Decided to go full dark side. A few notes about the new Surface Pro and my setup. Until yesterday Amazon was telling me that my order would ship on the 15th to arrive perhaps next week, but then miraculously it shipped and arrived all in the same day. So about a day of playing with it.
Short version: OMG there’s no USB-C port what a frigging joke it’s a useless toy.
I’ve been chasing the dream of an all in wonder tablet laptop convertible. I thought the Chromebook Plus might be the chosen one, but definitely not. ChromeOS as a tablet is a catastrophe. Also, the hardware is really awkward, though this point is common to all flip around yoga devices.
My use case is pretty simple. I want to read a nice long PDF, a two column paper about programming in rust perhaps, in portrait mode. Then when I’m done I want to jump over to Twitter and berate the author, for which I need a keyboard. The yogas kind of work at this, but the flipping procedure is too involved. First, I need to check the space around me for other people, lest they get whacked, and then very carefully grip the edges of the device, being careful to touch neither screen nor touchpad nor keyboard, and execute the twist. Do this three times in public and somebody is likely to call social services. I also don’t like having the keyboard tucked under backwards behind the screen. It’s heavy, and it feels weird and squishy.
Enter the Microsoft Surface Pro. At least as I use it, there’s no keyboard flopping about. I pick it up, I read something, I set it down again. I’m using a Logitech K810 Bluetooth keyboard which I like quite a bit. I’ve had the keyboard for a while. For it’s size and portability, it’s decent. I have the MS type cover too, but after giving it a few tries, it’s not going to be my default device. The fully detached keyboard (and mouse, Bluetooth Arc model) is exactly the setup I want. Kind of like a laptop, but instantly a tablet and back again. Also, minor point, but the type cover is missing the right control key (stupid menu key instead) while the K810 has two controls. Never realize how much you use a key until it’s gone.
The kickstand is only designed for landscape use, but I was able to use it for portrait mode as well. Extended perpendicular, it holds the surface perfectly upright on a table. I would perhaps have liked if they’d shaved a little angle on the kickstand edges to allow a slight tilt, but it’s good enough.
Like any modern laptop, the performance of the surface is a weird combination of power and thermal limits and cooling. Some good background here. In short, the surface cooling is more than sufficient to keep the CPU cool, so it doesn’t suffer from thermal throttling, per se. But when the skin temps get too high, the EC embedded controller dials down the power limit, and the CPU suffers power throttling. The new model appears to have a very similar design to the 4. Intel’s XTU utility is a really handy little gadget to see what’s going on.
I got the i7 model, still with a fan. Further complicating the issue, Windows applies a variety of power settings. On battery, it mostly caps the CPU at 15W. On AC, it lets it have possibly as much as 30W. However, by switching the power plan to max performance, I was able to burn about 25W flipping through 3D satellite Google Maps in chrome. Is that what I want? Possibly not, capping power consumption to 15W and gimping the framerate could be the right answer to conserve battery life. The Iris graphics are probably somewhat handicapped, which is a little unfortunate, but there seems to be more than enough headroom to run the CPU flat out full time.
It’s only been one day, and a somewhat atypical one at that, but battery life seems reasonable. It ticked down slowly while web browsing, and somewhat quicker while installing Visual Studio. Curiously, there’s no estimated time remaining, just a percentage. Despite the hilarious inaccuracy of it all, I’d still like to see it, if only to hint that some background process has gone off the rails. This happens quite frequently, in fact. Instead of all the other stupid tips pops, Windows should have an alert whenever something happens to cause a dramatic increase in power consumption.
The fan is really quiet. It’s frequently off. When on, it usually sounds a lot like somebody blowing on hot soup to cool it off, though more mechanical. But a low quiet whir, hard to hear above background noise. Only when you make it angry, such as by viewing aforementioned google maps, does it become perceptible. Never distracting though.
Like other modern Windows machines, it doesn’t really have suspend sleep anymore. It simply idles at low power, but in many ways this is closer to on than off. For instance, Bluetooth devices remain attached. I was expecting them to disconnect after locking the screen, and was surprised when the screen reactivated because I jostled the mouse in the process of folding it up. New procedure: turn off all peripherals, then sleep the surface. I was much more surprised to discover that after packing up and walking home, the surface was still tethered to my phone’s wifi and had no intention of letting go. I think I found the setting for this, but there’s a lot going on that remains mysterious. Also, not entirely surprising but somewhat unexpected, leaving a USB keyboard and mouse plugged in over night drains the battery because they remain powered up.
The screen is glossy, but not especially reflective. At least, I was able to use it for a day, and while I could see smudges if I turned the screen off and tilted it into the light, they didn’t interfere with regular viewing. Because the glass is really close to the screen? For like no money at all, added an anti-glare screen protector. There’s a lot of glass screen protectors, which I have no use for, but these are quite nice. After application, the screen remains very sharp, but reflections are reduced to diffuse blurs. It also changes the screen texture to reduce stickiness.
There’s some dynamic content based backlight wizardry. Above and beyond the normal ambient light sensor adjustment I mean. Even with that disabled, if the screen is mostly black, the backlight is turned down. Then when you flip back to a white page, you can watch the screen flicker as it incrementally turns the backlight back up over the next ten seconds. No way to disable this, although I didn’t find it that annoying. The changes in response to ambient light aggravate me greatly because they happen in the middle of reading something. This new magic only happens after transitions.
Resolution and DPI scaling remains hit or miss, but I do like the Windows 10 on screen keyboard. Using the surface purely as a tablet, no keyboard or mouse, I was still able to interact and enter text into applications that didn’t really appear to expect that.
If you enable BitLocker, which you absolutely should, don’t disregard the option to print out a backup key. I fiddled with a UEFI setting which made BitLocker think it was in a new computer, and I had to enter the 48 digit recovery code in order to boot.
Windows 10 is Windows 10, but the nice part is Microsoft makes the whole thing work with just drivers, instead of drivers and utility apps. So the taskbar is filled only with authentic MS junk, but no 3D sound mogrifier or touchpad wizardry or mega wifi accelerator or whatever.
In terms of computers I can now replace, the Chromebook Plus is definitely done. The Zenbook running Windows is done now, too. Probably keep the HP Chromebook, but use it less. There’s an iPad mini around here that fits in a cargo pocket, and still will, but it is going to see a lot less PDF reading duties. The 2 in 1 product category stubbornly refuses to allow a product to succeed, but I think we’re getting close.