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Surface Pro 3: Two weeks later

Are there problems with it?  Yes.

Do I absolutely love it? I love my kids and my dogs… but I suppose I do like it as much as I have ever liked a laptop or tablet… and I have had quite a few of them over the years!

What are the problems? There is really only one that you should be aware of if you are thinking of going out to buy one.  It’s the patches and the battery.

How, you may ask, do patches and batteries wind their way into a single problem?  Simple… as you probably know, everything in computers is managed by software drivers… and that includes the battery to some extent.  When you buy the device (or any device) you are prompted to apply patches, and at this point a couple of them for the Surface Pro 3 are firmware updates.  You apply the first one, and then you have a problem…

…Windows tells you there is no battery detected.  Worse, if you unplug the device it shuts off immediately.  The firmware update actually tells the computer that there is no battery installed.

BUT THERE IS! Wait a minute!  I was using it unplugged just a few minutes ago!  Where did it go?  Oh… I get it!  The pesky firmware is what screwed me up.  Let’s check to see if there is ANOTHER firmware update.  Plug it in, connect to the Internet, run Windows Update… By Jove, there it is!  Install it, and presto changeo, there’s my battery!

…and what a battery it is!  My original Surface Pro probably gave me 3 hours of battery (with Hyper-V and a bunch of other things draining it).  The Surface Pro 2 was probably closer to 5.  The Pro 3? I haven’t had it run dry on me yet… for the first time in my laptop-owning life I am not afraid to leave the house in the morning without the charger.

THE SCREEN BOSS, THE SCREEN!
(Imagine the voice of Hervé Villechaize if you would…)

Yes, there are a lot of improvements over the Surface Pro 2, but wow I never would have imaginged that the 1.4″ difference in screen size (12″ over 10.6″) would make that much of a difference.  As I told you recently I have an external 16″ screen that I keep in the trunk of my car so that I can have the dual screen experience on the go.  I don’t know that I have pulled it out once since I got the Pro 3… the combination of the slightly bigger screen and the much improved screen resolution make the extra screen redundant… at least when I am on the go.

Don’t get me wrong… the day the Pro 3 docking station is available I am buying it – I have pre-ordered it from the Microsoft Store, and I have the voucher for it (from something else I returned).  All I need is the e-mail saying it is in… and I expect that to be around the same time the remaining Surface Pro 3 models (with the Intel i3 and i7 CPUs) are released, sometime in August.  When I am at home (or an office) I will still want the multi-screen experience.  On the go?  Not necessary anymore.

A lot of people are saying I should have waited for the Intel i7 version, but the reality is I have not found myself lacking.  The Surface Pro 3 runs everything I need it to with 8GB of RAM and the Intel Core i5 CPU, and frankly I don’t want to spend the extra money (the i7 version will come in two models – 256GB storage for $1,599, and the 512GB model for $1,999.  Too rich for my blood, but thanks!

Conclusion

I am asked pretty often (including 3 minutes ago, as I sit at the Microsoft Store in Square One Mall blogging) whether the Surface Pro 3 is really a laptop replacement.  The answer, as with everything, is that it depends.  I would think that for the vast majority of people the answer is yes.  If you are a true hard-core gamer? Maybe not; there are some gamers who need more than 8gb of RAM.  If you are a coder? I have a friend who is a programmer who needs to run virtual machines running more than 8gb of RAM at all times.  (Did I mention that I LOVE the fact that it runs Hyper-V?  Well I do…). Aside from them?  I don’t know too many users – even power users – who need more than 8gb of RAM ever, not even occasionally.  For them (like myself) I would say that this is the device for you.

If you are in the Greater Toronto Area come down to the Microsoft Store at Square One or Yorkdale Malls to check it out! :)

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!

A Thumbs-Up for Windows 8

James Kendrick writes for ZDNet, and has been a tablet-fanatic for years.  So when I read his article lauding Windows 8 on the right hardware platform I was happy… I happen to like my Surface Pro, but it took the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 for James to truly see the value of Windows 8 on a tablet.  Check out his article here:

http://www.zdnet.com/epiphany-windows-8-is-a-very-good-tablet-os-7000019601/?s_cid=e539&ttag=e539

Converting an SD Card to Permanent Storage in Windows Devices

So as you know I was all excited to buy the very first Microsoft Surface Pro.  I bought the 128 GB model because I knew that despite the fact that I have all sorts of external hard drives I was even likely to ax out 128 GB pretty quick.  Fortunately between Cloud-based storage (SkyDrive for my personal stuff, SkyDrive Pro for my business files) and the ability to add a micro-SD card I would be fine.

I arrived at my hotel in Redmond and the package from my Amazon.com seller was there; I excitedly ripped it open and inserted the 64 GB card into the Surface Pro, reformatted it with NTFS, and installed the SkyDrive Desktop Client on Windows 8 (which allows me to synchronize my SkyDrive files onto my device’s hard drive or, in this case, its SD card.

imageWow… ‘Your SkyDrive folder cannot be created in the location you selected.’ This was really disappointing, because that was exactly what I wanted to use my SD Card for… along with my Document, Picture, and Music Libraries.  I will be honest, it never occurred to me that I could not map these to external drives, although it does make sense.  However I was planning on making this SD Card a permanent drive in my Surface Pro, so I needed to find a way to do it.

\I did a little research and discovered that indeed there was a way… or rather a workaround that would work perfectly.  Here’s what I did:

1) I created a directory on my C Drive called c:\SD Card.

2) I opened Disk Manager in Windows – you can either do that by right-clicking on the bottom-left corner of your screen and selecting Disk Management. If you are on a tablet and have no mouse, you could alternately pull up that menu by clicking Winkey-X.

3) Right-click on your SD Card and click Change Drive Letter and Paths…

4) Click Add…

5) In the Add a new drive letter or path for X: (Where X is the drive letter represented by your SD Card) select the radio Mount in the following empty NTFS folder:

6) Click Browse…and navigate to the directory that you created.  Click OK.

You should now be ready to proceed.  To be sure, right-click on your SD card again and click Change Drive Letter and Paths… Your window should look like this:

image

The SD Card has both a drive letter and the mount point on the C drive.  If this is what you see then you are ready to proceed.  Cancel out of this window and close the Disk Management console.

I started the SkyDrive desktop app again and instead of mapping my SkyDrive folder to D: I mapped it to C:\SD Card\.

image

That looked a lot better.  I was able to proceed and my SkyDrive files are now synchronizing properly.

imageNow that my SkyDrive was done I decided to go the next step and map some of my Libraries to the SD Card as well.  This was easy at this point… I simply opened the File Explorer and created a new directory on the SD Card called d:\Pictures. I then right-clicked on the Pictures library that I wanted to redirect (in the Navigation Pane) and clicked Properties.  I clicked Add… and in the Browse window I selected the new directory (c:\SD Card) and clicked Include.  Back in the Properties box I clicked Set save location.  I also dragged it to the top of the list.  So now my Properties window looks like this:

Notice that the Pictures (C:\SD Card) is at the top of the list, and has a check mark next to it.  That means that when I start saving pictures (or decide to import them from another profile) they will go onto the SD card and not onto the internal drive.

All of these steps will work for tablets but also for hybrids, laptops, and even desktops.  It is a simple mechanism to convert external storage to internal storage.  The mount point on the C drive is used as a hard link to the SD card, and nothing stored in that directory is actually on the C drive… it just looks that way to ‘fool’ Windows into doing what you want to do.

Good luck!

How Surface changed my thinking… and helped my shoulder

I travel heavy.  When going through airport security it is not uncommon for me to pull three or four laptops out of two laptop bags.  In addition to that I will have external hard drives, a plethora of cables, and all sorts of other junk.  It has resulted in very strong – albeit often aching – shoulders to be sure.  It is a habit I have been in for a couple of years because of the way I work.  When touring for IT Camps I often have to add two seventeen inch laptops weighing in at over ten pounds each (plus the power bricks for same, a network switch and such), that I take with me in a roller-board suitcase.

I never gave much thought to how heavy my laptop bag really was because I didn’t really have a choice.  It’s just the way things were – a reality of life.

Last week I wrote that I picked up my new Surface Pro tablet.  I was excited that I would be taking it with me for my first business trip of the year – a couple of days in Edmonton for an IT Camp followed by a week in Redmond for MVP Summit.  As I prepared for the trip I grabbed my backpack, filled it with my usual kit PLUS my two Surfaces.  As usual I decided I needed a second laptop bag; I transferred my HP EliteBook tablet to that bag, and added whatever else I needed.  I then thought to myself that my Surface Pro was almost as powerful as the EliteBook, and with my recent back and shoulder issues (resulting from a recent motor vehicle accident) I decided to leave the EliteBook (plus its cables) behind.  I saved nearly nine pounds when you count the cables and docking station that I always take for trips of over three nights.

On the way to Edmonton I started writing a review of the Surface Pro, but had a lot of trouble doing so.  Why?  Over the course of my career in IT I have gone through a series of laptops of increasing power and performance as my needs increased and the prices dropped.  Although I have always had and used a number of them simultaneously I have always had one that was my primary – the most recent of which was my HP EliteBook 2740p.  It has 8GB RAM, an Intel Core i7 CPU, and a 256GB solid state drive.  The best compliment that I can give the Surface Pro is that it has thus far adequately replaced that device for all but my most intensive needs – tasks for which I need more than 4GB RAM.  The device is comfortable and easy to use.  For a hardcore user like myself the greatest compliment I can give it is that it is adequate to my needs, thank you very much.  So much of the failed piece I wrote was about the size, and how it lightened my load… somewhat.

Sitting in my hotel room that night I looked at the two bags as I rubbed analgesic gel into my shoulder.  One of my bags was lighter… I decided to try an experiment.  I emptied both laptop bags onto the desk, making sure all that was left in either of them was a pile of business cards.  I examined the contents, and then went to work.  I started by putting the Surface Pro into its individual case and stopped… the case has weight, and the Surface is well protected in the bag anyways.  Of course the power adapter went with it, followed by a 4-port USB hub, an external hard drive (1.5TB – I could have saved a few ounces by downsizing to a 500GB… a thought for when I get home).  I then put in my video dongles – DV to VGA, DV to HDMI – and my Jabra Puck (because I watch a lot of movies in hotels).  An external mouse – not necessary but certainly makes life more comfortable, but I removed the wireless notebook presenter mouse and replaced it with a lighter Microsoft Arc Mouse Touch which folds flat.  I will only use it when I have the USB hub plugged in because if the dongle – I wish it was Bluetooth!  My sunglasses, an eyeglass cloth (great for glasses AND touch screens!) and that was it.  I put everything else (including the Surface RT in the case) into my backpack, which I left in the hotel when I went into the office the next day.

At the airport check-in counter this morning I decided to weigh the two bags.

Brenthaven briefcase with the essentials: 7lbs.

Ogio backpack with the extraneous: 14lbs.

Could I really cut my travel load by 20lbs by swapping out my HP for the Surface and then eliminating the extras? I was shocked… and thrilled!  The Surface might really save my shoulders and back.

Of course there will still be times when I will have to take my heavier laptops with me… I am not retiring the roller board just yet because sometimes it really is needed.  However by cutting the waste I will have an easier time getting to – and through and from – the airport, office, and so on.

A few years ago I wrote an article detailing what I carried in my laptop bag at the time (http://garvis.ca/2009/07/20/what%e2%80%99s-in-your-laptop-bag/).  Looking back at what I carried then versus what I carry today is amazing.  I only wish I had weighed that bag so I could see a real comparison with my new lightened load.  I never realized it, but I was carrying a load equivalent to a toddler everywhere I went.  Now my bag weighs the same as a newborn… only nowhere near as cute Smile

The Surface made me sit down and evaluate needs versus wants and nice-to-haves.  It is probably a good idea to do that every few months – you never know how much you can save!

A Truly Energized Post: Sean’s experience buying his Microsoft Surface

This post was sent to me by the original Energized Tech and former Friday Funny Guy.  Sean Kearney is not only a Microsoft MVP (PowerShell), he is a good friend and certainly among the most passionate technology enthusiasts and Microsoft fans I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.  Sean will be assisting me at the official opening of the first international Microsoft Store in the Yorkdale Mall (Toronto) on November 16th.

Occasionally he does release the krakken (as he puts it) and on October 26th – the day the Microsoft Pop-Up Store opened at Toronto’s Eaton Centre, the day that the Microsoft Surface was released – he did just that; he was near the front of the line and as such one of the first Canadians (and indeed first people anywhere) to own a Surface tablet running Windows RT.  Here is the experience of getting there in his own (largely unedited) words. –MDG

(The original post can be viewed on Sean’s personal blog at http://ye110wbeard.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/2298/)

Microsoft Rises Above With Microsoft Surface and Windows RT.

Microsoft PopupSo what was the morning like? On October 26th I had a crazy day.

The Microsoft Surface PC was being released, and I NEEDED and WANTED one for a presentation I was doing that week.

Hopping on the first train from my home to the Eaton Centre in Toronto, I rushed to find the Kiosk.

Oh and I did, the logo stood out calling to me….

“Sean! Run here!” Run I did thinking there would be a limited supply. I was all prepped up in my nerdiest of gear! MVP Scarf at the ready!

But Microsoft ensured stock was APLENTY.

“Do you have any Surfaces?!” I burst out at one of the first reps in line, almost knocking him down with my vocals (Those of you who know me, know that can happen)

“Surfaces? Absolutely sir! We have plenty! Tons! Which would you like?”

“32GigabyteWithAKeyboardIfYouPleaseButIfYou-Don’tThat’sOkCuzIJustNeedOne” the words burst out of my mouth in a rapid blast of syllables.

Do you remember the Squirrel from “Hoodwinked?” *I* was the Squirrel.(MDG Note: I do not know this reference)

I stood in line and looked.

With about two hours to go, a line was building. A hundred strong and growing by the minute.

It was a line full of executives, enthusiasts and even a few Mac users! I was blown away!  I was shaking like a leaf.

I kept thinking in my head “Faster! Faster! I need one of these in my hands NOW! Surface! Surface! Surface!”

There was some hooting and hollering along the way and oddly enough there were wagons full of candy bars.

But I wouldn’t move a micrometre from the line. I wanted my Surface and would not allow my own grumbly stomach to delay that. We nerds have our priorities don’t ya know ;) (MDG Note: Although Sean was born in the USA, this is a very common down-to-earth Canadianism, often heard in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia).

After about FORTY minutes I found myself staring at the counter moments away from the Surface.  Live production models were on display, sexily toying with my emotions.

But in a very short while I would be standing in front of the Register, a dream being realized; I would own a real Microsoft tablet PC.

The transaction occurred.

One 32gb Microsoft Surface with keyboard combo and a VGA extension to run off projectors.

“I own a Microsoft Surface.” The words barely left my lips moments before a large “W0000000TTT!!!!” shattered the air.

I think some of the staff in the kiosk fell back from the shockwave.

I DID warn them I was the Energized Tech…

I do believe I scared most of the people at the Microsoft Kiosk, marketing people and possibly a few mice running about as I stood proudly at the top of the stairs and announced

“Ladies and gentleman! I hold in my hands, THE FUTURE! I HAVE THE POWER! W000000ttt!”

There was applause over that. The Microsoft people seemed to enjoy getting a bit of praise. It’s nice to feel a job well done.

I hold it in my hands now and realize I am holding something truly different.

It is a device that is as portable as a current tablet device and yet just a bit more.

It’s Windows 8 computer that is slim, powerful and capable of running my presentations, allowing me to blog and have a little fun at once.

But best of all, a system with the same user experience as my full-fledged desktop version of Windows 8.

I can finally have a portable device that works the SAME as my desktop with very few differences.

I can attach data from my BitLocker-encrypted USB memory kit, pull files of my MicroSD, and print if needed.

I can leverage the power of Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel because they are built right in!

I can (and am doing so at this very moment) attach a full sized display and USB keyboard/mouse to my Surface and use it just as if it were a real PC.

Because when you get right down to it? That’s just what it is.

This entire blog post was composed and edited with Microsoft Word 2013 on my Microsoft Surface RT…

and I personally LOVE IT!

Sean The Energized Tech MCTS, MVP Windows Powershell Charter Member Springboard Technical Experts Program

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