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Tech Blog: Microsoft Surface Pro – a tale of two users

Author: Jamie Millar
Microsoft released its first piece of hardware designed for the new Windows 8 environment earlier this year – the Surface. It was released in Australia in May but, as we’re a bit into our tech here at Synergy, and as Total Synergy is a Microsoft Partner, two of our team got their hands on the higher spec Surface Pro a little earlier than the Australia release.

Here’s our take on Microsoft’s first steps in mobile hardware…

Microsoft Surface Pro

 

Tablet, ultrabook… what is it?

The Microsoft Surface Pro looks like, and is, a tablet but performs as a full-blown PC. Designed for Windows 8, the Surface works best when making full use of the touch-optimised operating system and web apps, but can also operate in a more traditional ‘desktop’ manner.

The Surface Pro comes with a keyboard which, when using the built-in kick stand, means it can be used as a regular laptop when on a table or desk as well as fitting neatly on an airplane tray table. It’s not good for genuine lap use, though, as the kick stand and keyboard connection has no hinge or friction to keep the screen up.

Full PC power is delivered with a comprehensive series of specs for an 11 inch tablet: i5 processor, 4GB memory and 64GB or 128GB SSD storage. By no means a super computer, there’s enough punch in that lot to manage office tasks, web browsing and watch multimedia files — pretty much everything you’d expect to do on a small laptop.

 

Office environment

The Surface Pro is able to run full Microsoft Office applications — Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint — and is optimised to work with other Windows apps such as OneNote and Lync. This is no surprise given the full PC computing power, but is new for tablet users who want full office app capability in their mobile devices.

Once you know how Windows 8 works as a touch OS, navigating around the Start screen and between apps is easy — horizontal and vertical sweeps of the finger along with touch optimised buttons, epitomises Windows 8 user interface. In desktop mode, though, it’s a bit harder to use as a touch device with some of the elements rendering small on the 11 inch screen, especially with a legacy of non-touch applications such as the traditional Office suite. Hook up a mouse and a larger screen and and it’s manageable.

Surface Detail

The Surface users in our office are CEO Scott Osborne and senior developer Clinton Kimsing, providing two distinct points of view of the hardware and usability.

Scott said the Surface Pro is not too much heavier than other tablets he’s come across.

“The Surface Pro has as much computing power as my current laptop,” he said.

“One of the nice things is using Windows 8 as a touch operating system… I’ve also loved using the stylus for note taking with OneNote as it means the notes are automatically synched and available in real time on all my other devices [notebook, PC, Windows phone].

Microsoft Surface pen

“The note taking has been particularly useful in product planning sessions recently — all of our scribbles are instantly available across the whole team which is a great reference after the sessions.

“I also added an external monitor and upgraded the keyboard as I found the standard one didn’t offer a great typing experience — it’s ok for basics, but not full-blown ‘work’ typing. The upgraded version enhances the typing experience and provides a really good trackpad… although if I’m going to be on the keys for an extended period, I still revert to a full-size keyboard.”

Clinton installed various programs for development, such as Visual Studio, and worked on code on his machine, amongst other tasks.

“It’s powerful and compact, always on and available and very easy to link-up to other devices and screens,” Clinton said.

“I found that with a docking station it became a fully functional development PC.”

Scratch the Surface


It wasn’t all good news, however — the negatives were similar in both use cases.

No option for 3G or 4G via SIM card is the leading criticism. Despite Wi-Fi, mobile connectivity is seen as necessary in a working tablet.

Other cons were screen size when coding (a bit small); short battery life of around three to four hours — an issue perhaps born of laptop functionality expectation; transition from portrait to landscape is not always “quite right” and only one USB port.

Overall, our ‘testers’ were quite impressed.

Synergy on the Surface


Synergy Cloud Services works perfectly on the Surface as it has been designed responsively with mobile use very much in mind. What that means is it will adapt to the screen size to remain as a useable, touch-friendly app whether on desktop, tablet or phone, rather than simply being a very small web interface.

This new hardware from Microsoft has a lot to offer. Whether using the Surface Pro for architecture or engineering businesses, this could be the perfect professional device. Synergy Cloud Services on the Microsoft Surface Pro means teams can access contacts, timesheets, projects, account information and support resources on the go (with an internet connection, which can be as simple as mobile tethering). At the same time they will have full Outlook email access and use of Office applications all within the compact package of a tablet.

The Microsoft Surface Pro packs enough of a punch to make it well worth a look as a very practical and functional AEC business device.

 

Microsoft Surface profile