Surface Pro – How Well Does it Work in College?

March 20th, 2014 No comments

Well, I’ve been in college for a month or two now (currently on spring break) with just the Surface Pro as my main desktop, console, media box, tablet and laptop. The only other computer in my life while at university is my smartphone from 2009 that’s on PagePlus cellular that needs to be charged 2x a day to stay alive. (I pay around $5 – 10/month for it,  I use VOIP and internet texts lol)

Desktop Mode

I have an IPS LCD monitor at my “dorm/apt” thing. It has a built in powered USB hub. I plug in the USB to the surface, connect it to power and the mini-displayport, wallah full desktop PC with 2TB of storage. (2 1 TB USB drives 1 plugged in 1 self powered) The USB hub is only 2.0, but for my tasks I don’t need 3.0 speed really.

It feels like I’m on a high end PC from about 2006 or 2007? Something like that. It’s faster in general though, just because of the SSD. The specs (performance wise) I think are nearly identical to the computers we program on in my Java 1 class. The video card is more like 2003ish but, it’s still pretty good considering.

Desktop mode is for programming, essays, math work, etc. Works great. I feel almost like I’m at home. I do a little PC gaming in this mode as well, mostly CS:GO and CS:Source. First encounter assault recon runs relatively well but it does lag a little bit and gets annoying for me.

Console Mode

I plug in a 360 controller to the monitor, flip the monitor around to face my bed, plug in my headphones and bam. I can play basically all PC games from the Xbox 1 era and a little beyond. I’ve mostly been playing Halo 1 and Halo 2. Some of the older racing games and GTA’s also run fine. Roms would work in this mode as well I’m sure, but I haven’t really messed with it.

Media Box Mode

This is rather similar setup to the console mode, with flipping stuff around etc. I have XBMC setup on windows 8 with the Touch cover plugged in and I can control XBMC from there. XBMC can also be controlled from the Xbox 360 controller if I want. Hulu, Youtube, Netflix, crunchyroll etc at my fingertips.

Works great.

Tablet Mode

I mostly use this in between classes if I happen to have the Surface on me. (I don’t always have it due to weight, even though it is only 2lbs, I don’t like lugging it around some days) This is in situations where I take the “keyboard” off and mostly rely on the touch interface. So for the most part what I’m doing here is looking at youtube videos, netflix, or playing some tablety type game from the windows store.

There is some productivity going on here though – I use this “mode” in class a lot – pulling up PDF documents of readings and marking them up with the WACOM pen is awesome. Sometimes I bring essays to class and just have the professor mark up my Word document with the pen.

It’s also my “digital scrap paper”. If I’m sitting in front of a computer and I happen to have my Surface Pro with me, I write out my math equations etc in One Note on the Pro. No wasting trees.. It’s also handy because I can copy the necessary information and just paste it into the onenote page. ( I got thrown into pre-calc even though I took Calculus 1 in high schoool :( oh well I’ll probably take Calculus 1 over the summer. It’s all review till I hit Calculus 2)  I love the WACOM display on the Pro :)

Laptop Mode

Laptop mode sees very little use – in fact probably the least use out of everything. It just doesn’t make for a good laptop to be honest. The screen size is too small and due to me not wanting to shell out for the type keyboard, I rarely use it. The touch keyboard is fine to use here and there, but really – this thing is not a laptop.

I use this mode at the library when I’m doing some work, while it’s okay in a pinch, I don’t really enjoy it too much. Sad thing is I tried taking my Yoga 2 Pro around and man.. that size doesn’t work for bringing it to class, just doesn’t really fit in my backpack well and seems like it could easily be damaged, it just doesn’t have the build quality of the Surface…

This is really where we start to have problems… A laptop, even an Ultrabook is generally too big to haul around campus, yet I need the screen size and full keyboard of a Laptop to get any major work done.. (Programming, essays  and such..) The compromise would be dealing with the Pro’s small display and funky keyboard which I’ve had to do for now.

I would generally advocate getting both a laptop and the Surface Pro, because while you’ll be mainly using the Pro, the laptop will come in handy if you need to work in the library often. Pro’s are only $400 and going down, why not get both? $400 tablet + $400 laptop and you’re set. The android/ipad tablets that cost $400 are not nearly as useful.

Battery Life

As a college student, I don’t find the battery life that big of a deal, I’m around an outlet a lot of the time. That, and I go back to the apt/dorm all the time to cook my food and watch some TV, so I just charge it up. No big deal. I never really run it down to more than 50% which means I’m generally not without an outlet for more than 2 hours usage time. That said, there’s power outlets all over campus, though I don’t even carry the charger.

This was the biggest complaint on the Surface Pro 1 and I’m just not seeing the problem in day to day use. Obviously, usages differ, but I’m specifically talking about college/university use.

Conclusion

In college, light and small is always going to trump everything else. The bigger and more weighty it is the less likely you are to haul it around with you. Even though the Yoga 2 Pro weighs about 0.5 pounds more than the Surface, I didn’t end up using it due to the form factor. It’s being sold. I will pick up something cheaper for library use later on. I am definitely a future buyer of Surface Pro’s and I hope Microsoft continues to make them.

Surface Pro Dock? I went with a usb hub.

January 17th, 2014 No comments

I picked up a self powered usb 3.0 hub for about $16, an Ethernet adapter for $10 (Which does get 100mbit, I tested it directly connecting it to a bridged connection and got 12 megabytes/s, not comparable to 1gbit but not necessary for my use cases really)

The small DVI connector adapters for the Surface Pro I already had. (For an HD6990)

Basically I was able to just take the USB stuff and plug it into the 4 port hub and take the green audio cable and connect it to the Surface headphone jack. Bam, full PC. I also connected up a 1TB USB 2.0 drive I have that plugs into the wall.

Now, here’s the problems I had. Constant disconnects. This is a power saving feature and it probably couldn’t tell it was a hub. I changed the power saving settings to not allow it, however it was still happening.

So the solution? Change to high performance mode and go to device manager –> universal serial bus controller –> usb root hub –> properties –> power management and deselect “allow computer to turn off this device to save power” for all of the usb root hub options available.

Doing this improved things drastically, however I still got disconnects. To resolve this I changed to “High Performance mode”

I don’t see any options, but it might be limiting the power draw somehow from the USB ports in the other modes, I have no idea really, but I get disconnects every half hour or so if I’m not in “high performance”. Doesn’t make much sense to me but that fixed it.

My guess is, since the keyboard, mouse, and hard drive can’t really be using much the Ethernet adapter must be using too much for the power saving modes.

Prior to doing this, I tried connecting only a keyboard and it would go off and on nonstop. I’ve been using it setup like this with all 4 ports in use for about 2 hours – but I will update if I still have problems. As it is, I have a full desktop experience plus somewhat of a “dual monitor setup with the pro sitting next to the external monitor.

I still haven’t bought the external battery for it yet, but I did get the needed cable from China the other day. (I considered soldering it together myself but when I looked at the cost – it would actually cost me more to do it myself than to get it shipped from china, and I received it in only 10 days anyway, which is pretty fast for china…)

Surface Pro dock costs $200 and is somewhat hard to get. My setup cost me $26 and works fine, and is multi-use because obviously I could use a portable usb 3.0 hub on the go.

Here’s my running tally for surface pro desktop/tablet/laptop expenses.

$499 Surface Pro

$16 4 port USB 3.0 Hub

$10 10/100 USB 2.0 Ethernet Adapter

$14 Power Adapter Cable for 26,000 mah Battery Pack

$40 Touch Cover

$85 Battery pack – (in the future, maybe)

$60 USB 3.0 Portable Drive

Total: $724 Not too shabby, about 4 – 4.5lbs to carry, up to 12 hrs of battery life (with 26,000 mah battery) Wacom digitizer, and can be used as a desktop, laptop and tablet. I am kind of smitten with this thing at this point, it really is about as flexible as it can get for a portable device – and seems to fill a lot of roles for me that I was using other stuff for. Of course it’ll never replace my tower for processor/gpu intensive things but I think it’ll serve me really well in college. Aside from that, it costs about the same as less than 1 years worth of books if you bought them new. (I didn’t – I tried to buy used off amazon/ebay or wherever when possible, still ended up with a $230 bill on books this semester.. grr…)

 

Categories: Technology Reviews/Guides Tags:

Surface Touch Cover Review

January 15th, 2014 No comments

Ok, so I’ve spent some time with the touch cover. Not whole lot of time, but enough that I have a general idea of how well it works. This is a review of the version 1 touch cover, not the upgraded version 2 that has more sensors.

Typing

No physical keys. It’s not a whole lot of fun. I type normally at about 80 wpm on a laptop keyboard and 100wpm on my mechanical keyboard. What speed do I type at on the touch cover? About 40 – 50 wpm. Granted this is right out of the box typing speed, I haven’t adjusted to it at all.

The biggest thing slowing me down? Missed keys. I’m guessing I could get used to it and stop missing so many keys, as I have read about people reaching around 70 or so wpm on a touch cover. For me, 50 wpm feels really slow. I totally forgot what it’s like to type at this speed.

Granted, it’s about 100x better than typing on the screen, and it is about 2x faster than writing out my text with the pen, but it’s like I have to remind myself to apply pressure to every key that I press. This is somewhat hard coming from a mechanical keyboard where I barely have to press at all.

Price

I have said it before, but the price on these keyboards are just out of this world. They’re way too high for what they are. I understand making products takes money, but to me it’s just too high. Even though I only paid $40 for my touch cover, I’m not too happy about having to spend that much on something like this.

If I wouldn’t have found a gen 1 touch or type cover in this price range I would’ve went with a wedge keyboard and mouse combo. Which ultimately I still might and only use the touch keyboard on and off.

Build quality

These things were $120 when they came out, I would’ve been pretty upset about it if I paid that price for this thing.

I have a used touch cover sitting around that’s broken, and this new one. (the used one was DOA from ebay, and money was refunded)

Having both lets me see how these things will hold up, and the answer is: not very well. The same thing seems to be happening with the type covers as well. They’re just not built to last. I would only expect a type/touch cover to last 1-2 years depending on your usage.

This is pretty disappointing to me because the Surface tablets in general have extremely high build quality compared to anything else consumer grade.

Conclusion

I wrote this post on my surface pro with the touch cover. It’s definitely workable, but it’s not optimal. I did notice just in typing this post that my typing has improved on this keyboard. Maybe it is really just something you have to get used to. Errors are still there along with missed keystrokes, and I think what needs to be done is just to optimize how I press the letters and keys I tend to be missing the most.

The price is probably the biggest beef I have with the various covers. They’re just too expensive for what they are. $40 in my mind is just barely reasonable.

I will write a follow up in 2 weeks or so if I get a chance, because I will be in college, and that will put the surface pro to the test with the role I ultimately want it to fulfill. If it doesn’t work out I still have my Yoga 2 Pro temporarily anyway until I think the Surface is satisfactory.

Categories: Technology Reviews/Guides Tags:

Privacy Invasion in Windows 8.1

January 11th, 2014 No comments

Windows 8, again, something that I didn’t seem to notice my first go around, mostly because I was too busy being confused by other things. Like my post below. But I went through and reinstalled completely and was starting to realize that settings, information about me, and other things were being shared with Microsoft under the default settings, which is just as bad as Apple and Google’s privacy invading software.

You can manually opt out of all of it, which I did and I just use a local account similar to what’s on Windows 7 instead of an “email” account that is connected to all sorts of crap and spying.

It’s actually rather hard to do – they really don’t want you to use a “local” account, in fact in the Windows 8.1 installer there’s no option to get out of it that’s obvious. You can skip over it if you mess around but that’s not the point. Stuff like this, more than anything else ticks me off, and I’m getting really annoyed with all the current companies pulling this stuff. Seems like the only safe haven is good ol’ linux.

Anyway, I got done configuring things “my way” I think, and boy was it a pain in the rear end. Learning the OS, that everyone complains about, was easy. Configuring the thing the way I want wasn’t. Hidden menus, commands, etc. Not cool Microsoft, not cool.

Categories: Technology Reviews/Guides Tags: