Microsoft Surface Pro First Impressions

Friday just gone was my wife’s (@NickyCGreen) birthday. Being a student, she uses her laptop for typing up notes, writing essays and the like, but using a laptop in lectures was proving a little more challenging. On a few occasions, she has used the Acer Iconia W500 tablet I have and thanks to our Windows Server 2012 Essentials setup with folder redirection and roaming profiles, she can logon and get a seamless cross-device experience. She really enjoyed the form factor, but it went without saying that it was imperfect due to the fact that the W500 is pretty under powered and under resourced in terms of CPU and memory.

With the UK being far from the frontline in technological releases, the choices in tablets here are more limited than the US due to slipping release dates, so I made the decision to call in a favour from a previous employer and import a Surface Pro from the US for her birthday.

I opted for the slightly more expensive 128GB model purely because I didn’t want her to run out of space on the 64GB version. There’s no point having a roaming profile and folder redirection to offer her a huge capacity backend if she could then only make some of the work she has available offline.

I did some setup on the device before wrapping it and giving it to her which is what this review is based on.

The device itself is beautiful, with the VaporMag case giving it an amazing look and finish. The weight and dimensions are more than an iPad or the Surface RT, but that’s because you get a full Windows PC for your money. The Surface RT on the other hand is slightly thinner than the iPad but does weigh a fraction more. Neither of these facts make it unwieldy though; it’s still feels perfectly functional. The kick stand works really nicely and combined with a touch or type cover for the Surface, I can see it actually being useful, but I would personally like it to lean into the stand a little more; it’s quite upright and would worry me with the fear of toppling.

Powering the Pro on for the first time, I thought it must have been hibernated or sleeping in the box because it came straight up to the GUI within two seconds. I shut it down and powered it up from cold with the same effect. It boots so fast, it reduces the need for Sleep or Hibernate to null. I think the UEFI BIOS probably helps a lot here. I’d be interested to know how quickly the Surface RT boots being that it’s running a low-fat version of Windows?

The pre-installed Windows 8 Pro operating system has no bloatware, adware, freeware or anything horrid installed; It is the perfect OEM installation and was a real surprise and treat compared to normal OEM hardware releases. I only actually did three things to customize the installation aside from checking for and installing updates:

  1. Domain joined it using the Windows Server 2012 Essentials connector software.
  2. Used the Create Recovery Drive wizard to backup and delete the recovery partition, releasing 8GB of disk as available storage. You even need to play with Disk Management as the wizard extends the existing partitions if you elect to delete the partition afterwards which is a nice touch.
  3. Removed the pre-installed version of Office 2013 to allow me to install my TechNet licensed version of Office 2013 Professional Plus.

The touch screen is super responsive and you can touch type with as many fingers as you like using the on-screen keyboard and every touch is detected without fault. The screen size doesn’t make it the largest of tablets, but I think the size is ideal for portability. Small enough to carry around and use effectively, but not so small that you have to squint out of one eye and close the other, something which I think the smaller 8 inch tablets would suffer from with prolonged used. The 16:9 aspect ratio makes it less tall than it is wide compared to a number of standard aspect tablets also.

The MagSafe-esque power connector works well, connects easily and feels secure. I would personally like the indicator LED to be a little brighter to make it a bit more obvious it is charging, but that’s a minor complaint in the scheme of things.

The only actual complaint I have about the Surface Pro is the wireless adapter. It doesn’t seem to acknowledge 802.11d which is the standard for detecting Access Point deployment country to allow the adapter to use additional channels as available. In the USA, 802.11bgn can use channels 1 through to 11. In the EU, we can use channels 1 to 13. With most hardware being US based, the tendency is for hardware like routers to ship on channels 1,6 or 11, so I historically have used 13 at home to avoid some of the congestion, but the Surface just wouldn’t detect the SSID even with all of the User and System locales change d to UK. This may be a by-product of the fact it is a US import and that UK models shipping later this year will supports channels 12 and 13, but I’ve just changed channels to 11 to workaround this – My neighbour uses 6, so it’s hardly an issue.

All in all, it’s an amazing device and I am super jealous that my wife has one and I don’t. Fingers crossed she won’t break it and double fingers crossed she’ll let me use it from time to time because I don’t exactly have the spare dollars to buy another one any time soon.