Tag Archives: surface pro

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?

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 First Glance – a heart breaker and a deal breaker

As those that know me will know, I’m a big fan of Apple products. Some call me a fanboy – but my view is that I like them because they work. I’ve owned my Mid-2012 MacBook Pro 15″ since… Mid-2012, and have barely lost a day of productivity. The last time the MBP was out of action was when I dropped it on the corner onto granite, and dented it. Apple took it in and replaced nearly everything, a process which took a few days.

That said, 3 years is a long time in technology, and the MBP has seen better days. It’s out of warranty and some of the connectors have stopped working, and it’s getting a bit slow. It’s time for a replacement and the rumors are that Apple will have a new machine in Q1 of 2016.

And here it is that I find myself browsing the world of computers.

Why not the iPad Pro or MacBook?

I love the new MacBook, it looks great. But, for me it is underpowered and the keyboard is a little cramped, and I’m certain that it’s not well built enough to survive the pounding that anything I own will go through. I went through 3 MacBook Airs before I was smart enough to move to the Pro, and those light machines can’t handle it.

As for the iPad Pro… it’s just a big iPad. That will suit some people, and the screen and battery life are glorious, but I can’t download 20GB of email from Office 365 locally, or curate complex documents. A few of the reviews have said the same – the iPad Pro is an awesome consumer device, but it’s no laptop replacement.

A Mid-2015 MacBook Pro isn’t an option – it’s way too incremental an improvement over what I’ve already got. So Apple… you’re out!

Then it must be the Microsoft Surface Book?

The next logical device is the Microsoft Surface Book. On paper, it looks like it’s the ultimate laptop convertible. There seems to be no downside to this thing! It’s a laptop… it’s a tablet… with 12h battery life and no downside.

My take on the Surface Book is that it’s very much a first generation device. Is it the future of computing? Hard to tell. Certainly, it appears to offer the best of both worlds, but the battery as a tablet is very limited, for example, and it can’t charge from base station to tablet – you have to be plugged in. I also heard various problems with docking and undocking the base.

I walked into Best Buy and they admitted that whilst they did have Surface Books in stock, I couldn’t see one because their demo device didn’t power on any more and they were awaiting a replacement from Microsoft. That sealed the deal.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4

And so it is that I find myself writing this on a Microsoft Surface Pro 4. I’m sat on the sofa, tapping away on the keyboard on my lap, with the kick stand propping up the screen. The keyboard case is remarkably stiff and I find myself typing remarkably quickly, though I’m still not quite used to the offset keyboard, so accuracy is off.

For the last week I’ve been traveling with both my SP4 and my trusty MacBook Pro, so I can be sure not to lose productivity. I’m not ready to make a final conclusion yet but I think you’ll find the initial findings interesting.

It is conceptually amazing

The concept of the SP4 is amazing. It’s light, it’s a tablet, and it has a detachable keyboard. It claims a 9 hour battery life and Windows 10 is convertible-friendly, so you can switch in between use cases on a dime.

The screen is fantastic – detailed and crisp with great colors, and the kick stand means you can get comfortable on any surface. Microsoft Edge is a good browser and is quite effective in tablet mode, which is very nice browsing on the sofa, where you can detach the keyboard and save all that weight.

I’ve got the i5 version so it’s not got the raw power of a MacBook Pro, but I find it responsive and speedy enough for my needs. I figured the i5 version would have better battery life, and it’s far less expensive. Office 2016 is also awesome, and can be downloaded via your Office 365 subscription.

It excels at some things

The SP4 absolutely excels at some things. For example I just ran an off-site, and I used OneNote with the pen to take notes, taking pictures of white boards with the camera, and it was awesome.

Same with being used for email in a café or train station – you can pull it out, and the keyboard is remarkably good to get out content quickly. I used the iPad Pro keyboard and was much less impressed. It can’t match a full size keyboard like the MacBook Pro, but it’s not far off.

It misses the mark in the real world

I’ve been trying to work with the SP4, but so far it’s not met my expectations. See, there are deal breakers.

First, the Wi-Fi is flakey. This is well documented on the web, and running all the updates in (which takes 4 reboots and over an hour) helps. But I still can’t access my iPhone hotspot, which means I get no internet on the go.

Second, the claimed 9 hour battery life is simply not true. In very modest use, it’s 3-4 hours of browsing and email. I don’t understand how a consumer product company is allowed to make statements like this. I guess you might be able to get 9 hours of video playback with the screen turned off.

Third, the usability is off. I put the SP4 down and then pick it up some while later and open the keyboard flap. It doesn’t turn on, you have to press the button for this. And depending on how deep it has gone to sleep, you have to wait several minutes for it to come to life. Or sometimes it doesn’t come to life at all and you have to hard reset.

I’ve taken a hard line – I must try to use the SP4 first, and use the MBP as a backup device, but too many times I’ve got frustrated with the SP4 because I had actual work to do, and pulled out the MacBook Pro.

Fourth, the tablet mode isn’t quite right. I had a Lenovo Yoga, and that converted automatically between tablet and PC mode when you flipped the keyboard. Not so with the SP4, you have to manually switch, which is frustrating. What’s more, many apps (Slack, for instance) aren’t tablet-enabled, so they aren’t responsive and the on-screen keyboard gets in the way. Slack is my primary messaging tool, so that’s another deal breaker.

And last, the so-called lapability factor of the SP4 is off. The kick stand means that the keyboard is 3″ closer to you than in the MacBook Pro, which means that the SP4 is horribly uncomfortable on an airplane or train, and because it doesn’t have a hinge, the keyboard and screen don’t support each other. On a flat surface, it’s awesome, but elsewhere, it’s really unpleasant.

Final Words

I’ll be traveling with the MBP and SP4 over the next few weeks and I’m hoping I come to like the SP4 more. Perhaps it will come into its own in situations I haven’t encountered yet.

But for a fourth generation device, the SP4 has too many deal breakers.