So this post started off as an attempt at some consumer advice; a review of the Microsoft Surface Pro that I brought over to Canada with me. After all, year of travelling and living away from home makes a fine crucible upon which to test a mobile device! However, after some unforeseen events this has turned into a two parter, with some general amateur advice on choosing what technology to bring on a trip and some lessons learned. As you’ll read in the next post, I’m actually on my second Surface Pro…. So this is more “A year and a half with a Surface Pro of some kind.”
It’s important to note at this point that the Surface Pro 4 has just been released, so this review is more about the ergonomics, and general usage as opposed to the nitty-gritty of the Surface Pro 1 or 3 itself. From my research into the newer Surfaces, I can say that the latest Surface Pro will perform slightly better than mine, but not by a huge amount. Essentially you can assume that if you went to buy a new Surface Pro tomorrow it will be a bit better than mine in most respects.
So, why a Surface Pro?
Well I knew that I would need a laptop for the trip. Karting around my tower from home was out of the question, and I didn’t already have a laptop hanging around from university or anything like that. I wanted a fairly small size, so no 15” monster MacBooks / Sony Vaios, and I wanted a full version of windows. This ruled out an Ipad, Android things, and Microsoft’s other offering at the time, the non-Pro Surface, which had Windows RT. I had a myriad of laptops to choose from, but crucially only one or two tablets, and I wanted this purchase to be something that would last me well beyond my two-year trip. I don’t believe in this consumerist way of updating to the latest iPhone every year, or throwing a laptop away every couple of years, I’d rather spend the top of my budget and get something which will ideally last me forever, if I can get away with it. It came down to two options; the Asus T100 and the Surface Pro. When it came to buying it I couldn’t resist the more expensive, more powerful, option…. So at this stage I should make a point:
If you just want something to do general things on, Netflix, Skype, browsing etc. You don’t need to spend the money on a Surface Pro.
In fact, Microsoft’s new Surface 3 (Not Pro 3) or the T100 will do you just fine, but the gamer in me wanted something that could run a few mildly demanding games, as well as some classics, on those down days, or travel delays, when I needed some entertainment. The Canadian winter is now here, which apparently means I’ll be spending a lot of time indoors. On some days you’re apparently told to stay indoors.
You can’t unlock the Surface Pro’s full potential until you get a type cover for it. Microsoft sold one with a battery in it, but not in the UK (Why????) so I opted to wait until I reached New York to get one. Typing on just the Surface screen works fine though, provided you can find a good position with the tablet flat. (This issue is better on the newer Surfaces and Surface Pros). Here is the complete package that I had, just after I got the power cover in New York.
So what’s it like type blogs on?
Well by the standards of most keyboards, very, very good. With both keyboards keystrokes are soft, but have a certain snappiness too them, which is quite satisfying in a strange sort of way. I’ve never been that bothered about full mechanical keyboards, and it’s miles better than some of the Apple keyboards I’ve encountered. The keyboard is obviously small, but that doesn’t cause any sort of strain after long sessions, and it’s perfectly fine to use with mouse for some games too. The newer package has the keyboard tilted slightly during normal use, which does make it slightly comfier than the older flat keyboard.
Good at entertaining you then?
As I mentioned earlier its more than adequate for casual browsing, Netflix, etc. My first Surface Pro came with windows 8.1, which really encouraged use of the touch screen with it different start menu. As for gaming both systems have Intel i5 processors and 4gb of RAM, plenty for the average games that I wanted to play. The most taxing game that I intended to run on it was Kerbal Space Program, which it handles pretty well when I’m flying smaller spacecraft that don’t have loads of parts.
Most other games I try to find are far less taxing on the system.
It’s also very capable of some simple video editing; timelapses, etc, but you can’t overload it with too many frames at once or Windows Movie maker will crash, I think due to lack of memory.
Was the extra expense worth it?
Well I have to admit I do not use the touch screen and the pad very much during general use. Its super nice to be able to scroll with your finger when it’s on my lap, or take to bed to watch some YouTube/Netflix with just the pen. But, to be honest I don’t, game using the touchscreen really at all, despite hoping I would, so I don’t really need these features. When researching a replacement for my first Surface Pro I seriously entertained the idea of the ASUS T100 Chi, but it didn’t have the processing power that I really would have liked (despite a bigger hard drive and more RAM, which would have been more useful), and my little magpie instinct couldn’t resist the slicker new Surface Pro.
So to conclude:
I’ve really liked my Surface Pros, I really love having a great computer in such a small package, it’s amazing that nowadays we can shrink what would have been a very decent tower PC 5-10 years ago into something less than 10mm thick, with a touch screen. The extra bells and whistles are great, but for general travelling use you can really get away without them and probably save some money.
Tune in next time (probably sometime in the next 3 months) for Part 2 – “Lessons Learned about laptops.”