Monthly Archives: December 2015

10 tips to make the most out of the Microsoft Surface Pro 4

There are two things that have amazed me about using Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4. First, Microsoft didn’t set a bunch of settings which should have been done by default – or as part of the installation process. Second, the seasoned tech bloggers who write about the Surface don’t have a good understanding on how enterprise customers would use such devices.

With that in mind, here’s my list of SP4 tips.

Get the keyboard and dock

The $130 SP4 keyboard is pretty decent, and don’t bother buying the fingerprint version, it’s a waste of $30 (read below to understand why). It also (if you set it up right, read below) allows your SP4 to switch automatically between tablet mode and PC mode. Neat.

The $188 Surface Dock is compatible with Surface Pro 3 and 4 and supports up to two 4K screens. Microsoft’s documentation isn’t great but I believe they can only be driven at 30Hz, not 60Hz, despite the fact that the Intel Iris graphics card in the i7 Surface Pro 4 supports 4K at 60Hz. Still, that’s pretty decent.

Enable Microsoft Hello

For reasons unknown to me, the biometric login of Microsoft Hello isn’t enabled by default. This enables password-less login using a 3D thermal image of your face, and is amazing. Because it’s infra-red, it works in extremely low light.

You go to Start -> Settings -> Accounts -> Sign-In Options and enable Windows Hello from there. Make sure you use the “Improve Recognition” button a few times to get a great picture of your face.

Setup Cortana

Like Hello, Microsoft’s personal assistant, Cortana, is not properly configured out the box. This means it doesn’t know who you are, or recognize your preferences. Thankfully, Microsoft made this pretty easy to configure.

Select the round dot next to “Ask me anything” on the task bar and the Cortana preferences will come up. You select the second icon down, which is the Cortana Notebook, and make your way through each of the settings. This massively improves the experience.

Install all the updates

Unfortunately my SP4 came with very out of date software. It took 10+ restarts to get all the updates in, and firmware updates for the SP4 come every week that make things better.

In the latest update, battery life finally got better, up to ~6-7 hours, which is a huge improvement. I don’t get anywhere near the claimed 9 hours, but such is life.

If you don’t want to support Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 beta testing program (irony intended), then hold off buying the SP4 for a few months. They are ironing out bugs continuously.

Disable Sleep and Enable Hibernate

Sleep doesn’t work right on the SP4; instead, if you put it to sleep, the battery will drain. Microsoft are supposedly working on a fix, but in the meantime, you can (fairly) easily disable sleep.

Go to Start -> Settings -> System -> Power & Sleep -> Additional Power Settings -> Choose What the Power Buttons do, and change all of them to Hibernate from Sleep. Now, your SP4 will Hibernate instead of Sleep.

This isn’t as annoying as it sounds, because the SP4 wakes from hibernate in 5-10 seconds.

Enable Automatic Tablet Mode

Again (see a theme here?), Microsoft didn’t enable automatic tablet mode. The SP4 can be configured so it knows when you are using it as a tablet or PC. Flip the keyboard over and it can turn into tablet-enhanced mode, which is great.

Go to Settings -> System -> Tablet Mode and change the “When this device automatically switches tablet mode on or off” to “Don’t ask me and always switch”. Yay!

Use Battery Saver Mode

Battery saver mode seems to make the CPU a little less hungry and dims the display a little. If you are on a plane, you can use this and squeeze out 25% more battery with very little downside.

Plus, the SP4 is well over-powered for most of my use cases, so whatever performance degradation the battery saver mode brings, doesn’t hurt me too much.

Use the SP4 on take-off

One of the best things about the SP4 is that unlike a full laptop, you can flip the keyboard over and use it as a tablet during take-off and landing. The FAA rules on this aren’t exactly clear (they state small handheld electronic devices), but I have not been asked to put the SP4 away yet.

Once up in the air, you flip the keyboard over and turn on the kick-stand, and work as a regular laptop. Some airlines like Southwest, and the new American Airlines planes, offer WiFi from gate to gate, so you don’t even need to stop talking to the team online. Even when you lose 15 minutes of connectivity at either end of the flight, you still win ~30 minutes of work back in the day.

Configure the Surface App

The surface app is a bit short on features (more come with each release), but it allows you to configure the pen sensitivity to your liking, and configure the pen as a remote. This allows you to get better handwriting and is pretty neat.

Use OneNote for remote collaboration

I’ve got a workshop on Monday morning and won’t be able to make it in person due to other conflicts. I’ll pull open OneNote tablet version and share my screen with them across the country and start to white board.

Once the meeting is complete, you can switch to the full OneNote desktop version (yeah, there’s work for Microsoft to do to integrate the two versions) and use handwriting recognition to turn your notes into text.

Final Words

I’m still going to be returning the SP4, but won’t manage to get to the store before January due to travel commitments, so I’m going to be using it for a few more weeks.

What’s interesting is that as Microsoft slowly solves the glitches in the hardware and software, it becomes a much more usable device. There are still several serious glitches, but I’ve managed to work around most of them so I have a device which I can make do with. Will I be a convert in the next 3 weeks before the returns period expires?

Either way, I hope these practical tips help you configure your SP4 to be a more useful device. Did I miss any?


Gifts for Business Travelers in 2015

Last year, I wrote a post Ten Best Gifts for Business Travelers 2014, and it seemed appropriate to follow up this year with some of the things I’ve seen or purchased to make travel a little easier. So here are my recommendations for gifts for business travelers in 2015

If you have a loved one that you don’t see often enough, feel free to put one of these in their stocking this year!

iPhone 6S Plus

The Apple iPhone 6S Plus is the true business traveler’s companion. It has an all-day battery, is quick as anything, has a great big screen, which means I’ve re-gifted my iPad Mini, and takes AMAZING photos. To add to this, the iPhone 6S Plus is reportedly ruggedized, and can take some beating!

No longer is there a need for an external battery pack, I get a full day of charge with no stress. Plus, Apple have the iPhone upgrade program which gets you AppleCare, and a new phone once a year. It’s awesome.

Bedtime Bliss Sleep Mask

Thanks to Lloyd for this tip, the Bedtime Bliss Sleep Mask is a great $12 gift. It’s the best night’s sleep you will get on a plane and I carry it even for small trips, as it’s great in hotels that don’t have good black-out blinds.

The key with this mask is it’s contoured so it doesn’t touch or bother your eyes, plus it folds up into a tiny package. It comes with some earplugs, but I prefer noise-cancelling headphones personally.

Bose QuietComfort 20i

The Bose QuietComfort 20i headphones are great in-ear headphones for travel. I have the QuietComfort 25, but they turn out to be quite bulky to travel with. In retrospect I wish I had bought the QC20i, which are much smaller.

That said, I’m hoping Bose shortly comes out with a new, improved version of the aging QC20i, which might support Bluetooth? That would be awesome.

Lat56 Red-Eye Garment Bag

I bought the Lat56 Red-Eye a few months back and whilst I don’t carry it every week, it’s awesome when I need it. It measures a diminutive 22″x10″x10″ and I can carry a spare suit, 2 shirts, jeans, 2 t-shirts, spare shoes, gym kit and underwear and come in under 10lb total.

Everyone asks what it is, and I get comments between gun cases and musical instruments, which is a great talking point. This isn’t a bag for everyone, but it has a specific used case – which is the amazing roll-up suit carrier that sits inside it, and allows a suit to come out unwrinkled. Perfect for 3-4 day trips.

Calvin Klein Air FX underwear

Last year I also recommended Calvin Klein underwear, but they have come out with a new Air FX line this year which is an air mesh, and dries faster. This is awesome. They wash and dry quickly in a sink, and pack away tiny.

CK also have a line of other things in underwear, including T-Shirts.

Perry Ellis socks

I don’t rate the CK socks as high, and the Perry Ellis ones from Macy’s are my pick for travel. They wash and dry easily and you can use a hairdryer to dry them if you’re in a rush (put the clean wet sock over the hairdryer and turn on COLD). Don’t ever use the heat, I melted one sock this way…

Adidas Adizero Boston Boost

You may wonder how I pack gym gear into such a small bag, and these Adidas sneakers are part of the reason. They weigh a mere 8.4oz each, and pack down into almost nothing. Despite this, I can run a good distance because of the amazing cushioning that Adidas have.

Note that the Boston is a neutral shoe and your running style may require something different. Please get advice and gait analysis from your local running store before buying sneakers!

Pocket Monkey

This awesome little friend packs a bunch of things into the size of a credit card. I leave it in my laptop bag (or did, until someone stole it!) and it’s super-handy for tightening glasses, opening a bottle, or fixing/cutting stuff.

It’s TSA-compliant so no worries about getting extra searches during your travel!

Travel-size containers

One thing you will realize when traveling is that you don’t need full-size containers. I can travel for 2 weeks just with a 1 quart 3-1-1 bag from Tom Bihn. But don’t waste your money on travel-size cosmetics.

Instead, buy small containers like these for hand creams, hair gels and pills and spray containers like these for deodorant and starch. Buy them in bulk because they break periodically and need replacing.

iClever USB Wall Charger

Hotels never have enough power connectors, and the iClever USB Wall Charger gives a full 2×2.4A charge to two phones or tablets. With the iPhone 6S Plus, you’ll appreciate the speed it charges with.

Also it’s nice for in the office, so someone else can share a port, when you steal the last charging spot in the room!

Final Words

If you’re buying for a business traveler, don’t just buy them some junk that will add to the weight in their bag. Most blogs on this subject recommend things that are pretty much useless, because they add weight and bulk. Most of us that travel daily want to carry the bare minimum.

If you can find a little gold for people that allows them to carry less, or substitute two things for one, it will make a huge difference to them.

Things which cut the weight of clothes, or like the iPhone 6S Plus mean they don’t carry an extra battery, or combine chargers… these are all amazing gifts for someone who carries 20-30lb around every day of the year.

Happy Holidays!

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 – The Return

I’ve been using the Surface Pro 4 as a primary machine for the last 3 weeks. A week of that was spent in a bag, because I got fed up with it crashing, and was especially annoyed to find it had run out of battery between being put into sleep at full power, and getting it out on a flight some hours later.

You can read part 1 and part 2 of my review, if you so wish.

A week later, I was ready to give it a last try, and put some power into it, and saw it installed yet another round of updates. To my surprise, it has since stopped crashing on resume.

Windows Hello

I didn’t see Windows Hello earlier (maybe it wasn’t enabled for the SP4?), but it prompted me to configure it this week. It’s a fantastic and simple feature which (assuming it works) dramatically improves device security.

Basically it uses facial recognition to unlock your device, which means you can have a long backup password just in case, and not suffer any inconvenience when logging on. It works in extremely low light and takes just a few seconds – a fantastic feature. And it works every time.

I haven’t tested how it performs with a picture of me; that is a concern, but this is definitely an example of Microsoft being ahead of Apple. Bravo.

Also, Bitlocker Drive Encryption is enabled by default, which makes me very happy. My customers have to be able to trust my ability to keep their information safe, so I am always impressed with devices that feature good security.

Battery Life (or lack thereof)

Now my device can come in and out of sleep reliably, it has revealed a new problem, which is the SP4 has a terrible sleep function. My MacBook Pro, which has 3-year-older Intel hardware, can happily sleep with no discernable drop in battery life, and it supports Power Nap, which means my email stays up to date even when the Mac is sleeping.

The SP4 by comparison drops at least 10% an hour, which makes it basically useless for business travel. Tomorrow morning, I’ll leave home at 5am and get to my first meeting around 11am. The SP4 cannot handle 3 hours of sleep and 3 hours of work on the flight and taxis, and that makes it basically useless.

Folks on Reddit also complain about bad battery (3-4h) and Windows Central have reported that Microsoft are working on a fix.

Keyboard / palmrest issues

The other issue I’m plagued with is the keyboard. When using it, as I am right now, as a laptop, with the keyboard on my upper thighs, you have to be very careful how much pressure you put on the palmrest. If you put too much, it starts doing weird things, like clicking the right mouse button with no finger on the trackpad.

I also had problems typing this article on Microsoft Edge – it was very slow to type, and just switched to Google Chrome, where I found the issue went away. That’s a shame, because I’ve generally been impressed with the Microsoft Edge browser.

Wireless issues

The wireless is problematic too – many of the public wireless networks I used didn’t work. It won’t tether to my iPhone, for example, and it took 5-10 minutes to connect to GoGo on a flight, and I couldn’t get it to connect to a few public hot spots at all. So unless I’m at home, I have to operate off-line much of the time.

Can I survive with the Surface Pro 4?

In short… No. Microsoft have decided to release a potentially amazing device which isn’t fit for purpose. They failed to address the basics and focused on making an amazing piece of hardware.

To Microsoft’s credit, they know about the issues and have openly issued an apology. I understand the sleep issues are hard to fix and will take some time. But in my opinion these issues are so basic that they should have delayed the product launch, rather than try to get a spike in holiday sales.

As for my SP4, it’s going back to the store that it came from. Edit: I found a workaround for the power issue on Paul Thurrott’s site, which is to change sleep to hibernate. The SP4 is quite fast (7 seconds) to turn on from hibernate, so this is workable for me. I’ll give it one more week and see if it’s now usable.

P.S. Shane recommended I try out the Surface app. I’m not sure what it does on the Surface Pro 3, but on the SP4 it has only three options. You can adjust the pen pressure sensitivity, you can do an ink test, and you can provide feedback to Microsoft. I’m just about to do the third.

Microsoft Surface Pro IV – A New Hope

I’ve now been using the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 as my primary system for 6 days, and whilst my first impressions weren’t good, I have to say it is warming on me. Along the way, I’ve come to understand that there’s some fascinating things to be learnt.

Reviewers don’t represent the needs of the enterprise user

Paul Thurrott is a smart guy, but reading his review of the SP4 leaves me thinking how little what he does on a daily basis must have in common with me. Paul is right: the SP4 is a nicely designed device, and a generational improvement over the SP3 (from what I can read, though I never owned one).

I’m not really interested in features and functions though, I’m interested in pure productivity, and that’s where the SP4 caused me problems. Shane commented in my first blog that these were probably Windows 10 problems. Actually, they appear to be a combination of Intel graphics, Microsoft firmware, and Microsoft Windows 10 problems. More on that later, because the SP4 has had significant updates to these in the 6 days I’ve owned it.

The SP4 is a fabulously engineered device…

I love well engineered devices, and the SP4 has a number of engineering miracles. The kick stand is one such miracle – from the tiny but super-stiff hinges to the machined aluminum kick stand, which is machined so there is a rubber insert, which provides a non-slip effect.

Then there’s the keyboard, which looks like a floppy piece of rubber, but is actually remarkably stiff and allows near-laptop speed typing. I’m typing it on this right now, and it’s pretty amazing. The key offsets mean that my left hand is slightly cramped, so I would have concerns about it being my full-time device.

I’d also call out the Surface Connector cable, which is a magnetic power connector which can be connected either way around. What Microsoft have done that trumps Apple, is to combine this with a dock cable, so you can have a screen and keyboard at home or in the office, place your Surface Pro 4 on the desk, plug in one cable and have a full

… but it’s not design engineered like Apple

The pen attaches to the side of the screen via a magnet, which is very elegant, but when it is attached, it blocks the machined cut-out which you can put your fingernail in to pull out the kick stand. So you have to remove the pen, or use the other side.

Also all LCD screens have a polarizing filter attached and the SP4 has its configured so the screen turns black in its default orientation if you are outside and wearing polarized lens glasses. You either have to take the eye glasses off, or turn the display 90 degrees.

Then there’s the fact that the keyboard doesn’t have a magnet to keep it shut, it just flaps around, and when you turn the keyboard over, it doesn’t enable tablet mode. These are minor design flaws which Apple would have ironed out the production process and if Microsoft really wants to play in this market, then it needs to work harder.

Updates are coming thick and fast

It seems clear to me that Microsoft knows that both the SP4 hardware and the Windows 10 software were released too early, because the updates are coming thick and fast. I’ve rebooted the SP4 at least 20 times in the last week, which has been exhausting.

I judge Microsoft for this, because if I wanted to be a beta tester, I would have joined the Microsoft Insider program. Microsoft have an extremely mature development and test management organization and they will have known the maturity of the SP4 before they released it. They knew it wasn’t ready. But…

The latest updates seem to make a big difference

There are two key updates which have been installed in the last 24h. First, is the 1511 (November 2015) release of Windows 10. Microsoft have copied SAP in using the two digits of the year and two digits of the month to determine the release name, which is a sensible naming convention.

The 1511 release is what I would have called a RTM release: it contains a huge 1816 fixes over the Windows 10 initial release. Wow. It seems to have solved a lot of the annoyances of Windows 10, like the unpredictable on-screen keyboard or the general usability. Everything feels better. This is the release which Windows 10 should have been.

The second was a barrage of firmware updates which all got installed at the same time. Thurrott discusses these in detail in his blog, but in short, they seem to improve reliability and help with the power on/off issues that I had previously.

But we’re not done yet

Since starting to write this morning, I’ve had to do two hard resets on the SP4. It seems to happen after it goes to sleep, and I leave it for a while. If I come back to it quickly then it’s less likely to happen. Not being able to reliably power on a device after sleep is a deal breaker.

I’ve been using the Microsoft Answer service to try to get this fixed – it has techs that you can chat to online, and share your screen. They have poked around and changed some settings, but that hasn’t fixed it.

On further investigation, I found that it is caused by the display card, which is a problem experienced by a lot of other people. Microsoft claim to have fixed it, but that isn’t the case for me, and now the Surface Pro 4 has started freezing sporadically.

Final Words

The latest updates have definitely improved the Surface, but in the end, how long will it be before I get fed up with having to hard-reset the device 5 times a day, and return it?

It also reminds me that for me, computers are like sausages. I like them, but I don’t want to visit the sausage factory. I don’t want to be applying tons of updates a week and fiddling with obscure settings, and that seems to be what Microsoft expects of you.

Might be time to return this one and wait for the Surface Pro 5?