Um, yeah…  That ship sailed a while ago.  The fact that its recently been made public that Microsoft killed the Surface Mini just days or weeks before its launch isn’t helping much.  The fact that there’s no real big differentiator between Windows RT and Windows 8.x (aside from where you can buy apps from and which apps will run) isn’t helping matters. RT has a desktop and looks and sorta feels like Windows except when any ModernUI apps run. Microsoft should have killed the desktop entirely on RT, went full ModernUI on RT and really pushed the tablet as a lean-back device.  They didn’t, and the result is a total muddying of the Windows waters. There’s more OS confusion as Microsoft really didn’t draw a line between the two platforms and differentiate them.  No one knows what Surface and WinRT are, and at this point, the public is beyond the point of caring….that and a $900B write-off will not only get ya fired, but it will kill a platform.

Honestly, Microsoft just needs to realize that the only thing left to do is put flowers on the grave.  Windows RT died with Surface RT. They just apparently didn’t know it after the write-off, new CEO and the release of version 2 of the doomed platform.  What were they thinking?? Doesn’t a billion dollar charge kinda say that the public isn’t interested and doesn’t want the platform?

I don’t want to be hard on Microsoft. They need all the cheerleaders they can get right now; but I unfortunately think that Leo, Mary Jo and Paul are wrong on this one.  The Surface Pro 3 will be the last Surface tablet from Microsoft if this one isn’t just something that is “magical,” giving the MacBook Air and/ or an iPad with an awesome keyboard a run for its money.

What do you think?  Do you have a Surface or Surface Pro tablet (of any generation)?  Do you like it?  Do you use it?  Do you think that Microsoft can make a difference with Surface Pro 3..?  or is it all just too late, and everyone is just refusing to see the writing on the wall?  Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area, below, and give me your thoughts on the subject?  I’d love to know what you think…

Related Posts:

Who Designs this Stuff – Microsoft Surface Pro 2 Power Supply & Pen Connector

From the WTH department comes the easiest way in the world to lose a $30 Stylus

I am probably one of the most anal retentive people I know. I keep all of my computing equipment in pristine, mint condition as I never know when I’m going to put it up on eBay or Craig’s List and sell it because something else got introduced. Recycling computer equipment is something that is getting a LOT of press right now. Special nods to the iDevice for its rapid revision cycle and Apple’s high product quality levels.

One of the things that makes this difficult, however is poor design. Case in point – Microsoft Surface RT/2 and Pro/2 devices use a magnetic charger just like most of Apple’s laptops; but there’s a subtle difference – the Surface devices use the same port to dock its stylus when the charger isn’t connected.

surface pen connector

The problem is that the magnet that holds the stylus isn’t strong enough to hold it in place. It’s easily knocked off and you might not notice that it’s fallen off and no longer there for quite a while.

Losing the stylus is a huge problem. The magnet that holds the pen in place isn’t strong enough. The port that holds it also sits against the angled side of the device at a 45 degree angle. The wall isn’t flat. The stylus is difficult to dock and often doesn’t sit right in the magnetic well. The weak bond makes the stylus fall off very easily. If you don’t hear it fall, you won’t notice it’s gone until long after you’ve lost it. Then it costs you $30USD to replace.

As I mentioned earlier, the stylus docks in the same spot as the device’s charger is placed. As the side of the device is at a 45 degree angle, and the charging port is long, stiff and exact fitting, it’s difficult to place into the port due to the size, shape and angle of the side of the device. The charger often doesn’t make full contact with the charging plate, and then… doesn’t charge the device.

It’s the 45 degree angle that prevents the charger from sitting correctly. The charger cord also doesn’t like being twisted enough to face the charging plate.

SurfacePower

What does this all mean – besides the fact that the guy that designed these features should be found and shot? It means that you’re likely going to need to buy a few extra styli or hope someone designs an affordable or reasonably priced, 3rd party keyboard that includes a built in stylus that’s either tethered to it, sits in a silo or both. Unfortunately, Surface 2/Pro uses the same stylus and AC adapter, so no one addressed this design flaw in the new hardware release.

If you’re considering a Surface 2/Pro, you’ll need to be aware of this issue. There has to be a better way of keeping track of these styli without buying a pencil cup full of them for if and when you lose them. There should also be a better way of charging and powering the device. There are other design issues with the AC adapter (charging indicator location) that I also really haven’t touched on that should be resolved. Again… who designed this and/or approved the designs?

Related Posts:

What Microsoft and Surface 2 Forgot to Address

Microsoft Surface 2 is a decent update to the tablet and ultrabook hardware platform, but doesn’t address all of the issues. Let’s take a quick look

 

Introduction

Microsoft’s first foray into the tablet space didn’t fare too well. Windows RT and Surface RT are largely misunderstood. Now, with the introduction of Surface 2 and Windows 8.1, Microsoft is hoping to come closer to giving the world what it really wants. I’ve given you an insight on what Microsoft has done with the introduction of Surface 2. However, no one really knows what need Windows RT is supposed to meet in its current form, largely because the ARM based OS is still Windows or at least Windows branded. Surface 2 should be a decent upgrade to Microsoft’s Windows showcase hardware. Let’s take a look at what they did and where it might still fall short

 

Cost

As I mentioned previously, Surface 2 will start at $449 for the 32GB version. Surface 2 Pro will Start at $899 for the 64GB version, with 128GB, 256GB and 512GB versions available. The latter will cost a cool $1799. Clearly, Microsoft did NOT get the message on tablet cost.

All of these costs are completely out of line for this type of device. I’ve got a bit more on this in the Hardware Confusion section, below. My guess is that the sweet spot (at least as far as storage is concerned) will be the 256GB model. I doubt that Microsoft will sell very many 512GB Surface 2 Pro devices. It’s just too expensive for a tablet.

In fact, the entire tablet line is about 2x-3x more expensive than it should be. Microsoft had a huge opportunity to change its position and stance on tablet pricing with the introduction of Surface 2, and it totally missed the boat. They’ve already taken a huge $1.0B charge for unsold Surface RT tablets.

Lowering the entry point for Windows tablets should have been a priority for Surface 2. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. Surface 2 should have been priced no higher than $249 for the entry level device. The entry level Surface 2 Pro device should have been priced at $349. Pricing for the 512GB version of Surface 2 Pro should have been $999. Period. Pricing at these levels would have made Surface 2 much more attractive than it currently is, and could have made some of its short comings more forgivable.

surface_cost

Mobile Broadband

After I got my Surface Pro and saw that it didn’t have a SIM card slot, I wondered what Microsoft was thinking in making their top of the line, highly anticipated enterprise ready tablet Wi-Fi only. I decided to go to a local Microsoft Store and ask one of the associates for their take on the issue.

To make a long story short, their take was that Surface RT and Surface Pro were already late to the market. Redmond knew this, and instead of going through the additional 18-24 months of engineering and wireless certifications that would be required for a mobile broadband device, the decision for a Wi-Fi only device was justified. I give the kid top marks for a great fish story; but I’m not buyin’ what he’s sellin’.

Microsoft knows that both Apple and almost any Android tablet manufacturer produce both Wi-Fi and mobile broadband compatible tablets. If they could see far enough down the product pipeline to get their ducks in a row, then Microsoft should have found a way to get the job done.

The time is way over for lame excuses. You can’t tell me that with Microsoft’s connections, lobbying power and available cash they couldn’t find a way to fast track mobile broadband certification for LTE versions of both Surface RT and Surface Pro.

Microsoft is indicating that an LTE version of Surface 2 WILL be available; but won’t be around until Q1 2014 at the earliest. That’s way too late. What the heck has MS been doing since the introduction of Surface RT and Surface Pro? Why haven’t they been working on this since then with prototypes or samples in testing with all 4 major wireless carriers?

It’s easy to blame Ballmer for this, especially since he’s the lame duck CEO; but this is another HUGE ball that’s been dropped. It’s also going to add an additional $100-$150 to the cost of each storage sized version of Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro, which again, is wrong. The devices are already way over priced; and cellular radios are cheap now a days. What would be cool is if this turned out to be modular and something and end user could snap internally into the tablet; but that won’t happen either…

Next page

Related Posts:

Microsoft Introduces Surface 2 – What’s it All Mean?

Microsoft has introduced the successors to its Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets. Let’s take a quick look…

surface-2-2I had an idea this was coming. I had heard a few weeks back that Microsoft was (really) planning on releasing an update to its Surface tablet(s). Of course, everything was rumor at the time… I had hopes for both lines. I only got half of what I wanted, and then really, only half of that, so… let’s take a quick look at what Microsoft actually released.
With Surface 2 Microsoft attempted to address many of the issues and concerns that were generated by both Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets. The biggest problems were price and battery life. Microsoft has tried to address both of these issues with the introduction of its Surface 2 line.
Surface 2, the successor to Surface RT will start at $449 for the 32GB version. Surface 2 Pro start at $899 will come in a few additional flavors than originally thought – 64GB, 128GB, 256GB and 512GB, with the latter costing $1799. All prices are in US dollars.
Surface 2 will also attempt to address battery life concerns cited by many Surface owners and users. The newer versions will have the latest Intel Haswell microprocessors and should double the original Surface’s battery life. Add the battery enabled Power Cover (think Type Cover, with a battery on the bottom) also due to hit the street before the end of Calendar 2013, and battery life for Surface 2 will be in a good spot.

microsoft-surface-2-press-conference-970x0
As far as color schemes are concerned, think silver. There won’t be a black version of either Surface 2 or Surface 2 Pro, according to my friend Mary Jo Foley. Its going to be very easy to distinguish Surface tablets from Surface 2 tablets.
Both Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro tablets, and most of their accessories are expected to be available for order on 2013-09-24 at 8am ET.

Related Posts:

Stay in touch with Soft32

Soft32.com is a software free download website that provides:

121.218 programs and games that were downloaded 237.780.356 times by 402.775 members in our Soft32.com Community!

Get the latest software updates directly to your inbox

Find us on Facebook