Using a Surface Pro 3 full time for two months
Back in August I posted my initial impressions of a Surface Pro 3 after using it for a week or so. I paid for the Surface Pro 3 with my own money and have been using it as my primary machine ever since. I've been using it now for two months full time and figured it was time to break down the good, the bad, and the weird.
I won't waste your time telling you specs and details you can search for. Instead, I'll tell you what has worked and what hasn't the last few months.
- It's very fast. I haven't had any issues or concerns about performance. I've given talks internationally this last few months and used this Surface Pro 3 for demos involving multiple instances of Visual Studio without concern.
- I always want more memory, but 8 gigs has been fine. I can run Hyper-V or VirtualBox and run at least one VM without concern. Even better is running the VM off a USB3 hard drive. However, 12 gigs of RAM would have been a nice option.
- Running two monitors with the Surface Pro 3 Dock is pretty perfect. I'm having no major issues with my 24" monitors. A little more on some subtle video card things below under "The Weird."
- It's far more usable in your lap than previous Surface versions. I'm sitting on my front porch right now, in fact, typing this post while the kids run around. It's actually kind of nicer than a laptop in that the screen part doesn't flop as I type.
- The Dock is exceptional. It adds 3 USB 3 ports and 2 USB 2 ports, for a system-wide total of 6 ports. It adds a second Mini DisplayPort as well as Gigabit Ethernet and an audio jack. Drop in, go. It also works nicely with Mouse Without Borders.
- The kick stand is brilliant. Having a continuous kickstand is perfect and useful. Every tablet should have one.
- It's really an everything/everywhere machine. I use it for work, then remove the keyboard and use it on the treadmill for movies.
- I added a 64 gig MicroSD card and put movies on it. Works great on a plane and everyone loves the kickstand and comments on it.
- The pen is fantastic, but I don't really use it for anything other than OneNote.
- I'm underwhelmed by the battery life. I have been generally underwhelmed with batteries in general in the last year. From my iPhone 5S to my Lenovo to this Surface Pro, all batteries seem to last about 5 hours for me. This is "fine." But it's not awesome. I never take any device anywhere without some subconscious concern about the battery. It's not an all-day battery. From what I can tell the number one thing you can do to get it to last longer is to lower the screen brightness. Unfortunately for me, I like a bright screen.
- I almost point this under the Weird, but I just don't like the Touchpad on the Surface Pro 3. It's OK, but it's not epic. A MacBook Pro is a universally loved touch surface. No one knows why, but it just feels right. The Surface Pro 3 touchpad is one of the best I've used, but it's very small and you'll want to at least adjust the pointer speed under Motion without Mouse Properties. While I don't use it as a mouse, it's gesture support for pinch to zoom and scrolling is excellent. That said, you'll end up using the touchscreen for that naturally.
- With every Surface I've ever used there's been this weird thing where it would stop seeing the keyboard. It happens maybe once in 30 attaches, but it's annoying. Just detach and reattach, but it's clearly a flaky bug and I've seen it maybe 8 times in the last two months.
- I spend a lot of time in Google Chrome and while it's great on my desktop, I must say that using Google Chrome on a hybrid like the Surface that has both touch and high-dpi really makes Chrome feel unpolished. Touch support in Chrome is there, scrolling and pinch to zoom work, but with newer betas there are weird zoom effects they appear to be bringing over from Android.
- In recent Chrome builds it started popping up the Virtual Keyboard. Unfortunately, that's not Chrome's job to pop up the keyboard. ;) The keyboard pops up when a physical keyboard isn't attached. However, Chrome pops it up whenever a text box is touched, and even worse, resizes the window to half height. It's REALLY annoying. I just can't use Chrome or recommend it on a touch screen. I'd love it if someone from the Chrome team would get in touch with me or someone at Microsoft because this kind of thing makes everyone look bad. Here's an eight month old thread that continues filled with folks with this issue.
The Weird and The Subtle
- Early on, before the first firmware update that came over Windows Update, I was seeing some concerning heat coming off the the back right side. I had one "thermal shutdown" while sitting in my car. I haven't seen any heat issues since the most recent firmware updates, but it was initially concerning. Ultimately I did have to come to terms with the fact that mine is an i7 processor, not an iPad Air. It does have a fan and it will use it if you are running Handbrake and compressing video.
- Hotkeys and the keyboard take a week or so to get used to. One feature I'd like to see (can you hear me Surface Team?) is to be able to have F1-F8 be function keys and F9-F12 stay as Home/End/Page Up and Page Down. It took me a while to figure out some of the more subtle hotkeys on a Surface Pro 3 keyboard, for example:
- Toggle Fn lock - Pressing Fn-CapsLock will toggle the top row to stay as Function Keys.
- Fn+Spacebar - Printscreen
- Fn+Del and Fn+Backspace - Brightness up and down
- Fn+Up and Fn+Down - Page up and Page Down (in addition to the other PgUp/PgDn keys.
- Windows Key + Vol Down - Screenshot to screenshots folder
- I think Windows on a tablet should be more aggressive about what it does in the background on a tablet. Every once in a while there's some indexing service or malware service that slows everything down. It's no more on a Surface than it is on my other devices, but somehow I'm more aware of it with this device. When I'm not plugged in or have my keyboard removed, Windows needs to CHILL OUT.
I recommend the Surface. It's an amazing, fast, thin device. It's got some quirks, but I've had two firmware updates in as many months, and Microsoft has publically said it would support it (as well it should) with Windows 10. I think the Surface Pro 3 will likely get more useful updates, as driver updates, pen updates, and firmware updates that will make it better.
Finally, Windows 10 and the "Continuum" concept cannot come fast enough. It's exactly the behavior I want on this device.
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