Microsoft Surface Pro Is Revolutionary But Far From Perfect

Tuesday, April 16, 2013 15:05
Microsoft Surface Pro Is Revolutionary But Far From Perfect

I’ve been using the Microsoft Surface Pro for two months now. It’s revolutionary but not great.

Surface Pro is both a laptop and tablet in one device. That’s revolutionary. At $1,200, it’s inexpensive for a PC but expensive for a tablet. With a 1.5 GHz Intel i5 processor, it runs the full suite of Microsoft Office products flawlessly and fast. It weighs just two pounds, so you can take it anywhere.

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But the problem is that, as a tablet, it’s not as good as an iPad, because it’s a half pound heavier and has only a four- or five-hour battery life versus twice as much on an iPad. In addition, as a laptop, its 10.6-inch diagonal screen is a little small. Consequently, it’s not perfect as a tablet or as a laptop.

It took me two months to write this review because the Surface Pro is a complicated device, and buying a computer has become so much more complicated. With the introduction of tablet-PCs, tablets convertible into laptops, and touch screen PCs, you really have to pick the right device to match your lifestyle and work style.

Computer-Buying Is More Complicated
The Surface Pro will work well for people who hook their laptops up to an external monitor and also want a tablet for business meetings and on the road. But if you like to lay down on your back and read on your couch or in bed, the Surface Pro’s is noticeably heavier than the iPad. Also, if you like to work with your laptop perched on your knees in an airport or in bed, the Surface Pro will probably be too small and hard to see.

While these issues may seem nitpicky to some, they are practical considerations in buying a computer nowadays. And they are totally new considerations. You are buying a computer that will also be your tablet, which you never did before

Microsoft has indeed done something great by putting a tablet and laptop in one device. In typical Microsoft style, however, it’s complicated but powerful. The next generation Surface Pro will hopefully be easier to hold in your hand and its interfaces will be less klunky.

Windows 8
Surface Pro really has two interfaces: desktop and touch. Microsoft does a poor job of telling its users this. The first time you boot up Surface Pro, no explanation introduces Microsoft laptop users to the touch interface. Microsoft just expects you to figure it out.


The user interface of Surface Pro is the Microsoft Windows 8 operating system (OS). The main page you use on the Surface Pro is comprised of 30, 50 or 60 square and rectangular tiles. Each tile is a window into information in your life and business. Some tiles are “live,” streaming Web news from your social networks and displaying news feeds from your favorite sources. That’s nice. But bungling the introduction of the touch interface makes for an awkward handoff between the two interfaces.


Surface Pro As A Tablet

To be clear, touch apps look totally different from desktop apps. When you use Surface Pro as a tablet, you use one set of apps that are optimized for touch. Touch apps have a few big buttons on a page and simple navigation.


Microsoft has developed a touch version of the desktop Office Suite called Office 365 that you can try out for free. It's great.

Office 365 and touch apps offered in the Microsoft Store work well. The Windows 8 touch interface of the Surface Pro is as easy to use as an Apple iPad’s iOS interface. (If it were not not a half-pound heavier than an iPad, I’d like the Surface Pro as a tablet as much as an iPad.) Point is, Windows 8 on the Surface Pro works great for touch use but the “form factor” of the Surface Pro is inferior to the iPad, which, at 25% lighter, is much easier to hold in your hand.

Surface Pro As A Laptop
Then there’s the other interface on Surface Pro. When you use Surface Pro as your laptop computer, also called n ultrabook, you can use the old mouse-driven interface that made Microsoft famous. Moreover, the desktop version of Word, Excel, and the Microsoft Office suite run on the Surface Pro.


If you plan to run the desktop version of Office, pay the extra $100 for the 128GB solid state drive rather than the 64GB since Office takes up so much space.

Desktop apps like Office require more processor power than running Web apps, but the Surface Pro has enough power for running most of the programs advisors use. If you want to edit videos, Surface Pro is not for you. But if you want to use Excel, Word, Publisher, Adobe Acrobat Professional—the apps advisors use—Surface Pro has enough processor speed to work just fine. Surface Pro technically meets the requirements to run desktop portfolio management software, such Schwab PortfolioCenter. But you would probably want a more powerful computer than Surface Pro to generate client perfromance reports quarterly.


If you use your laptop in bed or anyplace where you won't have it hooked up to a monitor--if you plan to use Surface Pro without a monitor to work on spreadsheets and documents when you're not sitting at a table with the device right in front of you--then this may not be for you.


Summing Up
Transitioning hundreds of millions of users from desktop software to touch interfaces is a huge move. Apple has not figured out all the answers. It has no device equivalent to the Surface Pro, which brings together the ability to create content using desktop software with a better way to consume content on a tablet. With a video port that lets you attach a high-definition monitor, a slot for adding a memory card, and a USB 3.0 port for attaching external hard drives and other devices, Surface Pro has revolutionized tablets by making them useable as laptop computers.

What users really need is one interface for touch and desktop. That’s not easy to do, however, and it won’t come overnight. In the meantime, Microsoft must do a better job of melding the two interfaces of touch and desktop apps. Some touch apps in the Surface Pro ask you when access a file if you'd prefer to open the file using the desktop app rather than the touch app. That button should be on every file.

When Microsoft said it was going to manufacture a tablet-PC, it lifted the hopes of Microsoft users. By taking a page from Apple and making its own hardware as well the user interface, it raised hopes that Microsoft would better connect its software to these revolutionary new tablet-PCs. It’s not worked out like that so far. But the next version of the Surface Pro will probably be lighter. And maybe one of Microsoft’s hardware partners will one up Microsoft.


The Lenovo ThinkPad Helix, which is slightly lighter than the Surface Pro when used as a  tablet and comes equipped with an Intel i7 processor, is far powerful than the Surface Pro as a laptop, features a display that’s an inch larger than Surface Pro and has twice the four- to five-hour battery life of the Surface Pro. It's the next step in the evolution of tablet-PCs and just became available for pre-orders.

Surface Pro is a good first effort but far from perfect.

Comments (4)

This is good info. I have been asking friends what their experience has been with tablets vs. laptop as I try to make a decision on my next upgrade.
dwaterbury , April 22, 2013
No mention of the ability to use a pen/stylus to write or take notes on the Pro. I have not personally used the feature but ran into a Surface Pro user recently who told me he specifically waited for the Pro because of the ability to "ink" with the stylus so that he could quickly & easily take notes via writing (or "inking" as he called it) rather than typing.
Also, a mention should be made for using Microsoft OneNote, a program that is wildly popular with those that use it. I'm starting to use it because of the great things I've heard from those that do and so far I'm impressed.
The Surface RT or Surface Pro are nicely integrated with OneNote on the tablet, cloud, and desktop via SkyDrive or Office365 integration.
So with Microsoft and Surface tablets, there is potential. I feel like that potential is unrecognized by users and not yet being realized/reached by Microsoft.
blederjr , April 22, 2013
I'll post follow ups about Surface Pro and Windows 8. But I wanted to get the most important ideas in this first review. While the stylus feature is good, it's not a big enough deal to mention.

I doubt the stylus will be used frequently by many Surface Pro users. Perhaps 20% of Surface Pro will use the stylus more than once a month, and than 10% will use it more than once a week.

The stylus is cool if you want to take notes or create an image showing with your handwritten notes or drawing on a slide or document.

But Microsoft screwed up the stylus feature on Surface Pro. The stylus holder is terrible on Surface Pro. In fact, it's misleading to call it a stylus holder because it does such a poor job of holding the stylus.

The stylus connects to the Surface Pro using a magnet. I lost my stylus the very first time I took the stylus with me to a restaurant Surface Pro because i relied on the stylus holder provided on the Surface Pro.

Users should have a way to clamp the stylus to the Surface Pro or should have a hole to store the stylus in the Surface Pro safely. Instead it connects using a magnet on the side of the device, and the stylus falls off easily or gets knocked off in handling the device.

The stylus is cool but poorly executed, like someone at Microsoft decided at the last minute that adding a stylus would be good without ever thinking about how to make it part of the device.

I expect Microsoft will fix this in the next generation Surface Pro by adding better storage for the stylus.

I bought another stylus to replace the one I lost. However, since I cannot easily carry around the stylus with my Surface Pro, I never bring the stylus with me anywhere because I'm scared I'll lose it again. So the stylus is mostly a waste to me.
agluck , April 23, 2013
Andrew - You're so totally correct regarding the stylus not being properly stored on the Pro. That was definitely not thought out well...heck, it seems like it wasn't thought out at all. Pretty lame on Microsoft's part.

I disagree regarding it's usefulness. I picture it's strongest usefulness being used to take notes in meetings. I don't necessarily mean client meetings, I mean conferences and other meetings I attend where I want to hammer out some notes and scribble as I do on paper. I'm also thinking of uses outside my business life where the stylus could be very very useful and I believe most Advisors consider how a tablet or laptop could be used outside their business...especially when it comes to a tablet which will be carried to kids ball games, restauraunts, church, friends house, etc...the tablet and its features extend beyond the office more than any laptop or desktop, much like the smart phone. But I realize those are not necessarily the purposes you're reviewing.

I will concede that I have not used the Pro or stylus yet, so I'm just picturing how I could/would use it. I've used the RT version and could see more than 10% - 20% use for the stylus among the majority of the Adviosr population.

I'm curious to see/hear your review of Windows 8. My summary: It's good on touch devices and very awkward on non-touch, mouse driven devices. Unfortunately most of us are using mostly mouse driven devices and probably will be for several years to come. Thus I see W8 never really catching on.

Thanks Andrew.
blederjr , April 23, 2013

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