Thoughts on the Surface Pro 3 – Form Factor

2014-09-03 10.07.44As I write this post I’m thinking back over the many years that I’ve used a Thinkpad and it’s shocking to think that my ‘love affair’ goes back about 20 years.  During this time the Thinkpad design has stayed remarkably consistent and it’s become almost like an extension of my body.  When I pick up a Thinkpad I know every inch of it’s case, I know how it balances in my hand and on my lap, my fingers know the keyboard and ‘nipple’ mouse intimately.  When I was given a top of the range Thinkpad Helix, the first device I’d used to bear the Thinkpad name, but break with the design fundamentals it felt so foreign that after just a day of use it was so unbearable to me that it had to give it back.  So it’s with that context that I’m approaching writing about the Surface pro 3.  The good news is that after a few days of using it for a few hours each day I’m sticking with it.  I’m hopeful that in a few weeks I will be snapping the kickstand out naturally, flipping the keyboard over or ripping it off with a flourish.  I’m expecting to be tapping away on the keyboard as confidently as I did on the Thinkpad, to be scribbling on the screen as comfortably as I do on a ream of paper.  But I’m far from there yet.

I’m still making too many typing mistakes, I’ve not found new comfortable working positions in all my favourite working locations and I’m not yet confident with the pen.  I still need to transition to launching apps by touch from the start screen full time and get the right mix between touch optimised and desktop apps, but I’m close already.  Much closer than I expected to be after only a few days.  Microsoft’s vision for Windows 8 is much clearer to me now than it ever was using the Lenovo Twist or Helix and I like the Surface pro 3 much more than the Thinkpad X240 (but not the X230).  I’m really looking forward to Windows 9, because if Microsoft has done it’s job right they will have been designing it with the Surface pro in mind, that way they will have a lot of passionate users willing to show it off when it launches early next year.

So in summary I’m positive about the form factor.  I think the keyboard is excellent, I love the way it latches up against the screen and the way it flips behind the screen for easy transitions to tablet mode.  I think the screen is wonderful, bright and crystal clear, now Google Chrome works well in high DPI mode most of my apps are well adapted.  The modern apps and the start menu are a revelation on the Surface pro 3, they work very naturally, although I don’t like the fact that controls I need every few seconds are hidden off screen and need a swipe to be revealed, hopefully Windows 9 will fix that.  The trackpad is less then optimal, but a combination of touch and keyboard shortcuts and launching apps from the start screen all mitigate it’s weaknesses.  It’s not that the trackpad is bad, it’s the best I’ve used excepting the one on my Macbook Air, it’s just that all trackpads are bad compared to the Thinkpad nipple.  I like the tablet, it’s heavy, but that’s a natural consequence of the size so I can accept it and work around it.

I’ve come to love a handful of keyboard shortcuts that I want to pass on, especially in Chrome:

  1. CONTROL K, take you to the omni bar and deletes the existing content, CONTROL L does the same, but highlights existing content ready for deleting or editing
  2. CONTROL W closes a tab, CONTROL TAB switches to the next tab
  3. SPACE scrolls down a page, SHIFT SPACE scrolls up
  4. ALT LEFT moves back to the previous web page

Using the Windows 8 keyboard shortcuts and swipes and learning a handful of shortcut keys per app significantly reduces the need to touch the trackpad!  In a months time I should be much more efficient.

When I bought this Surface Pro 3 I expected to use it in the same way I used my iPad originally, as a useful complement to my laptop but I’ve changed my mind.  I think if I use full time for a month it will replace my laptop, this is even more surprising as expecting to only use it casually I purchased the cheapest i3 model, but the performance is fine.  My only concern is that because I’m now using it more than expected I will wear down that battery on long work days, but these are rare.

I’m particularly excited about travelling with the Surface pro 3.  This year I’m experimenting with travelling light, since I travel for holidays and think weeks about 15-20 weeks a year this is a massive issue for me.  The Surface pro 3 has been great this first week.  I travelled to Hull with a small rucksack, no gadget chargers, no spare batteries.  I’ve done all my work on the Surface pro 3 including lots of reading, email, browsing, remote desktop sessions, reviewing PowerPoint presentations using the pen and social media.  I’ve transitioned between laptop mode on my lap and tables, sketching mode on tables, tablet mode on my lap and video watching mode on the hotel bed and it’s been great.

The photo today is of the Humber Estuary, with the crumbling fish dock in the foreground.  I walked along the bank for about 6 miles early this morning with my eldest daughter, this is our last holiday together before she goes to Japan for a year.  I’m alternating spending the morning’s and evening’s with her and working in the afternoons on the Surface pro 3.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

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