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.
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?