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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…
I 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.
When 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…**
I 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!
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
For most of the months of October through December, while I was on tour talking about Windows 8, the new Office 2013 & Office 365, and Windows Server 2012 the most common question I heard was not about any of these products… it was something like ‘So where’s your Surface? Why don’t you have a Surface? When will you have a Surface?’ It was grinding… not because I didn’t want one… I did, and badly. However I knew that if I bought myself a Surface with Windows RT in November my wife would never let me go back in February to buy myself a Surface with Windows Pro. So I waited… patiently.
Of course, as a Virtual Evangelist for Microsoft Canada there was speculation that they would give me one… but that didn’t happen. In December I watched with envy as all of my friends and colleagues got theirs – every Microsoft employee got one, but alas, I am a contractor so I didn’t.
Earlier at the beginning of summer I had promised my son that he could have one when they came out, and so in November I asked him if he wanted the RT version, or if he wanted to wait for the Pro version. Of course he opted for the RT version, and so he got one as a late middle-school graduation present. I took my wife with me to buy his device, and she was so enamoured with it that we bought two that day – hers being an early Christmas present. Still and all, I could look, but unless they needed technical support I could not touch.
And then a few weeks ago the general availability date was announced: February 9th.
I called my main contact at the Microsoft Store in Yorkdale Mall (Toronto) and confirmed that they would be going on sale on that day. I asked if he could put one aside for me, and his response was ‘yes… but I can only hold it until the end of the day on the 9th so make sure you come that day!’ I was willing to do him one better… since the shipment was obviously arriving well in advance of that day, why not simply let me come pick it up a few days early and we’ll keep it between us? ‘Not a chance… not even one minute before the 9th!’ (And of course no, they were not planning a midnight event, so I would have to wait until morning!)
Then I had an idea. ‘Friend, what if I were to come in early the morning of February 9th, buy the very first Surface sold in Canada, and record it for my blog in the store before you even open?’ He thought that was not only doable, but was a great idea. I put it in my calendar, and remembered to confirm with him on the 8th to make sure he hadn’t forgotten me… which I feel bad about because he never would!
Mother Nature decided to test Mitch…
February 8th, for those of you who were not paying attention, recorded the largest single-day snowfall in southern Ontario in nearly a decade. Everyone on every media from Television to Twitter was saying that if you didn’t have to go out… don’t. The road crews would be out in full force, but it would likely take them throughout the weekend to clear the minor arteries and possibly into next week for crescents, circles, and such (in one of which I happen to live). Knowing that I needed to drive out the following morning I bribed my teenaged son to shovel the driveway in the early evening. He did enough to make sure that I would be able to get my car out.
Of course, what are the chances that the tiny little circle, an off-shoot of a crescent off a tertiary road in Oakville, was going to be ploughed in time? Fortunately Mayor Rob Burton follows me on Twitter and knew that I was planning to head out this morning, and made sure that our little ‘Griffith Place’ was cleared. Okay, he did no such thing, but HUGE kudos to the road crews of Oakville, Ontario that cleared the street late last night!
At 6:15 on Saturday morning I headed out; I brushed 35 centimetres of heavy snow off my car and headed out, all the while listening to the reports on the radio of accidents along the way (I witnessed three of them and passed seven others on the 403 and 401). I was not to be stopped! I drove the treacherous highways ‘low and slow’ as I was taught for these conditions, and as I will teach my son next year. It took me nearly an hour to get there and park, but I did so safely.
I was surprised that I got to the store at 7:15am, and there were already people waiting in both lines (one line for people with the ‘golden ticket’ and one for people without)! I got my gear set up in the ‘theatre’ area. I set up my video camera on my tripod, only to realize that the battery was dead. No problem, I had plenty of time to go, so I plugged it in and let it charge. I set up my Surface with Windows RT (ironic that after all that waiting a colleague at Microsoft actually did get me one!) and several of the available accessories on the table where I would shoot. All I needed now was the Surface Pro…
At 8:15 Friend brought out two devices – one for me, and one for another VIP customer named Mike who already has a Surface with Windows RT, but really wanted the Pro and was glad to be getting it this morning before he heads off to Europe. Friend ran my credit card through, and once the POS system told him the sale was approved he e-mailed me my invoice and I was off to the races.
The following videos were filmed in the Microsoft Store Theatre in Yorkdale Mall, Toronto. I want to thank Alison (the store manager), Friend (who knows who he is, and Emily (who is the Community Development Specialist, and therefor in charge of the theatre area and all of the presentations and parties held there. They were filmed on February 9th, 2013 between 8:30 and 9:00 in the morning. The only edits that were done to the video were for the sake of time and flow. All opinions, mistakes, errors, and omissions are mine and mine alone, and I have made no effort to alter the video to hide them.
Ok, so maybe it is not my first article on Microsoft Surface, but it is the first article that I am writing from one. A friend here was kind enough to loan me one for a few weeks, and even though my EliteBook is within arm’s reach I decided to spend my morning on this device exclusively… to get used to it and all.
The keyboard was the first challenge that I anticipated… the flat, waterproof keys reminded me at a glance of the chicklet keyboard of the Atari 400. How wrong I was… although the keyboard does take some getting used to, it is really quite friendly and easy to use. The missing function keys also struck me as a worry… I use the F-keys pretty regularly, and it did not take long for me to notice their absence. I expect that I am in the minority on this point though… IT Pros and Devs will miss them, but the vast majority of end users will likely not even notice that they are missing**. The responsiveness is another thing worried me (I noticed it as I was writing this paragraph). I seemed to be typing faster than the keyboard could send the keys to the screen. That however turned out to be not a problem with the Surface, but rather with the app that I am using to write.
**Edit Feb. 1: The top row of keys is indeed the function keys, but on the keyboard I have the numbers are not printed. As with many keyboards, you need to press the Fn key to shift to the Function, so Alt-Fn-Play is the same as Alt-F4.
Theresa Garvis, my lovely wife and very capable business manager, has been using her Surface since the end of October, and she has been loving it. When I discussed my concerns with the keyboard she assured me that she used the keyboard… but the truth is that she gets along without it just as easily. ‘I have used the on-screen keyboard without any problems, and it works great for me. The only reason I use the external keyboard is because it is there, and have never had any problem when I left it at home.’
The Surface RT does not have nearly the kind of horsepower that I need for my day to day computer use. However I am not your average computer user, and I expect that with 2 GB of RAM, a 1.3GHz NVIDEA TEGRA 3 Quad-Core CPU, and 32 GB of storage (a chunk of which is used for the OS) most end-users will be happy with it. My son Aaron started high school this year, and was eager to swap out his EliteBook for the Surface. He found that the only thing that he couldn’t do with his Surface was a school app that requires Flash Player… and I have not yet looked into a solution for this. In the meantime he is happy using one of the home computers for his French homework, and the rest of the time he sequesters himself in his room with his Surface.
The Surface is not intended to be a desktop/laptop replacement, but it could very well be that for many people. But what about the rest of us who absolutely need more power? What about those of us who need legacy apps? I personally immediately felt the missing link in the Office chain – no Outlook. In fact, this is a complaint I have heard from quite a number of people who have gone out and bought Surfaces… what do I do without my Outlook??
Outlook is not the only app that people are missing on the Surface (or, more accurately, on Windows RT) but it is a big one. Most of the functionality of Outlook that I use is actually available in Microsoft Mail, Calendar, and Contacts (all of which come standard with Windows RT). However let’s be honest… if you are used to Outlook there really isn’t a viable alternative.
So what do we do? On the one hand we have a really powerful tablet that runs Windows 8, and on the other we have a device that isn’t quite powerful enough for us. But what if we could harness the power of our desktop from the Surface? What if we could use all of our apps and resources of the great but heavy desktop that is always connected directly from Windows RT? Wouldn’t that be great?
We can… and in my next article I will show you how you can do it too, using a few simple tricks and some free tools.
The first international store and the largest in the chain, the opening of Microsoft’s newest retail store can only be descried as a huge success, with literally hundreds of people lined up hours in advance to get their first glimpse of the retail marvel.
Microsoft Canada president Max Long was joined by Tami Reller, Corporate Vice President and CFO of Microsoft’s Windows Division were on hand to open the store with a crowd of 700 onlookers. They did not only welcome the crowd and talk about the store, they also announced that Microsoft Canada was making a new donation of $1.500,000 to local charities – presented by store manager Alison Evans.
When the curtain dropped the entire staff was leading the cheers, and then lined up to form a passageway into the store where they high-fived the first visitors. By the time this VIP got in the door (in the first minute) the store was already bustling with activity, a level that has hardly abated at all thus far.
I spoke to a lot of people lined up and they were all here for different reasons – deals on new hardware, Xbox and laptops and accessories… but the two things that drew the most people were the Microsoft Surface and the new Windows Phone 8 devices.
While the Surface has been available since the launch of Windows 8 on October 26th, the only place you were able to see it in Toronto was at the pop-up retail kiosk in the Eaton Centre. Now that the full retail store is open there are dozens of Surfaces everywhere, as well as Sony, Acer, Asus, Dell Samsung devices ranging in size from 9" ultrabooks and tablets to 27" all-in-one machines.
The greatest thing about the store in my opinion is that the display machines are all available for visitors to try out — as I write this article from a handy Sony Vaio T, complete with multi-touch sreen and reasonably priced at $899. They are all internet-connected, and nobody is telling visitors not to touch, try, and in the Xbox corner play. It is a great hands-on experience, and the store associates are as welcoming and helpful as I have ever seen.
In the Windows Phone corner there are representatives not only from a couple of the local carriers but also from the manufacturers as well. Although the platform released October 26th, this is the first time I have even seen the devices outside the Microsoft offices.
Everywhere you look people of all ages and knowledge levels are asking questions, learning, and trying out great devices. Of course every PC is running Windows 8, so it is a great opportunity for people to get their first glimpse of Microsoft’s flagship product, barely three weeks old.
In the back of the store there is an area called the theatre where during the regular hours people can play on the Xbox connected to an incredible 103" touch screen. This afternoon (and tomorrow and Sunday) the Microsoft MVPs are taking over – we will be presenting sessions every hour on topic including Windows 8, Office 2013, Office 365, Xbox, and of course Windows Phone 8. I have several sessions over the course of the week-end, but am more interested to sit in and listen to what my fellow enthusiasts have to say (I usually know what I am going to say so I am seldom surprised).
It is definitely the place to be this week-end. Even though the initial ‘line up and wait’ is over, the store has been consistently hopping since it opened, with no signs of slowing down. I spoke with several members of the management team who are all pleased by the turnout. Alison Evans, the store manager, told me she is ‘ecstatic about the turnout.’
To make things even hotter, there will be an exclusive concert with the band Train tomorrow evening, and store staff are handing out wristband passes to the lucky few; and this afternoon The Great One – Number 99 himself – Wayne Gretzky will be in the store, and people will be lined up to meet him, get autographs, and get the chance to play Kinect games with him!
So if you haven’t come down yet what is stopping you? Trust me, you will not be disappointed… your only regret will be if you do NOT come down!
- Take a tour of Microsoft’s first store in Canada (theglobeandmail.com)