Microsoft Surface Pro Tablet/Laptop Review

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Microsoft Surface Pro. I’ve been waiting for this device for months now. When it was first announced by Microsoft, I could feel it – this was the future of computing. This was finally a device that made iPads look like toys and Ultrabooks like the DynaTAC.

So when it was released February 9, 2013, I was very, very excited. What sucks was that I hadn’t anticipated a $1000+ device selling out nationwide. It took me over a week to find stock at a Best Buy 20 miles from work. I ordered it immediately for pick up and drove over to pick it up during lunch. I also found it annoying that Microsoft couldn’t even keep its accessories in stock. It took me another week to online-order the Type Cover. In the meantime, I purchased a limited edition Touch Cover and have gotten quite used to it.

To give people some background information about this device – it is a FULL LAPTOP in TABLET form/size. It finally merges your computer and your tablet into one device that does it all. It has a Core i5 processor which runs full Windows. This isn’t your ARM processor that only runs Android or iOS, it’s a full Intel CPU that runs Windows. It has 4GB DDR3-1600 RAM and a 128GB SSD (0r 64GB depending on which version you got). The screen is Full HD 1080P  (1920×1080) in a 10.1″ size. Color accuracy is ok out of the box, but is very good when calibrated (Anandtech Review). It has as USB 3.0 port and a mini DisplayPort.

So, here’s what I think of my new Microsoft Surface Pro 128gb.

Size

The screen is a bit smaller than I hoped. This was one reason I gave the Samsung Ativ series a serious look (11.6″). Doing serious work is certainly possible, just not preferred on such a screen. The colors are beautiful and the resolution is fantastic (full HD after all).

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It’s heavy, but it’s really not. What I mean is that it’s heavy for a tablet (2lbs) but it’s light for a laptop. Most people are surprised by its weight but accept it when they learn that it’s a full laptop inside. Another quick note is that the fixed angle stand is a bit annoying. It’s hard to use it unless you’re using it as a full tablet (cover folded back) or if you’re on a desk/hard surface.

Touch Input

The capacitive touch screen plus Wacom digital pen means awesome input. The device can distinguish between each input, meaning that when I’m writing notes with the digital pen, I can still touch the screen with my finger to scroll (it writes when the pen touches and scrolls when my finger touches the screen). The best part? The stylus that comes with my Galaxy Note II works as a digital pen on my Surface Pro, because they both use Wacom technology for the digital pen.

Touch Cover & Type Cover

I really think Microsoft should give you a Touch Cover for free when you spend $1000 to buy this thing. To charge another $119 is absurd. Anyways, both covers are great. There’s definitely a learning curve associated with the Touch Cover but you can get used to it and do some semi-serious typing. The Type Cover is like any other laptop – you can do serious work/typing on it. Keep in mind though, that while the Touch cover comes in multiple colors, the Type Cover is only available in black.

Performance

It’s a Core i5 laptop that benchmarks comparably to a Macbook Air 13″. Its several times faster than any tablet. I haven’t run any games on it yet, but it shouldn’t have too much trouble unless it’s an intensive FPS game. I’ve run Photoshop Lightroom on it and while it’s not instant to preview changes, it’s definitely usable and quite fast.

Connectivity

WiFi seems stable, never had any issues connecting to the home router, friends’ routers, work wifi, and tethering through my phone. I don’t have any bluetooth devices so haven’t tried that, but I don’t imagine there’d be any issues.

Battery Life

Battery life is the Surface’s worst problem. No USB charging like any other mobile device means I have to carry the brick around to work, home, and extended travel. If you’re not an early adapter nor have GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), wait till the next generation of Intel Processors (Haswell) makes it into these devices, this should fix the battery problem. Unfortunately, I get jittery/nervous when I don’t have the latest gear that I believe will fit my needs.

Windows 8

Windows 8 takes some getting used to. I think the most annoying part for me was the lack of an “X” button to close windows. You swipe from the top of the screen all the way to the bottom to close a program/app, but I still miss that X button.  Once you get used to it though, I think it’s not that bad. The desktop mode is definitely a bit harder to use on a full HD 10.1″ screen so the Tiles style helps.

Media

The great thing about the Surface is that because it’s a full Windows machine, I can download any video player/codec to play any type of video file. This is one reason I thought iPads were stupid – they can only play mp4 files. My Galaxy Tab 10.1 comes with a lot of codecs so it can play most files without spending any additional time encoding them. What my Galaxy Tab can’t do, however, is access certain web based storage platforms where I download movies (clubnara). With my Surface, I can download videos straight from Clubnara and copy them to my Galaxy Tab. I prefer the GTab for most video viewing because of the longer battery life.

Work Usage

One of my main job functions is to audit suppliers. While I haven’t had the chance to use my Surface on an audit, I can see it being very useful. Jotting notes with the digital pen and using the Type Cover to type up the report afterwards, it should be the only device I need. I also found it very useful to print PPTs and PDFs onto MS OneNote and write notes on the slides/pages with my pen. I’m done using paper!

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Another great way I was able to utilize my two tablets last weekend. I prepared a Powerpoint presentation on my Surface, editing slides until the last minute. I saved the PPT file on Skydrive, it synced immediately to the cloud. I then opened my Galaxy Tab, accessed the same Skydrive folder and played the Presentation on the lighter, longer lasting device. All though tethering on my phone.

Home Usage

I have a beast desktop with two large monitors that I do most of my work/websurfing on but it’s nice having an extra machine that I can use when my PC is busy processing something else. Installed dropbox/google drive/skydrive and I have files syncing across all my devices instantly as well.

Away from Home

Away from home, with a SD-USB adapter, I can review certain photos while on a trip, make slight Lightroom adjustments on the spot and upload them directly to facebook/flickr/whatever photo sharing service instantly. The 10.1″ screen is a tad small, but the Wacom touchscreen and full keyboard are a great combo for input. The bulk of photos gets taken home for my main machine. I no longer have to shoot RAW+JPG so I can instantly upload subpar un-PPed photos. Mobile LR is great. While a full laptop would be better/cheaper than this for LR, it’d also be heavier and bulkier.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAConclusion

If you have a specific need for a 10.1″ tablet that can run full Windows, get it. If you can wait, get the second generation next year (for much improved battery life). I would strongly suggest going to a local Microsoft Store, if available, and checking out the different tablet options that are available. Samsung, Lenovo, HP, etc have some interesting alternatives to the Surface. Just make sure you’re not buying Windows/Surface RT and that it doesn’t have an Intel Atom processor (go for the Core i series). If you don’t have specific use for a Wacom tablet or the touch screen, just get an Ultrabook.

If you do have use for such a device – it is fantastic and will not disappoint.

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2 thoughts on “Microsoft Surface Pro Tablet/Laptop Review

    • I think the Yoga is the Surface’s best competition right now. But I think only the Samsung Ativ and Surface Pro come with the Wacom digitizer. The rest, including the Yoga, are only finger-touch screens (capacitive).

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