Category Archives: MIcrosoft Surface

Surface Pro 3 and Windows 8: Not everybody’s cup of tea

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… I do like my Surface Pro 3.  With that being said, I know everyone has different tastes, and some people are not going to like it.  A couple of months ago my sister, a long time Mac user (and Apple Fanboi) told me that her new job would be giving her a Pro 3, and asked what I thought of it.  I told her – it predated my realizing the extent of the network issues – that I loved it, and expected she would too.

Last week she e-mailed me to tell me that she really hated it.  It crashed a number of times in the first week, and she does not have the patience for these errors – she said her Macs (all of them) just work, and don’t have blue screens of death or other issues.

Now to be fair to the Surface team, a lot of the issues she outlined had to do with Windows 8.1, Microsoft Office, OneDrive, and the Microsoft Account.  I understand her frustration – if you take the device out of the equation, those are four different products from four different teams that are all supposed to work together seamlessly… but don’t.  I respect that Microsoft has a lot of different products, but if you are going to stop talking about products and start talking about solutions then you should make sure your teams work together a lot closer to make sure that seamless really is seamless.

I probably know Windows better than 99.5% of the population, and work very fluently across these four products… but one of the reasons for that is because I have come to understand that sometimes the seams between them are going to show, and like a Quebec driver I have learned better than most to navigate the potholes.  However if Microsoft really wants to stay at the top in an era where customers do want things to just work, they had better get off their butts, come down off their high horses, and start making sure that seamless really is just that.

I want to be clear… I am not trading in my devices for Macs (or Linux).  While I do have an iPhone (See article) I would just as soon have an Android or a Windows phone.  I love Windows 8.1, and even now at my office I cringe at having to work with Windows 7 (Ok, cringe is a strong word… I just wish it was Windows 8.1!).  However I have worked with iPads, Androids, Macs, and more, and I know that those solutions do make for a better experience with regard to some features than the Microsoft ecosystem.  I hope that under Satya things get better… but nearly a year into his tenure and I don’t see much progress.

In the meantime I am strongly considering going to open an account at one of the banks that is currently offering free iPad Minis to new account holders!

Should I return the Surface Pro 3?

I have been having an issue with the device… it’s a networking issue that is absolutely not normal behaviour.  The Microsoft Store replaced it for me once, but I am still having the issues. I requested a call-back from Surface Support this week; I was assured by the site that I would receive a call within 34 minutes.  However 30 minutes later (after counting down the whole while) they changed the status to ‘Sorry, our support desk is closed, so call-backs are not available.  Please try again during normal business hours.’  Crap.

The next day I opted for on-line chat (during normal business hours).  I waited for an hour plus (the expected wait time was 22 minutes).  Finally Kaylee came onto the chat; after I explained the problem to her she reset the chat… in other words, the problem was over her head so she decided to waste my time and let me go back into the queue… for another hour long wait.

I am pissed now, and am ready to take the device back to the Microsoft Store and get my money back so that I can go elsewhere and buy a device that doesn’t have these issues.

What do you think?

What’s in My … Messenger Bag?

As I have written previously I recently picked up a Microsoft Surface Pro 3, and despite a couple of minor annoyances it truly is a wonderful device.  Because I have not been traveling as much as I did over the past few years, I have taken the opportunity to downsize my carry-load. 

My sister called me a couple of weeks ago with the news that her new company device would be a Surface Pro 3, and asked me what accessories she should make sure she picks up.  We had a conversation about the keyboard, battery life, and so on.  Jennifer and I don’t speak all that often, and it was a nice excuse to talk.

Last week a friend and fellow MVP told me that his device was being delivered shortly.  He knew that I had downsized my carry load, and with that knowledge, and knowing that we have the same device, he hoped that I would take the opportunity to write a new article in my ‘What’s in Your Laptop Bag’ series. 

The first article I wrote on the subject does back to 2009, when I wrote ‘What’s In Your Laptop Bag?’  It is amazing the difference a few years made… as my priorities changed so did what I carried with me.  Back in 2009 I was carrying a full sized laptop in addition to a netbook, which at the time I thought was a good idea, and to an extent it was.  I had to carry two power supplies, mice, a power bar, external hard drives, a travel router, a headest, a digital camera… and a pack of lozenges.  Twenty-five pounds or so is the estimate I put down in that article; if truth be told it was probably a bit more than that.

A few years later – when I had a Surface Pro – I wrote the article ‘How Surface changed my thinking… and helped my shoulder.’  In it I discuss how I realized that downsizing my load could really do wonders for me… and it did.  Of course, when I went to Japan last year for nearly four months I upsized again, but only because I would be setting up a permanent system in my hotel room, and brought things like docking stations, speakers, and more.

I now find myself in August of 2014, nearly eighteen months later, and I am living a more sedentary life than I was.  As I am not traveling as much, my basic requirements are probably a lot more in line with what others need. 

We should actually start with what the bag actually is… In July of 2013 I wrote and article called ‘What IS your Laptop Bag?’  I am no longer in the business of shilling for other companies, so rather than use the branded freebies I had so many of I invested in a couple of proper cases… for the time being I am exclusively using a Briggs and Riley Messenger bag (black) that they refer to as a ‘Small Slim Vertical Brief’.  It is not exactly the one shown, but is quite similar.  It is made of a ballistic nylon fabric and has a lifetime guarantee. 

I downsized my bag for a couple of reasons, but the main one is simple… the smaller the bag, the less likely you are to pack useless crap (that will weigh you down).  As I sit as the pub with the contents of the bag emptied before me I would not go so far as to say there is nothing useless in there… but it’s still better than it was.

Device: Obviously (based on the opening of the article) I am carrying a Surface Pro 3.  I was a little worried when I bought it… the Surface Pro 2 fit perfectly, and I was worried that the larger form factor (12” instead of 10.6”) would not fit.  Fortunately it does – but barely.  Otherwise I would have to have changed out my bag, and I didn’t want to do that.

In case you are curious, yes I carry the keyboard and stylus with me, and no, it does not increase the weight noticeably when I carry the bag.

Additional Device: It’s not what you think… I said the Pro 3 was a great laptop replacement, and it is.  The additional device that I usually carry with me is a Kobo Glo e-book reader, including the magnetic case.  Of course I could read my e-books on the Surface Pro 3, but I see value in having both devices.

Cables: I carry a few different cables with me, primarily in the front pocket:

  • Micro USB cable to charge my Kobo, as well as my Nokia Lumia 920 when I am in the USA.
  • iPhone 5 cable to charge… well… yeah.
  • Mini USB cable, which is a legacy but I still carry it.  It is to connect the external USB screen that I use occasionally and which lives in the trunk of my car.
  • FitBit One Cable which charges that device.

Dongles: The downside of a smaller device is fewer ports built in, and an entire new industry – the industry of dongles – was created.

  • HDMI dongle
  • VGA dongle
  • Ethernet dongle

Logitech Wireless Presenter R400.  It’s not the newest, but it still works and is very comfortable in my hand.  If you spend any time presenting PowerPoint from your computer you will want one of these.  The newer ones all seem to be too light or two small.  I wish the R400 were Bluetooth instead of USB, but I’ll survive.

USB Keys: I currently have four of them in the bag – three for storage and when I need to transfer data, and one Windows to Go key (Windows To Go: This is going to be a game changer!).  If you wonder why I have four, I can’t answer… and in my defence, one of them is a bottle opener too :)

Mouse: The only problem that I had with the Microsoft Arc Mouse Touch was that it had a dongle, and took up the only USB port on the Surface.  Solution: Microsoft Arc Mouse Touch Surface Edition… Bluetooth connection, and it still folds flat for easy storage!

Ear buds: A couple of years ago I found myself in an airport without ear buds, and I picked (blind) a pair called a-JAYS Four.  I had never heard of the company and I am not quite sure why I picked them, but boy am I glad that I did.  They are comfortable, and more importantly the plug is flat (look at the picture and you’ll understand) so when I am on an airplane plugged in and stand up without paying attention I don’t wreck them.  They sound great too!

Pens: Yes, I carry pens… and use them all the time.  The nicer of the two is made of (or made to look like) a printed circuit board, and was a gift from my friends Rick and Isolina.

…and that’s it.  I have a few papers, I usually have some guest passes for Taekwondo to give out, and maybe a cigar… but there’s nothing else.  It makes for a much lighter load than I used to schlep… I remember dragging my Lenovo Carbon X1 behind me when I was in Japan… it was not that much bigger (14” instead of 12”) but because I had the bigger bag I always stuffed more into it than I needed, hence the shoulder pain.

But what’s missing?  You may have noticed (or not) that I did not list a power supply on the list… I don’t carry it with me.  I charge it overnight, but I have only run out of juice once in the last month.  Now it is worth mentioning that I am have been between contracts since I picked it up, and have been able to work at either Starbucks or the Niblick Pub for six to seven hours before having to go home.  I am starting a new contract next week, and if I end up using my own device then I will bring the power supply with me… or more likely the docking station which is coming out in the next couple of weeks (yes, I have pre-ordered one… first time ever).  I do have a power supply in the car, but it is still sealed in the box, and I might just return it because I never use it.  We’ll see!

What does it weigh? Honestly I don’t know… but probably around 6lbs… or roughly equivalent to the weight of the primary device I carried when I wrote the first ‘What’s in Your Laptop Bag’ article.  One thing is certain, I don’t worry about it hurting my shoulder as I used to, and I never worry about airlines making me gate-check it :)

Conclusion

The truth is that I need very little with this device… the dongles are important, and the USB keys, cables, mouse, and ear buds are really all I need.  Everything else that I might need in a hotel room – external speaker, VGA cable, and so on – can go in my suitcase when I travel.  What do you need?  I don’t know… but I hope this article will help you with the bare essentials!

Surface Docked

Earlier this week I posted an article about the versatility of my Surface Pro 2.  Actually it was a combination of an article (Battery Up- Windows 8.1 on the Surface Pro 2) and a Facebook status update (See here).  I bragged not only about the battery life, but also how cool it is that I can take a single device from tablet – to laptop (just add keyboard) – to complete workstation (plug the Surface Pro 2 into the docking station in my office, and it instantly extends to take advantage of the two large screen monitors, full sized keyboard, and regular mouse).

A Twitter follower named @Deskcovery asked if I had any pictures of the setup, because he wanted to see it in action.  Great idea!

Here’s the problem… my desk is usually a bloody mess.  I call it my secure, well-managed disaster zone.  It wasn’t always like that, but I don’t spend a lot of time there, so I don’t maintain it the way I used to.

Having said that, I try to do what I can for my readers… so your wish is my command.  Mr. @Deskcovery, here it is… I walk into the office and drop the device into the dock.  After a few beeps and blips, this is what I see:

Surface Docked

Over the next few weeks you can expect better pictures (and possibly even a video) of the area and the versatility of the device, but from this picture it is hard to see anything except the finished product.  As such, here are the components:

  1. A Surface Pro 2 256 with 8GB of RAM
  2. A Surface Docking Station
  3. Two LG 21” monitors
  4. One Microsoft Sidewinder X6 gaming keyboard (not once has it ever been used to play a game)
  5. One Logitech MX Revolution wireless rechargeable mouse

Now here’s the problem that I found… I have far too many devices to settle for four USB ports.  Rather than mussing about trying to plug and unplug devices as I needed them, I decided to leverage the USB 3.0 port on the Surface dock to connect… another docking station!  Actually that’s not entirely accurate… I connected the Lenovo port replicator that I bought with my X1 Carbon… seeing as that device is now listed for sale on eBay it won’t miss its port replicator.

surface-pro-docking-station-04

Thinkpad

Now, instead of simply having three USB 2.0 ports and a USB 3.0 port, I have:

  • 4x USB 3.0 ports
  • 3x USB 2.0 ports
  • 2x (mostly unused) Ethernet ports
  • DVI port
  • Mini-DV port
  • Audio out jacks

In other words… everything I need.

Don’t get me wrong… all of the USB ports are already accounted for, so if I do want to plug in another device I will have to unplug something… but the USB speakers and extra hiigh definition webcam are extraneous… I can unplug them any time I want…

I swear, I am NOT addicted!

Battery Up: Windows 8.1 on the Surface Pro 2

IMG_0031I have already bragged about the Surface Pro 2, and I still love it and that has not changed.  It took a lot for it to supplant my Lenovo X1 Carbon as my primary device (my original Surface Pro was always simply a companion device).  The device rocks, simply put.

One thing that I don’t particularly care for (and this is an issue with Windows and not with the Surface) is that the battery life indicator is wonky.  For example, a few minutes ago it told me that I have 10% of my battery left, or 25 minutes.  By that simple math, the theory is that the battery is good for 250 minutes – or a little under five hours.

IMG_0088That means I’ve already gotten five hours out of it, and there’s a bit under 30 minutes to go.  By my math that’s 5.5 hours right there.  I also know that I used it last night for an hour and did not charge it since… that makes 6.5 hours, not to mention that I have also used it today to charge my smartphone as well as my Kobo book reader.

I did not list my X1 Carbon for sale on eBay because I don’t like it… I really do, it is a spectacular device.  (If you would like to buy it by all means the bidding is open! http://www.ebay.com/itm/201053760576?ssPageName=STRK:MESELX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1555.l2649)  I am selling it because I do not need two nearly identical devices (as far as specs go).  The Lenovo has a 14″ multi-touch screen, and the keyboard does not detach.  I have the docking station for the Surface Pro, and when I am at my home office it automatically connects to two 21″ monitors.  When I am on the road (I am almost ALWAYS on the road) it is still a comfortable high-definition screen that will double as a tablet when I detach the keyboard.

My Lenovo came along with me wherever I went… along with it came whatever else I would pack into my Briggs and Riley rolling laptop bag… my ultrabook that weighs less than 4lbs ended up weighing in at 25-30lbs on a regular basis, just for what went with it.  My Surface, on the other hand, goes into a much smaller messenger bag, which in turn weighs less than 10lbs when completely filled… and carries everything that I need, rather than everything I think I might need.  Smaller bag, less weight, better on the back.

Add to that the battery life of over six hours, and that it runs Windows 8.1 with Hyper-V and all that entails, and I don’t see the need for another device… at least not now.  I am sticking with the Surface Pro, and hope to recuperate the entire price of the device when I sell off the Lenovo!

Surface Pro 2: Oh yeah!

It is not so hard to believe that it has been a year since I bought my Microsoft Surface Pro.  I liked it, but as I am not an average computer user, it did not take too long for me to realize that it was simply not powerful enough to be my primary laptop.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a great companion device, and I used it as such for the past year.  It was great for e-mail, web surfing, and e-book reading.  I watched a ton of movies and TV shows on it, but that was really the extent of what I used it for.  The long and the short of it is that once it was relegated to the secondary role, I could have settled for the less expensive (and even less powerful) Microsoft Surface with Windows RT.  What’s done is done though.

Following the launch of the Surface Pro 2 I noticed that the specs were identical in most (and superior in some) aspects as my primary laptop.  I decided to give it a try… the last week of January I stopped into the Microsoft Store in Yorkdale Mall (Toronto) and picked one up.  Of course money being a factor, I decided to settle for the 4/128 base model (4GB RAM, 128GB SSD).  For $999 it was not as powerful as I wanted, but to try it out…

surface-pro-2I spent precisely a week with it before I realized that if it was a little more powerful this could be my primary laptop.  I debated and debated… and then when I got a $50 gift card for the Microsoft Store I decided to bite the bullet… the store’s return policy is 14 days, so on Day 11 I went back… only to find out that they were completely out of stock.  However, they told me, the new Square One location had plenty in stock.  I hopped into my car and zoomed down there.  Yay, they had it!

One of the things I really appreciate about dealing with the Microsoft Store is that whether I have my receipt or not they can look up my past purchases by e-mail address.  They found my most recent transaction, and within a few minutes they exchange was done.

**FEATURE ALERT!**

Mitch-SurfaceWhen I started using the original Surface Pro last year I was worried that 128GB of storage would drain pretty quickly, so I also bought a 64GB Micro-SD card, and through the magic of Windows 8 I configured most of my profile (documents, pictures, videos, downloads, desktop) to redirect automatically onto that chip, which I left inserted permanently (See article).  While I never came close to my 128GB storage limit on the device, this strategy made migrating my data the simplest of operations… I took the Micro-SD card out of the old machine, inserted it into the new, and redirected the appropriate folders.  Done.  Between that and SkyDrive, I am loving Windows 8.1 more and more every day!

**How does it feel?**

With zero exceptions, the only thing that is slightly less comfortable on the Surface Pro 2 (in comparison to my Lenovo Carbon X1) is the keyboard.  I still like a full sized keyboard, and that is lacking when I am on the road.  However the Surface 2 Type Keyboard (now backlit!) is great in almost every respect… I am just not a fan of the mouse pad, but as I almost always use an external mouse (and touch screen and stylus) it is really mostly irrelevant.  I still would not have cared for the touch keyboard, but the tactile ‘I can feel the keys when I type’ keyboard is great – I am a fast if not great typist, and I do not find myself making any more or fewer typing mistakes on this keyboard than I do on the laptop.

**How long does it last?**

That, of course, is the $64 question.  The simple answer is that I don’t know yet… I have not run the battery down.  However the 128GB model that I replaced with this one charged overnight Friday, and I used it for demos all day Saturday at the Microsoft Store… it wasn’t until midday Sunday that I needed to plug it in.  As for this model, I charged it overnight Tuesday, and will not plug it in again until the battery dies.  I will report back the results.  However remember again, this is the only device I am using this week, and I already have a couple of virtual machines running so while results may vary, I assume I will be on the lower end of expectations.

One thing I was told with regard to the battery life is that the firmware update (available from Microsoft Updates) greatly improves the battery life… I applied the update yesterday, so it shouldn’t adversely affect me.

**How are you managing it?**

Because I am no longer ‘with’ Microsoft, I don’t really want to join the Surface Pro to a domain.  No problem, I have a subscription to Windows Intune, and I simply installed the agent and poof… I can manage it, and aside from that (and patch management) the Windows Intune Endpoint Protection (WIEP) began protecting the computer right away.  For my money there isn’t a better product on the market for what it does.

**But can I do…**

Mitch-SurfaceI got a call this week from an old friend asking if his customer would be able to install his own software on the Surface Pro.  In fact, the Surface Pro is a complete Windows 8.1 machine with no exceptions or limitations.  It runs Windows 8.1 Pro (although that can be replaced with Windows 8.1 Enterprise for corporate users).  It has a kick-ass Sandy Bridge CPU, and as I said… it does everything that my Lenovo does.  In fact, when I travel I can leave the Lenovo at home and just take its port replicator/docking station, because with the USB 3.0 port on the Surface Pro 2 that is all I need to transform it into a multi-screen workstation with all of the desktop peripherals in my hotel room.

Now with that being said, I just bought a Surface dock on ebay.com (they seem to be impossible to find otherwise) and am really looking forward to it… the device sits seamlessly in, and I can take it with me to my hotel whether that be in Japan or wherever… and just take the device when I go to the office or to a client (or a café or an airport).

**Summary – What do you think, Mitch?**

As I look at the Surface Pro 2 (and not how it compares to the Surface 2) I have to smile… it is a fully functional computer that weighs in at just under 2lbs.  The power supply uses the same connector as the stylus so you can either charge it or connect the pen, but that is a minor issue.  The fact that the power supply has a USB port to charge devices rocks by the way.

The ports – Mini-DV for whatever video I need, Micro-SD slot (discussed earlier), USB 3.0 port, and audio jack are fine for when I am on the go, and the ability to plug in any external USB  3 docking station or port replicator means that when I am at home (or semi-permanent space) I can plug in as many external devices as I want, especially my dual 21” monitors in my home office. 

The keyboard is great compared to everything else in its class, but when I am docked I will still have an external keyboard and mouse – I have an abundance of those anyways.  However I like having the options.

What do I think?  I think that what you spend versus what you get the Surface Pro is the best deal in town.  There are other great fully-functional tablets on the market, but this one has and does everything I need, and the price is right.

Oh by the way… there has been a lot of discussion about the addition of a second position of the kick-stand.  I cannot begin to tell you how much I do not care about that – Maybe at some point I will use it, but for now every time I have flipped it down I tried it for ten seconds and decided that no, I prefer the original.  However I am sure that some people will like it… it’s just not for me; it neither appeals to me nor bothers me.

Thanks Microsoft, for coming up with a device for me.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to go do something in Hyper-V.  What, you ask?  Anything I want… the Surface Pro 2 supports it!