Surface 3: First 100 Hours
It’s been a little over over four days since cutting the security seal on my new Surface 3 and thought it would be a good time to share some thoughts. As soon as I took the S3 out of the box I plugged it into the supplied 13 watt micro-USB charger and left it alone, hurrying to finish import work, so I would have some time to play later. This was the first time I had actually seen or held the Surface 3,despite visiting my local Staples and BestBuy weekly for the past month. My very first reaction was, “damn, that thing is big”. Although I owned and used the original Surface RT, with a nearly identical 10.6” screen, since the middle of 2013 I have used three different 8” Windows tablets. So apparently, that’s where my brain was fixed on a proper tablet size. Sneaking a peek, while the S3 was still on charge, I realized that the bezel (black) area was fairly wide, maybe about 3/4”all around, making swiping easier, but giving the appearance of a huge screen. There is a white LED on the charging dongle, which I thought might go off after the S3 was fully charged. But after two hours it was still on and I had lost patience, so I powered her on.
Initial startup went smooth as expected, and in less than 10 minutes I was logged in and on the Start screen. I chose to copy down the apps and settings from my Lenovo Yoga 8 Tab 2, which was close to the setup for the S3. Battery was at 96%. So yeah, I was probably fully charged from the start. All of the post boot up setup went smooth, using the on-screen keyboard to enter login information where required. As I normally do with a new device I went through settings and changed a few things to make the device mine. Although the S3 was set to full resolution (1920 x 1280) Microsoft had already optimized the size of text and other items. Unlike my other machines which allow you to select/enter a percentage, the S3 has a slider going from Smaller to Larger with 4 or 5 stop points. They pre-set it to Larger, which is about right for my tired eyes. Although the menus were still too small, but easily resolved with another setting change.
As devices no longer come with manuals (call me odd, but I always read the manual cover to cover before powering on for the first time), my first ritual is to get everything installed/uninstalled (sadly) and setup the way I like it as quickly as I can. Exploring and enjoying all comes later. My first task was to uninstall Office 365, which comes as a 1 year personal subscription on the S3. Yep, you read that right, uninstall. I have an Office 365 Home subscription (5 user license) and didn’t want to confuse Microsoft by activating a 1 year Office 365 subscription and then trying to switch it over at a later date. Several years back I had a bad experience where I deactivated a monthly SharePoint subscription and Microsoft chose to delete my primary Hotmail account. It was a frantic 48 hours trying to get someone on the phone to reactivate my account before it was lost forever. An alternate business account I relied on as our Lotus Notes server was always doing something peculiar. Unlike my Yoga Tab 2, which included that same 1 year 365 Personal Subscription, the S3 didn’t come with a license key, so I assume that perk is now lost forever. I followed the uninstall up with a clean install of Office 365, all my preferences intact. After that it was on to; WebRoot, SkyWallet, Windows Live (for Live Writer and Photo Gallery), ToDoIst, Access 2010 Runtime, and inSSIDer (a fantastic Wi-Fi tool). All programs that could not have been installed on the earlier non-Pro Surface devices. I finished with a few Windows Store apps that didn’t make it onto the S3 from the Yoga Tab 2 profile. All during the first day of setup, pushing out an occasional email, I never found a need or desire for an attached, or detached keyboard. At one point I almost resorted to connecting my wireless mouse, trying to click a setting button on the ToDoIst app. But that’s because the app is in serious need of a high resolution compatibility upgrade, which they have admitted. Finally solved the problem with my N-trig stylus tip.
All during the setup, installations and tweaking I found the Surface 3 to be mostly responsive. I did pull down some Windows updates, but the total number was unexpectedly low (less than 50MB total) meaning that the S3 build out of the box is rather new. I did run into some slowdowns on the first day. You’ll see in the screen shot below that my 64GB/2GB RAM Surface 3 is using 65% memory with nothing running. After a clean reboot that number will go down to 45-50%, but no lower. If your planning to use the S3 for any serious work I would recommend the 128GB/4GB RAM model. I knew I didn’t need the extra 64GB of onboard storage (I already added a 64GB micro-SD for $30), but that extra RAM would sure come in handy. Since day one I have not experienced any real slowdowns though, so not sure it the S3 was trying to perform tasks in the background. Lesson learned. I won’t be buying another +8” device with less than 4GB RAM. May not need it, but nice to know it’s there.
I have found the S3 easy to hold in one hand while swiping/tapping with the other. But I wouldn’t want to do it for hours. With that said, I wouldn’t want to hold my much lighter and smaller Yoga Tab 2 for hours either. Holding the S3 in portrait mode with the base propped against my upper belly and my left hand holding/steadying the top is a comfortable position. In my dimmer home environment, I was able to get the brightness down to 25% without compromising my weakened vision. But at the office, with those fluorescent lights, I had to boost the brightness to 45% to view comfortably. I gave up on the auto-brightness setting after the first hour. Too erratic for my liking. At the office I have been using the kickstand to reduce glare and give me a readily available second screen. I intend to use the Surface 3 as an extension of my desktop screens, both office and home, syncing mail and other app updates across all the devices. Windows 10 with Action Center will make this especially useful. I purchased a Mini Display Port Adapter. Not sure why. But if you have a port on a device, you better have something to plug into it, right? I’ll probably try it out on my 32” TV tonight just to see what happens. No plans for adding a touch keyboard, or even connecting one of my BT keyboards. While others may/will have a need for a keyboard, it doesn’t fit my end use plans.
Powering up the S3 finally gave me a chance to install the battery and try out my N-trig stylus. Pressing the top button immediately opened OneNote and I was up and writing. I have been enamored with touch and digital ink since getting my first Acer Windows Tablet in 2004. And even before that with all kinds of digital ink gadgets. I’m on my second 8” ink Windows Tablet (Yoga Tab 2 with AnyPen), but have to say the Surface 3 inking experience has been the absolute best so far. If for no other reason, I’m happy to own the S3 simply because of that digital pen. It’s only been a few days, so I haven’t had a chance to take any real notes with the pen. But in all my practice notes using OneNote the results have been magnificent. Digital ink may never be the same as ink to paper, but this is damn close. The S3 is nearly the size of a sheet of paper, so your notes don’t look like your writing in 1st grade with huge letters across the page. Because of the precision stylus you can write pretty small and still maintain accuracy. Included with the S3 is a single user license to Drawboard PDF. I tried that app on the first day, just because. But yesterday I decided to try a real test. My company uses service tickets (that I created in Access), a 2 part carbonless form used by field service technicians. I pulled a PDF of that form into Drawboard to see how well I could do with it. The results were fantastic. I can two finger zoon into an area and write normally (which is a bit large for digital ink) and then zoom back down, or move to another part of the page. Once complete, the customer could sign. Then Save As, and email off to the appropriate parties. It’s only a Proof of Concept today, as my company has no budget to go out and buy ten LTE enabled Surface 3s. But it gives you an idea of the possibilities. I tried reproducing the same on my Yoga Tab 2 w/AnyPen, but the results were less than stellar. I downloaded a trial of Drawboard PDF (the license I have is apparently only for the Surface 3 – cost is $9.99 with a 3 day trial for everyone else) to my Yoga Tab and loaded the same form. There is a button on the bottom bar to switch between stylus and finger writing. As AnyPen is the same as capacitive finger writing (you know, like an iPad), I had to deselect to move the form around or zoom in/out, and then select to actually write. I could only write if the pen tip touched the screen surface, which is the first point of contact. If two points, like your palm, touches, writing stops. Not a pleasant experience. And if you forget to toggle, finger lines across the screen. I have experienced the same thing with all the other writing apps I have tested on the Yoga Tab 2. Another lesson learned. Don’t buy another tablet without N-trig or Wacom integration.
The first 100 hours have been an overall enjoyable experience. A few lags. Not sure why yet. No real snags. So far, with only once charge (not including the initial charge) the battery appears to be doing a good job (at 34% since Thursday morning and considerable use). The modified Connected Standby, which puts the S3 into deep sleep after 4 hours is a big help. When you take the S3 out of your bag after 3-4 days, it will probably have (at least) enough power for another few hours of use. Yes, it will take 8-10 seconds to wake from deep sleep, but the tradeoff is well worth it. Once I can pry my hands away from the S3 for several days I will have a chance to do some controlled standby testing. Most reviewers have already told you how long the S3 will last in torture tests, but you should know that’s only half the picture. What happens when it’s not awake is equally as important.
I would recommend the Surface 3 for elementary, middle and young high school students (w/keyboard and pen). It’s being marketed towards college students. But really, spending $25k (State) to $250K on an education and you can’t bump a few hundred more for at least an i5 Surface Pro? Microsoft will even knock off 10%. 2GB RAM vs. 4GB will depend on said youngin’s gaming aspirations. I think the S3 also good for something like my intended use (w/pen only) as a desktop or fixed laptop extension. Or maybe because of it’s portability, as a light work machine (w/pen – keyboard optional). It is an ideal iPad alternative (pen & keyboard optional), with a bigger screen, especially for the older, squinting, crowd. For the serious stuff though, I would suggest a more robust device with an i5/i7 processor and at least 8GB of RAM. Owning 3 – i7s, all with 8 to 16GB RAM, you’ll just have trust me on this one.
More to follow.
Decided to try the Mini Display Adapter with the 52”. Only watched a short video and did some navigating but absolutely no lag or hiccups. The TV display did appear to clip off a little bit of the S3 screen, both top/bottom, left/right, but still livable. Think I’ll find a use for this. With a Surface 3 and pen, looks like a poor mans Surface Hub to me.