Below the Surface: Tablet Things that Make Me Tick


I have a love hate relationship with the Surface Pro, or the entire Surface Line rather. One device being portable enough for sketching and powerful enough to edit video seems ideal for mobile creatives like myself. However there a few shortcomings I would like to see addressed:


lap-cat-v-lap-top
Competing for lap space.

The good:

  • Lightweight drawing tablet.
  • Stand alone device.

The bad:

  • Only one USB and MicroSD.
  • Fan gets louder over time.

The fuglee:

  • Not as purty as Apple devices, especially the OS.

Sizing Up the Competition

The original Surface Pro started out with a 10.6″ display then it jump to 12.3″ display in the latest iteration and the Surface Book boasting a 13.5″ display. What about something in 11″ range? They just skipped over the sweet spot of the A4 paper size which also happens to be the largest size tablet allowed through airport security without removing it from your bag, something frequent travelers will appreciate

Just Kickin’ It

I like the Surface Pro 2 kickstand with the two set angles. So much so that I hesitate upgrading to the variable angle of the third iteration. I tried the new kickstand and as soon as I put any pressure to draw, the device flops to the lowest angle. Not a bad angle per se but I wish I could lock it off at a different angle. Also, how about chamfering the corners so it can stand up at an angle in portrait mode as well.

Surface on my steering wheel.

Surface kickstand works well in cars too!

Kickstand is fine for working on a desk but flops over easily when working on my lap. I missed the hinge of a traditional laptop especially when I am on the go. I guess that is where the Surface Book comes in. I like that the screen detaches from the keyboard but unfortunately loses the kickstand to support itself in that state. I hate having to choose one or the other. If they are gonna market these devices as 2-in-1 then give me both options.

Keyboard is Key

Speaking of keyboards, I did not bother purchasing the Surface keyboard. I did not like how I would have to buy the keyboard and another attachment if I want bluetooth capabilities. It was more fiscally sound to buy a standalone bluetooth keyboard instead which can still be used even after I replace my Surface Pro. I have tried several keyboard and mouse combinations and ultimately ended up with the Jelly Comb Backlit Keyboard and the MS Sculpt Comfort Mouse.

Bluetooth is a must for me. As I already mentioned, these kickstand devices work better on a desk than your lap. In which case, I usually prop up the display so it is eye level for better ergonomics. Sometimes I connect the tablet to my TV on the wall and operated everything via bluetooth keyboard and mouse. Other times I am sketching and I like the keyboard out to the side but still usable for shortcuts. It seems some laptop makers like Lenovo and Eve gets this and considered bluetooth in their dedicated keyboard.

More Ports Please!

Nothing embodies this love hate relationship more than the I/O interfaces. As a photographers, I rejoiced with a pen enabled tablet for touch ups, then cringe at the sight of a MicroSD port. Full size SD cards are the standard for most cameras, it makes no sense to have a device so ideal for photographers and omit such an obvious component.

Sure, you can plug in a card reader but that takes me to my next point. There is only one USB port. Want to back up your photos from your SD card to your external drive? Then you have to offload to the internal drive first before copying it over.

I have adapted by using MicroSD cards with an adapter in my camera. I am also using dongle free bluetooth mouse and keyboard. Although far from ideal, this is tolerable if you do not need optimal read/write speeds and if you are not particular with your peripherals.

Performance

I have been kinda dupped when buying the Surface Pro 2. I saw a presentation about playing 6k Redcode Raw video on the SP2. Then surely this means it can edit 4k video, right? It cannot. The default Microsoft video player can play back 4k video albeit at a lower resolution but trying to edit anything on Adobe Premiere Pro immediate slows to a crawl.

A quick doodle

A quick doodle

It is best suited as a drawing tablet for me. The digitizer is finicky on the corners as with all Wacom tablets. Gradually the fan has gotten louder. I frequently have to cool and reboot my device. This seems to be a common issue with drawing tablet as the fan led to the demise of my arcadic Modbook as well. I look forward to liquid cooling but remain cautiously optimistic.

Operating System

My device started out on Windows 8 and have since upgraded to Windows 10. Overall, I like the new interface with the focus on desktop functionality as opposed to the MetroUI, which I never used anyway. There are some kinks like tablet rotation frequently gets stuck. Anecdotally, it seems like performance on Adobe applications has also been more sluggish but that can also be a sign of my aging computer. I am too stubborn to go back so progress marches on as long as it does not prohibit me from doing my work. I long for the column view of OSX though.

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