Surface Pro 3: first impressions from a Mac user
Today is Apple day. WWDC kicked-off just a few minutes ago, and we’ll likely see three major things: a new version of OS X, iOS 8, and the further convergence of those two operating systems.
Over the years, we’ve seen bits of iOS sneak into Mac OS, such as Notification Center; and some lighter versions of Mac apps have found their way to iOS, like iMovie, Garage Band, the iWork suite, and more. Although Apple still seems to refute the need for some sort of middle ground device.
One of Apple’s largest competitors, however, is diving into the hybrid computing market head first. Last week, Microsoft announced the newest addition to its Surface lineup, the Surface Pro 3.
I’ve always been a huge proponent of tablets. More than once, I’ve tried to replace my laptop with a tablet for the brunt of my daily duties, but it’s never quite worked as planned. Some tasks which are simple on a fully-fledged laptop are entirely too tedious on a tablet, and most modern tablets – iPad or Android tablets – don’t have nearly enough horsepower to take on the other duties in my line of work, like intensive video editing.
And that’s why the Surface series has always appealed to me. More so than other tablets, it straddles the line between an ultraportable tablet and a fully functioning laptop; it’s far closer in size and weight to an iPad Air (a bit heavier and thicker) but literally caries the power of my MacBook Pro.
I’ve finally had the chance to take a crack at one.
On Friday afternoon, a Surface Pro 3 arrived at my apartment and I immediately ripped it out of the box and set it up. I had a bit of a hectic weekend traveling all over North and South Carolina going to weddings, festivals, and shopping. But I brought the Surface Pro 3 along for the ride.
I’ve been using it for going on four days now and wanted to provide some of my initial thoughts. Here are my first impressions on the Surface Pro 3 from a long-time Mac user.
Not so lap-friendly
Obviously, form factor is what sets this particular device apart from practically all other devices – even other hybrids, such as the Yoga series from Lenovo. The Surface Pro 3 is a tablet at heart and clearly feels that way in use.
Unlike a laptop, even when using the Type Cover, all the weight of the Surface Pro 3 is distributed towards the back of the device, making it somewhat uncomfortable to use in ways a typical laptop would be entirely comfortable.
By that same token, it’s almost twice the weight of the iPad Air, meaning it’s definitely more cumbersome to use than a typical mobile tablet for certain tasks. Reading and lightweight stuff like tweeting or browsing the web are easier with, say, an iPad, solely due to the weight of the device, how warm it can get, and the fans that often spin up.
Working primarily from coffee shops and home, I’ve grown used to kicking back on couches and chairs to do much of my writing. This works well with the MacBook Pro and iPad mini (with ZAGGkeys Cover), but it’s highly uncomfortable for longer periods with the Surface Pro 3. The adjustable kickstand helps, especially with the new and improved Type Cover, but it digs into your legs over time. You really only have a few ways to sit comfortably with the tablet on your lap – either stretched out or sitting with your feet on the floor.
That said, I still quite enjoy how portable the tablet is. I feel like I could just grab the Surface and take it with me, without a bag, something I’ve never quite felt before, not even with the MacBook Air.
The best way to put it is, for a laptop, it’s incredibly lightweight, but for a tablet, it’s wildly heavy. This is a device I would primarily use for heavier tasks. I still feel like a lighter tablet for more lightweight tasks would be useful alongside this device.
Although I haven’t had the opportunity to truly test battery life thoroughly, I think I’d still need to bring along a charger. Saturday morning, I sat on the couch at my sister’s house playing Spider Solitaire, one of the preloaded games on the tablet. The battery life dropped from 36 percent to completely dead in a little over an hour.
So far, I’m not all that impressed with the stamina of the Surface Pro 3, but I also understand some sacrifices will have to be made in such a device. The power and size trade-offs outweigh the mediocre battery life, as far as I can tell. And Microsoft has acknowledged some battery life issues and says a fix is coming soon.
I’ll definitely need to do more testing in this area before I draw any conclusions.
My only reservations on the Surface Pros to date have been price and Windows. Price is something I’ll have to work to overcome, something I think this little trial period may fix.
Software, on the other hand, isn’t exactly selling me on the tablet.
I loaded Ubuntu on my laptop back in 2002 and renounced Windows. I’ve used Linux and Mac OS ever since, and never looked back. I never missed Windows, and my short experience with Windows 8 was unfortunately forgetful and frustrating. The entire experience seems conflicted – the jump between the newer Windows 8 experience and traditional desktop mode is still a rough transition that works better in theory than in practice. I find myself searching for obscene amounts of time, looking for simple things such as a percentage display of remaining battery.
The software simply feels incomplete and thrown together, though I can’t say I hate the direction Microsoft is headed. Windows 8 was built for the Surface – that’s very clear. But not even the third-party applications make the software experience on the Surface Pro 3 feel polished. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
The pen that comes with the Surface Pro 3 is … nice. It at least feels great. It’s made of a high-grade aluminum and feels incredibly solid. But I haven’t actually found a use for it. It doesn’t work in the way a traditional stylus works. It’s no S-Pen, which works as an extension of your finger or a mouse.
The pen on the Surface Pro 3 is geared heavily toward note taking and highlighting or copying text. I definitely don’t handwrite notes … ever. And I feel I’d actually use the pen if the purple button the the top end of the pen were customizable. By default, it launches OneNote if you press it. I don’t use OneNote. I use Evernote. If I could swap OneNote for Evernote, I’d probably be more inclined to reach for it from time to time.
Power to weight ratio
Like a supercar, the Surface Pro 3 is a unique, stylish experience. It comes with compromises which are inevitable. In a supercar, you’re sacrificing trunk space and daily driver practicality for fun, speed, and an exhilarating drive. With the Surface Pro 3, you’re giving up battery life and some more tradition use cases (like sitting stretched out on a couch) for extreme portability, compact power, and flexibility. You’re going to pay a premium for both.
And I think that’s why, despite the negatives I’ve found so far, I still love the Surface Pro 3.
I do, however, think I love the idea more than I love the actual product. I’ve still got a good bit of time left with the device, though, and I intend to really explore it as deeply as I can. Rest assured, I’ll tell you what I think. In the meantime, feel free to share the things you think I should focus on or check out in the comments below!