First Windows Machine in Years

[Author’s Note: This was supposed to be an ink blog post from the Surface Book. However, I totally forgot that OneNote is notorious for not being able to export drawings to something simple like PNG or JPG, so after a lot of futzing around trying to export my handwritten post to an image, I decided to give up on that idea and just post the typed out transcript (with additional edits). *sigh*]

My curiosity about the Surface Book finally got the best of me. I haven’t actively used a Windows machine in quite a long while. But I have checked out the Surface tablets at the Microsoft Store a few times before, bouncing back and forth between wanting to get one and finding reasons not to take the plunge yet. When I saw the Surface Book announcement, I was super intrigued by the form factor & the interesting hinge.

I thought that the iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil would be a decent device for digital inking. And it is actually pretty good, feeling quite close to an active digitizer experience. However, one thing that always bugged me about the Pencil is that you can’t use the top of it to erase stuff. And there’s no way to stow the Pencil on the iPad Pro. But a bigger annoyance is that a lot of apps that I would use regularly are not optimized for the iPad Pro. Not sure these apps will ever be optimized, which is quite frustrating.

Surface Book vs. iPad Pro lock screens
Which UI seems more fitting for a large tablet experience?

The Surface Book does offer a superior inking experience because it feels more like pen on paper instead of plastic on glass. Also, the stylus has a working eraser. And it can be stowed magnetically to the side of the tablet.

After a while of getting accustomed to the Surface Book, I’ll have to see how this device will work out.

My setup experience was not smooth. During the step to log in to a Microsoft account, the login process failed for an unknown reason. Retrying didn’t help, so I skipped the step. After the setup finished, I opened the browser to check my e-mail but couldn’t load either Inbox or Gmail because of some supposed certificate error. It wouldn’t even allow me to load the page despite the warning, which I found pretty odd. So I tried to download Chrome, but the browser wouldn’t load that page, either! I downloaded both Opera & Firefox, but neither browser would allow me to download Chrome. What was happening??? When I looked at the error in Firefox, it said the Google site’s certificate wouldn’t be valid until Jan. 10 or some date in the recent past, which puzzled me until I saw that the browser claimed the current date was Oct. 29! Ugh, why? I had to toggle the setting for automatically setting the date & time via the network, which finally fixed the problem with Google sites. I don’t know what I would’ve done had I not been able to fix this problem. I am firmly dependent on many Google services (and was even before I started working there :P ). Google doesn’t produce any Windows 10 apps to my knowledge.

The second worrying thing I saw was that I could not disconnect the tablet from the base because the system claimed the tablet battery was too low. Strangely, though the Book was plugged in, only the base’s battery was charging. And the tablet’s battery was at 0%. Did some research & saw MS’s support page that listed a few solutions to try, the first was applying any available software updates. That was a long process itself. I forgot what a pain Windows software updates were. IIRC, the tablet battery still didn’t appear to be charging, so the next step was to power down the machine and charge it that way for at least 30 mins. That seemed to work, phew! I thought I was going to have to exchange the device. :-/ P.S. It’s annoying that the tablet didn’t have partial charge. During the time I was debugging why the tablet battery wasn’t charging, the system wouldn’t allow it to be disconnected. It makes sense, obviously, since disconnecting it would cause immediate shut down. But for an out-of-the-box experience, not being able to untether the tablet due to 0% battery charge is pretty lame.

After the tablet battery charged for a bit, I was finally able to detach it from the base and try out tablet mode & the pen. Even though such a large tablet is awkward for me to use due to the weight, I prefer using the Book like this. The base adds so much weight, yet when I prop the combo in my lap, it feels so top-heavy that I can’t comfortably prop it in my lap the same way I do for my MacBook Pro. I have to prop the Surface Book closer to me so that it doesn’t feel like it’ll fall, which feels a bit weird to me. And even when the Book is more secure on my lap, the top-heaviness of it requires me to firmly plant my wrists on the keyboard to keep the laptop from tipping away from me anyway. Something to get used to, I guess. But as I’ve mentioned before, I much prefer using mobile devices than laptops, so I do think I’ll be using the Book more in “clipboard” mode. The tablet actually feels kind of light for its size. I thought the iPad Pro would feel much heavier because I always felt like it was so heavy when I used it, but my unscientific impression is that the two tablets are similar in weight, holding one in each hand. That surprised me since the Book tablet felt lighter while I was using it. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Other initial observations:

+ I’m glad the plug for the Surface Book’s charger is small so I don’t have to worry about accommodating a brick or oversized plug.

+ I really do like the gadgety-ness of the hinge and the mechanism securing the tablet to the base.

- My initial impression of the keyboard is that it feels chintzy, hollow. Doesn’t feel as good as my MacBook Pro’s keyboard, and definitely worse than my Chromebook Pixel, which has the best keyboard feel to me.

+/- The trackpad feels fine. I’m glad it scrolls in the same direction as my MacBook Pro (I think Apple calls it “natural scrolling” mode) by default. But sometimes it feels like I have to exert more effort or make my fingers travel further to get it to scroll.

- Tapping to select on the trackpad is not consistent. When I press down on it physically to tap on something, sometimes the context menu pops up instead. I’ll have to play with settings to see if this can be remedied. So far this is really frustrating.

- Not too many Windows 10 (Metro?) versions of my most-used Android apps found yet. I prefer using apps to using a browser, so this is kind of irritating. But at least I have the flexibility to use desktop apps or the browser. In many cases, if Windows Phone users don’t have an app, they’re totally out of luck.

- Twitter’s official Win10 app kept crashing instantly upon start up. I’ll have to check it again because I can’t recall if I tried using it before all the software updates were applied.

- Speaking of software updates, I want to reiterate that process is still not that improved over the “olden days” of Windows 95. :-/

+ OneNote has been updated but it’s still as good as I remember it. I’m using it for this ink blog post, of course. Hopefully I can export this to a Medium-friendly format. [Author’s Note: I kind of take back my praise of OneNote. It definitely is great for digital note-taking. But if I can’t easily export notes into some non-OneNote format, it’s not something I foresee using a lot. I hate having stuff locked into proprietary formats. I’ll need to figure out something more open in which to create my ink blog posts.]

+ Again, the pen support is my most favorite thing on the Surface Book so far!

- But it’s kind of irritating that when in laptop mode I can’t stick the pen to the right side of the screen. I’m right-handed. It’s awkward to reach for the pen on the left side of the screen. I don’t understand why they didn’t add magnets to the right side of the screen as well.

+ I was happy to see that I could download Photoshop & Lightroom to a second device. I think this tablet could be really good for photo editing. But I did get the base mode, so I won’t have a whole lot of room for storing lots of large RAW files. Unfortunately, to take advantage of the USB ports and SD slot, the tablet will have to be tethered. Too bad the ports couldn’t be wirelessly shared when the tablet is detached, similar to OS X’s remote drive, or whatever it’s called.

Things I don’t know how to do yet:

  1. Rearranging the live tiles (and Start menu?) to my liking
  2. Arranging the windows so that they snap to the edges and can easily be viewed side-by-side
  3. Performing system gestures (do those still exist?)
  4. Optimizing settings so that when I switch between laptop and tablet mode, the UI changes automatically

If anyone has any recommendations for Windows 10 tablet apps or general tips and tricks, please let me know. It’ll be interesting to learn the ways of Windows again after being away from it for a while.