As a loyal user of Microsoft products, I’ve been eager to test drive the new Surface Pro to determine if it could be a feasible replacement for my business laptop. Unfortunately, the short answer is “no”. While the Microsoft Surface Pro is an elegant piece of hardware and a nice tablet, I cannot recommend it as a full laptop replacement. Here are the pros and cons that I found during my two week test period:
- The Surface Pro is very portable. It’s compact, lightweight, and travels extremely well. Compared to my old Dell laptop (on the left), it was a pleasure to carry around.
- I was surprised by how usable the attachable keyboard was. I tested the 4mm keyboard, and had not problems typing at my normal speed.
- The touch screen was surprisingly responsive and accurate. Microsoft did a nice job with this one.
- The Surface Pro comes with the full version of Windows 8 (unlike the Surface RT), allowing you to run all of your Microsoft productivity applications and custom home-grown programs.
- While the online Microsoft app store does not have nearly the number of apps that Apple does, I found plenty of useful apps to download.
- The 128MB solid state hard drive was extremely fast and allowed me to boot the device and launch applications quickly. After installing the OS and Microsoft Office, I had about 80MB left over for documents, which is sufficient for most users.
- While the Surface Pro’s small stature makes it very portable, I found its tiny screen size to be a real issue. It’s OK if you’re just reading through a few emails on the plane, but it’s a challenge when creating/editing Word, PowerPoint, OneNote or Excel documents. The minuscule font size is a drain on the eyes, and because the screen real estate is so small, the Microsoft Office ribbon auto-retracks on most applications, making it more cumbersome to access all of your command buttons. You can turn that feature off, but you won’t be left with much document real estate to work with.
- By far the biggest drawback of the Surface Pro (as a full laptop replacement) is its clumsy support for external monitor(s). Since the Surface Pro has a digital “video out” jack rather than a standard VGA connector, you’ll need a small converter to plug in your external monitor (that’s no big deal). However, if you’d like to plug in two external monitors (which is now standard for our entire Catapult executive team), then you’ll also need a USB to VGA connector. Unfortunately, I have not found a way to disconnect the Surface Pro’s small screen (once you’ve extended your desktop to the two external monitors), so you’ll end up with three screens instead of two. And because of the two converters, your two larger monitors will use different screen resolutions, which is really annoying.
- One additional drawback of the Surface Pro’s external monitor support is that, while you can set different screen resolutions for all three of your monitors, you will need to select a single font size. By default, the Surface Pro sets your font size to “larger”, which is necessary to have any chance of reading anything on its tiny screen. However, the larger font size looks ridiculous on your big external monitors (and remember, the font size is set for the entire computer, not for the individual monitors). To make things worse, you need to reboot your computer after changing the font size, which makes it almost unfeasible to switch font size each time you go from working on your Surface Pro stand-alone (at home or traveling) and working on it at work with your external monitors.
- The Surface Pro does not have any docking station support, which is a feature I’ve come to rely on with my laptop. A docking station makes it easy to plug in your external monitors, speakers, mouse, keyboard, external hard drive, and any other USB devices you might have with a single click. And it allows you to keep your laptop closed while you’re working at the office on your external monitors.
- The Surface Pro has a single USB port. This means that you’ll have to travel with a USB hub if want to get anything done (because one USB port simply isn’t enough). It also means that you’ll need to buy a Bluetooth mouse if you want to use a standard mouse instead of the built-in touch pad on your Surface Pro keyboard. As it turns out, all of the new cool mice come with a USB mini receiver these days – and you’re not going to want to use up your one USB port with it.
- The Surface Pro has four hours of battery life. And while that’s better than my old Dell laptop, it’s disappointing considering Apple’s iPad has 10 hours of battery life and is about half the width. The Surface Pro is on the left; the iPad on the right.
- These are the additional peripherals that you’ll need to carry around in order to be on par with your business laptop (from left to right):
- Digital video out to VGA connector
- USB to VGA connector
- USB to Ethernet connector (that’s right, the Surface Pro does not have a network adaptor)
- Power supply
- External hard drive
- USB hub
- Bluetooth mouse
Don’t get me wrong, I like the new Microsoft Surface Pro and I am glad that Microsoft is finally venturing into the tablet space to start competing with Apple. But the Surface Pro is a nice consumer device, not a business laptop replacement. I am going to have to turn mine back into IT and ask for new Windows 8 laptop to replace my old Dell one.