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  1. #1
    Bronze Lounger
    Join Date
    Dec 2009
    Delaware, US
    Thanked 101 Times in 90 Posts

    Microsoft Surface Pro 3 - One Year Later

    In June of 2015, I was looking at a possible replacement for my Dell laptop. Itís become my primary desktop computer for work and itís getting a bit old. In researching a replacement I had a look at the Surface Pro 3 (SP3) as well as several normal and touch laptops. My thinking on the SP3 was that it might be able to replace my laptop and possibly my iPad as well. At least, that was the idea.

    One year later, I have had really mixed results with this experiment. Part of both the successes and failures come not from the hardware but the software. I got the SP3 a week after Win10 was released so it's not surprising that the computer came with Win8.1. It wasn't difficult to upgrade and even do a clean install. Then came the challenge of trying to adjust to a new version of Windows while also learning how to use it as both a desktop and a tablet.

    As a desktop replacement, it's worked out OK after a few false starts. The dock is almost a must since the SP3 has only a single USB port. In a pinch, it could be connected to a dongle with an ethernet port and a few USB slots. But in the long run it's turned out to be worth the extra cash for the dock. I also have a regular keyboard and mouse hooked up to the dock because the type cover is OK for travel but it's not well suited for long term use. One nice feature is that both the SP3 and the dock have DisplayPort outputs, so you connect a TV via HDMI which can provide a fair amount of screen real estate.

    Using the SP3 as a laptop isn't bad either, provided it's got a flat surface to set on. The main functional issue is that it lacks the kind of stiff hinged cover you find on a real laptop that allows it to set on your lap with the screen at a comfortable angle. I eventually "solved" the issue by via a third party folio that the type cover locks into. When folded out, the folio provides a support for the Surface kickstand. The type cover is missing a couple keys (like INS) that apparently were not deemed important to the designers. That's been corrected in the new SP4 version and the trackpad was improved as well.

    Now, it gets tricky because the main problems I've run into have as much or more to do with Win10 as they do with the Surface. These issues all center around using Windows applications on a touch screen, without a keyboard or mouse. IOW, they relate to using the SP3 as a tablet rather than a laptop. That's what the rest of this evaluation will be about.

    The Surface Pen is the first place I ran into issues. The problem with the pen is that it's trying to be two different things at the same time - and that's never easy to do. Functionally, it's worth thinking of a Surface pen as a mouse replacement rather than a replacement for a finger or stylus. A finger or regular stylus can be used to click on things, drawing on things, and by dragging it across the screen you can scroll pages. A Surface pen is a lot better for clicking on things and drawing on things, particularly if you are trying to be precise. But it's lousy at trying to scroll pages or do other finger movements. As a result I usually find it's much easier to use a regular (soft tip) stylus for almost all tasks.

    There's other annoying thing about the Surface Pen - handwriting. It's hard to explain this to anyone who has not used it, but if you click with a finger/stylus somewhere that you wish to type, you can pop up the keyboard and key in something. If you are using the pen it will pop up the handwriting input device but it's often more trouble than it's worth to try and write something by hand - I can type much faster. It's just one more reason why my Surface pen rarely sees the light of day.

    Another hardware/software problem has to do with the built in micro-SD slot. This slot will hold a card with up to 128GB, which doubles the capacity of my SP3. But there are some limitations as to what can be done with this card. While it is possible to install programs on this drive, it turns out to be somewhat problematical since the card is by nature removable storage and Windows may disconnect it at odd moments. I found this out when I tried putting OneDrive on it. I have a 30GB one drive account and didnít want that all going on my C:\ drive; but periodically OneDrive would lose its connection to the D:\ drive and would reset itself.

    Next we have the whole issue of Win10 itself and software. To be useful as a tablet, the SP3 needs software thatís touch friendly. Win10 comes with a small selection of universal (UWP) apps and there are others available through the store. These are generally fairly basic and should be tablet/touch friendly. Certainly that is the case with the ones I have looked at. If I have a complaint about UWP apps, itís that they are often brain dead when compared to regular Windows programs. And this is where using the SP3 as a tablet hits the reality wall.

    As a full Windows computer, the SP3 is acceptable, but full Windows programs often donít work that well when used on a tablet without a keyboard or mouse. They can be clunky and difficult to use. So the notion of using the SP3 to replace the iPad really fails at this point. There is a huge collection of apps for an iPad that were built to be used without a keyboard or mouse. That collection simply does not yet exist for Windows 10 and itís not growing at nearly a good enough rate.

    Iím not ready to give up on my Surface Pro 3 just yet, but if I had to make the decision all over again, I would probably choose a regular laptop instead. Perhaps itís just what I want my computer to be able to do and perhaps itís because I have not found the right combination of software. All I know is, I still keep my iPad right next to my living room chair and I donít think my SP3 will ever take itís place.
    Graham Smith
    DataSmith, Delaware
    "For every expert there is an equal and opposite expert.", Arthur C. Clarke (1917 - 2008)

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  3. #2
    3 Star Lounger
    Join Date
    Dec 2009
    Edinburgh, UK
    Thanked 54 Times in 26 Posts
    G Smith - you echo much of what I feel about my Surface Pro 3. I love it, but doubt whether I could use it as my sole machine. I use it as my travel machine, leaving my other computer, a Dell Latitude D420 at home. Unlike you, I do not have an iPad, so my SP3 fills that spot. Though the Dell is getting long in the tooth, it is perfectly serviceable, and has taken the Windows 10 conversion without much difficulty.

    My SP3 pen stopped working - the screw thread parted - but I like the new (SP4) pen even more. Also, to go travelling, I use a MS Bluetooth mouse, which does not use a USB port.

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