Surface Pro 3 – One and a half week later

Update: Some tips in the work section about using Adobe CS6 Collection with the high DPI screen of Surface Pro 3.

I have just bought a Surface Pro 3 for more than a week to completely replace my laptop, and I would like to give some reviews on my experience so far.

TL,DR; version. Surface Pro 3 is definitely NOT a one-device-for-everything-in-life thing (at least not my life). However, it is a perfect replacement for my laptop and also provide so many other convenience from a portable form factor.

Surface Pro 3

Normal Usage

To provide a little more context, I have a good desktop at work and another one at home for working at night and also an Xbox One for gaming, so I use the Surface Pro (and also my former laptop) mainly for meeting, presentation, reading research papers and occasional programming while waiting or commuting.

My Surface Pro 3 is the Core i5, 256 GB SSD version. I use Visual Studio, Office, OneNote, Internet Explorer and Chrome a lot.

Startup & Sleep

As you may expect in any Windows 8.1 device with SSD drive, it starts up blazingly fast. Also I keeps the Startup list minimal: I only have OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, Send to OneNote Tools and Unikey (for typing Vietnamese) at start up time, and it takes only around 25-30 seconds to start up from cold boot.

However, I rarely need to turn it off completely. The Surface automatically switches to Instant Go (formerly Connected Standby, I believe) mode when you leave it for a while or close the Type Cover. The Instant Go mode is a great innovation in the Windows world, where your device can sleep with VERY LOW battery consumption while keeping occasional Wi-Fi connection for notifications (such as emails and Skype). Waking up from Connected Standby takes only 1-3 seconds, just like you may expect with the iPad and many good Android tablets.

I usually charge it sometimes during my working hours, and bring it home without the charger. Then while travelling home on the train, I take it out to read some papers, write some notes and codes and simply close the Type cover when I reach the stop. In the evening at home, I sometimes take out the Surface to read news, write notes, make sketches or watch YouTube videos while lying on the bed. Again, I simply have to close to Type Cover to put the Surface to sleep. There is no magnet magic as in the Smart cover of the iPad, but the accelerometer trick on the Type Cover works perfectly for me (it knows when you close the cover or when you flip the cover to the back). The Surface will still have enough battery for my commute the next day, and usually last until noon with little usage.

Work

With i5 Core, 8GB of RAM and SSD, the Surface Pro 3 runs Visual Studio 2013 and 2015 Preview without a hitch. I see no problem writing codes and building solutions with the Surface. It can also run the Windows Phone emulator blazingly fast. However, enabling Hyper-V for the emulator means scarifying Connected Standby. Your Surface will hibernate instead of sleep, and it is very annoying since hibernating take much time for both getting into this state and going back to active (usually 20-30 seconds in total). I do not want to lose the convenience of closing the Type Cover to save battery, and turning it back on in seconds, so I have Hyper-V disabled and use my phone instead of the emulator to test my app. You can use the bellow commands to disable/enable Hyper-V (need restart afterward).

To turn Hyper-V off

To turn Hyper-V on

As the Surface has the full Windows 8.1 x64, it can also run Microsoft Office, Python, Perl, Node.JS and MATLAB without any problem.

Most new desktop applications can scale nicely on the Surface (although buttons are still a bit small for touch), and many old ones still scale but look burry. However, if you are using Adobe Photoshop CS6 or Adobe Illustrator CS6 (or I suppose any other member of the CS6 collection), your eye would have a very bad time with the default behavior where toolbars and menu texts are so tiny because this CS6 version ignores the scaling factor requested by Windows. Fortunately, it is possible to force those applications to be scaled up (http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2013/12/11/hack-makes-photoshop-and-illustrator-readable-on-surface-pro). It will be a bit blurry but still perfectly comfortable for my eye, and not as blur as the scaling in the first generation Surface Pro. I also heard that this problem has been fixed in the Adobe CC collection.

Entertainment

I do not usually use the Surface for entertainment during my first week, but I have may some short test to see its performance:

  • Surface Pro speaker is ok, but not great for music. The sound is clear for speech, and certainly louder than the previous version, but there is no bass. If you really want to listen to music using the Surface, I recommend using headsets or speakers.
  • It plays Windows Store apps as a charm. I feel no different playing Asphalt 8 and Crash Course Go on the Surface comparing to playing on my desktop computer with a full-fledge NVIDIA GPU. Moreover, the ability to work with the Xbox One or Xbox 360 controller makes it even better for those games.
  • I intend to try out some bigger games such as FIFA 14 and Call of Duty, but I could not manage any time for those tests yet. I will update this when I have some more free time. However, I don’t plan to play those big games on the Surface, so those tests are not so important to me.

Surface Pen

You really have to use all the previous tablet pens (e.g. the Wacom pen on the Galaxy Note, Ativ PC 5 or some kind of active pen on the Dell Venue Pro) and then try the Surface Pen by yourself to really appreciate it. I use pen a lot a jot down my ideas and draw diagrams on OneNote, and the Surface Pen is the best one so far. It is still not the same as real pens and papers, but it is significantly more accurate and comfortable than many others.

If you use OneNote a lot like I do, you will also like the purple button on the Surface Pen very much. When you are using the Surface, one press of the button open OneNote in less than a second, one more press open a new note. When the Surface is in Connected Standby (even when the screen is off). One press of the button opens the new note page directly on the lock screen, pretty cool in my opinion.

One complaint I have is from the pen loop that is attached to the Type Cover. The glue that attaches the loop to the Type Cover does not work very well, especially when you have to pull the pen in and out many times a day (the loop holds the pen very tightly). It already starts to detach from the keyboard after only one week.

Type Cover

I was a bit worries that the travel distance of the keys on the Type Cover is too little because the cover is too thin, but actually it feels almost the same as typing on my Toshiba Qosmio F750. I comfortably typed most of this article with the Type Cover and the Surface on my lap while sitting on the MRT.

There are several hidden keyboard shortcuts of this Type Cover that you should know:

  • Fn + Caps: toggle the function key row’s defaults between the F1-F12 keys and the special functions
  • Fn + Spacebar: print screen
  • Fn + Del & Fn + Backspace: increase or decrease the screen brightness
  • Fn + Left & Fn + Right: Home & End
  • Fn + Up & Fn + Down: Page Up & Page Down

One drawback of the Type Cover key layout is the lack of the context menu key. I use keyboard a lot and the lack of this key forces me to tap-and-hold on the touch screen quite often to open the context menu. However, this is a problem only when I cannot use my mouse (e.g. sitting on the train). The small size of the keyboard also makes it less comfortable for me, comparing to typing on a full size one; sometimes my wrists have to bend a bit too much when typing at the normal rate.

The touchpad works very well, it feels even better than my previous laptops, but I do not really use touchpad a lot. I always take my mouse out when I have to move the cursor a lot or just touch the screen if I need to tap something.

Kickstand

The Surface kickstand works great for me. It really achieve a very good balance between easy to open/close/adjust and stay firmly at any angle. It helps the surface stand firmly on my desk; when going away from the desk, I simply flip the Type Cover up to close and put the Surface to sleep. The very large angle puts the Surface slightly incline on the table, which is perfectly for sketching. I mainly use only 3 angles: a small one when but the Surface on the desk, a middle one when put the Surface on my lap or on the floor and a large one when writing or drawing on the Surface, but being able to adjust the kickstand allows to slightly change the angle to avoid the flare from the sun or light.

One clear advantage of using the Surface on the lap comparing to doing so with laptop is that you do not contact the heat source directly. The Type Cover, which might touch your leg, is not hot at all (quite obviously), the Surface’s fan does not direct air toward you (and it kicks in very rarely), and the Kickstand keeps your leg from directly contacting to hot (mostly warm) back of the Surface.

Conclusion

This Surface is such as downgrade from my previous laptop in terms of specs (Core i7 down to Core i5, NVIDIA 640M to Intel HD 4400, 15 inches down to 12 inches), but the portability this form factor provides, the convenience of the touch screen and the innovative Surface Pen really worth the change.

Surface Pro 3 can be a really good choice for your next ultrabook!

2 thoughts to “Surface Pro 3 – One and a half week later”

  1. Thanks for taking the time to post this. I plan to purchase an SP3 and was curious how well it would run VS2013 (and 2015). Through the magic of google I stumbled across this page. Very useful info!

    I too am a little disappointed by the lack of a context menu key since I use it a lot. However, I’m sure I could remap the right alt or ctrl key to do that since I rarely use those keys on the right side.

    Thanks again 🙂

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