As promised, here’s my review of the Surface Pro I purchased a little over a month ago. For reference, I bought the 2017 Surface Pro, i5/8GB/256GB, and got the basic Surface Pro Keyboard and a Surface Pen for it.
First Impression: This thing is cool.
Second Impression: Seriously, it’s really cool. It’s like using something out of Star Trek. It’s every bit as powerful as my old laptop (mostly, more on that in a bit), while being considerably lighter and more compact. It does almost everything my old iPad can do, but better, with only a few exceptions.
The Surface Pro itself is a great tablet computer. I use both words there – tablet computer – instead of identifying it as one or the other, because it really can do duty as both. With a port replicator, an external monitor, and a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, this thing would make a serviceable desktop computer. Disconnected from its own peripherals (power adapter and keyboard), it’s a solid tablet. I had to load an Android emulator (Bluestacks) to get access to tablet games, but I was soon happily poking around in one of my go-to games (Transformers: Earth Wars, which turned out to be MUCH easier to play with a mouse and keyboard than it ever was with a touch screen).
Coming from a Mac environment, I had to find a few replacements for old software friends. Apple Mail was obviously right out of the question, so I did some searching and tried out a few email clients, finally settling on one called eM Client. Sorry, Outlook fans, it’s just not for me – I don’t find it at all user friendly (and I use it all the time at work!). eM Client isn’t perfect, but it does everything I expect a modern email program to do: It handles my seven email accounts gracefully, provides me by default with a unified inbox and the ability to filter for unread mail, and allows me to drag-and-drop mail from one account to another without any hiccups. It’s pretty nice looking, too, and not bank-breaking expensive.
My go-to writing apps, Scrivener and FocusWriter, are both available on Windows, and while Scrivener 3 for Windows is still in beta, the beta is working very nicely indeed. Only a few bugs, and none that affect me directly.
The rest – browser bookmarks, calendars, contacts, and so on – all came over fairly easily. Microsoft’s built in (and very nice) Calendar and People apps both have options for connecting to iCloud, which is very convenient. And, of course, Firefox and Chrome are Firefox and Chrome, no matter what platform you’re on.
The Surface Keyboard is one of the finest typing experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of subjecting my poor, abused fingers to. The keys are very comfortable, with just the right spacing and amount of travel, and are very good for extended typing.
The Surface Pen is, for me, more of a gimmick than a tool. It’s very responsive, and yes you can actually write and draw directly on the Surface Pro with almost no noticeable lag. While I can definitely see it being a great tool for artists, graphic designers, and coloring books…for me, it spends most of its time magnetically attached (using surprisingly strong magnets) to the side of the tablet.
I added a 256GB Micro SD card for extra storage (there’s a Micro SD slot beneath the kickstand on the back), and put my music collection on that. There is precisely no lag time in reading from it, at least not that I can see, so music plays smoothly and without skipping. The last time I tried that – on my 2012 MacBook Air – the read time was so slow that music stuttered. Hooray for advancing technology!
So, what don’t I like? Well…it’s Windows. While Windows 10 has come a long way, it’s still a little quirky, at least from the perspective of a long-time Mac user. There are a few things here and there that don’t work the way I expect them to, but that’s a matter of adjustment. Yes, there’s more frequent updates, but that’s a good thing…Microsoft is working hard to patch vulnerabilities and fix bugs, something Apple does only half-heartedly at best these days.
It took me a while to get used to the new Start Menu, but remembering that I had a touchscreen to work with went a long way towards smoothing that out. I’ve even gotten used to the “Tiles” section of the Start Menu, and have begun to find it very convenient.
Its “lapability” (as the talking heads say) is acceptable. I don’t spend a lot of time using it that way, but the kickstand is sturdy enough to hold it up, and the keyboard is definitely solid enough to type on while on your lap. A word of advice: cover your legs (no shorts or short skirts) while using it on your lap. The kickstand WILL leave an indentation on your legs after a while. 🙂
Performance-wise, I have managed to make it slow down when I have a lot of windows open (or if I’m running Microsoft Word…jeez, Microsoft). I’m fairly certain that if I’d gone with one of the i7/16GB models, that wouldn’t happen. Next time.
The trackpad on the Surface Keyboard is kind of crap…there’s nothing really wrong with it, but it’s just a little bit too small to be used comfortably, and its not very good at ignoring palm input while I’m typing. Still, I’ve used worse…I’m looking at you, HP and Dell. But after the Mac trackpads, it’s definitely a step down.
Overall, I am really enjoying this thing. And it’s been fantastic for my writing…I’ve done more writing in the month since I bought my Surface Pro than I have in the last two years.
Rating: I give the 2017 Surface Pro a solid A. This is definitely the future of computers right here, a device which smoothly transitions from being a desktop, to a laptop, to a tablet, and does all of them pretty darn well.