Surface Pro

My unibody MacBook (late 2008), my companion of two years on the road is getting a little tired, slightly unstable and if I’m honest a little heavy to carry around every day. However, it not dead yet which means I have a while to make my decision on its replacement.

For the first time in a while I can probably justify spending up to £1200 on a replacement, as I want it to last for 3-5 years on the road. Obviously I am more than happy to pay vastly less than this, in fact I tend to buy second hand equipment more often than not so if I am going to spend a huge chunk of cash I want it to be for a product that exceeds my needs.

I spend a lot of time humping my laptop around, developer relations and event management is truly a mobile occupation, with co working spaces often replacing offices. The nomadic lifestyle also means that I need to carry a whole bunch of stuff in addition to a laptop and charger. In fact a response to a question on what makes a great developer evangelist in this post on developer evangelism I detail the contents of my bag excluding my laptop:

  • Decent messenger bag or backpack that is waterproof (or at least water resistant) –  I recommend Crumpler, you can’t risk your laptop getting wet.
  • Pens & paper – quick notes or for sketching out hack ideas (YMMV)
  • Charging cables for major phones – you will be using your phone a hell of a lot, so have these hand, having other cables is useful if someone you are demoing to is running low on charge.
  • Screen wipes – no one wants to view your demo on a greasy screen
  • Travel sized toothbrush, toothpaste – a godsend at overnight hacks
  • Sleep mask – sleep where and when you can, I grabbed two of these from an overnight flight and never leave home without them
  • Business cards – I use Moo Mini cards as they take up less space
  • Swag – stickers, badges etc

All that stuff means that the total weight of my bag is probably about four to five kilograms, which by no means excessive – after all I see some people happily carrying 15 and 17 inch laptops and kit, but after a day on the run it can get wearing. Clearly, I need a lighter device but it still needs to have decent specifications, oh and a battery life of over two hours would be super.

Easily solved, get a MacBook Air – 13 Inch, i7 cpu and 7 hours battery life!

Whilst that is pretty much the defacto choice (and a good one), there are two things holding me back:

1) Its just so boring, OSX does not seem to be the major focus for Apple anymore  (the hamfisted iCloud integration into core applications is one example) but with OSX making such a small part of Apple’s revenue can you really blame them for taking their foot off the gas?

Don’t get me wrong, OSX is still a great operating system (even in its slightly buggy Mountain Lion form) but it just feels like its missing something.  I think its to do with Apples design philosophy, that in making these beautifully created devices Apple has hit upon what it probably feels the perfect interface for both desktop and mobile platforms and now seeks to refine those designs, the epitome of evolution rather than revolution. Which is fine, but give a person the same thing every time and eventually, no matter how good it is they will probably tire of it.

2) I want more out my laptop, or more to the point I want a tablet but I don’t want a consumption device or another piece of technology in my bag. I hate having to carry multiple devices, they add weight and they need charging, two things that I either want to remove or not have to worry about. My perfect setup would be to have a larger smartphone (e.g. a Galaxy Note II) and a hybrid laptop. That way I would have a decent sized phone in situations where a laptop/tablet were not suitable, and a tablet/hardware keyboard when I needed to do long form stuff.  However until recently that hasn’t been possible due to the fact that most hybrids run Android and that does not meet my needs as of yet.

Which is why I’ve stuck with laptops for now.

However, the Surface Pro has been sticking in my mind a lot recently  and I think its because I think it may offer a chance at my ideal setup. Lets look at the specifications:

  • i5 processor
  • 4GB ram
  • 128GB flash storage (with a further 64GB possible via memory cards
  • 10.6 inch screen
  • 1kg weight
  • Wacom Stylus
  • 5 hour battery life
  • Usb 3.0

All fairly standard Ultrabook/Macbook Air specifications, housed within a tablet body, albeit with a battery life closer to the 11 inch MacBook air than the 13, but longer than my current steed by a good margin.

Which is why its so damn tempting, because it can run desktop apps like steam, or visual studio as well as your standard consumption/light creation apps as any other tablet. The question you might ask is, “even though you can run heavy weight apps on the Surface Pro, would you want to?”.

Its a good question and not easy to answer as I’ve never had a tablet with the features of the Surface Pro. If I’m on the train or the tube, I’m not likely to be editing files in photoshop but connect that tablet to a bigger screen and you have yourself a full fat pc. Need a mouse? Plug it in. Its the same with my other accessories like a full sized keyboard or external hardrive, it all works because its running Windows 8.

The concept behind the Surface Pro is compelling, it  appears to offers a glimpse at a alternative mobile future, one where the only computing device is a tablet that’s offers a wider feature set than others – time will tell if its the right call.

I will be looking forward to the reviews, but as I said, my MacBook still has some life in it.

2 responses to “Surface Pro”

  1. John Kneeland says :

    Interesting thoughts. I agree with you on OS X seeming boring now. It’s clear Apple has put their B-team on it..the only innovations it seems to get these days are shoehorning iOS features into it.

  2. robotnumber5 says :

    The price is steep, but a tablet that you can develop software on is a very attractive prospect. The press havent yet decided whether its a doomed hybrid product that doesnt have a clear single function, but the iPad has already shown its possible to live through such criticism.
    As you point out though, Apple are kind of standing still in design terms, as the rest of the field catches up and begins to surpass them. I’ll be very keen to hear how you get on with a surface if you get one!

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