On June 20th, 2014, Microsoft made the Surface Pro 3 available for sale in the USA. And on June 20th, 2014, I made a vow to forego my trusty Dell laptop and iPad and attempt to go a month with Surface as my only device other than my phone. So I bought the best available Surface and some accessories, and began my experiment. Now it’s been a month…
First of all, it’s important to understand how I used my laptop and iPad. On average, I spend about 50% of my time out of the office lugging around all my devices. Regardless of whether I’m in the office or working remotely, I do 4 different types of things:
- Consume – I take in a lot of information, by web browsing, reading email, using apps, etc. This is typically done from the iPad, but not exclusively.
- Note – I take handwritten notes using a stylus and specialized app on my iPad.
- Write – I do a tremendous amount of writing (typing), from emails to estimates to proposals to blogs, almost exclusively on the laptop. I try not to touch type must more than a paragraph.
- Develop – While it’s no longer a huge part of my day-to-day, I still have to be capable of writing code, which I do on the laptop.
So, how do those things shake out on the Surface?
No one argues that tablets are the best for media consumption. Overall, the Surface is a better experience than my iPad. Have you ever visited a site on the iPad and had to switch to your PC due to Flash content? Have you had a stubborn web page that refuses to load in anything by a mobile-style view? Not a problem on the Surface. Both the touch and standard browsers work well. If you’re into specialized apps for media consumption, though, the Surface falls a little short. There aren’t nearly as many polished apps for consuming feeds or mashing up sources. That’s not really a big deal to me, though. Major apps (Vevo, Netflix, Hulu, etc.) are available and work just as well as the iPad versions. WINNER: Surface.
Taking handwritten notes on an iPad can feel like drawing with a crayon unless you’re using a specialized precision pen. The handwriting on the Surface, however, is superb with the provided Bluetooth-enabled active stylus. It feels even more natural than the most expensive precision pen options for the iPad. However, the touch version of OneNote lacks important features such as the linkage between notebooks and Outlook items. That said, it’s still a million miles better than iPad’s terrible OneNote implementation! So, I found myself instead using the full desktop version of OneNote. Despite that bump in the road, note taking is a great experience. WINNER: Surface.
The Surface’s keyboard is pretty decent. I am using the Type Cover which has nearly full-size, clicky keys. The on-screen keyboard is OK, but isn’t quite as smart as the iPad in deciphering what you meant to say when you touch a couple of wrong keys. Some of the buttons are a strange size (up and down arrow are tiny!) and there are some quirks, such as having the Function key reversed (you have to press Function-F1 to hit F1). Overall, though, an iPad with a good sized keyboard is just as usable as the Surface. And, the touch typing experience is much better on the iPad. WINNER: iPad.
Using an iPad for development was tedious if not impossible. To do so, you have to remote into another machine in order to use typical development tools. And that’s not a great experience. I doubt anyone does serious development with their iPad. The Surface, however, has the specs to run normal laptop IDEs. I’ve got several Visual Studio versions and SQL Server installed, and it runs like a champ so far. It certainly does zap my battery faster than normal, and the smaller screen can be tough unless using an external monitor. Have I had any issues completing development tasks? Not yet. Still, overall nothing beats a full laptop for intensive dev. WINNER: Laptop.
So is the new Surface Pro 3 a true laptop replacement and iPad killer? I’m not completely sold yet… But for the record I haven’t even been tempted to boot up my laptop or iPad since the switch. What do you think?