Surface Pro 3, a headache and an addiction

So about one and a half year ago I wrote up my thoughts on tablet devices. This was the general idea:

Tablets are bulky smartphones with large screens to play low-end games on.

My point being that tablets are not devices for productivity. The market has changed a lot since I wrote up that post, but it has also changed very little. A lot, if not most tablets are still bulky smartphones. But they have improved in regards to productivity.

A lot of these improvements are really completely unrelated to the tablets themselves, or even the operating systems they run. The biggest improvement comes from the applications that are available for them. A prime example of this are office suites. Text, spreadsheets and presentation editing are some of the things my mind instantly links to productivity. A lot of new applications have become available for these purposes and existing applications have improved much to compete with their desktop counterparts. A nice example of this is the WPS Office suite for Android, which is an amazing office suite, also available for iOS and even desktop platforms. I love my Microsoft Office products, Microsoft receives a lot of flak from many people, but it’s undeniable that their office products can’t be matched by many competing products out there, yet WPS does a great job of coming close, not just in terms of functionality, but also user experience.

Microsoft itself has been expanding into the mobile market quite a lot as well, offering tools such as Xbox Smartglass for all mobile platforms. One thing that recently caught my eye is that they now also offer their office products for Android and iOS as well. This makes tablet devices a lot more useful because it offers a much more familiar experience to people who are used to their desktop pc.

So will I be using tablet devices now? Yes and no…

I like tablets, I don’t love tablets. What I do love is my Surface Pro 3. I don’t like to think of this device as a tablet, as Microsoft doesn’t really market it as a tablet, but more of tablet/laptop hybrid. To me it also feels like such a device, I can honestly say that I have no idea if I use it more frequently with or without the keyboard attached, but I do generally use it instead of my laptop.

It is somewhat of a love/hate relationship. I’ve been using the Surface Pro 3 for a few months now and my experiences with it have been very positive, but there are some issues that leave me with a bad aftertaste.

Surface Pro 3The device is really hot. It’s certainly aesthetically pleasing, but when I say hot, I mean it constantly feels like it could spontaneously combust. It’s the first tablet I’ve ever seen to feature active cooling. It has some vents allowing hot air to be pumped out by the internal fans. But it still gets really hot. When you’re running a graphics editor or a game, it will get hot, when you’re running Microsoft Word, it also gets hot. There’s really no exceptions. Personally I don’t frequently have problems with this, I ordered it with a portfolio by Maroo, which Microsoft also sells in their online store as an accessory. This prevents me from touching the back of the device, where it gets the hottest, probably because the components are directly beneath the magnesium body, which seems to conduct the heat very well. But sometimes, even the screen will get quite warm, not so much that it feels uncomfortable to the touch, but I feel like it really shouldn’t get that warm.

Unfortunately, heat is not my only issue with this device. I must say I’m somewhat addicted to it. I have it with me most of the time and you’ll often find my scratching down notes with the included Surface Pen. I love writing. Just having text flow out of your hand, rather than hitting keys, it really is something special. Being a computer scientist/programmer, that might seem like an odd thing to say, because I also love typing, but some things, you just have to write down with your hands. What I love about the Surface, why I got this tablet specifically is that the pen is amazing. There’s very little lag, so it feels quite natural to write on it, and as I often scratch out things, it keeps my notes a lot cleaner, as deleting some text is a lot easier with a digital device. The reason the input lag is so low is partially attributed by Microsoft to the distance of the layer that captures the pen input to the screen surface of the tablet. By minimizing this, they have also reduced the input lag. But a lot of credit also goes to the new Surface Pen, which uses N-trig technology rather than the Wacom technology used in the previous versions.

How writing on my Surface relates to the second issue has a lot to do with the timing of the issue. The tablet freezes up. Sometimes, out of nowhere it will just freeze up, stop processing any input. The only option is turning it off and rebooting. This happens most frequently when I’m working with my Surface Pen in OneNote. It happened constantly in the free tablet version of OneNote which comes pre-installed with the device. It still happens more than I’d like now that I’m using OneNote 2013 from the Office 365 suite. I don’t generally lose any, or much work, because the notes are constantly synchronized to Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage, but it stops me in my tracks and that really is unacceptable.

So much for my thoughts on/review of?/rant about the Microsoft Surface Pro 3. (TL;DR?)

Would I recommend buying this device?

  • Yes: It’s convenient and very portable, with a fair, though not impressive battery life. It’s a quite powerful computing device (though I own an i7 powered device, this may not be true for the i3 or i5 variants). Carrying this around makes my life easier, because it’s lighter than my laptop and versatile enough to replace it. As I stated above, writing on the device with the Surface Pen is an amazing experience, though I haven’t tried many alternatives, it’s certainly the best tablet/stylus combo I’ve seen so far.
  • No: It is expensive, limited in terms of hardware and it has some issues. Microsoft has ironed out a lot of design flaws since the previous iterations of the device, I feel it’s truly ready for consumers, but I would not recommend anyone to buy it as their primary computer. I use a desktop PC and a laptop, the Surface Pro 3 can replace the laptop 95% of the time, but that’s it. It’s an amazing tool, but not a true replacement, which makes it a lot harder to justify the price tag for most people.

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