I didn’t last a week on the Surface Pro 3
More than most, I want to believe the tablet-computer hybrid is possible. In fact, I know it is. That’s exactly why I moved absolutely as many tasks as possible over to my iPad mini from the MacBook Pro.
With the exception of intensive video editing and some of the fine-tunings of publishing stories here on Pocketnow, I can easily perform most of my daily tasks with the iPad mini paired with the ZAGGkeys Cover Bluetooth keyboard. It’s a nifty little accessory that essentially transforms the iPad mini into a miniature, underpowered netbook.
Why bother, though, if it’s underpowered and I know I’m going to have to switch over to the MacBook anyway? There are several good reasons, such as battery life or multitasking – or the lack thereof, rather. I can write for two or three days using the iPad mini without needing to charge. I usually have to charge the MacBook Pro halfway through a work day if I’m just writing – more if I’m video editing. And where I normally keep five or six apps open at a time on the MacBook, I’m forced to stick with just one at a time with the iPad. I’ve said it before, one of the worst hurdles of iOS is also crucial to my productive and efficient workflow.
After an hour or so of writing or switching back and forth a few dozen times to try to research while I write on the iPad, I usually give up and resort to the MacBook. And it’s fine that way – I’ve grown used to it and expect it. It’s just a functional workflow for me. Get as much done on the iPad as possible before switching to the real workhorse.
This is the very reason I’ve always been so interested in Microsoft’s Surface Pro series. They promise to straddle the line between mobile tablet and a fully-functioning PC. At the surface (pun intended), that’s exactly what the Surface Pro 3 seems to do exceptionally well. Of all the Surface tablets before it, it’s the most well-equipped, well-rounded, polished Surface yet.
The Surface Pro 3, which our own Adam Lein just reviewed, arrived on my doorstep one week ago today. On Monday, I gave it my first impressions from the perspective of a long-time Mac user. Honestly, going into it, I had my doubts and not everything was perfect, but my time with the Surface Pro 3 started off better than I had expected.
Originally, the idea was to use the Surface Pro 3 all week – for everything – and write another piece about the experience, how it was better or worse than my typical setup. Fast forward one week and that … didn’t work out.
I should preface the following by saying Microsoft has admitted there are some power issues with the preproduction models and said a fix would be coming soon.
This is only part of the reason our little experiment didn’t work out. Battery life problems abound, but I can deal with those without much issue. The real power problem was with the Surface Pro 3 not turning on after long periods of standby or not taking a charge overnight. Last night, for instance, I plugged the tablet in before going to sleep. I unplugged it this morning and held the power button. Nothing happened. I took the Type Cover off and held the power button. Nothing. I attached the Type Cover once again and held the power button. This time it turned on, but despite charging all night, the tablet only had a 40 percent charge.
This has been happening all week and is part of the power issues Microsoft is working to fix. So sure, there were some technical issues with some preproduction hardware. That’s to be expected. But that was hardly the biggest problem. I had more trouble coping with the software and the user experience.
I should note that I really love the hardware. The tablet it built exceptionally well. It’s gorgeous and feels like a really well-built machine. It’s better than I expected from a hardware standpoint. I can deal with it heating up – which it’s often quick to do, even with lighter tasks at times – and the sound of the fans. I can deal with the weight, though other devices are more ideal for casual couch browsing. And the display is noticeably warm; whites have a noticeable yellow tint.
Provided the power bug fix extends the Surface Pro 3’s battery life to be more along the proclaimed nine hours, rather than the four to six hours I’ve been getting, I will have literally no hardware complaints. It’s solid on all fronts and crams all the power and storage I have in my 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro into a much more compact, portable package.
The Type Cover has really grown on me and I’ve since gotten used to the nontraditional form factor. Balancing the kickstand on my legs took some practice, but I’ve managed to figure out a few ways the Surface Pro 3 works well on a couch or practically any surface.
There’s a lot to be said for that. And I can respect the level of engineering and design prowess Microsoft has achieved here.
Still, there’s more to this equation than hardware, and the software just doesn’t fit the bill. Windows 8.1 still needs a fair amount of work before I could adopt it as my full-time OS of choice. A lot.
Monday started off pretty well; writing from the Surface Pro 3 is simple enough. I transitioned my standard workflow – writing in iA Writer from the iPad or nvALT on the MacBook – to writing in Evernote and copying and pasting the text into WordPress. So far, so good.
However, the minute you switch from a native app to Internet Explorer or Chrome (if it comes to that, and trust me, you hope it doesn’t), the disconnect between touch input and the standard mouse or trackpad peripherals amplify tenfold. Many of the same browser issues we’ve learned to put up with on iPads or Android tablets, such as not being able to access drop-down menus on websites (since there’s no way to hover with your finger), appear on the Surface Pro 3. The only way to avoid this is to use the Type Cover and its trackpad.
As for the trackpad, it could certainly be worse, but it definitely isn’t my choice in trackpads.
And that’s the thing, to get the tablet experience with the Surface Pro 3, you must sacrifice some user experience. Once you detach the Type Cover, it honestly feels incomplete. Frankly, the Surface Pro 3 shouldn’t be sold without the Type Cover. Touch input doesn’t work as well in Windows as it should, particularly in the browser experience. And many on-screen elements, especially those in the traditional Desktop view, are not exactly touch-friendly.
This could have been easily offset if the pen were a traditional stylus instead a glorified, electric highlighter. If I could use it as a much more precise extension of my finger, I would never have put it down (except to type). But it doesn’t work that way, and it’s unfortunate. I have no use for a dedicated highlight tool, and I literally never take written notes, as typing them is quicker, more neat, and more efficient. This alone would help bridge the gap between the unoptimized touch input and mouse or trackpad input.
The larger problem, though, is the traditional Desktop experience. My workflow was constantly torn between two completely different experiences.
For instance, I couldn’t listen to Rdio in the Modern UI. I could open the Rdio web interface in an Internet Explorer tab, and it would stream music as long as I was in Internet Explorer. As soon as I switched to another app, streaming would stop. In order to stream Rdio without interruption, I had to install the Desktop app or listen through Chrome on the Desktop. This meant if I were working in, say, Evernote, I either had to jump to the Desktop or keep the Desktop in the split-screen view to switch or pause a song.
It’s nice having both the new and traditional workspaces, but in order to get everything I needed to get done, I had to constantly switch between two completely different UIs, two completely different user experiences. I had to go through a mental context switch, just to stream music.
I tried my best to move my daily workflow over to the Surface Pro 3, but it just wasn’t efficient or effective. I love the native apps, and given more time to dig deep into the settings and get familiar with the software, I’m sure I could zip around the Surface Pro 3 like I do my MacBook. (Is there a Windows equivalent to Alfred?)
But truthfully, I found myself stumbling through some fairly basic tasks because the user experience was so disjointed. I couldn’t get into the flow of using it, and it was drastically slowing me down.
I really want to like the Surface Pro 3. I can’t stress how much I like the hardware and the premise of such a device. The amount of power crammed into such a tiny machine is enough to make a grown man weak in the knees. But at the end of the day – or in my case, the week – the software has been the biggest hurdle for me to overcome. I spent hours tinkering and toying, trying to figure out easier and quicker ways to do things. Ultimately, the software still needs work.
If Microsoft could fix its disjointed software experience, I’d be among the first in line to pick up a Surface Pro 3. Now I’m probably going to be forced to wait it out and see how things go after a few months on the market.
I plan to spend several more days using and getting to know the Surface Pro 3, and once the power bug fix update hits, I will provide a rebuttal to Adam Lein’s review. Until then, I’m going to keep trying to use the tablet more. It’s truly a gorgeous machine, but I’m really not enjoying the software at all.
Rest assured, I won’t stop trying.