Looking back at two months with the Surface Pro

Ever since the Surface Pro was announced by Microsoft (review on The Verge), I was sure that this will become my new primary device. Two months ago I had the chance to get my hands on one of them and have been using it ever since. This will not be yet another review. It will be about my experiences, my enthusiasm and the compromises I had to take.

Former devices

I have along history of powerful devices – workstations and laptops. As an IT Pro I have always needed the memory and storage to run virtual machines on my device to be independent of any network connectivity. But this has changed in the last two years. Wireless coverage (3G, 4G, Wi-Fi) has increased to a point where service interruption scarcly occurs.

In late 2011 I decided to use a Lenovo X220 Tablet instead of a workstation-like laptop. At that point I had realized that mobility is more important to me than performance (read: local VMs). Shortly afterwards I started renting a dedicated server for my lab environment. I had successfully eliminated any need for local virtual machines. By now even the German rail company offers Wi-Fi on many trains. As I use the train for most of my travels I am almost always-on ;-)

I need to admit that the Lenovo X220t is still a compromise and has some shortcomings. The most prominent drawback is the screen resolution (1366x768) which is too small for many applications especially Microsoft Office.

What I love about the Surface Pro

Coming from the Lenovo X220t, I really love they high resolution display. Ist resolution is a pleasure to work with and with the amazing touch accuracy I can even navigate the desktop without any other kind of input device. Great for getting a simple task done quickly. By the way, the high resolution display is one oft he top reasons why I will not own a Surface RT.

Although Windows RT is an intruiging concept, I need a full blown Windows because there are native applications that I rely on. But I must admit that most of my work could be done on the Surface RT as well. But why would I want to own separate devices for private and business use?

Just as I like „touching the desktop“, I love having several input methods. I can always choose between touch, keyboard, mouse and pen depending on the situation. If I need to do a quick search, touch is the best option. If I need to write a longer text, I use the keyboard (more about keyboards below). Sometimes the mouse feels most natural when navigating an application. The pen works miracles when taking notes in a meeting because you can take handwritten notes or have them transcribed to text and draw at the same time.

I have started using the Surface Pro using the Touch Cover because it is the thinnest keyboard around (bold statement – I hope it’s true ;-)). It is the most mobile solution but only works well for short texts. If I need to write longer documents the Touch Cover requires to much force to make it work. Although I have not given the Type Cover a try, I have bought the Wedge Mobile Keyboard which offers a great typing experience and comes with a covert hat can be used as an adjustable stand for the Surface.

Compromises / Annoyances

Althougth the battery lasts for more than 4 hours, it is still half as long as the Surface RT or the iPad manages. Still it is not worse than the Lenovo X220t, so I am fine with it.

The Surface Pro attempts to fit into both the PC and the tablet market. To be honest – it does not belong in either because the screen is too small for a notebook and it is too heavy for a tablet. For this reason, it only comes with a single USB3 port. If you own the 64GB version you will always bring an external hard drive. But you won’t be able to exchange data with your peers without carrying a USB hub. At first glance, the integrated microSD reader may be able to extend (e.g. double) the internal storage but unfortunately it is very slow. I have not tried a high-end microSD card yet but it may increase transfer speeds.

So far Microsoft has not accounced a Surface tablet with a WWAN module. You will have to revert to tethering. At first this seemed to be a huge disadvantage but coverage with Wi-Fi networks is getting better by the day. Although there will be scenarios where an integrated module would be nice to have, I can manage without.

One thing that drives me nuts is the dominance of wide screens. While consumers are eager to watch the latest movie fill the screen, it is annoying at work. We are used to moving up and down on pages and we are used to standardized paper sizes (like DIN A4). But with wide screens you see less of your document.

The power connector is clearly an Apple rip-off. IT a great idea to make the power connector magnetic and click into place. If it only worked that way with the Surface Pro. The connector will click but not in the designated slot. You will have to give it several attempts. It seems as i fit was never tested.

Graphics performance is acceptable for a tablet but the Surface Pro will battle with the heat. At first it gets loud due to the small fan and then the back gets really hot.

Considering ergonomics, the Surface Pro is too low causing your neck to hurt. If you are using the integrated stand or the cover or the Wedge keyboard, the display is just 5cm above the table. For hours of work, I will probably have to put it on a box or a book.

Apart from the hardware, there one thing about the touch interface that drives me crazy. I stated above that even the Windows desktop can be operated by finger because of the accuracy of the touch display. But selecting multiple files in Explorer is a nightmare. Although Windows 8 has introduced those checkboxes for selecting multiple files but this does not work at all for touch if looking at image previews.


Where there is light, there must be shadows. It is close to impossible to find a device that fits your needs without any compromises. In the end, it is about your needs and the number of compromises you are willing to take.

In my case, the Surface Pro is a great device for my mobile work style. I can happily live with all of those drawbacks above – although I will be bitching about them from time to time ;-)

Do you want to read more about my experiences with the Surface Pro? Write a comment and I will let you know what I think.

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