Sunday, February 2, 2014

My time with the Surface Pro

One change I made this year to the tools I took with to IBM Connect was the computer I carried with me.  This year I was fortunate enough to borrow a 1st generation Windows Surface Pro tablet with keyboard and pen.  I have to say, I have fallen quite smitten for this device.  Not just because it's a new toy to play with but because it is a fully functional laptop and tablet all in one! 
Since the announcement of the iPad several years ago, tablet computing has brought with it the promise of being able to do what you do in the office to these devices that are lightweight and portable.  I bought into that too and did my best to sell it in the organization.  But one thing began to come clear about a year ago.  Yes, you can get your mail, calendar and contact information on there, but when you try to work on Word or Excel, it suddenly becomes obvious that this might not be the tablet you were looking for.  iPads and their Android cousins are GREAT for consuming data.  But producing information on it can be kind of a pain.  Not to mention that if you have an infrastructure that doesn't have a developed tools to connect to the back-end, you have to create them yourself and push those out for people to use.  But companies still appear to be on the bandwagon of dumping capital into development and MDM's to support these tools. Okay, that's fine if that's what you want to do.  So along comes Microsoft and they put out their own tablet.  The Surface.  There are two flavors.  The RT unit is a lower cost and doesn't support Win32 or 64 bit applications or support VPN clients.  It's very reminiscent of Windows CE.  But for what it can do with Office installed, it in my opinion, makes for a GREAT table for a kid that needs to write papers for school and wants to play Angry Birds. 
Then there is the Pro version. 
This is a 100% Intel i5 processor computer.  Able to run all of your corporate desktop applications without having to re-invent the wheel in the process.  For me, the ability to run Notes, Domino Administrator, connect VPN to work and remote into servers, this device is the proverbial bomb in my opinion.  The other HUGE HUGE HUGE draw for me is that I can use my Adobe products on there to work on pictures as well.  The problem with Windows based laptops is the color calibration of the screens.  Macs, (which I still truly want for my photography business), have always excelled with their colors and tones.  The screen on this Surface is just as good as a Mac.  If you look at the pictures I posted to Flickr from Connect, all of them were post processed with the Surface.  I shoot in RAW mode for all my pictures, so most all of them require post-processing to adjust colors, tones, etc.  It can be a processor intensive process.  But this Surface tablet didn't even falter once.  Even with my Notes and Admin clients open, it took the workload and sped right through it.   Okay, the table might not be for everyone.  But here's my pro's and con's run down of this particular device:

  • Lightweight
  • Powerful. i5 processor and 4 GB of RAM.  Not powerful enough to run games I'm sure, but it was plenty for Adobe, Notes and Domino admin as well as Office apps like One Note running in the background
  • Using One Note to take notes during sessions with the pen was PERFECT.  So many times I've taken notes in a notebook and then lost them.  Now I can save them out and keep better track of them.
  • The pen worked REALLY well for note taking and even editing pictures
  • The keyboard/cover that Microsoft has for the device works REALLY well.  Just about as well as my Apple keyboard I have for my old Mac Mini.  
  • Battery life was pretty good with the brightness turned down.
  • Again, having all my regular day in-day out apps available for me to use was GREAT.  This is a regular computer!
  • VPN.  Having to connect back to the office is important on the go.  Remote desktop is still the best way to do it.
Okay, now the Cons:
  • While the pen is good, it can get lost VERY easily.  It connects to the tablet via magnets situated where the power cord plugs into it.  It's not really secure and can fall out easily.  Other tablets have a way of storing the pen inside of it which I think is better.
  • Only one USB port. So if you want to use a mouse, get a blue tooth one.  But you'll also need a USB hub if you want to connect several things
  • Only 128 GB of storage on the device.  You can run out of space fast.
  • Micro SD slot.  While that can extend storage space, if you use a regular SD card like I do in my camera, you'll need to connect the camera with the USB cable, again needing a hub.
  • It's not a full keyboard on this device.  So doing a Ctrl-Break is impossible with the Microsoft keyboard cover.
  • No VGA port to connect to an external monitor.  You have to use a display adapter like on a Mac.
  • Windows 8.1.  Sure Windows-D is used a lot by me.  I hope Microsoft works out some of the issues it has.
  • If you get one, don't get the touch keyboard.  Get the regular keyboard.  The touch keyboard doesn't work all that great and doesn't give you the typing feel that you're used to.
  • You can't always use this like a laptop.  I like to sit on the couch with a laptop on the arm of it.  It might be hard to balance with on your lap or other surfaces like you are used to with a "normal" laptop.
So there you go.  My 2 cents on a device in a market that is highly volatile and evokes much emotions.  If I had the money, I would still get a MacBook Air or Pro for the photo business.  BUT, if I didn't want to wait, I would likely get one of these Surface Pro tablets for about half the cost.  


Ray Bilyk said...

So from an Domino Admin perspective, it worked fine for you?

Andy Donaldson said...

Yup. All except for the ctrl-break. I like it!

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