Living with the Surface Pro 2 - Part One

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Bill Loguidice's picture

As I recounted previously, I decided to replace my Asus touchscreen Ultrabook (4/128 SSD, 13" screen, Windows 8.1) and Apple iPad 2 (64GB) with a Microsoft Surface Pro 2 (8/256 SSD) and Type Cover 2. My thinking was that the Surface Pro 2 would effectively replace both devices in my man bag. Yes, there would be some concessions here and there, like a smaller screen (~10") than the Asus (which my youngest daughter now uses) and a weak app selection in comparison to the iPad 2 (which now sits on a dock on my nightstand), but ultimately, the increase in portability (a lighter bag!) and convenience of a single device outweighed the negatives.

While I used my iPad 2 for many things, my favorite function was as an e-reader. Since the iPad 2 does not have a retina display, it sometimes required me to zoom in a bit for certain types of reading material not optimized to the screen size (I'm looking at you, UK's Retro Gamer Magazine). Overall, though, it was a great reading experience for me and I've spent countless enjoyable hours in the Kindle app. It was also great to read at the gym when I was doing cardio (which I find dreadfully boring) after weight training (which I adore).

Naturally, the Surface Pro 2 would need to replicate the functionality of the iPad 2 for reading purposes, with the added bonus of its 1080p widescreen allowing for sharper text, which would hopefully translate into no longer needing to zoom in on very small details. Overall, the Surface Pro 2 performed well for me in this regard, though there were some quirks. For one, the iPad 2's screen is a 4:3, square-ish ratio, while the Surface Pro 2's is a 16:9, rectangular ratio. That basically means that the iPad 2 is more enjoyable in portrait mode (like a normal book), while the Surface Pro 2 feels a bit awkward (overly tall) in portrait mode (like all large, 16:9 tablets, really), making the Surface Pro 2's ideal reading mode landscape. Now, this was something I resisted on the iPad 2 because of the lower resolution and screen ratio, but it turns out that landscape (multiple columns) is actually a quite enjoyable way to read when you're doing it on the right device. Of course, I still sometimes read in portrait mode on the Surface Pro 2 - like at the gym - because that's what fits best on the various cardio machine holders with the Type Cover 2 attached (I'd rather not detach it and leave it on the gym floor) - and it's just fine like that, but, oddly enough, I think I now prefer reading in landscape. We'll see how that evolves going forward.

As for the Kindle app, unfortunately, it's not at feature parity on competing platforms like iOS. The biggest omission is I can't send my own documents to the Kindle app for Windows 8. This is a big deal for me as I have many PDFs that I like to send for reading to my device. For now, I can use other apps, but I'd prefer the single source solution (with proper bookmarking and syncing) the Kindle should offer. Hopefully this gets updated sometime soon.

On a side note, the Type Cover 2 (I have the black one) attaches securely with the built-in magnets and has a nice texture on the back. When closed on the Surface Pro 2, it has a rock solid feel, like a nice hardcover book. I'm less pleased with the pressure sensitive pen, which magnetically attaches to the AC adapter input. That magnet is not quite as strong, plus you have to remove the pen to charge the thing. Dumb, dumb, dumb. On the plus side, the pen works extremely well, though I haven't been a decent artist in over 20 years, so I have yet to make proper use of the pen. [Not that I have the time, but I'm hoping this will help me get some of my artistic skills back.]

My Surface Pro 2 (closed it looks like a hardcover book) next to my man bag

One of the things I liked using the iPad 2 for was taking notes at meetings. There are some excellent apps for that purpose on iOS. While I'm a heavy Evernote user on every platform, it really is not the best for taking quick notes, and it certainly doesn't seamlessly integrate typing, drawing, and audio recording. Luckily, the Surface Pro 2 comes with OneNote, which I also have with my Microsoft Office subscription (a must as a writer). I have not had a chance to put it through its paces properly (I've used it maybe once), but a particularly nice feature on OneNote is that any audio you record automatically syncs to the notes you're taking (either typed or written), so you can easily see what you wrote when someone was saying something, or vice-versa. Powerful stuff, there. Of course, it's also a plus that it seamlessly moves between typing, writing, and drawing, which naturally is made easier with that proper Wacom pen. [I can't tell you how many capacitive styluses I bought for the iPad 2 and similar devices trying to find the perfect one. The answer turned out to be there is none, you really need a device with a Wacom digitzer in it if you're serious about pen input.]

I've had no issues typing on the Type Cover 2, which also has the critical feature of being backlit. That's something that I appreciated greatly on the Asus ultrabook, and something I miss dearly on my gaming laptop, which I bought just before backlit keyboards started coming into vogue (naturally, my desktop has full backlighting as well). I was never good with touchpads and the Type Cover 2's is particularly mediocre. Needless to say, for my own sanity, I use an external trackball when I need to do some heavy mousing.

I will soon be putting the Surface Pro 2 through some serious productivity testing with Microsoft Office as I continue to work on upcoming books and magazine articles (some cool stuff in the works!), but I've only just started doing so. The other day, for instance, my wife and I were working on the outline for our upcoming My Xbox One book. Since it was a task that required close collaboration, I set up the Surface Pro 2 on the dining room table and plugged it into one of my favorite portable HDMI TV/monitors so we could both better see the screen. This was trivial with a simple DisplayPort-to-HDMI cable and mirrored display. [My wife used her MacBook Air as an additional reference machine.]

Speaking of productivity, the two position kickstand has been a godsend. With or without the keyboard cover, it props up perfectly on a table, making it ideal for reading or anything else requiring a stable reference screen. And yes, it does work perfectly fine on a lap. While it's still not as stable as a hinged laptop in some unusual scenarios (propped on one leg, for instance), it's close enough where the benefits of the Surface Pro 2's design outweighs - or at least balances out - the disadvantages.

Among quite a bit other software, I've installed Steam so I could play games. Right now, I only installed Civilization V (it has a great touch mode) and Blood Bowl. Have I played them yet on the Surface Pro 2? Nope. I will soon, however, and I'll definitely report back in future blog installments. Certainly software like C64 Forever and Amiga Forever will find their way onto there, as well as a proper game controller.

Also on my to do list is to explore more Windows 8 apps. Right now I've limited my usage of pure apps to - if I recall correctly - Mail, Facebook, Kindle, and Fresh Paint. I plan to expand that very soon and become a bit less reliant on the desktop. It's nice that that crutch is there (and frankly, that's where the real power software like Office is), but I truly want to use this device to its full potential, so that means exploring more of the app store instead of relying primarily on my favorite desktop-style software so much. Old habits do indeed die hard sometimes.

Anyway, those are my early impressions after a few weeks of mostly daily use. I still do quite a bit on my desktops both at home (a nice dual 27" monitor beast) and work, as well as my smartphone (presently a Samsung Galaxy Note II), but I'm learning to enjoy the flexibility that having a single portable workstation brings me without the legacy baggage of a traditional laptop (the ultrabook) or the somewhat limiting standard tablet (the iPad, and similar tablets). I'm not quite ready to declare it as one of my favorite game changing devices like I did when I first got an iPhone (the iPhone 3G) or that iPad 2, but it's pretty darn close to ascending to that level. I'll post Part Two within a few weeks.


rachmadshare (not verified)
Surface Pro 2 is the best

Hi Bill, Surface Pro 2 from Microsoft is best tablet with multi function, and i like this. i always bring it everywere...

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