First Impressions of the Surface Pro

After being so pleased with the packaging of the Surface Pro I was eager to start using the device and formulate an opinion about my experiences.  This write up will mostly be about my hardware impressions as I am still formulating my broader experience opinion.

Hardware First Glance

The device itself is solidly built and sturdy.  It feels very good in the hand with no flex at all.  The weight is substantial, but not in a bad way.  Anyone who is comparing the SurfacePro to any ARM based tablet really is missing the mark by a long shot so the weight issue isn’t as big a deal as they may claim.  The two pounds actually feels lighter than I thought it would, possibly due to the evenly distributed balance. The device appears to balance center from both the X and Y axis (yes I tried this, over a soft pillow).  The bevel around the edges is just long enough to handle at any angle without interfering with the screen (which is a minor issue anyway and a non-issue while using the pen – more on that later).  That said the Windows button can occasionally get in your way and may be something I disable in the future.

The stand, which flips out of the back of the surface, is solidly hinged and fits into the design of the venting system perfectly by continuing the small line that is the vent.  Even after a week I sometimes can’t tell which side the pops out when I’m looking at the device from the back.  The only real visual cue is that the rear camera lens is in the fixed part of the backing.  The extended stand keeps with the entire visual motif of the Surface.

The visual impression left by the SurfacePro is stunning (as it is by the RT).  It is a sleek and ultramodern design that extends the clean lines of a Mies van der Rohe creation with contemporary rounding where appropriate.  The result is a device that looks sharp and draws both the eyes and the hands in.  Everywhere I have taken this thing people notice it.

Views of the SurfacePro with the stand and Type keyboard

Views of the SurfacePro with the stand and Type keyboard

The charger that came with is also pretty slick and follows the same cubic, but rounded design approach.  The charger is very light and includes a USB charging port that I had read about.  This is a great addition and something I’m surprised to have not seen before.  Not only does this free the single USB 3 port on the device for other duties, it is a fast charging port as well.  I immediately threw my USB/AC adapter from my Nokia Lumia in the parts bin after using this once.  The charger attaches to the surface via a magnetic strip on the right side of the device (the same place the pen does).  It clicks into place easily and fits well.  It’s a unique design I have grown quite fond of.

The Pen

Now about that pen.  I would not call it a stylus; it has the real size, feel, and balance of a true writing instrument; although it is slightly lighter in weight.  It is batter free (I believe) and has several design features I have already come to appreciate.  First is the blue tip.  It looks like the tip to a ball point pen and gives a clear visual cue that this instrument is ready to write.  Picking it up it almost begs you to do so.  Another is the right mouse click button which is vital to using legacy applications in the Windows desktop (and OneNote as I’ll cover another time).  The right click button is long and sticks out enough to be noticeable but not too much to be in the way no matter what side to hold the pen from.  Better still the right click action requires a just firm enough press to not inadvertently trigger right clicks while writing.

Moving further aft you come to a curious inclusion for a digital writing device: a pocket clip.  Aesthetically this adds a nice real world feel to the pen as it is a feature found in nearly all real pens.  I think it helps drive home how central this is going to be for you and makes it easy to clip into your shirt or coat – which I must admit I have done several times already.

At the end of the pen is perhaps my favorite feature: an eraser.  I’ve never had a stylus that included this before and I have say it is awesome.  It requires a physical press onto the screen, but works great.  I will have a complete post on how significant the ink experience on the SurfacePro is shortly, but I can say this already – it is the key to making this device into a must have piece of hardware for me.

The Keyboard

I have heard many criticize that the SurfacePro does not come with one of the keyboard options.  I am a heavy typer and definitely could not imagine this machine without one of its only currently available accessories.  The two options for keyboard are Touch and Type.  As I am a very heavy type user I opted for the Type variety.  It is only $10 more than the Touch keyboard and I am glad the device did not come with a keyboard that I did not want.  This is not to say the Type keyboard is bad.  I felt at home on it within ten minutes in the store (though it did remind me of when I put my dog’s winter shoes on him; he walks fine by he lifts his legs unnecessarily high for the first few steps – hey there’s a lot of salt on the streets here, he does need shoes some days).

The keyboard concept for the Surface is really quite unique and very cool.  The magnetic attachment mechanism is every bit as good as you have probably heard – and yes, it does make that noise from the commercial if you just let it go.  It guides right in and is strong enough to hold steady from either end of the merged machine.  Being magnetic it will not wear and weaken over time.  Importantly the keyboard is designed to be attached and detached quickly, easily, and often.  This starts to get into some of what I think people may be missing with the SurfacePro: it is not a laptop replacement – it is a whole new category of computing experience.  An experience I am just learning now.

The Touch keyboard is beautiful.  It has excellent feedback that is short and responsive and feels like my favorite laptops did (all Fujitsu ultra-portables by the way).  Again the keyboard also fits the design of the Surface itself.  The touchpad is slightly small, but is fully functional and the best design in the space available.  As much as some have criticized the inclusion of page up/down, home, end, and other keys I can’t disagree more.  The keyboard is perfect.  I already regularly write several thousand words per day on it already and am glad to have these buttons.  The backside of the keyboard was unexpected for me.  It is a cloth like material that is not matte black like almost everything else on the Surface: it is charcoal.  It actually looks quite nice and makes the Surface almost look like a book or portfolio when closed over it.  The material provides very good traction for the Surface when deployed as a keyboard.  I am slightly concerned about cleanliness over time or staining it, but it feels rugged and probably is treated to resist some things.

Type

Textured back of Surface Type keyboard

I have heard some people say that the device is hard to balance on your lap as a laptop.  Balancing the device is quite easy in my experience, but the keyboard is not as firm as the surface and has a give that I find uncomfortable / unsettling to use on my lap.  If I put my briefcase on my legs it works better.  Also, I don’t type with any laptop on my lap very much as it is far too precarious for my tastes and doesn’t give me somewhere to use my mouse or spread out.  Normally when using the Surface without a table I just take the keyboard off.

Surface Edition Wedge Mouse

Although I can live with the touchpad I did buy the Surface edition Wedge Mouse, which was a great investment.  I don’t like using any touchpad when I’m designing PowerPoints or doing Visio or BizTalk work.  This little mouse is small and works great.  I’m still getting used to basically having a touchpad on my mouse, but so far it is a very good device.  I already like the scrolling feature a lot.

The Screen

In most computing devices the screen is sort of the make or break component.  I had high hopes for this screen and I have to say the SurfacePro makes it.  The resolution is amazing and crisp and the ten touch points of contact are stunning.  To anyone thinking that the iPad/Air has a higher resolution keep in mind that this is also an active digitizer (neither of those devices has that).  I guess the first thing people would look at would be a movie and I decided I would use this as a gauge too.  I bought Tron Legacy and watched it early into owning this device.  This is definitely a visually compelling movie that showed this screen in all its full 1080P glory.  Coincidentally Tron Legacy has a design aesthetic that fits closely with the Surface.  The movie looked better than on my TV – what can I say.

The screen is rather small (although all my Fujitsu Lifebook’s had similar size screens).  This is a format you can either live with easily or not, but again, this device isn’t made to be a one and only.  It is one of many devices you will likely have in your life and for most of what I do the screen is great.  If anything my main complaint is that when Remote Desktop-ing into servers the resolution makes just about everything too small (something that’s easily fixed anyway).

Speakers

The speakers on this device are what they should be.  Personally I only use speakers on anything when I’m alone or with one other person in a quiet location and these cut it for that purpose.  Anything else is headphones for me, generally so as not to disturb others.  I have my Jambox paired so when I want a little more oomph I go for those.  I’ve never seen any laptop that can beat a Jambox.

Battery

The battery life in this device is pretty good.  I haven’t changed any of the settings, but if you’re used to using a normal laptop then you will be used to looking for power every 4-5 hours anyway.  If I plug it in at lunch I’m set for the day.  I suppose some may argue that the RT (or the iPad) have a 10 hour battery, but that’s not really a valid comparison.  It’s actually like complaining about the gas mileage in your Ferrari.  The SurfacePro is a Ferrari and it actually has a pretty low price point for all that it is.

I am formulating my thoughts on using the Surface Pro and should have those complete soon.

Upcoming Speaking Engagements

This is a busy month for me.  I will be at both the GPU Technology Conference and Hadoop Summit Europe.  Both events are in the same week with my dates on March 19th and 21st respectively, which will make for fun travel  Both promise to be amazing conferences with a lot of knowledge share and I am honored to be a part of each. 

Being from the Microsoft camp as I am both my sessions will involve these technologies from a Microsoft context or standpoint.  In the case of GTC this will be using .NET to write CUDA (GPU) applications.  For Hadoop this will be using Hadoop within the Microsoft ecosystem (which if you have not noticed is a very large ecosystem). 

I’m very excited for both of these events and eagerly looking forward to them and the discussions and learning that accompany both.