One productive week with Microsoft Surface Pro 2 convinces me to try week two

Microsoft Surface Pro

Yes, it’s true. I bought a Microsoft Surface Pro 2. I did this last week after sharing some thoughts on using one of the latest hybrid devices: An Asus Transformer T100.

chrome tablet

That device really hasn’t panned out for me and is going to back to where I bought it. The keyboard wasn’t good enough — important since I write for a living — and overall browsing experience in Chrome was a bit slow for my tastes. I’m spoiled by the speed of the Chromebook Pixel and while Windows 8.1 on the T100 runs smoother than expected for a $349 computer, it’s not for me. Many others are understandably happy with it so it might meet your need better than mine.

I ended up going online to the Microsoft Store, ordered a 64 GB Surface Pro 2 and have been using it nearly full time since it arrived this past Monday. It hasn’t been a completely joyful experience for me but the pros have outnumbered the cons, so I’m settling in for another week of use. I have until January 31 to return the device, so there’s plenty of time to consider.

Peppy, portable and power efficient

What’s to like? This is a fast computer; faster even than my Chromebook Pixel. Since I generally live in a browser, speed is of the essence and a SunSpider 1.0.2 JavaScript test in Chrome on the Surface Pro 2 returns a result range of 59 to 65 milliseconds. The device earns a 17,096 in Google’s Octane test. For comparison, the Pixel’s SunSpider result is 287 milliseconds (a lower number is better) and it earns a 15,480 in Octane (where a higher number is better).

Chromebook PixelAlthough the Pixel is a good performer, the key difference affecting scores is like the silicon inside. A 1.8 GHz Intel third-generation Core i5 with Intel HD 4000 graphics and 4 GB of memory powers the Pixel. Microsoft had the benefit of time to use a fourth-generation Intel Core i5┬árunning at 1.6 GHz and Intel HD 4400 HD graphics paired with 4 GB of RAM. This chip simply wasn’t available when Google designed and released the Pixel, but I’d like to see the device refreshed with a similar chipset.

There’s another benefit by using the fourth-generation Core processor built on Intel’s Haswell architecture: Battery life. The Pixel poops out around after 4.5 to 5 hours of run time. I’ve used the Surface Pro 2 for as long as 10 hours and have still had a little juice left.

More reasons to reach out and touch the screen

Here’s another interesting learning experience: I use the touchscreen on Surface Pro 2 exponentially more than I do on the Pixel’s touchscreen. We’ve discussed this aspect on the Chrome Show podcast for months: There isn’t much reason to tap the Pixel’s display. I almost wish it didn’t have a touchscreen and was a few hundred dollars cheaper so that more people could afford it; the Pixel starts at $1,299 and I paid $1,449 for my LTE model.

Why the difference in touch usage? It has to do with the form factor and software. You don’t need to touch the screen on a Windows 8.1 device, but it certainly helps. And it’s designed far more like a tablet than a laptop. The Metro apps are indeed touch-friendly; the desktop a little less so.

Speaking of screens, me and my bifocals do better with high DPI displays. The Pixel shines here with 239 pixels per inch (PPI), but I’m fine with the 1920 x 1080 resolution on the 10.6-inch Surface Pro 2: It works out to 208 PPI. I also like the 16:9 aspect ratio for all of my video consumption habits.

Breaking the app addiction when needed and still being happy

Speaking of apps and tablets, I learned much about how I use my current tablet, an iPad Air, and how much — or how little — the Surface Pro 2 can meet those needs.

First and foremost, the Surface Pro 2 is literally the weight and thickness of two iPad Airs. It weighs two pounds, so it’s not ideal to hold for any length of time. The integrated kickstand definitely helps here. Second, most of the tablet apps I rely on — mainly content consumption items — are available in the Windows Store or can be replaced via the web.

Apps I’m using include Flipboard, Facebook, Twitter, FOX Now, Netflix, Watch NFL Network, ESPN, Kindle and the like.

nfl network on surface

On the web, I’m consuming content through Amazon Instant Video, Google Music (I did find an unofficial Metro app for this) and NHL Gamecenter since those apps don’t exist in Metro form. There is an Amazon Unbox app for video on Windows to download and watch movies, but I simply stream them online. I’m not a major “app addict,” so in theory, this device can work nicely as a tablet for my needs.

A perfect experience this isn’t

surface updateIt’s not all bliss though. Microsoft’s express settings, as well as the recommended option for updates is to automatically install. I was watching a live hockey game earlier this week when without any notice, the updates were installed, which took nearly the entire second period. I’ve since changed the option, but it should never be recommended to disrupt the user experience without any warning or at least without the option to “snooze” an update.

Microsoft’s Type Cover is great for typing, however the trackpad is too small for me to use all day. I have a Microsoft Wedge Mouse on the way from Amazon and Microsoft has offered to loan me an Arc Mouse review unit. It’s still a bit jarring to me to go from Metro mode to desktop mode; Microsoft has made this a little better with Windows 8.1 and because I launch Chrome in Windows 8 mode — making it look like the Chrome OS interface — I’m getting by.

I also struggle to use the Surface Pro 2 in varying locations. And by locations in my home office, I mean the various chairs, sofas and barstools we have in the house. The device is best on a flat surface for any length of time for me. Perhaps if I didn’t need to use a mouse, I’d feel differently because with the kickstand, the Surface Pro 2 can be used on a lap. I’m just finding I can’t do that as long as I could with a traditional laptop.

Why bother with this experiment?

Given that I’ve been a full-time Chrome OS user for more than 1.5 years, what’s the point of all this? It’s twofold. I try to keep an open mind and be as platform or device agnostic as possible. That’s why I have a phone running every major platform here in the house; for perspective. Second, the Surface Pro 2 appeared to be more what I was looking for in my 2-in-1 device experiment; surprisingly more so than the Asus Transformer T100, anyway.

surface-camera-app

My goal here isn’t to convince anyone that one device or platform is better for everyone; I can’t do that because everyone has different computing needs. Mine could be met with this device, however. At least in many ways it could, I’ve learned over the past few days, provided I’m willing to make some compromises. Windows is still more of a platform than I need to get my work done, but for the moment, it’s not really getting in the way either.

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