I’m fascinated by the slogan Microsoft is using to launch the new Surface Pro 3, “The tablet that can replace your laptop”.
It’s a really clever bit of market-positioning-speak. As a consumer, I convert all statements into questions. And this question is turned around 180º (or 30º more than the new kickstand travels).
“Can it replace your laptop?” Microsoft’s got that down pat. It is running Windows after all, and an Ultrabook powerful-thin-light platform to boot.
I use my Surface Pro 2 as my primary work machine. So it spends the bulk of its waking hours on my desk, with a keyboard, trackball, and an external monitor connected. (I’m looking for a good Bluetooth replacement for the trackball, BTW.) And when it’s not on my desk, it’s typically on a conference table with the kickstand out, Type Cover attached, and Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse Surface Edition paired and connected. Or precariously perched on my lap, as it was last week on a commuter train. I’d say I currently use it as a true tablet about 5% of the time.
My question is, “Sure, it can replace my laptop. But can it replace my tablet?” Which is an iPad. That’s Microsoft’s real goal, isn’t it?
It certainly is appealing and convenient. I take my Surface Pro 2 virtually everywhere I need to work, including places where I used to “rough it” and carry just an iPad. I’ve got a tablet-sized device that runs all the Windows applications I need. It’s not quite tablet-weight, but it’s a fair trade-off for the extra capability. Between the form factor and the touch screen, I enjoy using it more than a laptop.
Battery life on the Surface is going to be shorter than on the iPad. (Naturally, both are way shorter than either manufacturer says it will be.) I’m OK with that too. The power of full Windows requires, well, power.
Screen usability on the Surface Pro 2 is my second-biggest concern. In these days of retina displays on phones, 1920 x 1080 on a 10″ screen shouldn’t be a problem. But right now you’ll still be spending most of your time in the Windows Desktop, and it still hasn’t learned how to scale properly. This results in eye-strainingly small (and to my eye, too thin) text, and buttons to touch that are much smaller than my fingers. I’m hoping they’ve done something smart with this, beyond just making the screen bigger. I welcome the 3:2 ratio display, too. At 16:9, portrait mode feels like I’m working on an extremely heavy tri-fold brochure.
The main reason I keep an iPad around for tablet-style use is applications, applications, applications. I find that many of the apps I use on my iPad are either not available, or have inferior official or unofficial versions on the Windows Store. And if a Desktop version exists, it’s hard to use tablet-style, what with the scaling issue, plus other pesky things like the on-screen keyboard popping up and obscuring where you need to be typing. Modern UI apps need to exist and have feature parity with Desktop equivalents–and yes, the bar is higher when the user knows they’re holding a Core processor in their hands.
All this having been said, I still want to get my hands on a Surface Pro 3. It’s an impressive piece of tech, and the next step in the industry’s quest to make the perfect mobile device. And I’m absolutely certain it can replace my laptop.