By JASON BROWN, Saturday 14th February 2015, 15:12 PM
With it being Valentine’s Day and all, I’d thought I’d share my new-found love with the Surface Pro and explain why I think it is simply the ‘most perfect’ device ever made.
What do consumers look for in a laptop or portable computer in 2015? Portability, long battery life and power are definitely three things that consumers want for computing on the go. Since the MacBook Air first came out in 2008 revolutionising the concept that having a stylish, portable computer with a great battery life was possible, everybody’s been onto it. Over the years the shortcomings of those early utlrabooks such as the first generation Air and early attempts by HP, Lenovo and Dell have been ironed out, but truth be told: ultrabooks are becoming a thing of the past. Put simply, they’re a little stale.
Whilst having a slim computer with decent specs and good battery life was great in 2008, the world has moved on since then. There is a new ‘ultrabook’ on the market now – and has been on the market for several years. And I’m using one to type this very article up on. I give you: the convertible tablet (sometimes called a ‘hybrid’).
Why are hybrids becoming the ‘new ultrabooks’ then? It’s simple really. Where an ultrabook offers great portability, good battery life and usually a high resolution display, they do have their limitations. Whilst many of them come with touchscreens these days, where is the pen? What happens if you want to save even more weight by detaching the keyboard or want to walk around with your device and use it as a tablet? You just can’t do it with an ultrabook – so is an ultrabook really as portable as the manufacturers make them out to be?
There are a great deal of hybrid devices on the market these days with Microsoft, Lenovo, Dell, ASUS and Acer all offering their products, so the choice is not limited, but the ones I have been most impressed by are Microsoft’s Surface Pro devices.
I’ve owned an original Surface Pro for a few months now and from the very moment I first turned it on I could see how for school it was going to be much better than my ThinkPad L540 – you can already ready my article about the Surface Pro in education here if you are interested. I still feel that the original Surface Pro was one of the most pioneering devices ever made because it was the tablet that started the trend for hybrid tablets. Simply put, the Surface Pro was, and still is, a tablet that can replace your tablet. It had an i5 3317U CPU which was more than enough grunt under the ‘hood’ and paired with 4GB of RAM and an SSD of 64GB or 128GB, it ran, and still runs, just about anything perfectly. The 1080p display is one of the best I’ve seen and is crystal clear. I want to talk about the pen, but I’ll do that later because I think that is the biggest selling point of the Surface Pro and is the secret behind what makes it the most perfect device ever made.
If you ask me, the Surface Pro was, and still is, quite simply nearly perfect. There are only few ways in which I feel it could be improved and Microsoft listened to their customers and fixed these in the Pro 2 and Pro 3. For a first generation device, the Surface Pro absolutely nailed it and I love mine.
Of course, the Pro 2 came out with a newer CPU, the option to have 8GB of RAM, the option for 256GB and 512GB models and a three-position kickstand which was great. I have never used a Pro 2 but secretly I wish I had bought one instead of my Lenovo for school, but I have a Pro now which is a very similar device.
The Pro 3 has been the ‘new kid on the block’ since July 2014 and what can say other than ‘this is the most perfect device ever made’? It genuinely is. Of course I’m no stranger to the Pro 3, I’ve played with a few and I see them around school everyday because several (lucky!) people I know own them, but this is the first time I’ve had on ‘review’ to test for any length of time – and let’s say I am absolutely smitten.
Truth be told, I actually have this Surface Pro 3 on ‘review’ because apparently there is a problem with the screen where it would flicker occasionally. It actually belongs to my headteacher, Russell Boulton. Since completely removing and reinstalling the latest Intel HD 4400 graphics drivers, I think I have fixed it but I might just lie and say it’s broken and offer to put it in the bin so that I can keep it and get myself a free copy of the most drop-dead gorgeous tablet ever made.
So let’s get to it – why is the Surface Pro 3 the ‘most perfect’ device ever made?
Microsoft continue to market the Pro 3 as ‘the tablet that can replace with your laptop’. Usually with marketing claims like this you have to take them with a pinch of salt and either laugh and say ‘in your dreams!’ or move on. But Microsoft have truly hit the nail on the head with this claim. The 12″ 2160×1440 display is every bit as gorgeous as the displays you get on the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon and the new Dell XPS 13 (if a little lower resolution) but the Surface Pro 3 has the benefit of coming with a touchscreen as standard and whilst that high resolution on a 12″ display makes for fantastic real-estate meaning that you get the best of both worlds: a stunning display and a small(ish) display which is still perfectly usable.
The original Surface Pro and the Pro 2 being around 10″ maybe make for better tablets but they don’t have as much real-estate as the Pro 3 does so I feel that they aren’t quite as good laptop replacements. The Pro 3 seems to be good blend between a laptop and a tablet. Most premium ultrabooks are 13″ or 14″ but the Pro 3 being around 12″ is more portable and to be honest you don’t need the extra space with the high resolution display.
Whilst I am not going to lie and say that the keyboard on a Surface Pro 3 can match the world-class keyboards on Lenovo’s ThinkPads and is even really as good as the keyboards on most laptops, it’s not bad and must be half-decent because I’ve managed to write a 2,000+ word article on it! But where the Surface Pro 3’s keyboard shines over the other ultrabook’s is that it can be detached and voila you have yourself a tablet! This makes the Pro 3 an extremely portable and versatile device. Try doing that with a ThinkPad X1 Carbon. Lovely as the X1 is, it’s not as versatile as the Pro 3. But if I am perfectly honest I prefer the keyboard my Surface Pro has (the keys seem to have more travel).
The Surface Pro has always represented being a perfect blend between power and portability. Two years after the original Pro came out, its i5 and 4GB of RAM are still perfectly adequate. The Pro 3 improves on the Pro and Pro 2 by offering a choice of SKUs to choose from. Let’s face it – even the ‘low-end’ i3 model is more powerful than the CPU in an iPad and is perfectly adequate. You can choose from i3, i5 and i7 offerings with the choice of a 64GB, 128GB, 256GB or 512GB SSD. There is a Pro 3 to fit everybody’s needs and budget. Perfect, eh?
Let’s now talk about the pen. It’s funny how times change, isn’t it? In the early 1990s, pen computing was seen as being the future. It merely died away for computing and was only seen as being useful for PDAs and early smartphones and ‘Pocket PCs’. In 2007 Apple launched the first iPhone and its biggest selling point was that you didn’t need to use a stylus. Steve Jobs famously said that if a company made a tablet that needed a stylus, they’d ‘blown it’.
In 2015 the situation has changed. A touchscreen tablet without a pen is like a dog without a bone. Even Apple have been forced to admit this which is why the 12″ ‘iPad Pro’ will come with a pen (seem familiar?). The pen has always really been the selling point of the Surface Pro. With apps like Microsoft OneNote in this day and age, it makes sense to use a tablet with a pen – the pen makes note taking so much easier and with handwriting recognition as advanced as it is in OneNote on a Surface Pro, we could be spelling the end of the keyboard (no pun intended, honestly). You can read my article about why OneNote is ‘perfect for education’ here.
It must be understood that the pen is a multi-purpose device. Not only is it ideal for note taking and drawing diagrams in OneNote, it is also fantastic for creative applications. Adobe CC 2014 is designed to work with the Surface Pro and notably make use of pen technology. Designers and creatives love working on their tablets with pens. Who needs a graphics tablet a desktop PC in 2015 when you can just use a Surface Pro which is two in one and portable?
One problem with the original Pro was that its kickstand only had one position. This position was fine for general computing but if you want to use the pen you need to use the tablet flat on a desk (ideally). This works fine but the Pro 2 and particularly the Pro 3 offer much more versatile kickstands that support a variety of positions making it easier to use the pen whilst the Surface is not flat on a desk.
People are worried that one day people won’t be able to hold a pen because nobody handwrites these days. That’s not true at all and we are in a time and a place where we are seeing the rise of pen computing once again. More and more people are seeing how a pen is useful for computing and applying it to many applications. It will be a long time yet before humans forget how to hold pens, I feel.
As I said earlier, many ultrabooks come with beautiful touchscreen displays that are high resolution and they are lovely. But I struggle to see why you’d want a touchscreen on what is essentially still a laptop unless it comes with a pen. You want to take your laptop to school or work to take notes – you are still forced to type. You want to draw a diagram in your notes? You can’t quickly draw one. You want to use a pen to draw something in an Adobe app but you are stuck with using the mouse or getting a graphics tablet. The pen is a truly overlooked piece of hardware.
Still not convinced that the Surface Pro is the most perfect device? If there’s one more thing that needs to convince you is the price.
I admit, when the original Surface Pro came out in 2013 I said ‘£700 for a tablet? Are Microsoft being serious?’ but that was before I realised that the Surface Pro was literally a fully-blown PC in a tablet shell. Unfortunately, many people thought like I did and still try and compare the price tag of the Surface Pro 3 to other tablets such as the Nexus line and the iPad. But you shouldn’t compare the Surface’s price tag to the price tag of the other mainstream tablets because the Surface Pro has always been much closer to a high-end laptop or ultrabook than it has been an ‘mainstream tablet’.
Let’s compare prices.
For £1,200 you can have an entry-level Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon – Lenovo’s premium ultrabook offering. It’s in its third generation now (just like the Surface Pro) and for your hard-earned cash you will get an i5-5200U, Windows 8.1 x64 (non-Pro), a 14″ 1920×1080 TN display (non-touch), 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD.
For £1,050 you can have a mid-range Surface Pro 3 with an i5-4300U, Windows 8.1 Pro x64, the 12″ 2160×1440 multi-touch display with the Surface Pen that all Surface Pro 3s have, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD with all of the benefits listed above. Add £90 on for the keyboard and the Surface Pro 3 is still a better deal than the X1 Carbon.
You have to spend more than £1,500 before you even get a touchscreen on the X1 Carbon – and even then you are still stuck with an i5, 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD and Windows 8.1 x64 (non-Pro).
If you spend £1,500 on your Surface you can get one with an i7 and a 256GB SSD for £1,250 and even if you add £90 on for a keyboard it still comes to around £170 cheaper than the cheapest X1 Carbon with a touchscreen (and that still only has an i5, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD!)
For £1,550 you can get a Pro 3 with an i7 and a 512GB SSD. Add £90 for the keyboard and this becomes £1,640. Let’s just say that the equivalent X1 Carbon doesn’t exist because Lenovo doesn’t offer a model with a 512GB SSD, but they will charge £1,930 for a model with an i7-5500U, Windows 8.1 Pro x64, a 24560×1440 touchscreen , 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.
For £1,050 you can also have an entry-level Dell XPS 13 – Dell’s new premium ultrabook offering. You’ll get a 5th generation i5 CPU, Windows 8.1 x64, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a QHD+ touch screen display. Granted, the resolution is slightly higher on the Dell than the Surface Pro, but what are you missing in the way of versatility by sticking with an ultrabook?
What we can conclude from this is that people who compare the Pro 3’s pricing to other tablets are misguided. The Surface Pro 3 is actually a very competitively-priced machine and clearly outshines its competitors in the price war. The cheapest Pro 3 starts at £640 and this has an i3, 4GB of RAM and a 64GB SSD which isn’t too bad but it could be argued it is pricey for what you get. The value starts to shine when you get to the i5 offerings. Don’t even get me started on Apple, but they do appear to be better-priced than Lenovo in this market at least.
Don’t get me wrong, the X1 Carbon is a gorgeous laptop, but it is clearly not as much value for money as the Surface Pro 3.
Just look at the Surface Pro tablets. They are all drop-dead gorgeous. I am so bored on the ‘Apple look’ these days that the relatively rectangular look of the Surfaces looks beautiful to me. There is no denying that all of the Surfaces are beautiful tablets and are well-built and turn heads.
So there we go, these are the reasons why the Surface Pro is the ‘most perfect’ device ever made. Why do I love going to school? Every now and then I get to bring home very nice pieces of technology like this to try out!
Ultrabooks are not the future. They just aren’t versatile enough to be considered ‘the future’. The ‘future’ has been on the market for over 2 years now and has been overlooked by too many people to mention – but the future is definitely the Surface Pro and hybrid tablet computing in a world where we are demanding versatility, power, portability and all at a reasonable price.
‘Persistent perfection’ is what a lot of companies strive for. Many do not achieve it because being persistently perfect is not a terribly realistic business concept. But to me, the Surface Pro is persistently perfect. Each generation just keeps getting better and better.
Be sure to follow the Wymondham High O Team on Twitter for regular Wymondham High IT updates: @WyHighOTeam
The O Team also has a YouTube Channel with several Office 365 tutorial videos for students at Wymondham High Academy.
Be sure to follow me on Twitter so you can read all about my amazing life(!):@JasonBrown2K13
Also be sure to follow Kevin Sait’s Twitter for Microsoft Educational updates and updates on IT in the classroom at Wymondham High: @kevin_sait
Last updated: Saturday 14th February 2015, 21:02 PM