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December 11, 2013

The experiment – A week with Surface Pro 2

We get a lot of great customer feedback from people who cross a wide range of locations, occupations, and hobbies from serious techies to writers to designers to business people to teenagers. We love hearing how our customers embrace the ability to do more with their Surface and their enthusiasm for sharing this with others. Today’s post comes from Heath Cajandig who took a week to put Surface Pro 2 through its paces and shares the results with us.. Enjoy.

Emilie Bridon
Senior Manager- Microsoft Surface

I don’t write for a living, as you will see, but I am passionate about technology. I contacted Microsoft after a few weeks with my Surface Pro 2 and asked them how I could share story. I’ve never done anything like that, but I felt like there were other people who would benefit from hearing about it: people who are as confused and curious as I was about the Surface Pro 2.

Like many people, I was intrigued by the Surface Pro since it was first released. I read reviews, feedback on the internet and was generally confused. Some compared it to the iPad, others to laptop computers, and in both cases it didn’t result in a clear comparison.

With the release of the Surface Pro 2, I once again found the reviews to be conflicted and murky. I loved the promise or idea of the device, but I couldn’t sort out what it really was.

The Experiment

What I wanted to find out was this: Would I be happy with the Surface Pro as a replacement after a succession of (4) MacBooks? My product loyalty has always been to the best solution with little regard to company loyalty, and I had found Apple MacBooks to be the best hardware for running Windows over the last years. While newer notebooks probably have eliminated the gap, I wasn’t willing to switch unless it was for something really innovative because I was comfortable, productive and quite happy with what I had been using. It was a great solution.

To find out, I picked up a Surface Pro 128GB with the Touch Cover 2 from my local Best Buy on the way back from a business trip. I had already scanned the leaked Black Friday ads with an eye on returning the Surface Pro and tacking advantage of the discounts on a new Macbook if it didn’t work out. I had my existing Macbook as a backup in the event that it was really unworkable in the short term.

My rule of discovery was simple: I would use only the Surface Pro for a week as long as it didn’t prevent me from getting things done efficiently. This meant that it would spend considerable time at my desk as a workstation during the day with a monitor, keyboard/mouse with lap time on the couch in the evenings while I caught up on late work day emails. It would also travel with me on some short trips and on the weekend I hoped to use it in the field to review and edit pictures with Adobe Lightroom as part of my amateur photography hobby.

Surprises of the Surface

Once unboxed, I immediately went to work setting up the Surface Pro with all of the applications I needed. Within an hour everything was setup and I started in on the journey of understanding how it would do the things I needed it to. I expected it could do what I needed, but I was most concerned with how.

I was most surprised by the surprises. As I said, I’d read many reviews but they didn’t prepare me for the things I found so I wanted to share them.

Here are the things that surprised me most:

1. Touch just makes sense for any computing

Coming into this, I’d been a believer in touch interfaces since my first generation iPhone and iPad. What I didn’t get was how natural it is for other computer experiences, like a laptop. At first, I felt lost with the Surface since it uses some unique gestures and actions to accomplish things. The touchpad and keyboard on the Type Cover worked fine and I initially started using it with Windows 8 as I always had. Then, I decided to stop and ask for directions! I took a moment to review the Help and Directions app that was staring at me from the home screen. Within a few minutes I was easily swiping through applications, running them split screen and bringing up menu options without resorting to special mouse movements. It just felt natural and for lack of a better word intimate.

On a portable device screen real estate is everything, so being able to swipe from the bottom or top to reveal options means that the experience is full when you don’t need those options to be shown but they are easily a swipe away. It was a wow moment.

2. Windows 8 has a great touch experience

Windows 8.1 is a fantastic operating system for touch devices. Who knew? I certainly didn’t, and I had been using Windows 8 in a traditional way on my laptop for more than a year. It was designed with an unapologetic focus on touch, so it is natural that it didn’t feel right without it and I spent a year just clicking on and using desktop mode with my desktop PC. After using the Surface Pro as a tablet in the evenings, I can’t imagine not having what it can do. I can instantly swipe from left to right and switch apps. Closing an App? Easy, one quick swipe from the top to bottom and it zooms down to close. It requires none of the silliness that I was accustomed to where I would click on a home button, then double click to open running apps, then find the one running, and then click to close it. All of that, easily accomplished with one swipe. The Surface broke the commonly accepted rules I was operating under: that a tablet is for consuming and a computer is for creating and getting things done.

3. Landscape! It makes more sense than Portrait

This one caught me completely off guard. I never considered how I might hold and use the Surface. Until then, I had been using an iPad in portrait mode most of the time to read and view things and a computer for everything else. The Surface Pro feels better to me when used in landscape mode, and after more thought it makes sense to use this most of the time. While paper is typically used in a portrait orientation, all of the other content we view, consume and interact with onscreen has moved to widescreen. Television, movies, computer displays nearly everything except paper works best this way. Scrolling up and down to see more of a document or webpage makes sense, so being able to use the wide display to multitask or view things side-by-side is so natural that we do it every day, unless we are on a device that doesn’t support it.

Here is a brilliant example of why it works so well: When I open the mail app and select an email, I see the content of the email next to my selection. If it has an attachment, I can select it and instead of closing mail and opening the attachment somewhere else in a different app it just shows up in its application next to it. I can easily slide to control how much of each app is shown as I view and when finished I’m one swipe from closing it completely and continuing.

Finally, anytime I want to view two applications side-by-side, I can grab one from the left side and place it next to what is running. It just makes sense, and now that I’m used to it I can’t go back to something that doesn’t support it.

4. A real browser makes a difference

Until you have a real browser in your hand, you don’t realize how great it is. You don’t realize how many artifacts or misplaced pop-ups you wade through with your mobile browsing experience. Ever decide to stop trying to use a difficult website on your tablet because it just didn’t work right and move to a desktop/laptop? It happens all the time. That scenario goes away with the Surface Pro 2. You are using a full blown web browser that supports flash, plug-ins of choice and all of the things that come with a standard browser. It ends the idea of getting stuck on websites that weren’t made for mobile.

5. It can replace both a tablet and a laptop. And a desktop.

A successful outcome of my experiment was to have the Surface Pro replace my Macbook. Within 3 days my Macbook was listed on eBay because I knew that I could use the Surface Pro for everything I needed to get work done without compromise. The next question was whether it was best option: period. It is. I’m using it as a desktop and laptop to get everything done for work which includes heavy use of MS Office and the Adobe Creative Suite.

Beyond that, replacing my iPad was not a goal I had for the Surface Pro. But ironically, my iPad is sitting in my travel bag as I type this which is where it has been since I brought home the Surface Pro 2. I’m not sure how that will turn out, but the weaknesses in iOS have been sufficiently amplified in my mind and I’m getting really attached to using just one device without having to pick and choose based on what I think I might want to do with it.

The Surface Pro introduced me to the reality that one device can be used for consumption and creation, and I’m really excited about it.

The Result

At this point, it is probably clear that the Surface Pro blew me away with how well it worked. I expected a complicated decision that weighed the pros and cons of how I worked before against how I would work with the Surface Pro. In the end it was an easy decision, the Surface Pro is pretty special and I have no doubt that it will be looked at as one of the first examples of what the future will bring.


Heath Cajandig