Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Highly recommended: The Microsoft Surface Pro 3

surface article

Today’s post is very different from usual. It’s about an interesting device, which I’ve been using over the past 7 days.

Around 10 days ago, Microsoft reached out to me and offered me a Surface Pro 3. I was surprised to say the least! They wanted me to tell them what I thought of it, the positive and the negative. Although they never asked me to blog about my experiences, [they just wanted me to feed my observations direct to them], I’ve decided to share my Surface Pro 3 experiences with you – both positive and negative.

Here’s what happened.

Microsoft, Apple and me

Until around 2 years ago, I used Windows based devices for my desktop and laptops. As a satisfied user of Microsoft products, I’d recommend them to family, friends, business associates and readers.

Then something changed. Windows 8 came along! I never liked it. So, I switched from Microsoft to Apple. Within 6 months I had a MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and iMac. These have been my main machines ever since. I also use Google and Linux based laptops.

The Surface Pro 3 has always interested me, but my bad experience with Windows 8 means I would probably not have bought one. And I’d have missed out on a very interesting device.

My work flow

There are hundreds of reviews covering all the technical aspects of the Surface Pro 3. After all, it’s been out for well over a year. Here, I want to focus on what the device offers me, and maybe you too, as a busy business owner.

I have used it for all my business requirements, for the past 7 days. In order for my experience of the Surface Pro 3 to make sense, it will help you to know a little about my work flow. This will give you an idea of what I have been using it for.

  • My business is extremely mobile, with me working from an office and also a studio, plus the occasional visit to a coffee shop. I’m always on the move.
  • My client base is worldwide. As a result, I use Skype for international calls every day.
  • Email is a big part of my work flow. I receive well over 100 emails a day. Often more than twice that.
  • I am always taking notes, either jotting down ideas or taking notes during client meetings. I usually use a fountain pen and notepad. I’ve done pretty much all my note taking on the Surface Pro 3 over the past week.
  • I publish thousands of words every week. This includes my blog posts as well as marketing material I produce for my clients.
  • I also create images for use on my blog and my social channels. I use Canva most of the time.

Now you have an idea of my work flow, here’s my experience of the Surface Pro 3.

A fluid creativity / production device

In a small, light device, the Surface Pro 3 provides frictionless access to a raft of tools. This is what has impressed me most. By having every creative tool I need at my fingertips, I have been able to work in a more fluid way.

For example, with a click of the Surface’s stylus, the OneNote app immediately launches and you are able to start writing or drawing. That happens even if the device is in sleep mode. No more looking for a pen and a pad — if you need to take a note, just click. Notes are automatically saved as you write them and stored in the cloud.

I’m a fountain pen user and write with high quality pens every day. So, I know a well designed pen when I use one. The stylus included with the Surface Pro 3 is superbly weighted and extremely comfortable to use. The tip works beautifully against the screen, with no noticeable lag. Unlike my iPad 2, the Surface Pro 3 offers 256 levels of pressure sensitivity. In other words, when you press the pen against the screen, it draws thicker lines or thinner lines, depending on how hard you press — just like a traditional pen on paper.

This combines to make note taking feel natural. That’s important. It means that my writing is as clear on the Surface 3 Pro as it is on paper. On other tablets my handwriting is almost unreadable.

The device also provides a very good laptop experience, if you connect it to a keyboard. I’ve used it with USB and BlueTooth keyboards as well as Microsoft’s own Type Cover keyboard. With the Type Cover keyboard, you transform the Surface Pro 3 into a light and thin ultrabook. But an ultrabook that can instantly become a work surface. I’m guessing that’s where Microsoft came up with the name for the Surface brand.

Okay. Now lets look at some pros and cons, to give you an idea if a Surface Pro device is right for you.

Here’s what I liked about the Surface Pro 3

The display is excellent: It has a 2160 x 1440 resolution, with superb, vibrant colour reproduction. Everything is clean, clear and crisp. Even with the brightness down to 75%, text is easy on my eyes and comfortable to work with.

It’s fast: The device boots up in seconds and everything opens quickly. Although my Surface Pro 3 comes with an Intel core i5 processor, I was expecting it to be a little sluggish, because it has just 4GB of RAM. That’s not much RAM for a modern device. However, it’s all I needed. I’ve had no issues related to a lack of RAM. In testing earlier, I had Firefox running with 18 tabs open, plus I was running Word, Outlook, OneNote and Twitter – whilst streaming video in hi-definition. And everything worked just fine.

Had I bought a Surface Pro 3, I’d have bought an i7 model with 8GB of RAM. I now know that would have been way more than I needed.

The stylus is ideal for note taking and art: Previously, I have found styluses to be very limited on my iPad Air 2 and Google Nexus tablets. This stylus, combined with the Surface Pro’s 256 levels of pressure sensitivity, is stunning. Because using the pen feels so natural, I’ve found I use it all the time. It’s one of those things you need to experience for yourself.

The sound is also superb: The speakers are better than anything I have heard from a tablet — rivalling many laptops. They are front facing and nicely balanced. The mic has also performed without any issues when dictating. The audio quality in and out is great for conference calls.

The connectivity is very good for a device the size of a tablet: The Surface Pro 3 comes with a USB 3 port, a mini display port, a microSDXC card reader (up to 128GB) as well as 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, plus front and rear facing 5MP webcams. For desktop use, power users can buy a docking station, which provides an additional 5 USB ports, ethernet and another display port.

Build quality: The build quality of the Surface Pro 3 is excellent. From the adjustable stand to the buttons, ports and screen, everything is solid and robust. It feels and handles like a premium product.

Here’s what I wasn’t as impressed with

Battery life: Battery life has been less than I expected. In testing, I found that with the device set to 75% screen brightness, the wi-fi on, using Twitter, with Word and Outlook running — I had enough power for 5.5 hours of constant use. With the Surface’s brightness set to 50%, I can get around 7 hours. That’s less than I hoped for and it means I need to carry a charger with me.

Price: Many small business owners use budget laptops and they may find the pricing a little high. My configuration is currently £769 ($799 USD), with the top of the range coming in at £1,349 ($1,799 USD). On top of those prices you will need to add the cost of a keyboard, if you want it to replace your laptop. The price for Microsoft’s Type Cover keyboard is £109 ($129 USD).

Storage: My model comes with a 128GB hard drive, of which around 90GB is available as usable storage. Using cloud storage and adding a 128 GB microSDXC card, I have been able to manage fine.

However, if you’re coming from a laptop with a non SSD hard drive, that’s likely to be less storage than you’re used to. If you need to have lots of files locally available, you will need a higher spec version of the Surface Pro 3. The next model up from mine comes with 256GB of storage and 8GB of RAM. However, this increases the price to £979 ($1,150 USD).

Final thoughts

The Surface Pro 3 is a superb creativity and productivity device.

Here’s why: The introduction of smart phones and tablets has seen us become used to touch interfaces. Every day, we’re using our fingers to scroll, swipe, pinch and tap. Pens and pencils have hard-wired us to want to jot things down, draw and express ourselves, using a writing instrument. Keyboards have allowed us to write quickly into laptops and desktop computers for decades.

The Surface Pro 3 allows us to do all those things, but within one small, light device.

What I have found over the past 7 days, is that having access to everything in one place changes how I create. There’s no disconnect between getting an idea and being able to work on the idea.

For example: A friend asked me earlier what I thought was causing a website design to under-perform. In seconds, I was looking at the website on my Surface Pro 3 and was able to write and draw directly onto the web browser using the stylus, [highlighting issues and suggesting improvements]. I then emailed her an image of the site from the browser, containing my hand written recommendations. It was fast and fluid.

Previously, at best, I’d have had to do a screen shot of the website, then find an app that allowed me to mark up the image, then email it to her. It would have taken a lot longer and because I’d have used a traditional tablet stylus, my notes would have been far less clear.

The marketing for the Surface Pro 3 says it’s the tablet that can replace your laptop. Whilst this is true, I see the device as different from a laptop or tablet. Even if I use a tablet, a laptop and a pen and pad at the same time, I get nothing like the experience of using a Surface Pro 3. By switching between 3 separate tools, you lose the frictionless creativity of working on 1, well-designed device.

After 7 days of using the Surface Pro 3 as my primary computer, it has handled everything I have thrown at it. Whilst I found the battery life a little disappointing, I’ve enjoyed using the device and it has added something extra to the way I work and capture ideas.

If you need a laptop with 10 hours of battery life or you want a cheap laptop replacement, this isn’t for you. However, I have no hesitation recommending the Surface Pro 3 to anyone with a similar usage pattern to me.

I hope you found my experience and observations useful.

Remember -- if you'd like some help with your business or a project, you can Pick My Brain for the answers and ideas you need. This service is [literally] guaranteed to help you. You can find out more here.

Originally posted on this blog

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