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Why I chose the Pro.

I walked into the Microsoft Store in Yorkdale on a Wednesday evening with money to spend, and I was going to walk out with a new device.  The question was… which one?

A couple of months ago Microsoft announced two new devices: The Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Book.  The Pro4 looks a lot like its predecessor the Surface Pro 3, and while it has the next generation Intel CPU and the higher resolution camera, the truth is it was not significantly different from the 3.  Yes, it is a slightly nicer machine, but nobody who does not work in marketing at Microsoft would call the SP4 a revolutionary change, something monumentally different and better than the SP4.

The Surface Book, on the other hand… that was something new.  Unlike the Surface Pro (which is a tablet hybrid), the Surface Book is a true laptop… that can convert seamlessly into a tablet.  Batteries on both sides, a cool hinge, and when you press the button and the light goes green, you can pull the screen away from the keyboard and use it like a tablet.

Very nice.

When I walked into the store I had not quite made up my mind… but then I did not really have a lot of experience with either device.  So I asked the very helpful staff to show me the new devices.

I liked the Surface Pro 4 for many reasons, not the least of which was comfort.  I had gotten used to the Pro 3 over the last eighteen months, and the 4 was just an improvement on that platform.

We went over to look at the Surface Book, and a couple of things bothered me about it.  Yes, it has the SD Card slot to expand your storage… but that slot is in the keyboard, which means that once you disconnect, you have to stick to your hard disk.  The USB slots were the same… okay, I suppose it makes sense – when in Tablet Mode you shouldn’t really need the vast storage and expansion devices… except, when I download movies and music and books to my device they go on the SD Card because that is how I like to keep things organized.

In truth, that wasn’t that big a hit against the device… even with that knowledge I was still thinking about it.  And then…

Sticker Shock.

My Surface Pro 4, with the Intel Core i7 CPU and the 256GB of storage (with 8GB of RAM) runs about $2,099 (Canadian Dollars).  That is a lot of money, and if I did not need the horsepower I would never have spent it.  The base model of the Surface Book (with the Core i5 CPU and 128GB of storage) starts at $1,949… $150 less.  Of course, when you consider you have to add another $179 for the keyboard for the Surface Pro, it is actually $329 less than the Surface Pro 4.

But that is the base model.  The comparable model Surface Book (with the Core i7 and the 256 GB storage) costs $2,799 – a little over $500 more than what I spent (including the keyboard).  Now, I am sure there are benefits to the more expensive machine… but the costs for me would not stop there.  I would have to replace my docking station ($250 or so), and all of my accessories (chargers, etc… that I have from the Pro 3 that I can use with the Pro 4).  It just wasn’t worth the cost to me.

Let me be clear: I am not writing a review of the Surface Book; I have not spent enough time using it to do that.  I am just enumerating the reasons why I made the decision that I did – the Surface Pro 4 is a great device, and while I would have liked to have more memory (the 16GB version with the same storage and CPU is only $400 more than mine, but I did not want to spend the money), what I have is enough… for me.  For now. 

Now, if my next contract requires that I have the larger memory and storage capacity, then who am I to refuse?  For what I do today and for what I envision needing the system for going forward, I envision being quite content with this device for at least the next eighteen months (which, if you look at my history, is how long I should expect to be using it).

What are your thoughts?  I would love to hear them!

Surface Pro 4: First impressions

I must be mellowing as I get older.

When I got my Surface Pro (was it really only February of 2013 that they came out?) I was still working with Microsoft, and a colleague at the Microsoft Store in Toronto (back then there was only the one) arranged for me to get in early so that I could open the first device sold in Canada, and of course I recorded it.

When I upgraded to the Surface Pro 2 a year later (February 13, 2014) I was heading out of town from Ttve igioronto to to Quebec; there was no way I would get all the way to Chateau Frontenac with the new device in the car, so I stopped off for lunch and recorded my unboxing video at a rest area off Highway 401.  That video did not turn out well, but it was recorded.

It was only five months later (July 3, 2014) that I traded in the Pro 2 for my first Surface Pro 3… This would be the first Surface that would be my primary PC.  My family was out of town (visiting Grandma for the Fourth of July no doubt) so I was able to rush right home, set up my video camera and tripod, and record the unboxing video from my dining room table.  While I would go through a slew of them (there were several flaws in the original Surface Pro 3 so I had to return it a few times to get a good one) it (and they) would be my primary PC for over a year.  I say they because when I went back to work for Rakuten in January, 2015 they provided me a corporate laptop which was also a Surface Pro 3.  Once they got it right, they were pretty rugged machines.  Unfortunately shortly before my recent trip to Japan I well and truly Claused the device, when my Rakuten Surface was knocked out of my hands and made its way to the bottom of Lake Ontario.  We will give the device a pass though… that was slightly abnormal use, and it was the one thing that I found could not be recovered from.

And then, on December 9, 2015, nearly a year and a half after the Surface Pro 3 came into my life, I traded up again.  I picked up my Surface Pro 4 (this time with an Intel Core i7 CPU and 256 GB of storage) from the Microsoft Store.  However rather than running home to open it, I called my girlfriend and went over to spend some time with her.  The conversation did not revolve around how excited I was to have my new device; in fact it didn’t revolve around computers at all.  We had a nice evening, and after a few hours I took my leave.

Microsoft_Surface_Pro_4_Teal

…and THEN I went home to record the unboxing video!

Watch the Unboxing Video here…

I have now recorded five unboxing videos (two were not good enough quality to share).  I don’t think I did too bad this time, but you can be the judge.

While recording the video I had the two devices side by each, and was able to make a couple of comparisons between the 3 and the 4.  However it was only after I shut off the camera that I started to see some of the great differences.  On camera I mention that the keyboard magnet seems to be stronger than the old one; I had forgotten that the stylus now connects to the side of the device magnetically as well, and my first impression is that the magnet there is quite strong as well.  I never used the magnetic corner of the SP3 because I did not want to have to replace my lost stylus; I am not at all worried that this one will be lost… although time will tell.

I was disappointed that my Juiced Systems 4-in-1 adapter does not fit while the power supply is connected.  While I was not prepared for that, I consider it a minor nuisance, especially because of the better battery life we have been promised.  I already knew that my new device would not fit into my old docking station – I have to decide now whether to pick up a new dock, or just order the compatibility shim that Microsoft has created.  We’ll see.

Isn’t that one of the bigger issues we have when we replace laptops and tablets… we have to start our collection of toys from scratch?  Fortunately this is not entirely the case with this device.  The leather folio folder that I picked up last year for the Pro 3 fits my Pro 4 perfectly… That was a relief, as I really like the folder.  I am also thrilled that I don’t have to throw out my extra chargers – those are the same too, a relief knowing what I paid for them.

I spent an hour installing software before heading off to bed.  No, I have not tried the new high-res camera logon yet but I will, don’t worry.  I have written this article on the Pro 4 on the train into the office, and I cannot say enough about the improved keyboard design.  It is a much easier typing experience.  I know there is also a keyboard with a fingerprint reader, but one thing at a time.

No real complaints yet, although I am sure there will be a pet peeve or two.  Stay tuned to find out what.  In my next article, find out why I opted for the Surface Pro 4 over the Surface Book!

Thank You For Lousy Customer Service!

CuisinartKeurigWhen I moved into my condo I bought a refurbished Cuisinart coffee machine.  You know, the type that brews Keurig coffees.  It was my first purchase for the condo, and I was very proud of it.  Why?  Well for one thing it is a very nice machine, and for another… well, mornings are just better with coffee.

A few weeks later it started leaking.  I was busy with other things, but in December I looked into it and sure enough it had a 90 day warranty.  I called Conair Cuisinart Canada because by now it was probably Day 89, and they told me to ship it to them and they would honour the warranty, and I would have the machine back within 10 business days.

I shipped it out on January 2nd.

After a month I called and by chance reached the same rep I had originally spoken with, and he told me that they were replacing it, but they had been out of stock of the refurbished machines which explains the delay. ‘Don’t worry Mr. Garvis, the machines are now in, and we are sending it out to you today.  You will have it by Friday.

Friday came and went.  So did next Friday.

I called back and was told by another rep that the machine had definitely not been shipped, and that they were out of stock.  I asked to speak to the supervisor.  I was transferred to a voice mail box, and left a message.

The following day, fully twenty-seven hours after leaving the voice mail, I called back.  After nearly an hour on hold I reached a rep and I immediately asked for the supervisor, but not their voice mail.  I won’t bother to explain the ridiculous conversation that followed, but in the end I was at last speaking with the supervisor… the same man who had told me to ship them the machine and that I would get it back in 10 days; the same supervisor who told me two weeks prior that my machine was being shipped out that day.  The same supervisor who, in my eyes, had lied to me, and had no credibility.

‘I have great news for you Mr. Garvis!  We still don’t have the refurbished machines in stock, so a decision has been made to send you a new one.  You should be thankful that I was able to arrange this… we don’t do this often!’

I should be thankful.

Over the eight weeks that I was without my coffee maker I bought a cup of coffee nearly every day; assuming that I only bought the one cup (probably not true, but let’s average it), then at $2.36 per cup per day, I spent $132 on coffee… an operational expense that I originally bought the coffee machine (capital expense) to avoid.  And while a simple search of BestBuy.ca (and without doing any comparison shopping whatsoever) shows that the exact model I bought sells for $199.99… but another simple search of eBay shows I can get a new one for $79.00… not to mention that my refurbished one originally cost me $65.

All of this to say that with the $132 I spent at Starbucks since December, I could have bought myself another machine… and had plenty of money left over.

…and yet, I should feel thankful that they sent me the new one (which of course will only come with the warranty for a used model).

Had I had that conversation in December I would have just gritted my teeth and called it what it is… what we get in a day and age where customer service is not considered important, and companies are unwilling to spend the money to go the extra mile to retain their customers.  However two incidents in January showed me that there are some companies for whom customer service is extremely important, and customer retention is everything. They both happened on the same day in the same mall, from two very different companies.

Story 1:

iphone5When I came back from Japan in January, 2014 I needed a new cell phone, and rather than selling my soul to my cell phone provider, I bought a used iPhone 5 from eBay.  I don’t remember what I paid, but it was reasonable.  From what I could tell the phone was a little over a year old, and worked fine… for now. 

Over time though some issues arose, but I would just live with them.  The first was that the power button stopped working.  This is less of a game-stopper than you might think, because the only time my phone is off is when the battery dies, and when you plug it into a charger it immediately turns on again.

I noticed the battery life diminishing… so I went to speak to a ‘Genius’ at the Apple Store in Square One mall and he told me that I should be getting at least eight hours out of it… as long as I turned off vibrate mode.  As for the power button… well they could take it in and ship it out to be fixed at my expense, but I would be without a phone; I decided to use the phone until it was no longer useable, then get something else.

I woke up Monday morning in Bellevue, Washington the second week of January, and my colleague and I went to the Microsoft Store to look into an issue with my corporate laptop.  We had to wait a couple of hours for the appointment, so we were going to find somewhere to sit and talk when my phone died.  It was 10:15am, I had charged it overnight, I was not awake two hours, and the battery was dead.

I said ‘You know what, we have time to kill… let’s go into the Apple Store and see what they tell me.’  We did just that, and yes we had to wait in line for a ‘drop in’ appointment.

The Genius who helped me was a nice enough guy, and after I explained the situation he examined the phone and then he asked me something that surprised me:

“Your phone is registered in Canada with Rogers, so if I replace it for you it will not activate until you get back to Canada and it can connect to a Rogers tower.  Would you be okay with that?”

The phone was nearly 18 months out of warranty, purchased from a different company, in a different country.  And yet Apple was willing to replace the device for me.  I was shocked, and told him yes, I would be okay with that.

He was wrong by the way… the phone activated on my Rogers account as soon as it connected to the AT&T network, and I was not without my phone for any period of time.

They owed me nothing… I have in my lifetime bought a grand total of one thing from an Apple Store, and I sold it on Craig’s List three months later.  The Apple Store could very easily have said ‘Yeah… you’re not really our customer, but here are a bunch of devices you could buy from us to replace your device that has clearly been used into an early obsolescence.  Instead, he pulled out a refurbished iPhone 5 that was identical to my old one, and gave it to me.

That is Customer Service.  THAT is a company that wants to earn or retain my loyalty.

Story 2:

SP3Michael and I left the Apple Store in awe, thrilled by the customer service that I would never get in Canada, and he doubted he would get in Japan.  We went back to the Microsoft Store.

My corporate laptop is a Microsoft Surface Pro 3, i7 model.  It is certainly a Microsoft product… but it was purchased from another company in Japan, re-imaged, and was not working the way it was supposed to.  We were hoping the technicians at the MS Store could tell us what was wrong with it, but we assumed it was going to have to go back to Japan.  Michael and I had even discussed how we would do that – he would give me his identical device, take mine back to Tokyo, and have it dealt with.  It would not be convenient, but that’s the price of doing business sometimes.

The technician spent thirty minutes trying to resolve the issue.  I confess, I sometimes find it tedious watching retain technicians work through all of the troubleshooting steps I have already followed, but this time I was glad for it because Michael and I actually had business to discuss.  He tried this and that and the other thing, and for love or money he just was not able to resolve the issue.

“Mr. Garvis, we know this device has your corporate image of Windows 8.1 on it, but I would like to replace it for you because I cannot resolve the issue.  Is that a problem, or do you need the corporate image?  If you do, I can send it in and they can fix it.”

Once again… the device was nearly a year old, bought from another company, in another country… and yet the Microsoft Store was willing to replace it for me with a brand new device.  Oh, the best part:

“Look, normally we would give you a refurbished machine, but in this case we don’t have any refurbs in stock so I’m going to give you a new one.”

In the event that the corporate image had been important, Michael had the ability to image it in his hotel room… but it wasn’t – I was able to install all of the necessary software on the Microsoft image… and it works great.

That is Customer Service.  THAT is a company that wants to earn or retain my loyalty.

I do not know if the customer service issue is a Canadian thing, or if it is just that I was dealing with a bad company or a bad department or a bad rep.  Whatever it is, Here is a lesson for Cuisinart Canada.  The next time I buy a smartphone it will probably be an iPhone; the next tablet I buy will absolutely be running Windows, and there is a very good chance that I will buy it from Microsoft.  And the next time I buy a kitchen appliance it will not be a Cuisinart. 

But how can I say that?  After all, they did send me a brand new coffee maker, even though I had sent them a refurbished one.

It’s not that the device was defective.  Welcome to Earth, sometimes consumer products don’t work and have to be fixed or replaced.  Hell, look at my Surface Pros and my iPhone.  The reason is not only that I was lied to repeatedly (but I was); it’s not that Cuisinart makes bad products (they don’t); it’s not even that I had to sit on hold for nearly an hour each of the five times I called regarding this issue (I did). 

It’s simple… After all that, Cuisinart wanted me to be grateful for what they were doing for me.  They felt they were doing me a favour, and I should be singing their praises.  That is not what customer service is supposed to feel like.  I shouldn’t have to genuflect because you helped me – you are customer service and that is what you are supposed to do.

Microsoft and Apple both demonstrated to me that they wanted me as a customer, and even though they are two of the biggest companies in the world, they need me as a customer.  Cuisinart thinks I need them more than they need me… and in this case, to fix or replace my coffee maker they were right.  However in the grand scheme of things, I do not have any need to be a Cuisinart customer.  I have two of their appliances, and I think that is just enough.

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?

Consumer Camp: Your chance to ask the REAL experts!

The MVPs are coming! Yes, on May 29th there will be a plethora of Microsoft MVPs (Most Valuable Professionals) congregating at the Microsoft Store in Square One, Mississauga.  Some of us will be there to answer your questions, some will be giving presentations on topics of interest. The rest of us will be there to heckle the other MVPs, so if you don’t have any questions it will still be entertaining Smile

MVP_Horizontal_FullColorThe event is called the MVP Consumer Camp, and it’s a really big deal.  Why? Because most of us will speak to IT Pro audiences most of the time, and do not come out of our castles to speak to consumers and consumer issues.  There will be MVPs from across Canada, and they want to meet you.  In fact, they want to meet you so badly that Simran Chaudhry and Joel Langford, MVP Leads for Microsoft Canada, will be buying everyone who signs up and attends a steak and lobster dinner after the event**

So click on this link and register today…  we would love to see you out there, and bring your questions… whether they be on Windows, Office, Xbox, or just about any other Microsoft technology, the experts will be in the house!

When: Thursday, May 29th, 4:00pm – 9:00pm
Where: Microsoft Store, Square One Mall, Mississauga
Registration Link: https://msevents.microsoft.com/CUI/EventDetail.aspx?EventID=1032587467&Culture=en-CA&community=0

**Our lawyers want to be clear that nobody will actually be buying you anything, and that you should be buying us drinks.

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!

A Tour of the Surface Pro with Tom’s Hardware

On the day that Microsoft released the Surface Pro I sat down with Alex Davies from Tom’s Hardware (www.tomshardware.com) and gave him a little tour of the device.  He recorded it and that recording went live on Monday.  Check it out and let me know what you think! –MDG

http://www.tomshardware.com/news/Microsoft-Surface-Pro-Hands-on-Demo,21030.html

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