I was fortunate enough to get an original Surface Pro from TechED in Madrid and whilst I liked some elements of it, ultimately it didn’t work for me as either a tablet or a laptop. I sold it on eBay for a nice profit and moved back eventually to the superb Thinkpad X230 and the iPad Mini. When the Surface pro 3 came out though I was hopeful that this would be the device for me, not to replace my iPad but to replace my laptop as a travelling companion and to complement the iPad mini for work that demanded a big screen. I was tempted to wait for the iPad pro, but in the end I decided that a single large screen device would suit me better. My conclusion was that I only needed to buy one big screen/powerful computer. That big screen would be both my large screen tablet and my laptop.
I have two travelling modes, with bum bag and with a rucksack. The Surface pro 3 slots in the magazine slot in the rucksack along with the iPad mini, when I’m just travelling with the bum bag only the iPad mini goes with me.
So onto those first impressions:
- The overall keyboard and tablet package is great, it feels good to carry folded in the hand, the keyboard protects the tablet nicely, it’s like carrying a hefty magazine
- Unfolded on the lap, it’s nice and stable and I’ve not found a lap position where it doesn’t work as a laptop and I’ve been sitting in Caffe Nero comfy chairs, my recliner at home and with my feet up on the sofa
- It’s a little ungainly when I’m carrying it with the kick stand extended around the house, but that will feel natural as well in a few weeks
- The keyboard is pretty good, I’m not a touch typist but I can peck out a blog post (like this one) quite quickly with only a few more mistakes than I’m used to on the superb Thinkpad keyboard, but it’s an enjoyable typing experience
- The screen size is close to A4 and it’s perfect for me. It’s the right size for a travelling laptop and it’s also perfect for me as a large screen tablet, although it would be terrible if it was your only tablet. For me the iPad Air is too small for working with A4 documents and magazines, the Surface pro 3 is perfect, but only when complemented by a iPad Mini .
Performance, storage and heat
- I’ve got then cheapest Surface pro 3 available. The i3 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 64 GB SSD and to be honest the performance excellent. I’m not experiencing any lag in normal use with many applications open for example Word, Calibre, Windows Live Writer, Chrome with a dozen tabs open and OneNote all seems fine.
- 64 GB is tight for windows, but I’m coping fine. The first thing I installed was a 64GB SD card, which I protected with bitlocker and set to auto-unlock. I mounted this as a folder c:\users\steve\SD and this is where ALL my data resides
- All my files are in either dropbox or BitTorrent sync so I installed these apps first and left them overnight, in the morning everything was ready to go. Although an SD card is much slower than an SSD, I’ve not noticed any issues
- Searching in explorer is a little slow, but I don’t care as I use the app Everything. I type ALT E and I can search as fast as I can type
- I’m using web based apps where I can for example Evernote, SimpleNote, TweetDeck
- Battery life is good, it should last me all my working day which is 5-7 hours provided I keep the screen brightness at medium
- I’ve not noticed the fan except when I was copying a lot of files, the tablet gets a little warm sometimes, but I like that, especially in winter
The laptop experience
- There’s no question if your needs are totally focussed on the keyboard, it’s best to stick with something like the X230, but that’s not me. I’m surprised by how often I find myself touching the screen while I’m working with the keyboard attached. Already it feels much more natural to reach up to the screen rather than reach down to the touchpad. Even in desktop mode I’m finding that most controls can be used with my fingers, with the touchpad only for fine control. The only time I used the touchpad while writing this post was when I inserted the photo.
- I’ve never been much of a touchpad fan, coming from Thinkpad’s and that’s not changed with the Surface pro 3. Even though the touchpad is close to Apple quality, it’s not that great. As a result I’m learning my way around keyboard shortcuts and touching the screen to avoid using it. I’m also coming to appreciate Windows 8 Store apps.
- I’m actually surprised to say that I’m loving Windows 8 on the Surface pro 3, it really is a device designed for the operating system. I’m surprised to say that I’ve come to appreciate ‘modern’ Windows store apps and have been actively seeking them out. I’m loving the fact that I can take a break from keyboard work every 15 minutes or so and just tap away at apps on the screen. It gives my wrists a good break.
- The keyboard is pretty good now that I’ve got used to it and given the moderate amount of typing I do each day while mobile, I think it’s fine. Like most modern laptops the function keys are hidden away behind a row of multi-media and other shortcut keys which are actually pretty useful. Some of choices are a bit strange though. There are dedicated keys for controlling the keyboard backlight, but not the screen brightness (which is controlled by FN DEL and FN Backspace). Maybe some keyboard re-mapping is called for!
- The keyboard backlight is excellent, although it times out a little quickly for my taste
The tablet experience
- As a general purpose tablet the Surface pro 3 is terrible, it large and heavy, it doesn’t have the range of apps that the iPad does. In no way is this a device that can be your only tablet.
- As a complement to the iPad mini though it’s perfect, just like my Kindle Paperwhite is a perfect complement optimised for focussed reading of text
- For my use case, sketching, note taking, marking up Microsoft Office documents and PDFs and reading analyst reports, whitepapers and magazines I need a large high resolution screen and a pen and that’s what the Surface pro gives me
- I’m loving the fact that I can be reading a report withe the tablet in portrait mode and with a swipe of the finger can toggle to Chrome or OneNote to do some research or make some notes
- The pen is excellent and the integration with OneNote is particularly splendid, allowing me to select an area of the screen and paste it into OneNote with a simple double click
In summary, I think the Surface pro 3 excellent. It’s a remarkable technical achievement, the fit and finish is good, the attention to detail is promising, performance (even on this i3) is good and the battery lasts most of the day. It’s a device that can replace a travelling laptop for light users like me and replace a large screen tablet for power users. But don’t kid yourself that it can be your only tablet, keep that Nexus 7 or iPad Mini!
I’m travelling next week and I’m experimenting with travelling light. The Surface pro 3 is key to that, it has a small power supply with an integrated USB charging port, fits easily in my midsize rucksack and is very light. My destination is Hull, just close to the marina in the photo at the top of todays post.