Review – Microsoft Surface Pro (128 GB)

I was able to get a 128 GB Surface Pro in mid February. I got the Type Cover and Wedge Mouse with it. My main concerns were battery life, size of screen, and the fixed-angle kickstand. So far, I love it. It has been a great replacement for old Dell XPS laptop and my Android tablet. I’ll talk about my three concerns prior to buying it and then add a few more observations.Surface Pro

Battery: My lowest day of real-world use was a shade (like 5 minutes) below 6 hours. It was down to 6% battery life left at that point after relatively heavy use. Most days, I’m getting 7 hours out of it. While more time would be better, I’m relatively pleased. Granted, I’m not a heavy gamer. I’m mostly using it for writing, editing, PowerPoints, reading, and surfing with some light video watching thrown in from time to time. The bigger battery issue, IMO, is the fact the charger doesn’t have a keeper strap or anything like that (so you can’t pack it up neatly) and the charger is sometimes a pain to connect to the charging port (it doesn’t just happily snap in, like the MBA does). But it’s certainly livable.

Screen size: The screen is amazing. I was concerned about the size, but the easy scaling by touch makes it wonderfully easy to use. My only gripe here is the snap feature (or whatever MS calls it when you can run to two programs side-by-side on the start screen). I love the feature and used it when I gave a presentation last week (had my personal notes up on one side and the presentation paper up on the other so I could keep my speech synchronized with the paper). But I wish you were not limited to a fixed ratio. I’d really like a 50/50 or 60/40 split every now and then. I hope MS adds this via software update at some point.

Kickstand: No worries here. I can easily use this as a laptop on my lap while sitting on the couch. It is far more versatile in that regard than conventional tablets. It is stable enough to use the touchscreen interface with no worries at all. One other benefit I noticed is that since the keyboard is the only part on your lap, you don’t get a bunch of heat on your lap when using it in your lap, either.

Regarding other things, the speed and response is impressive. No lag on anything. Surfing is much faster and smoother on the Surface than on the current gen iPad. At this point, the best surfing experience by far is with MS Explorer 10. I’m a huge Chrome fan, but it is not optimized the same way Explorer is yet, and that optimization makes a huge difference. To my great surprise, I really like Explorer 10.

The pen works pretty well. It is nice to have native ability to have clients sign a Word doc on the Surface. It works well for free-hand notes (particularly when used with OneNote), but it is not perfect. I do wish it had a slot for the pen, but I just put in my pen pouch in my briefcase or backpack; that works perfectly fine.

The Wedge Mouse was a nice addition; I’m sure any decent bluetooth mouse would work great with it. On the desktop mode, the mouse is handy to have sometimes, but you can get by without it by using the trackpad or the pen.

The touch interface is very smooth. Apps are better than expected, but there are still plenty of holes in the lineup. Installing “legacy apps” (aka, real programs) was perfectly smooth.

Weight isn’t as bad as I initially thought. When I first opened it, I immediately thought it was too heavy. But that feeling went away after about 5 minutes of use. The kickstand helps mitigate the weight in that you can often prop it up with the kickstand rather than support all the weight all the time. I tend to prefer to read in landscape mode, anyway, but you also get used to portrait mode pretty quickly (although it does look a little over-tall at first blush).

Switching from start screen to desktop is not quite the jarring experience it has been portrayed as in some reviews. However, I do miss pinch to zoom and that sort of scalable touch function when running desktop programs. You can use touch navigation and such on desktop programs, but it’d be perfect if you could use a full touch interface all the time.

The Type Cover is very good. It is not as good as a top-end keyboard, but it is imminently usable and responds well to normal pressure. I was too cautious with it at first and made a few more mistakes as a result. But once I warmed up (took maybe 20 minutes), I was able to fly along with no issues. The trackpad is not so great, but it is functional and the touchscreen and pen more than make up for any deficiencies with the trackpad. I also haven’t had any issues with the Wedge Mouse. I only break it out for heavy editing work, though.

As a productivity tool, I love that it cold boots in 8 seconds (about 2-3 seconds from standby) and shuts down in about 2-3 seconds. I can just pick it up, turn it on, and dive in. Thanks also to MS for avoiding bloatware. The Surface Pro handles everything I’ve thrown at it smoothly. The touchscreen is addictive. My kids have MBAs that I have worked with from time to time (and liked more than my Dell XPS), and the Surface feels more user-friendly than the MBA. Touch is a big part of that; you can just pinch to zoom most things, and it it makes a difference on smaller screens like those of the Surface and MBA. I would have chosen the MBA over my old XPS, but I’d take the Surface over a MBA every day of the week now.

At this point, I’d give the Surface Pro about an 8.9 out of 10 and can strongly recommend it for most folks. It’d easily push a good bit higher if it were just little thinner and lighter, had maybe 25% more battery life, and if you could use the full touch interface for desktop programs.

PS: If you want a thorough review that covers the tech side of the Surface, I suggest: this review on AnandTech.

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One thought on “Review – Microsoft Surface Pro (128 GB)

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