Surface Pro 4, the iPad I always wanted… and so much more.
I will start this article with a bit of disclosure. I work on a 15" MacBook Pro Retina every day of my life. I personally own a MacBook Air, iPad Air and iPad Mini Retina. My household is full of Apple products. I say this, only to add emphasis to the thoughts included in this article. I have owned an iPad since the original launch, and have upgraded faithfully. Each time, hoping that “I’ll be able to use this one exactly like I want.” Each time, I’ve been left underwhelmed and, in the long run, my iPad left underused.
Recently, I had the good fortune of being able to purchase a Surface Pro 4. For those that care, it’s an i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD. While still getting used to the Mac to Windows keyboard shift (CMD to CTRL is hard), I’ve happily used the Surface to write this entire article, in a couple different ways. As a laptop sitting at my desk and on my lap. I’ve also used the Surface as a tablet, with the fantastic Pen, as my Surface quite expertly types out my handwritten words.
There’s a lot to say about Windows 10. Put simply, I’m a big fan. While I may mention Windows features or apps, I hope to keep the focus on the Surface Pro 4 and the integrated experience it brings to your life in this article. With that, let’s dive into where the Surface Pro 4 shines and also some things I’m still searching for.
tldr; The Surface Pro 4 allows me to have a complete experience for every facet of my life: development, writing, reading, playing games, kids homework, family life, most things I can think of. I wish the app offerings were greater, but Universal Apps give me the ability to build a lot of the pieces I’m looking for myself — using skills I already have. Bottom line — I cannot express the beauty of carrying such a low profile device, that can transform into such a variety of tools.
From iPad to Surface
One of the core things that I’ve always held near to my heart with my Apple experience, is my “on one device, it’s on all devices” mantra. That’s a very near and dear thing to me, as I want access to as much as possible, in any location, on any device necessary. The Surface Pro 4 is allowing me to more completely live that experience.
The common theme in the brilliance of the Surface Pro 4, is the ability it has to transform into such a variety of tools. For writing (at least in my case, not a professional here), the sturdiness of the keyboard on your lap is great. I wish I was able to sit in more comfortable positions at times, but I can say the same thing about either my MacBook Air or MacBook Pro.
That previous sentence says so much when considering what I’m actually writing about. “The Surface Pro 4. The iPad I’ve always wanted.” Yet, here I’m comparing the experience of my Surface with that of my MacBook Air and Pro. In the iPad’s defense, you can attach accessories to it that give you a laptop like experience. The problem, in my opinion, is that at the end of the day you’re still stuck with iOS. It’s a beautiful OS, but not in what I really want my tablet to be.
The iPad, since it’s launch, has been targeting the “tablet that can replace your laptop” experience. The problem with iOS in that experience is that there isn’t a fully built OS that the user has access to. This was one of the problems I had with initial Surface’s that didn’t have a full Windows OS that a user could configure and run native applications.
Let’s briefly dive into some specific areas, and look at how the Surface Pro 4 brings a more fully integrated experience — truly switching from tablet to laptop quite effortlessly.
Front-End / Node.js Development
Personally, I’m building a node.js app and getting things setup on my Surface Pro 4 was relatively painless. I’ve had some minor node-gyp issues, but I’ve battled the same on the Mac platform as well so it’s not a big deal for me. Node is quite awesome on Windows to be honest. That’s why the tldr mentioned the Universal App platform. The Universal Apps platform is quite fantastic, in my opinion.
There are some unique steps to take, but the Surface Pro 4 gives me a fully integrated development environment. I have a fully functioning editor, and with the cross-platform support these days I’m right at home in Atom. Sublime Text can give you the same. Using Cmder really makes me feel right at home, almost as if iTerm was running with me (visor mode and all). If you’re a developer considering taking the plunge, check out #davegoeswindows, Dave Rupert’s experience moving his working experience to a Surface Pro 3. It has been a big help to me in my transition.
Personal and Team Workflow Tasks
One of the things that inspired this article was the experience in Microsoft Edge of being able to markup a webpage with the Pen. As a Front-End Architect, this type of experience in my daily workflow could be revolutionary. Being able to provide guidance, reviews, and notes by marking up implementations is an area where opportunities for collaboration and efficiency are astounding. The Surface Pro 4, if planned and used appropriately, could revolutionize a team culture and process at any design and/or development focused organization.
Creating Presentations and Giving Talks
I often will give talks and presentations. Whether at a conference, meetup, a workshop, or at work. I use a variety of tools when doing that, but for large part Keynote on the Apple platform is a truly fantastic tool. I’ve not had the opportunity yet to build out a talk using the more modern version of PowerPoint, but I look forward to seeing what it can do. For most, I would imagine the transition between the two are pretty similar and I imagine that will be true for myself as well. I don’t particularly use “themes” as I will “paint my own”, so looking at template creation, transitions, remote control, etc are important. In those areas, PowerPoint has everything I need. I look forward to putting a talk together on it soon. I can already see the new opportunities for talks using the Surface due to the fantastic ability to write notes on the screen while giving a talk. Should be fun!
Taking Notes (a.k.a. “Goodbye Evernote, Hello OneNote”)
One purpose that I have constantly attempted to use my iPad for was as my digital notebook. I like writing notes by hand, I find that it keeps things embedded in my brain longer and makes them easier to retrieve at a moments notice. However, filled notebooks aren’t the easiest thing to search through so taking those to the digital world just makes sense.
The problem? Actually finding a stylus that writes appropriately, and an application that can provide good palm rejection support. My experience? Nothing quite fits the bill, so I never lasted long with any of those efforts. The iPad just couldn’t stand up to what I needed. I’ve attempted that with both an iPad Air and iPad Mini Retina, just in case the form factor had something to do with it.
The Surface Pro 4 makes this experience almost flawless for me. The palm rejection is amazing, and the Pen is phenomenal with its 1200 points of pressure. It truly does feel like you’re writing with a standard pen. Even the eraser tip has a bit of an “erasery” feel to it. I find myself holding it and rubbing my thumb over it, when I am deep in thought.
If I need a new note page, click the top and it magically appears. I’m just building my collection of notes, so we’ll see what time does to it but I have the experience I always wanted on my iPad when it comes to taking handwritten notes.
One core experience of my iPads throughout their lives has been as my reading device. I own well over 100 technical books in digital format and all on my iPad (and now my Surface Pro 4). Being able to highlight and make notes on these books has always been extremely important, but even more so the ability to have those notes and highlights on any device by syncing to Dropbox.
The Surface Pro 4 allows me to not only emulate that experience but take it to a whole new level. Drawboard PDF is my application of choice, and the ability to add all of my local Dropbox folders with books is painless. The extra level I mention comes back to Microsoft’s amazing Pen. On the iPad, my highlights and notes were carefully selected lines of text with highlight selected. No longer. The Surface Pro 4 allows me to highlight and makes notes as if the book was in my hand. With the near-perfect palm rejection, one of the main differences in experience is that my Surface is lighter than the book would be.
The one experience I was nervous about when purchasing my Surface Pro 4 as an iPad — and potential MacBook Air — replacement was reading. I read a lot, and it’s a core experience I can’t go without. I’m happy to say the Surface makes sure I don’t have to.
There are so many other daily things that I use my tablet for that I am not going to elaborate on in this article. Homework with the kids, social networking, email (btw, I’m a fan of the Mail app on my Surface), cooking, relaxing, etc. While I’m still charting my course with the Surface in these areas, I continue to be impressed by what I find. Cortana is a fantastic assistant and I must say I feel “like a boss” when I hold my Pen top down and she pops up ready to listen.
Media integration is right where you’d expect it. Hulu Plus, Netflix and everything else is right there. The Surface Pro 4 is a fully functioning computer, after all. As an Xbox One owner, the integration between the devices and systems is exactly where things should be moving. Overall, the Surface Pro 4 looks to become even more integrated into my daily life than any of my iPad’s ever could have.
The Surface Pro 4 wins in overall experience, in my book
There are definitely some things I’m still in search of — the perfect Markdown editor, for example — but the Surface Pro 4 is truly a gem of our generation. In my opinion, it is the only device to date (outside of perhaps the Surface Pro 3) that can truly stand up to the “tablet that can replace your laptop” catch phrase. The Universal App platform, with integration between devices and systems — modular software — is a key component of the data age we are living in. It’s in these types of areas where Microsoft is leading the way, and everyone else seems to be playing catch-up. Congratulations, Microsoft. You have made a fantastic product.