A few months ago, I purchased a 128GB Microsoft Surface Pro. I then reviewed it in a post on this blog. I wanted to give an update now that I have used it extensively for some time. My ultimate verdict is unchanged, this device is fantastic, and I highly recommend it. All of my initial opinions are still valid, and I recommend that you peruse them for a general overview. These are simply some additional thoughts.
The battery life is surprisingly good. I went into this relationship expecting the battery life of a long lasting laptop, 3 to 4 hours of consistent use. In reality however, I am getting closer to 5 hours which beats all laptops I have owned handily. True, it doesn’t compare to a ARM tablet running Android or iOS, but 5 hours is more than enough for me.
The tablet itself is well-constructed. The only issues are the stylus and charging connector. They are somewhat difficult to attach. It’s not a deal breaker, and attaching them is not that difficult. However, it is probably my biggest gripe. The magnetic attachments should be as easy as attaching the keyboard is, or the charging connector on MacBook laptops; get the plug roughly lined up and let the magnet do the rest of the work.
The Windows Store has grown significantly, but it is still a long way away from iTunes or Google Play. You can run Android apps using BlueStacks as I mentioned in the previous article, but I find it’s not worth it. Most of the major bases are covered with the Windows Store(Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, and so on). However, I have found I don’t use many apps at all.
The touch version of Internet Explorer is surprisingly good, and it displays web pages as any other browser would. There is no mobile version problems, no compromises to the website layout or flow to make it work in a browser (I’m looking at you Android browsers). It just works, as expected. Navigation is a breeze, and the touch recognition on links and buttons is fantastic, even with my largish fingers. Therefore, I don’t really use the apps. If I want to check Facebook, I go to the Facebook website. If I want to write a quick Evernote note, I just go to the website. This way there is no dumbing down of the service to make it work in an app. You get the full experience. The only service that is inconvenient to deal with in the web browser is Amazon Kindle. But, there’s an app for that which works beautifully.
I believe that 99% of people would be able to get along just fine with the current app selection when supplemented by both the excellent web browser, and the normal progams that you can install since it is a normal, functioning computer running a full version of Windows.
Absolutely wonderful! I run a complete version of Office 365. I can install Photoshop or, for the time being, I am using GIMP. I have all my favorite text editors and IDEs for programming. I have a WAMP server for local testing of websites. I run Linux in a virtual machine. I can print without any drama or problems. I can connect to my home network and do file sharing and the like. It runs everything like a champ. Oh my god, how did I live with my old Android tablet. It was crippled compared to this beast!
My only complaint is that normal computer software (not apps), that was not developed within the last few months, and is not somewhat recent Microsoft software, are not designed for touch interface. The touch recognition is great, as that’s done by Windows, but programs designed for a mouse and keyboard will often clump commands and small buttons close together. This works fine with a mouse, but makes touch a bit difficult. This is not denigrating Windows or this tablet in any way. It is mildly inconvenient, but the fact that a tablet will run that software at all is incredible. And, now that Windows 8 is in widespread use, and Windows 8 touch devices are available, most software will adapt.
Perfect for touch. It’s a breeze to use, it includes great touch recognition. The gestures are fairly intuitive and are picked up easily. I still prefer the traditional Windows 7 like start menu for desktops, but the big full screen Metro UI start menu is perfect for a tablet. Honestly, outside of business environments, most of the people complaining about Windows 8 are, in my opinion, simply resistant to change. I’m okay with that. I understand it. I am one of those people (I want my start menu back for my desktop). But if you power your way through the changes between previous versions of Windows and 8 and make a few tweaks to default programs, it isn’t really worse than Windows 7, just different.
On par with other high-end tablets. It’s not a great camera, but it is functional and acceptable.
I purchased a type cover keyboard with my Surface Pro. It works great and integrates smoothly with the tablet. The tablet intelligently hides or displays the onscreen keyboard depending on whether the type cover is attached and deployed or not. The keyboard is small, but that is the same size as any other keyboard on a small laptop/netbook. I can type effectively, I use it to take notes in class a lot. It’s very thin and light, so it doesn’t bulk up the tablet. I highly recommend it.
However, the trackpad mouse on the touch cover is far from brilliant. It’s small and a bit sluggish. But I find that I still do most everything with touch anyway, even when the keyboard is deployed. I only use the trackpad for precision stuff, and it’s adequate for the task. If you plan on using the mouse a lot, I recommend you invest in a separate Bluetooth mouse.
I have read of some people having issues with the wireless connectivity with the Surface Pro. I have had absolutely no problems. That being said, most of the wireless routers I connect to are high-end and fairly new. So I can’t generalize and say it will work across the board. But I haven’t had even a hint of a problem. It also has excellent connection range. It beats my Droid Razr Maxx significantly in range and reported wireless signal strength.
Heat & Cooling System
I have never heard the fans on this device, but I can tell that they work and are doing there job based on how, and when, the Surface Pro cools under load. So it’s deathly quiet which is good and expected for a tablet. Despite the fans, it does get a tad on the warm side, but not bad, and cooler than many laptops would be under the same conditions.
Ease of “Hacking” & Modification
It runs Windows. Any modifications you can make to Windows, you can do to the tablet. If you want to disable services and stuff because you like tinkering with boot times and power draw, feel free. If Windows isn’t your style, load up another operating system. I haven’t committed it to a partition yet, but I have successfully booted LiveUSBs of both Ubuntu and Linux Mint. They both work and I was able to connect to a wireless network although it was a little finicky (I’ll probably do a write-up of installing Linux on this later and I will go over that then). I have doubts that a Hackintosh install would work well with the hardware, but that’s pure speculation (feel free to try it and let me know how it goes).
I will caution you that Linux does not work as smoothly on the Surface Pro as does Windows. Don’t expect to be able to swipe your way around Ubuntu without some problems. Microsoft went to a lot of effort and spent a lot of money perfecting their touch interface, and, as it is their device, they have perfect hardware support. Linux just can’t compete with that right out of the gate. Over time, hardware support will improve, and popular distros will be better suited to touch screens (or some popular touch screen distros will pop up). In the meantime, the Surface Pro can be used as a normal Linux laptop, if paired with a mouse and keyboard, with supplemental touch screen capabilities.
Personally, I won’t be replacing Windows with Linux at all. I like Linux, I have used Linux as my primary OS off and on for years. But I’m not one of those people who feels that either Linux or Windows is better than the other. They both have their strengths and weaknesses. On this tablet, Windows’ strengths are magnified greatly. I will probably throw a Linux distro in it’s own partition just for the hell of it, but Windows works great, I have a virtual machine, and a Linux server for when I need Linux. I also don’t see the need to mess with Windows all that much. It has staggeringly fast boot times and great battery life as is. The only changes I have made are to some default programs.
Ultimate Verdict on Microsoft Surface Pro
If Android tablets or iPads have never been or seemed that great to you, but you love the idea of a tablet form factor computer, get this. If you have an Android tablet or iPad, and love it, but want just a bit more, sell it and buy this. If you have no opinions or experience with tablets, buy this. If you don’t have money for a tablet, skip meals every other day for a while and buy this. If this device sounds interesting or appealing in any way, buy this.
I am deathly serious. I am a computer dweeb. I program computers for fun… who the hell does that? I have so many computers, tablets, and phones around me running so many operating systems it would make many people’s heads spin. I have multiple monitors attached to my desktop. I live on these geeky devices! But, if I had to get rid of all but one, the Microsoft Surface Pro would be the one I’d keep. It’s a jack of all trades, master of 2 or 3. It is not perfect for every use case, but it is perfect for several, and adequate for almost all.