24 hours of Surface Pro

Β· 1239 words Β· 6 minute read

24 hours with a Surface Pro πŸ”—

Some months ago I severely cracked the screen of my iPad 11" (2018). It is still useable, but I have wanted a new one but at the same time I didn’t want to just get another iPad. So yesterday I got a Microsoft Surface Pro 8, in the hope that it could cover my iPad use and 90% of my laptop use and reduce the number of times I have to drag my laptop around. The Surface is used, but not noticeably. It is also fully spec’d, with an i7 processor, 500G drive and 16G RAM. Same as my Macbook Pro. It is a PC. It runs windows 11. But it is also a tablet.

Before buying, I couldn’t find a lot of info on Surface Pro vs iPad - it is in many ways not a natural comparison, but at the same time the iPad tries to fill many of the laptop needs. You can get a keyboard and Excel and Word and a pretty beefy processor. Similarly, the Surface Pro is a laptop that tries to be small enough to be a tablet.

The hardware πŸ”—

The Surface Pro feels solid, and Microsoft is doing a great job with packaging and making the entire product a quality feel. Everything has a nice feel to it. The keyboard is really good, especially for the type that also works as a screen cover. The trackpad punches above it’s weight. It is small, it has to be, but it makes up for it in precision and feel. The keyboard is even backlit, which is more than I can say for many expensive Lennovo and other laptops.

It is a lot heavier than my old iPad, and a lot bigger. Especially the heaviness came as a surprise. I don’t tend to lug it around so it mostly doesn’t matter, but just holding it while sitting in the couch is noticeably different and less plesant. I actually weighed everything to get some data on it. My old iPad was 470 grams, au naturale. The Surface came in at 890 grams - 90% more. The Surface keyboard and protective case added over 600 grams, of which the very optional protective case makes up most of it.

The flip-out stand is also sturdy, and great even for just holding it.It adds stability.

The Surface Pro has a small fan, and when installing programs it does spin up. In general, the machine gets hotter than iPads. Not to the point where it is a problem, but to the point where you thing “oh, I should probably find a charger”.

The quality feel quickly ends when turning it on though.

Setting up πŸ”—

It has been covered extensively how Microsoft doesn’t want local user accounts. When setting up, it wants you to log in with a Microsoft account, and employs all the dark patterns in existence to force you to do that. I’m OK with using a Microsoft account. I’m bought in to the system. I have my own domain, and my own Microsoft 365 Business subscription with Azure AD in the center. But I wasn’t allowed to log on to my computer with that user. I had to use an ad-based email provider like gmail. No exceptions.

Adding to the poor decisions, the remaining questions on my setup was concerning what types of ads I wanted my operating system to show me. And weirdly, even when Microsoft sells the computer it seems it comes with a bunch of software nobody wanted - like Spotify and Netflix. Not as bad as some computers, but still: Don’t force me to spend the first hour with a new machine uninstalling shit.

None of this is particular to the Surface Pro though, just a general gripe with Windows.

User Experience πŸ”—

As a laptop, the Surface Pro works almost just like any other laptop. A good laptop, with an unusual form factor, but a first and foremost a small, high-quality laptop.

The touch screen itself is good, but noticeably less accurate than the iPad. I regularly have to re-tap because the Surface doesn’t react. But most of the time, the touchscreen comes across as nice and precise.

Windows 11 has a separate “tablet mode” that makes some of UI elements bigger and hides the taskbar men when the keyboard disconnects. This is brilliant. Nothing get’s a whole lot bigger and you might not always even see the change, but you will notice it if it isn’t there.

Windows 11/Tablet mode also introduces a lot of touch screen gestures, built on top of the existing UI. Having used Windows 11 on a normal laptop for some weeks, I am amazed at how naturally these gestures fit in and exposes options like brightness, wifi etc in a way similar to on the iPad, yet distinctly different and very Windows-y. Other gestures lets us view all windows with a three-finger swipe, or show the start menu with an up-swipe.

I wish these went further though. The start menu in tablet mode is no bigger than in windows mode. Why? In general, the default size of anything in tablet mode should be full-screen. Modern windows machines have lots of big screens, so not maximizing makes sense. On a small tablet though, it makes less sense for windows to only cover half the screen. Yes, I should be able to do it if I want, but usually I don’t.

The on-screen keyboard is perhaps the one item that is generations behind iPads/iPhones. There is no predictive typing or suggestions, no good toggle between keyboards and ~no emoji-keyboard~ (update: it turns out there is an emoji keyboard).

Another issue is with apps. The Apple app store contains a lot of apps, including, for instance, Substack. In Windows, you are relegated to reading substack in the browser (or in emails…). This will be the case for a number of things now. I also have to say goodbye to Reeder, my RSS app of choice. Browsers are generally good, but they don’t have the same tablet-mode optimizations that windows 11 now has. Switching between tabs in tablet mode can be hard - the tabs can get very small, and there is no button to show all tabs as thumbnails. Not even Edge does that.

Conclusion πŸ”—

The Surface Pro is truly an impressive piece of hardware. The way I see it, the big question is if this is a compromize between laptop and tablet that makes sense to people. Judging by the number of Surface Pro’s I see in offices, in cafΓ©s and on trains, it seems the answer is yes.

As for the tablet experience, it is a good start but has a way to go. Default to maximize windows and make the start menu full-screen seems like low-hanging fruit. And optimizing Edge for tablets might be a way for Microsoft to increase Edge adoption. Remember that Edge is not Internet Explorer. It is Chrome with a Microsoft suit.

After years of using Mac, I might be on my way back into a Windows world, largely helped by WSL and the amazing Windows Terminal.

Updates πŸ”—

  1. It does turn out there is an emoji keyboard, it is just a lot less intuitively available.
  2. The touchscreen tends to be intermittently unresponsive with certain apps
  3. There seems to be some bug where the keyboard sometimes doesn’t pop up when it should. Hardware keyboard to the rescue.