Why I Don’t Like My Surface Pro

by Dave Michels

I got my Surface Pro 3 in the Spring of 2014. I ordered it before they were were shipping. Microsoft has done well with these machines. They are very popular and it seems  most people I see with them really like them. I don’t.

The Surface PCs had a rough start. It was the SP3 that was the first reasonable success. It’s an impressive machine meant to be able to convert between a tablet and laptop. IMO it’s a terrible tablet and an even worse laptop. They made some decent improvements with the SP4, but I’d recommend avoiding the Surface Pro machines.

Here’s my reasons why:

  1. My SP3 battery lasts 2-3 hours. Often not long enough for a movie on a flight. It also takes a long time to charge, so once it’s dead it stays low until I can give it the night to charge. Being old school I went for power with the i7. If I were to do it again I’d favor battery life over processing power. I am much more likely to be searching for a power outlet than additional CPU on a day-to-day basis.
  2. The keyboard is unpleasant. Microsoft was so ashamed of it they won’t even call it a keyboard, they call it a “Type Cover.” It is purchased separately for $130 which is really odd because a key benefit is this tablet/laptop device is the ability to convert into a laptop. I’d prefer the bolt-on stylus be sold separately and the keyboard be included. I found the Type Cover so unusable that I spent another $130 to buy the improved version. When the the SP4 came out the biggest improvement was the new Type Cover which happens to be compatible with the SP3. It is indeed better but not nearly as good as a standard laptop keyboard. Also, the price is insulting. Logitech can make a decent keyboard for about a quarter of the price and they use genuine, hard plastic.
  3. You are supposed to attach the stylus to the keyboard via an afterthought self-adhesive, fabric loop. I just don’t get this. I find the stylus most useful when I’ve removed the keyboard. I taped my loop on the PC itself.
  4. Actually, the first time I taped the loop was to the type cover and it didn’t stick – it fell off the first night. I called support and asked for a new loop. They said the tape isn’t warrantied, so I had to buy a new one. The good news is as they pointed out, and I’m not making this up, the new loop came with a full warranty.
  5. The power adapter is big and awkward. I don’t understand why PC makers can’t copy this aspect of Apple. Most laptops come with large power supplies that are very hard to make small in a bag. The SP3 is an elegant machine- the thinnest laptop I’ve ever owned, but the power adapter is like a Buick towing a trailer.
  6. It’s too big and heavy as a tablet. I’ve tried to use it as a tablet with OneNote and sytlus, but it’s just too big and heavy to walk around with.
  7. The kickstand. It’s a clever idea but fails as a laptop. The operative syllable being “lap.” The flimsy keyboard combined with the kickstand make this device practically impossible on the lap, and the kickstand requires much more room than an airplane tray table has to offer.
  8. The power button. Microsoft stole a page from Apple by limiting this thing to one button -my cell phone has more buttons. I can’t figure this one button out. Sometimes it won’t start, sometimes it starts in my bag, sometimes it restarts. It’s a complex machine for just one non locking button. For example most laptops don’t have two cameras, so switching cameras in WebRTC apps can be non intuitive. It would be nice if it had separate buttons for some common features and an iPod-like way of locking the button.
  9. Ports. This nice elegant computer, already hobbled by a huge power supply, is further weakened by its necessary dongle bag. I have to carry a USB hub (only has one port), a video-out adapter (it only supports mini display port), and a USB to RJ45 network adapter.
  10. It was unclear in 2014, but today the verdict is known – tablets are not that useful. The only time I use my SP3 as a tablet is when I watch videos on the plane. Conceptually I prefer the tent style convertibles like the Yoga laptops. Those offer the ability to hide the keyboard without having to forsake real keys. I think the primary design goal of the Surface Pro convertible is questionable.
  11. Many of my frustrations have to do with power. I work hard to manage my power and always unplug with the hope that my battery is fully charged. When the power cord is connected there’s a small LED light on the cord that indicates charging. However, the light is on side – you don’t see it when facing the SP3. For a variety of legitimate reasons the charging fails. For example plugging into a switched outlet without realizing it or if the plug falls out of the wall or whatever. I was at a recent conference where the power strips went out (before the flight) and no one knew it. If the light were more visible I might catch this more easily. There’s simply been too many times when I discover, on my flight, that my battery isn’t fully charged.

I only use this computer when I travel, so perhaps you can see my frustration. Pre-flight the laptop doesn’t fit on my lap and few airports offer desks (like SFO does in the Southwest areas). On the plane itself the battery doesn’t last long nor fit on the tray table. I try to prolong battery-life by turning down brightness, but this only works on night flights. It takes up too much room in my bag (more accurately the power supply and accouterments do). Oh, I should probably mention that other than the backspace key I find it hard to type quickly.

I was going to replace the computer last month with the Lenovo 900S. However, during the time between order and delivery, Google announced Chromebooks will support Android Apps. I’ve decided to put up with the SP3 a little a longer, and will switch to a new Chromebook later this year. Seventy percent of what I do is in a browser. The handful of remaining apps including Office and Evernote are supported on Android.