Surface Pro 3 Revisited

It’s a bit of an experiment today. I am posting this using the Open Source version of Microsoft’s now unsupported but much loved Windows Live Writer. This is an experimental version but  it seems stable so I’m going to give it a try. The other part of the experiment is that I’m going to look back at a product I have already reviewed and see how I feel about it after putting it to use over a fair length of time.

In late 2014 I bought a Surface Pro 3. It was the basic model with an i3 processor, 4 Gb of RAM and a 64 Gb SSD. I was happy with it when I bought it, but how do I feel about it now?

Microsoft bills this as the tablet that can replace your laptop and I actually put this to the test. For about 5 months I used the Surface Pro as my primary work laptop. I was dithering about whether to buy a MacBook Pro and waiting to see if a new model would come out so I took to working on the SP3 rather than my aging and somewhat damaged MacBook Air.

The Surface served me well during that time. I got my work done and it travelled everywhere with me, during a couple of long family visits to Scotland, a short trip to Blizzard in Irvine and to the London Book Fair.

When I was in the coworking space I used a Dell 23 Professional monitor and a Microsoft Keyboard with a Logitech mouse. This setup is perfect for use with the Surface Pro because the monitor contains a 4 port USB hub. I just left the keyboard and mouse plugged in to the monitor and hooked the Surface up when I came into the office. It worked like a charm. I have a similar setup at home. I didn’t need the docking station although Microsoft will sell you a very nice one if you do.

The Surface Pro was a real pleasure to use on the go. With keyboard cover attached it weighs just over a kilo and it travels easily and well. The power adaptor is superlight and lets you charge the Surface and your phone at the same time, thus ridding you of the need to carry a phone charger. It’s a very elegant solution. Without the keyboard cover the Surface weighs about as much as the original iPad and it makes a good if somewhat hefty tablet.

The machine has enough power for email, Netflix and office applications and the battery life is excellent. There was never a time when I was too far away from a power socket for too long. People were usually impressed when I whipped it out and started taking notes with a pen as well. It has that wow factor.

So why did I eventually go back to using a MacBook Pro as my main machine?

There are several reasons– the first was my own cheapness. I originally bought the cheapest, lowest end model of the Surface Pro I could get in an airport duty free shop. This was  my undoing. 64 Gb is just not enough for a main machine and an i3 processor is a bit underpowered for gaming, speech recognition and the other high end things I sometimes do on a computer. To be fair, Dragon Naturally Speaking worked very well, but it takes at least twice as long to transcribe speech as the MacBook Pro does. This can mount up over time.

The second reason is that the trackpad is (as I observed in my original review) crap. Because of the touch screen you don’t often have to use it but when you do, watch out. The keyboard cover in the SP4 is supposed to fix this and its backward compatible with the SP3 so I may test this yet.

The third reason is that the software is not quite there yet. Don’t get me wrong– anything by Microsoft works very well with the Surface Pro but I had problems with Scrivener and a number of other apps on the extremely high resolution screen. For some reason they just don’t scale up very well. Text can be almost unreadable sometimes. Doubtless this will all be fixed over time as more Windows developers get used to ultra high res screens, but it’s not there just yet.

Another aspect of the software problem is that there is just some software on the Mac side that I am not ready to part with yet. Most noticeably Scrivener (the OSX version is better) but also Vellum (which I will get around to reviewing soon.)

I still use the Surface a lot, in particular for PDF reading and Pen Editing PDFs in Drawboard. It is a superb replacement for printouts when you are proof-reading.

Would I recommend the Surface Pro 3? Yes, pretty much unreservedly. It does what it says on the tin and it is a beautiful piece of hardware. If you mostly use MS Office you really can’t go wrong with it. Even Scrivener is pretty usable in laptop mode if you alter the font settings yourself—it’s a slightly tedious process but it works.


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Comments

  1. I have a Surface 3 (the 10.8 inch one, not the Pro), and I’ve written parts of five books on it now. It really is excellent for turning out prose as fast as possible. That said, the touchpad is pretty mediocre (right-clicking is a constant challenge), and while I have done editing on it, the Surface 3 is really at its best when I use it just for raw composition. It is excellent for that, and because it doesn’t heat up it is pleasant to use for long periods of time.

    That said, it is so portable that I sometimes use it for IT consulting, with occasionally hilarious results. I was using it to connect to a client’s old Windows Server 2003 Terminal Servers, and while Server 2003 displays on a 1920×1080 screen, everything is so tiny as to be Lilliputian. But such are the perils of using 13 year old software with modern hardware.

    • I confess I have been tempted by that model on a number of occasions, Jonathan. I don’t think my ageing eyes would be up to dealing with Server 2003 displays on that screen though

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