I’ve had nearly every Microsoft Surface they’ve made. Surface RT, Surface Pro 2 and now the Surface Pro 3.
The original Surface was really just a technology demo. You couldn’t really do real work with it.
The Surface Pro 2 was the first version of the Surface that could, in theory, be used for something useful. Realistically, the Surface Pro 2 was only useful as a work machine when hooked up with a real monitor, keyboard and mouse. Its weight to screen size ratio made it largely useless as a tablet and its awkward screen ratio made it hard to use as an Ultrabook.
The Surface Pro 2 was mainly useful when hooked up to a real keyboard, monitor, and mouse.
However, with the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft has started to create something very interesting and useful. The Surface Pro 3 is now useful enough that I can now recommend it over any Ultrabook on the market (including the various HP and Lenovo ultras out there). It is almost as good as an iPad at being a tablet but is still held back by the cluster that is Windows 8.
Surface Pro 2 (left) vs. Surface Pro 3 (right)
Separating the amazing hardware from the shitty OS
I love Windows 8. Not as a user but as an entrepreneur. Windows 8 has made Stardock more money than every other version of Windows combined when it comes to our desktop enhancement software. Windows 8 made Start8, ModernMix, Launch8 possible. But we’d all be better off if they’d never needed to be made. And make no mistake, if you’re reading this and have Windows 8, you should buy those 3 programs right now if you intend to use Windows 8 for productivity purposes. Remember this: When you read me bashing Windows 8, know this: No individual has benefited more from Windows 8 than I have. I’d rather the world have a better Windows experience than to make another cent off the crappiness of Windows 8.
For me, the Threshold (see what I did there?) of whether Windows 9 is a good OS is it makes our software obsolete. If it doesn’t, they failed.
Let me put it right out there: Windows 8 is terrible. Terrible.
Windows 8.1 is significantly better but it is still awful compared to Windows 7 as a desktop OS and still embarrassing as a tablet OS compared to iOS. Windows 8 is so incompetent, from a design perspective, that anyone involved in the decision side of its UX work should be fired. Anyone who thought the Charms bar and the left-side task thing was a good idea has no business in this industry. Not to be an age-ist but I can almost imagine it all being designed by some cocky little 25 year old in Redmond who has never had to do any real work with a computer.
Just thinking about Windows 8 makes me pissed. Anyone who reads my blogs knows I rarely swear. But Windows 8 just makes my blood boil.
Despite the shittiness of Windows 8, Surface Pro 3 is quite remarkable. They’ve done an amazing job despite the bone headed decisions made with Windows 8.
Surface Pro 3 vs. the MacBook Air
I see these comparisons everywhere. It’s a fair comparison because they do compete for the same market. The Surface Pro 3 hardware is superior to the MacBook Air 13. I have both. But if I have to do actual work, I end up with the MacBook Air 13. That’s mainly because of the usefulness of MacOS vs. Windows 8.
The Surface Pro 3 is better than the MacBook Air from a hardware pov but Windows 8…sigh.
For example, on Windows, the touchpad stuff is handled by the hardware vendor’s custom driver. I kid you not. It’s not an OS thing. It should be but it is what it is. That’s why Stardock hasn’t already fixed this blatantly broken part of the OS. We get asked a lot. Why can’t we just use 4 fingers on our touchpad and switch between full screen sessions? Because every manufacturer writes their own touchpad driver. Seriously. Again: Makes my blood boil.
On my MacBook Air, I can use 4 fingers and quickly slide between various full-screen sessions. That means if I have Word in one window, Excel in another, a web browser in another, I can quickly move between them with a simple slide of my fingers – on the MacBook Air. In fact, on my MacBook Air, I run Parallels (a Stardock partner) that emulates Windows 8 as one of my full screen sessions. Parallels does an amazing job of making Windows 8 tolerable and it runs great on a MacBook Air.
Meanwhile, my experience on Windows 8 on my Surface Pro can’t hold a candle. Want to switch between apps? I can either Alt-Tab or I can use my finger on the left side of the screen to bring up the crappy Windows 8 Metro task list and then pick what I want. I thought this was a touch device.
You’d think they’d encourage switching seamlessly back and forth between apps using touch. Unfortunately, gesturing left means bringing up the task list and gesturing from the right brings up the useless Charms bar.
The dumbest UI design in UI history. Not hyperbole. Try to think of a dumber idea than the Charms bar. If you can, post it in the comments area. Reminder: Devices = Print.
Ultimately, when I have to recommend a “ultra” portable laptop, I have to go with the MacBook Air. Which is a shame because the Surface Pro 3 is better except for Windows 8. It’s like the Microsoft Surface team found a time machine, went to the future and used future tech to make the Surface Pro and brought it back but was forced (at gun point one assumes) to put Windows 8 on it.
Surface Pro 3 vs. iPad
The Surface Pro 3 is a better tablet than the iPad from a hardware point of view. It’s not even close. It is my preferred device for reading websites. The Surface Pro 3 screen is simply amazing. and the actual tablet itself is just outstanding. I love it. Unfortunately, hardware isn’t the whole story. The Surface Pro lacks a lot of software.
Surface Pro 3 makes a pretty good tablet provided you can get past Windows 8
If you listen to Microsoft fanboys the argument always goes like this “Do you really need 2 million apps when everyone uses the same hundred apps?” Let’s talk about that:
- There is no Pulse News app for Windows 8
- There’s no Control4 (home automation) app for Windows 8
- There’s no Google Maps or Google Earth app for Windows 8
- There’s no Tivo app for Windows 8
- There’s no Amazon Window-Shop app for Windows 8 (and their regular Amazon app is weak)
- There’s no IMDB app for Windows 8
- The Calendar app can’t integrate Google Calendar (or at least, not in any reasonable way I’ve found) [and seriously, how can you make a calendar app that isn’t interoperable with Google calendar in 2014?!]
- Dropbox doesn’t integrate into Office on Windows 8 (does fine on Office for iPad) so I can’t look through my Dropbox folders easily.
- There’s no LinkedIn for Windows 8
- There’s no official Google Drive app for Windows 8 and you can’t use Google Drive as file destination via Office (which you can on Office for iPad)
- There’s no Hearthstone Windows 8 (Metro) version
- There’s no Yelp app for Windows 8
- There’s no Amazon Instant Video app for Windows 8
- and on and on and on.
And even if you count the apps that are technically available for Windows 8 such as eBay, Mint, OpenTable, Urban Spoon, etc. many of these are just the mobile web versions packaged as a Metro container.
The iPad Air is better as a tablet than the Surface Pro 3 mainly because of the apps available. The Surface Pro 3 hardware is substantially better.
As a result, it makes it hard to recommend the Surface Pro 3 as a tablet versus the iPad. Simply put, as a tablet experience, the iPad is better.
The magic of combining and Ultra and a tablet together
Where things get really interesting is when you have to make some tough choices on what you bring with you on a trip. My iPad is a better tablet than the Surface Pro 3. My MacBook Air is better than the Surface Pro 3 as an Ultrabook. But if I only can carry one device, the Surface Pro 3 beats both of them.
That’s because the Surface Pro 3 has some unusual advantages that time will probably make even bigger:
- The Surface Pro 3 hardware is better than both the iPad and the MacBook Air (faster, sturdier, can be brought on a plane without taking out during airport security – a big bonus for an OCD person like me)
- It has a better store policy: I can directly buy Kindle books and Comixology comics right on the device (which I can’t on the iPad).
- It provides a vastly better web experience than the MacBook Air (and right up there with an iPad Air except for the annoying UX issues of not being able to quickly scroll to top, poorer selection experience and poorer zoom in experience).
- I can use it as a tablet while still having a Display Port output, a micro-SD card slot and able to hook up a mouse to it.
- The display is magical. The Surface Pro 3 has the best display I’ve ever seen on any device in my life (so far).
So ironically, when I’m traveling over night, it’s the Surface Pro that comes with me. Not the iPad or the MacBook Air. And if I’m traveling for say a week+ it’s still my Surface Pro 3 and my MacBook Pro 15 (the Core i7 in the MBP 15 is twice as fast as what’s in the SP3 which I need for compiling).
If Microsoft gets its act together they can be a real player
The upcoming Broadwell CPU line from Intel could be a game changer for Microsoft. If they can combine Broadwell with LTE and a non-idiotic version of Windows (i.e. Windows 9) they could have a real chance at being the viable alternative to iOS.
I think Microsoft has the right idea going forward given the rapid improvements they’ve made this year to Windows 8. But whatever internal politics led to the Windows 8 design needs to be fully cleansed from their company culture. The Surface Pro 3 is the best hardware on the market today saddled with some of the worst software. Microsoft has shown with Windows 8.1 (and its updates) that they get it but they are in a race against time.
Do I recommend a Surface Pro 3?
If I needed a Windows Ultrabook I’d choose Surface Pro 3 over anything else. If I were looking for purely a tablet, I’d still go for an iPad.