My experience with Microsoft Surface Pro Series

Written by
Shubhra Prakash Nandi's picture

I have been using Microsoft Surface Pro 3 for about 6 months now as my regular laptop and my tablet. I was in a long quest for an unified device which could serve me both as a tablet and a laptop since previously, I owned a dedicated tablet and a laptop and it was frustrating to switch between the two as I liked one for something and the other for something else. I thought of going for a touch screen laptop or the ultra books or Lenovo Yoga for that matter to have the ultimate computing device for myself but I was somehow not convinced of their feature set.

Let me tell you what my needs basically were to choose a laptop-cum-tablet device.

1. Good screen i.e. good brightness so that I can use it outdoors, good colors as I do a lot of photo editing, good viewing angles for watching videos not always sitting upright in front of it.

2. Excellent processing power i.e. should be able to handle heavy memory and processor intensive tasks without slowing down.

3. Good battery life so that I can use it for work atleast during office hours i.e. about 8-9 hours.

4. Should be light weight and support touch screen so that I can use it as a tablet when I need to.

5. Atleast HDMI output with digital audio support to play 5.1 sound videos or movies in full resolution.

6. Should support office applications like VPN, Document editors etc.

7. Will be great if I could run native PC applications.

8. Must have a regular keyboard and a trackpad so that I can be productive too.

I know the above list is pretty demanding if you think you want it in a tablet like form factor with processing power of a laptop. I had owned an ARM based tablet before, it was pretty good with the Apps and battery life and had a great screen but it was limited in a sense that, if I had to do anything complicated like running full featured audio editing or photo editing software I could not do it. Also support for office applications was very limited.

Surface Pro 3 by that time had been released and was in the market for about 8-10 months. It ran a full version of Windows for PC, had a form factor not exactly of a tablet but smaller than a 13 inch laptop, was sleek in the design, had a keyboard attachment with a trackpad and had Apps. The design was innovative, the body was sturdy and importantly it looked like a premium product. I thought I should give this one a try. I ordered one online on Amazon. It was the version with i5 processor, 256GB SSD hard drive and with 8GB memory. I ordered the keyboard and the docking station along with it since I was going to use it as my full time laptop too! I soon upgraded the OS to Windows 10 Pro 64bit as it had been released at the same time and was the next generation of the Windows OS.

Now let’s get to the real thing. The experience of using it!

For once I was really happy with what I got out of the box from this device. The screen was great, very sharp and crisp. Reading text was very easy on the eyes. It was not heavy and big to be used as a tablet. Had this wonderful kickstand which can be adjusted to any angle to keep the screen upright. It worked pretty well in both landscape and portrait mode.

I started to take this thing to office, Surface Pro has a full USB 3.0 port and it can be used practically for any device which can solely run on a USB port. It has sufficient power to run an external USB hard drive. I plugged in an wireless USB mouse to it, so with the keyboard and the mouse it was ready for work. I loaded a full professional version of Microsoft Office 2013 64 bit, installed a few social networking apps like Facebook and one weather app on to it. For regular office use it gave me about 6 hours of battery life with screen brightness set at 40%. Mind you this device is pretty usable at this brightness level.

Surface Pro boots up under 10 secs and I can login and start working on it in less than 20 secs. This is a big thing as a hard disk based laptop would take close to 1 min or more to do the same thing. I runs all my PC software effortlessly even the old ones. Windows 10 is a good tablet-PC OS. It's looks neat and is very user friendly, is well organized, is very touch screen friendly and can easily switch between laptop and tablet modes. Yes Windows 10 has two modes which was always missed on Windows 8.1. Nobody will miss Windows 8.1 or for that matter Windows 7 after upgrading to Windows 10. It's that good.

At home I could use my full fledged photo editing software i.e. Canon DPP on it and could also run VLC media player, Windows media player and host of other multimedia softwares. I also found a excellent app to run large MKV movie files called GOM player. The best part of using the app to play media files was that CPU usage with the app was at meager 3-4% which allowed the Surface Pro to run cool and long on battery. Well VLC player also used about the same CPU when hardware decoding and acceleration was turned-on on it. This was pretty awesome as MKV rips of Blu-ray movies can take a lot of CPU power to decode. Surface Pro comes with a mini display port which will allow you to stream HD video and digital audio to your TV or projector. If your TV or projector has HDMI inputs you can use an adapter to convert from display port to HDMI. Surface Pro 3 with Windows 10 (also with Windows 8.1) will allow you to stream multichannel digital compressed audio namely Dolby Digital and DTS to your TV / projector / audio receiver.

Surface Pro has a micro SD card slot where you can insert a micro SD card which will allow you to add extra storage pretty easily.

One good add on which has been provided with Surface Pro series is the docking station. It can help you charge the device while providing extra 2 USB 2.0 ports, 3 extra USB 3.0 ports, a Gbit ethernet port, extra display port, an audio out jack and security lock. This is exactly what a serious IT guy would need. The docking station itself is very light and can be carried with your luggage easily, though it's cannot be folded to make it compact.

The type cover or the detachable keyboard which doubles up as a cover is a backlit one and allows you to type in low light. It also comes in many colors and has a decent layout and can be typed on easily. It's hard so it can be easily kept on you lap and will still remain flat. Closing it puts your Surface Pro to sleep automatically.

You can always add a USB keyboard with the docking station incase you need a more comfortable keyboard, also Surface Pro has bluetooth which allows you to add a bluetooth mouse and keyboard. I found typing on the type cover to be ok for short durations but prolonged writing on the keyboard may strain your fingers if you have big hands. But with the option available to attach additional keyboards through USB or bluetooth makes life all the more easier. I have found the trackpad to be quite ok specially the Pro 3 one even though people have complained about it being inaccurate in online forums, though certainly it's not precise enough for creative people or for drawing. For drawing or taking notes you should use the digital pen which comes bundled with it. It's precise and fluid.

In all it's been a great experience with Surface Pro 3 till now. But of the things which were an issue for me were.

1. Heat - with this compact design heat was going to be always an issue. The metal back cover does a good job of dissipating the heat quickly and efficiently, the heat does feel in your hand or lap all the more due to the same reason. May be better processor designs and cooling systems will take care of it in the future.

2. SSD - SSD performs well and makes the device feel real snappy, I believe it's performance was not at par with other commercial SSDs in the market. Write speeds were comparatively much slower than the competitors.

3. Surface pen - though a nice addition, it's utility was very limited given the apps which support it. I almost never used it for any practical purposes.

4. Camera - Two cameras are not required since the performance of the back camera could not really justify it's place on the device.

5. Docking station - it's actually a great addition to this device given it's utility, it could turn to be an real asset for Surface Pro if it could be made foldable so that carrying it in a backpack is no longer an problem.

6. Separate chargers - The device and the docking station have two separate chargers. If only a single charger can do the job, it will make the whole package much simpler and better because by design they cannot be used together.

7. SD card slot - SD cards are a cheap way to increase storage on Surface Pro but they have very limited write speeds, if we can support faster flash memory cards like SDXC on the device it will make all the more sense or better include a multi card reader slot like many laptops currently have.

8. Battery life - 10 hrs should make me jump with joy than the just enough 6 hrs at present, Microsoft should work towards this.

With Surface Pro 4 now out in the market with better specifications and better design, it makes perfect sense for the serious guys to go and get one of these. Surface Pro 4 is better designed and has better specs than Surface Pro 3. Below are few significant additions in Surface Pro 4 which definitely makes Surface Pro 4 a better buy at this moment.

Surface Pro 4 Surface Pro 3
Better - Screen resolution at 2736 x 1824 Screen resolution at 2160 x 1440
Better - SSD capacity goes up till 1TB SSD capacity offered was till 512GB
Better - Memory goes up till 16GB Memory offered only till 8GB
Better - Has optional fingerprint reader Does not offer a fingerprint reader in any configuration
Better - Uses latest Intel processor with better efficiency, produces less heat and takes up less power for same performance. Also has liquid cooling system internally for better heat management. Use old Intel processors and are comparatively slow and produces some degree of heat when used for running processor intensive applications.
Better - Better keyboard for comfortable typing for long hours. Keyboard was good at best.
Better - Surface pen is improved Surface pen did not have much of utility for regular users.


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