Initial Thoughts on the Microsoft Surface Pro

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I’ve been searching for the ultimate blogging device ever since I started recording my adventures almost 10 years ago.  I’ve used various phones, a netbook, an iPad, and my Kindle fire. Looking at the specs for the Surface Pro, it seems like it could be the best option yet.  So, on February 9th, I stood in a long, long, long line at the Bellevue Microsoft Store to purchase a 128gb model with the type keyboard.

Working Offline

The number one priority for me in a blogging device is the ability to work offline. When I ride my motorcycle to the top of a mountain and set up camp, there isn’t typically internet access.  One problem I encountered with several of the iPad blogging apps was they needed to have an internet connection to get anything done.  The most effective way I found to write an offline post on these devices was to use the mail client, which I find to be less than ideal.  The nice thing about the Surface Pro – it is a laptop with access to all the Windows apps.  So I can use Microsoft Live Writer (which I use on my netbook) to author posts offline and upload when I finally do get a connection.

Pictures

Easily getting pictures onto the device and into my blog is a very high priority for me.  One of the problems with my phone or my Kindle Fire – no external storage.  This makes it difficult, if not impossible to get photos from my camera into my blog.  The Surface Pro has a micro-sd slot, so I can just take the card out of my camera and use it. I also can tether my Sony NEX-6 via USB or WiFi (need to have a hotspot), but reading straight from the card is the fastest.

Once I have the photos, I like to edit them.  I installed the latest version of Adobe Lightroom and brought some pictures in to develop. The Surface has more than enough horsepower to run Lightroom.  All of the photos in this blog were processed using Lightroom on the device.

Videos

I’ve got a bunch of helmet cams that I like to use while I’m out and about, so I need to be able to bring videos down to the Surface as well. I took the card out of my ContourROAM and tried to play a video straight off the card (my netbook cannot do this).  The video played back without issue.

I went up to Adobe’s site and downloaded a trial of Premiere Elements 11 and grabbed a random fishing video to edit.  The Surface handled it without any problems – however after creating a nice little video to post with this entry, Premiere Elements crashed and I lost all my work!

As a result, I made a quick video that was not good enough to post, but good enough for me to get a feel for the performance.  Premiere Elements did crash a couple more times on me, but I wizened up and saved frequently.  I don’t know if this is a Surface driver issue or a Premiere Elements 11 issue – I use version 10 on my desktop machine.

I trimmed my test video down to two minutes, put in three 3D transitions, added a title at the beginning, and a fade in/fade out at the front and end of the whole thing.  I then rendered the video in 1080p (the source video was 720p).  Four minutes later a shiny new video popped out – not too bad.

And then it happened…

I tried to play my shiny new video and both Windows Media Player and the Windows 8 video app informed me that the format was not supported.  I tried a couple of other HD formats and was greeted by the same error message.  Put the same videos on a USB key and tried on my Window 7 desktop machine – videos run great.  I searched the web and couldn’t find anything, so I left a message on the Microsoft Community Forum.  It turns out, Windows 8 does not contain all of the codecs that came with Windows 7 – you have to pay an extra $10 to get Windows Media Center turned on.  Well, I forked out my $10 and sure enough my videos work now.

Power

Often times I’m away from wall power for long periods. So, having long battery life and/or an easy way to charge from multiple sources is important. This is probably the weakest area of the Surface for me. I haven’t done extensive battery testing, but in my usage so far, the battery life is marginally better than my 2 year old netbook, and nowhere near the iPad.  To make things worse, there is a proprietary magnetic plug for charging the unit and there is no car charger or USB charger available. So, I need a wall or I need an inverter plugged into a 12v receptacle.  This rules it out for backpacking for more than a couple of days (although the size/weight rules it out for backpacking anyhow).  It does fit in the tank bag on my motorcycle, so I should be able to run it to an inverter if the weather is good.

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Here is pic with the power supply crammed in with it:

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and the tank bag zipped up with the power cord hanging out:

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I’ve seen rumors on the web that there is a possibility of a battery or battery/keyboard that can plug into the keyboard port.

Device Compatibility

I have a couple of devices that I’ll sometimes bring with me on the road – my Garmin dongle (so I can sync my 310XT) and my Fitbit dongle.

I first tried the Garmin dongle.  After downloading the software from the Garmin web page, my watch paired and the data transferred to the Surface without problem.  When I go to the Garmin Connect Web page, I can’t import the data.  Haven’t gotten around to troubleshooting this one.

Went up to the Fitbit web site and downloaded all of their goodies.  Plugged in the dongle, and everything worked great!

Entertainment

You could be on a long flight to the next adventure or unable to sleep because of the rock under your sleeping bag – how well does the Surface work for entertainment?

I first started off looking at games.  I installed Steam onto the Surface, and downloaded a couple of different games.  The first was Torchlight II – the game is about 6 months old.  In full screen mode, the mouse cursor would not paint, however in windowed mode the game ran fine.  This exceeded my expectations – I didn’t expect any hardcore 3D games to run well.  Bioshock 2 was my next attempt – it popped up a warning that my video card does not meet minimum specs.  Sure enough, the game was just not quite playable. And if you like poking a sharp stick in your eye, FTL runs just fine.  Downloaded a couple of demos from the windows 8 store and they all seemed to run fine.

Next up were movies – HD streaming from Netflix worked like a charm.  I own a couple of movies from Amazon.  I could stream them to the Surface, but I could not download them for offline viewing like I can with the fire.  Hopefully Amazon will come out with an app that allows it.  I have not yet tried purchasing/renting a video via the built in video store.

Conclusion

The Surface comes with a hefty price tag. Having to throw in another $10 for the video codecs is just plain annoying (not to mention all the time I spent diagnosing the issue). The lack of options for recharging the batteries is a big detractor for me as well – Hopefully this will be addressed by Microsoft or a 3rd party in the future. I haven’t actually had it with me on any adventures yet, so I can’t comment on the durability (which is supposed to be a another big feature). All that being said, it is probably the best option that I own right now for blogging on the road.

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4 comments

  1. Excellent review. For motorhome or motorcycle adventures, looks like it will do the job. Wonder if the Adobe Elements11 probs is a W8 issue. Works fine on my netbook and dell running W7? Lack of DC charger cuts versatility. Inverters are efficiency losers. Were you able to view a full length movie on a single charge? This will be a tough call. My Toshiba netbook with a SAD might be good enough and meet the rugged test..

    1. I haven’t had him to try a full length movie yet. It is on my list of things to try. I am going to Hawaii in 3 weeks- it will get a good field test while I am there

  2. Let me know more about Lightroom after you have used it for awhile. Curious if you would store your photos on the machine, on an external drive/memory and what happens with performance.

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