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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Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.
John - Well, an other parallel is my X1 Carbon. When I really want a substantial laptop, I go to my X1. But when I want a 95% solution in 1.5 lbs, my SP3 is my goto machine.
I had some problems with it using hyper-v though, it changed the profile of the surface to operate more as a desktop (lost the standby connected functionality and started consuming double battery etc.), did you have any of these problems? any tips on how to run hyper-v in it ?
Thanks and keep those nice posts coming please !
Also, in my case it seemed like the resolution of SP3 is too high. I had trouble working with a few applications that are not designed to follow the display scale as "most" of the windows native apps do. So I ended up using 1920x1200 which still looks pretty good.
While taking note in portrait mode sometimes when my hand accidentally touches the windows (home) touch button it just takes me to the windows home screen. So I usually turn my SP3 upside-down while taking note in portrait mode.
I also wish there was a richer app store for windows.
Everything else about SP3 is just amazing.
Otherwise it is a really good, highly portable, solid dev box running VS 2013 on my single-dev project (i.e. my compiles are measured in tens of seconds...not minutes or longer). Plus it plays video, the Kindle app is nice and the touch interface is well done. And, of course, the touch screen makes me poke in frustration at that fancy Retina display when I sometimes switch back to my MacBook Air. I don't use the pen either - I've thought pen computing would be really awesome - in theory - for the past 15 years, but it just hasn't panned (penned?) out. Not sure what pens are good at; frankly I can type much faster than I can write.
Yes, Google is obviously intentionally crippling their touch interface in Chrome. I find myself running IE (omgwtf!) when I don't have the keyboard attached just because it sucks less in that mode than anything else.
Very, very good. Best machine I currently own. But not pure awesomeness. And yes, 12Gb would have been nice.
I now just need to revisit the specs vs price calculations then make my final recommendation.
While the windows phones are prevalent here, the surface pro has absolutely no official retailers here. It is sad and pathetic. We need more 4g and 3g capable tablet/hybrid devices in Africa. The netbook is remarkably strong here still so I think we are ready for serious tablets.
Good post. Thanks.
I've just bought a Surface Pro 3 i7-512 (and I'm still waiting for it, it should arrive tomorrow, can't wait) but didn't get the Dock station because it has only one screen connector. How do you connect two screens to that? (I'm planning to use the dynadick U3.0 I already got).
'With every Surface I've every used' = 'With every Survace I've ever used'?
One thing I haven't managed to achieve is creating a boot into VHD setup. I would be curious to hear if you managed to do this.
@leandro, if you don't need Hyper-V all the time (I only need it for WP development), the easiest is to disable the hypervisor when not required. This restores all the tablet functionalities. Paul Thurott has a guide on how to do this. HTH.
I'd like to add a con: It doesn't turn the screen off after a while, and this feature is missing from the power options. Very annoying when I use it as my main PC at home and it's always turned on. I can turn off my 2 monitors, but not the screen on the tablet. Yes, there's a powershell command to turn off all screens, but that only works until some running process decides to do some work, and then the screens pop back to life.
I know why - it's the drivers on Mac. Try using Boot Camp on the same MacBook Pro and even though it's exactly the same touchpad, it's Apple's Boot Camp drivers that cause the experience to degrade.
s/With every Surface I've every used/With every Surface I've ever used
(that every vs. ever gets me all the time)
The biggest issue I have is the Wifi - it regularly fails to pickup *known* networks after coming out of sleep mode, and I have to go to Airplane mode and back again to make it connect. Very irritating, and eliminates a lot of unattended use cases where I'd like to use them as information kiosks for short term installs because I can't trust them to wake up and work first time.
He mentioned it after talking about using it in your actual lap, as in, sitting on the porch.
If you type on a regular, bottom heavy, laptop like that, the screen has to shake and wobble as the base shifts in your lap due to natural movement of your legs, etc.
Who hasn't experienced that?
Milos/Ron - Yes, exactly. I'm not sure why that was controversial.
Craig - That stopped being a problem for me after the 9/9 firmware update.
Wei - There's a DisplayPort on the Surface and a SECOND DisplayPort on the Dock!
- Battery Life: My side-by-side comparison of the i7 and the i5 showed that, despite what Microsoft reports, the i7 has significantly worse battery life (+heat) with very minor performance gains.
- Chrome: You're spot on with this. I had to disable "Metro" Chrome entirely.
- i7 Overheating: I also had my i7 overheat with the weird temperature image while installing the first firmware updates. Fortunately, things seemed to work OK after that, so I expect the issue has been resolved.
I don't know what it did, but I haven't had that issue since. It's worth trying at least...
One thing that has annoyed me from day 1 is that to drive two external monitors with the Dock I need to manually connect a mini-displayport cable to the Surface itself. Sound trivial but makes the whole dock/undock routine MUCH more cumbersome. Especially since Windows seems to need to go through two monitor detection cycles. The solution? Two that I know of:
1) Buy at least 1 DisplayPort monitor that supports daisy-chaining. But these are spendy and hard to come by.
2) Buy a monitor hub that can split one DisplayPort signal into two monitors. Windows fully recognizes the monitors as distinct without any drivers or special software. This one is working well for me so far: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16812282011
My only dilemma with OneNote is the desktop version is so much more powerful, but the touch version is much easier on the tablet. I go back and forth a lot depending on the task at hand. Being able to see the history of a pages life is quite a killer feature also.
MS really nailed this one. My only complaint is fixable. The keyboard and touchpad, even though they work nicely, have a less than premium feel to them. I look forward to any improvements in this area, and the ability to just snap on the new and improved keyboard will be pretty cool assuming they are working on it as we speak.
Did you know in the Windows 10 Tech Preview there's an option in the 'Taskbar and Start Menu Properties' where you can turn off using the Start Menu and go back instead to the Start Screen? It requires a logoff/logon to switch the setting, and the continuum change looks fantastic for automating that, but it's something you can change if you primarily use the device as a tablet, and still have the option to switch back when you need (though not as slick).
Hopefully when continuum comes out, attaching the Surface to the dock will also trigger the change/option.
Also - where's the three-finger forward/backward navigation swype gesture, MS? Backspace/Shift-Backspace gets old. I know Metro IE has fancy screen gestures, but need something general purpose for the desktop explorer, browsers, etc
It explains what seems to be slightly underspec heat dissipation. Roll on SP4/SP3 Broadwell refresh :).
Yes - that would be a big help!
I have the i7/512. It's a great tool. At work, I use it as a second monitor for my work laptop. When I'm at a hotel, I use it as the primary device and my work laptop as a second monitor (using <a href="http://www.splashtop.com/personal" title="Splashtop Personal").
I have previously had the Surface RT, which was great, but a little slow under load (my mum now has it). Surface 2 - performs very well and does 85% of what I needed (my fiancée now has this). I only got the Surface Pro 3 because I wanted to develop when away from home.
My cyan keyboard came with a black stylus holder, which I think is bad - it should match; so I'll buy one in cyan.
I have a Wedge mouse, but don't like it (right clicking often generates a left click). I want to buy the Microsoft Arc Surface edition, but the UK site shows it as being out of stock and the person on the live chat told me yesterday that he doesn't know when it will be back in stock.
Thanks for the great reviews Scott :-)
I'm interested in what you say about running Handbrake. I've had a Surface Pro 2 I5 128GB for a while now, and using Handbrake to convert .ts files to MP4 files on it has it running at pretty much 100% with the CPU at around 2.5GHz. However, I've just bought a Surface Pro 3 I7 256GB, and running tests converting exactly the same file on both machines, find that the Pro 3 almost immediately drops down to around 2.09GHz and actually takes a little longer to perform the conversion than the Pro 2 does. The temperature rises to around 75 degrees with the fan obviously coming on, but if the lower CPU speed is the result of throttling due to temperature, why isn't it happening with the Pro 2? Any thoughts you or anyone else might have on this would be gratefully appreciated.
Great article. I wrote a blog post recently about how I set up my Surface Pro 3 for the various places I work:
I have had better luck than you report on battery life. But I have the i5. That may be part of the difference.
Overall the unit works great! It would be great if Microsoft could provide the capability to sense if the unit is docked or not and change the screen fonts and icons based it being docked or not. Otherwise the fonts and icons are either too large or too small.
I had exactly same issue, using Chrome in SP3 is killing battery. I'm able to write code on VS 2013 6hrs but just browse on Chrome 2hrs than I need recharge again.
I tried almost everything on Chrome like (Remove all Plugins) but didn't worked for me. Some people mention about some registry settings but still same.
Thanks for your recommendations and reviews
I have had my Surface Pro 3 for a little over a week and I just was wondering if you were experiencing any issue with Chrome taking a few minutes to open?
When I try to open the Chrome browser, it will take about 5 minutes to open. I am not sure if this is the Surface or Chrome.
Also, Chrome seems to have a hard time runnning when it finally opens. It will usually take a few seconds to register scrolling and it also keeps trying to 'kill the page.'
Have you experienced any of this? IE works just fine but I would like to use Chrome as my default. Any advice you have would be greatly appreciated!
I've got lots of other gripes with the Pro 3 but I think they are mostly gripes with Windows 8's handling of touch and not the device itself.
External monitors: One monitor (screen or external) seems to be the "main one" and controls the text scaling. Although apps will change their control and text scaling when you drag from one screen to the other, it doesn't work well. If you have a low DPI monitor, many apps are a mess. Here's a good thread on this: http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/surface/forum/surfpro3-surfdevice/external-display-scaling-issues-surface-pro-3/00559189-3f82-4c38-bd77-969e7c6f6a10
Different ways of selecting text: You can double tap to select a word quickly, but get no draggable bits to then highlight more text. To get those, you have to touch and hold and then sort of wiggle your finger. I bet lots of people never even figure that out! Some apps, including Notepad++ - surely the most popular feature rich windows text editor - don't ever give you the draggable cursor things. Generally I find that mouse vs finger vs pen and across different apps is a bit of a mess. The movable cursor things are just not as good as Android as well. Much harder to position. Seems random whether you get copy, past, etc displayed or not.
Tool tips: when you touch the screen and then start typing with keyboard, a tool tip will often pop up for the box you touch and never go away! Incredibly annoying. For example you get the "Whats on your mind" tip in facebook status box overlapping where you are trying to type the stats. Solution is to always "touch away" in some unused bit of screen after touching. This might also be Chrome specific.
Touch and drag: lots of website now support swiping, eg to swipe away tracks in Googles music player. Or things like touch+shift to select multiple items. No way to do this with fingers yet.
Predictive text: again, just not as good as Android. Rubbish that word correction isn't built into the on screen keyboard. You actually have to click the "..." button on screen to go to the mouse-friendly regular right clikc menu before you get spelling corrections. Rubbish.
Power saving: There is no separation between screen off and sleeping. A very common user request is surely to let the screen turn off (for power saving and to avoid accidentally touches) and leave music playing. This is not possible. Windows has no support for this at all! Again, this is something that a regular tablet OS would obviously have. There's also a really nasty "feature" where if you start up Hyper-V (Microsofts virtualisation tech) it completely disables sleep. Which means closing the type cover or pressing power button or letting it go to sleep completely hibernates the machine! Hyper V turned itself on when I installed Visual Studio Community with zero notification that this crippling change would happen. Had to trawl the net to find out and then disable hyper V (via command line) to get the machine usable again. http://winsupersite.com/mobile-devices/surface-pro-3-tip-hyper-v-vs-connected-standby
Overall though, I am loving the device. It just feels like the hardware is way ahead of the Windows software atm. Microsoft really should have had some in depth "how to use the surface" tutorial with the device. Normally those things aren't a good idea, but the OS is not up to scratch or intuitive enough yet so they should have held users hands a bit more.
As a work around, I'd love to see a little sys tray app that has Surface specific toggles like "disable windows key: on/off", "disable sleep: on/off" (for playing music/films), "disable hyper V: on/off" (so programmers can use the damn machine!) etc.
Some people find that the Windows button is a pain because they keep hitting accidentally. Thankfully, you can disable it.
In the Metro UI, type Device Manager. In that menu, open System devices, and open the Surface Home Button menu. Open the Driver tab, and then tap Disable. Repeat this process to re-enable it."
Found this at http://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/surface-pro-3-helpful-tips-and-tricks/#ixzz3NYpd8p4g
If that was already mentioned in the comments then I offer my apologies for not reading them all first but find-in-page didn't spot it for me.
Chrome by default is more resource heavy and tends to heat up the SP3 but this can be improved by putting chrome://flags in the address bar and enable 'override software rendering list'.
Loss of WIFI connectivity after wake seems to have been finally resolved along with keyboard disconnect issue.
Delve, you can toggle between Windows shortcut keys and normal function keys by holding down Fn+Caps.
Extremely happy with the SP3 now with those changes. Only thing I hope for is a stiffer less flexible keyboard with dedicated mouse buttons. Thinkpad touchpoint nub and extended battery would be pluses.
Maybe you can add some extra words on te dock: The Surface fits perfectly without and with! the keyboard cover into the dock.
This is some informarmation I could not find everywhere, but now I've experienced it with my own Surface (yeah!). (unfortunately my two 24" monitors will sometimes be reset after some hours of work)
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