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 Wednesday, December 02, 2015

I think this article about Apple's attempt to transform the iPad into a laptop - and contrasting it to Microsoft's Surface-based attempt to transform a laptop into a tablet - is quite good.

Personally I'm a strong advocate for the hybrid device scenario, having spent the last few years entirely in Surface-land. Starting with the Surface Pro 3 (SP3) I have been quite happy with that choice. The SP1 and SP2 widescreen concept was interesting, but impractical for doing real work like editing documents or running Visual Studio. The SP3 and now SP4 screen sizes are very practical (especially the Surface Pro 4 - what a beautiful screen!!).

The idea that Apple would create some sort of hybrid was a foregone conclusion from my perspective - once I'd become hooked on using a Surface instead of an old-fashioned laptop.

When I'm sitting in a cramped airplane seat, or relaxing on the couch in front of the TV I want a tablet - one with all my stuff on it.

And when I'm trying to actually compose an email, write a document, or do some coding, I want a laptop - one with all my stuff on it.

Interestingly enough, "my stuff" is the same at all times. I want access to all my stuff whenever and wherever I am.

I use OneDrive to store all my documents, music, photos, etc. All my files are on my desktop, Surface, and in the cloud – so they are available anywhere and everywhere. And that would be true on a Mac and iPad too (though probably not offline on the iPad, so not accessible on an airplane?).

Another big reason my stuff is always available is because of the way Windows 10 roams everything - all my app/browser/desktop settings sync across my devices. And that could maybe be done between a Mac and iPad I would guess - with some effort to address the mismatch between Mac and iPad apps that do similar things, but aren’t the same apps.

But on Windows 10 I am using the same apps on my desktop and Surface (and often my phone). So there's no mismatch, they are literally the same.

Maybe not everyone values this consistency like I do - but I want my same browser with my same favorites/shortcuts/etc. on every device I use. And I want my news reader (NextGen Reader) and Reddit  (Readit) and weather and twitter (Tweetium) and Facebook apps to know what I've done and what I like without having to tell every device the same stuff over and over.

So yeah, I'm a big fan of the hybrid model - and I hope Apple is reasonably successful at it, if for no other reason that competition will drive Microsoft to keep making Win10 and Surface better and better so I love it more and more :)

Wednesday, December 02, 2015 1:16:16 PM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer

I have had my new Surface Pro 4 for a few days now (I waited to get the i7 model) and I’m liking it quite a lot. I really liked my SP3, and the SP4 is better yet.

My one primary disappointment is with the dock. I got the new Surface dock and tried to connect it to my two external monitors using brand new mini-DisplayPort-to-DVI cables but the displays were just all messed up – one or the other would come on but not both, and everything was very unstable.

Searching around the Internet I found this:

In summary, the Surface dock can’t power DVI or HDMI outputs directly. I assume it can power VGA directly, but I don’t know – maybe not?

This makes the dock pretty useless for many (most?) of us who don’t have monitors that have DisplayPort ports. I’ve never owned such a monitor and I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen one in a store or anything. So I assume that most of us don’t have such a thing.

WP_20151201_16_05_46_ProIn my case I was “fortunate” in that I’d already bought a powered DisplayPort hub to get the dual monitor scenario working from my Surface 3 dock, so that’s what I’m using to get my monitors to work. The DP hub I’m using is from StarTech and seems to work quite nicely.

The fact that it works remains quite disappointing though. The Surface dock looks like it would be useful, but in practice I think for most of us it doesn’t do what any reasonable person would expect – which is to say that the two DP ports are not what they seem.

So if you are considering buying the Surface dock I’d suggest that you also budget an extra US$100 or so to buy a DP hub and appropriate DP-to-DVI (or HDMI) cables.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015 10:49:22 AM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer
 Wednesday, August 28, 2013

I am a bit unusual in that I have extensively used four different Windows 8 tablets:

  1. Samsung Series 7
  2. Surface RT
  3. Surface Pro
  4. Acer Iconia W3

The Samsung, Surface Pro, and Iconia are all Intel based machines, so they are running Windows 8 (or 8.1 preview) Pro. As a result they can theoretically run anything Windows 7 can run, plus all the new Windows Runtime (WinRT) apps.

The Surface RT is an ARM based machine, so it can run only WinRT apps (plus Office because Microsoft broke their own rules in that case).

So you might immediately assume Surface RT is the worst of the bunch, because it can’t run legacy apps from Windows 7.

But you should also consider battery life. The Samsung and Surface Pro get 2-3 hours if I’m lucky. The Samsung has a loud fan, and the Surface Pro gets quite hot. So while both can run Visual Studio, neither is a particularly fun tablet due to noise or heat, and certainly due to short battery life.

The Iconia has great battery life (I typically charge it every 2-3 days), no fan, and it only gets a little warm. Of course it uses an ATOM processor, so I shudder to think how slow Visual Studio would run (I haven’t tried), but it does run other legacy Windows 7 apps. Its primary drawbacks are that the wifi reception is horrible, and the screen is a bit fuzzy. It is also an 8” screen – which is both good and bad. It is a really nice size for casual browsing and reading, including laying on the couch, etc. But it is pretty cramped if you actually have to do any work – data entry or whatever. So it is a consumption-only device in my view.

The Surface RT also has great battery life. I spent an entire 8 hour flight across the Atlantic watching movies on it and didn’t run out of charge. It makes no noise and doesn’t get warm, and it has a big enough screen that it is good for consumption and light work (data entry, spreadsheets, etc.). True, it can’t run Visual Studio or other legacy apps, but then neither can the Iconia in practical terms (due to its slower processor).

Right now the biggest challenge with the Surface RT is the lack of WinRT apps, not that the machine itself is flawed. In fact, I think the device itself is the best of the four – light weight, good screen size, no noisy fan, no heat during use, great battery life, good performance.

For around-the-house or on-the-plane use the Iconia is the next best thing. It has great battery life, and has the double-edged attribute of an 8” screen. It has no fan, but does get a bit warm. My big problem with it is the weak wifi reception, which is often problematic, and the issue that if I do need to edit a presentation, document, or spreadsheet the screen is just too small. I should say that I don’t have any legacy apps installed on the Iconia other than Outlook, Office, and Chrome. I just haven’t found the need for anything, because there are WinRT apps or web pages to do everything I want to do. I only installed Chrome because the preview IE11 release is often unsupported by web sites – hopefully those web sites will get it together by mid-October…

If I need to use Visual Studio or other legacy Windows 7 apps I pretty much always haul out the Surface Pro these days. It is much nicer than the older Samsung. The Surface Pro is too warm and heavy for casual use as a tablet, but it makes for a great ultrabook that can act like a tablet in a pinch.

I know a lot of the tech media has been bashing on Surface RT due to Microsoft’s write-down on their excess inventory. And presumably the device hasn’t sold nearly as well as Microsoft expected or hoped. Personally I think this is purely because Microsoft didn’t include Outlook on the device – a choice I’m sure someone is regretting in hindsight. If the Surface RT had Outlook (and perhaps a full Lync client) it would do everything needed by most managers/executives in most companies.

Of course it wouldn’t be useful for knowledge workers like developers, CAD users, etc. But those people have desktops/laptops – the primary target market for tablets are managers/executives that travel around a lot and who don’t need a big/fast machine. We know this, because those people are running around with iPads that also can’t serve the needs of knowledge workers.

And if a knowledge worker does rely on a tablet, my observation is that they RDP into a Windows 7 computer to run the higher powered software. Obviously a Surface RT is at least as good of an RDP client as an iPad :)

My point is that I very much hope Microsoft doesn’t give up on the Surface RT. Or if they do, that they provide something comparable to it in terms of battery life, screen size, weight, and so forth via an Intel processor (presumably an ATOM processor).

A secondary point I suppose, is that I’m losing hope that I’ll ever be able to carry just one device. The idea that a device capable of running Visual Studio with good performance, where the device gets 8+ hours of battery life, has no loud fan, and doesn’t get uncomfortably warm might be out of reach…

Then again, the next-gen Surface Pro devices might pull it off?

To conclude – right now I’ve been carrying/using the Surface Pro and Iconia. I actually gave my Surface RT to my Dad because he needed a good tablet, and he’s enjoying it (as much as a non-computer user can enjoy any computer). But I do kind of miss the Surface RT, because I liked it better than the Iconia in some ways…

Wednesday, August 28, 2013 8:30:45 PM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer
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