Two weeks with the Surface Pro

As a Microsoft junkie I have been looking forward to the Windows 8-led product wave for quite a while now. Reading about Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, Surface, and everything else Microsoft is doing lately has been interesting (now that those things are out, we’re reading about “Blue”). Microsoft may be the underdog right now, but don’t count them out! Their game plan is coming together a bit more each day, and it’s exciting.

Surface Pro & HTC Windows Phone 8X

I installed Windows 8 on my desktop and laptop the day it was available – it’s a solid, worthwhile upgrade from Windows 7 (on a desktop, I highly recommend adding the Logitech T650 Wireless Touchpad). I got my HTC Windows Phone 8X in early December – I’m still loving it. The only thing missing was a tablet, and I had my heart set on the Surface Pro.

I was very excited for launch day – February 9 – to arrive, basically counting down the days that week. I didn’t think I would need to line up, so I got to the Microsoft Store at West Edmonton Mall an hour or so after it opened. Turns out that was the wrong decision! All they had left was a couple 64 GB models. I decided to pass, knowing I wanted the 128 GB model. I starting looking online to see if Best Buy or Staples might have it, but I quickly learned that the launch did not go so well. Either Microsoft purposefully restricted the number of devices available or they severely underestimated the demand. I pouted for a bit and then ordered a Surface Pro and Touch Cover from the Microsoft Store online. I knew I’d have to wait a couple days, but I figured that was better than driving from store to store hoping to be lucky. Fortunately I didn’t have to wait long – it arrived around 5pm on the 12th.

I’ve had my Surface Pro for a little over two weeks now, and I wanted to share some initial thoughts and impressions. I’ll do a more complete review later.

  • The build quality is just as fantastic as you’ve heard it is. The Surface Pro feels solid, and the attention paid to details like the kickstand are really worth it once you start using it. I find the VaporMg case shows fingerprints a lot more than I anticipated, but it’s great otherwise.
  • It does feel heavier in your hands than most other tablets, but not uncomfortably so. You can hold it up with one hand, but probably not for very long – it’s a two-handed tablet.
  • One of the differences between the Surface RT and the Surface Pro is the thin ventilation strip (because it has a couple of fans inside). Aside from making the Pro slightly thicker than the RT, it hasn’t been an issue at all for me. I have only heard the fan come on once (during an hour long video Lync call) and it is never noticeable in my hands.
  • The screen is beautiful. It has an excellent resolution, it’s vibrant, and it feels as though it is right under the glass. A complaint some have had is that the kickstand isn’t configurable, it opens at one angle only. Because the viewing angles on the screen are so amazing, this isn’t as much of an issue as you might think (I constantly adjust my laptop screen, but that’s because it’s a pretty crappy screen that you basically need to be looking at straight on).
  • Depending on what I am doing, the battery life is OK. Definitely not great, but not as bad as I anticipated either. We’re talking about 4 hours or so for normal usage. It means I’ve always got my power adapter in my bag.
  • The Touch Cover definitely takes some getting used to, but it has really grown on me. I love how thin it is, and once you get a feel for it you can type pretty quickly. I’ve written a few of my previous blog posts using it, for instance.
  • The killer feature as far as I am concerned is the pen. I’ve had a Tablet PC for a number of years, but it’s heavy, slow, and awkward, so I haven’t used it much lately. When I did use it though, I was always so impressed with OneNote and I was hoping the Surface Pro would be just as delightful to write on. I can safely say it is (and it’s probably better actually). The ability to jot down notes in meetings or draw out ideas is huge for me, especially as I’m trying to go paperless.
  • The other nice thing about the pen is that it makes navigating the desktop much easier. Because the resolution is so high but the screen size is just 10.6 inches, stuff appears fairly small on the screen so it’s hard to tap with a finger. In “laptop mode” the mouse solves that problem, and I find myself using the pen when in “tablet mode” (ie. sitting on the couch).
  • I have only used the front-facing camera, and while it isn’t the best quality, it’s more than good enough for video calls. I have heard from others that there’s a bit of audio static when I first join a call, but otherwise the audio hasn’t been problematic either.
  • Disk space has not been an issue, despite what you might have heard. I did get rid of the recovery partition, but that’s the only change I made. Windows currently tells me I have 64.8 GB of free space, and that’s after installing Office and all the stuff I normally install on a new computer, plus a bunch of Metro apps, and having synced my Skydrive and Dropbox folders.
  • I’m really impressed with the performance of the Surface Pro. It resumes from sleep in seconds, and even a cold boot takes just a couple seconds extra. Everything opens quickly and Metro apps are very responsive – noticeably faster than on the RT. Wi-fi performance is also great.

There are still a bunch of things I haven’t tried yet, like hooking the Surface up to an external display. I haven’t tested the Micro SD slot either, though I have used the USB port a few times. I turned Bluetooth off right away, and haven’t tried connecting any of those devices yet either.

I can see how an updated version of the Surface using a Haswell chip would address the battery issues, and I briefly considered holding out when news first broke about the poorer-than-expected battery life. I’m glad I didn’t wait though. For me, the Surface Pro has been great!

I’ll write more in a future post or two, but for now I’d encourage you to get out to the Microsoft Store to see a Surface in action. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

Odds & Ends

No rhyme or reason to this post, I just felt like writing some of this stuff down!

Winter Tires
On the weekend I had my first ever set of winter tires installed. My all-seasons were getting pretty bald, so I needed new tires anyway. I figured I might as well give the winter ones a shot! Thanks to Wikipedia, I learned that the two main distinguishing features of winter tires are the rubber composition (greater percentage of soft rubber) and increased siping (slits in the rubber). We live just a block away from Fountain Tire downtown, so I haven’t gone very far with them yet.

Windows 8
I had been running the release candidate for a while (in a VHD) so I more or less knew what to expect when I upgraded to Windows 8 on launch day (October 26). The upgrade from 7 to 8 was really straightforward, and you can’t beat the price ($41.99 with tax). The process took longer than I though it would, but I just left it for an hour or so and came back and it was ready to go. I know people like to hate on the new UI, but I actually really like it. And even as a mouse and keyboard user primarily, I find myself navigating around much more quickly than with Windows 7 (it really helps if you know the shortcuts, this primer is a good start).

Logitech Touchpad T650
I switched from a mouse to a touchpad last year and haven’t looked back (I find the touchpad less stressful on my wrist). Now that Windows 8 is out a bunch of new accessories have launched such as Logitech’s Touchpad T650. I ordered one from Staples and am very happy with it. It’s wireless, rechargeable via USB, and supports up to thirteen touch gestures. Swipe three fingers up and you get the Start screen, swipe three fingers down and you’re back at the desktop. It also supports the edge gestures, so flipping through open apps is a breeze. Definitely worth considering if you’re using Windows 8 on a desktop.

Windows Phone 8
Even though the official launch was more than two weeks ago, there’s still no sign of Windows Phone 8 in Canada. I really need to replace my current phone (which I dropped causing the screen to crack pretty badly) but if I have to wait around for Telus to get something in stock it may be a while. Maybe an unlocked phone from Expansys is the way to go, anyone have any experience with them?

Nate Silver
I’m very happy that Barack Obama won another term, though after paying attention to Nate Silver’s stuff I can’t say I’m surprised. He nailed it. Let’s hope this means we’ll see better journalism for 2016. I haven’t read his book yet, but it is sitting on my Kindle ready for me to finish the other dozen or so books I have yet to read!

Upcoming Events
There’s lots of good stuff to look forward to in the next week or so. I’ll be at the Startup City Luncheon tomorrow, and I’m hoping to spend some time at Launch Party 3 on Thursday. Friday and Saturday are WordCamp, and though I’m not speaking this year I am moderating the panel on Saturday morning.

Upcoming Travel
I’m going to be in London, UK during the week of the 26th and in Miami during the week of December 3rd. Have been to London a few times but have never been to Miami. I’m looking forward to both trips! If you have any must-see suggestions for either, let me know.