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Microsoft Surface

by Chris Taylor

I have never been a huge fan of tablet computers. Although they are very portable, I always found them to be best as a consuming device rather than for producing information. If all you want to do is things like web browsing, watching movies, reading email, and a tiny amount of typing, they can be really great. But as soon as you need to do any significant amount of typing, or precision pointing and clicking, a tablet can be very frustrating. Quite frankly, typing on an on-screen keyboard sucks. Ditto for pointing with fat fingers at tiny on-screen targets.

I think there is a good reason why Bluetooth keyboards and mice are the most popular add-ons to tablets. The trouble is, once you add a keyboard and mouse to your tablet ... don't you end up with, essentially, a laptop computer?

Microsoft seems to feel the same way I do. When they built the Surface tablet, they came up with a design that is a nice blend of tablet and laptop. When you truly want it to be a tablet, you can do so. But when you need to do a bunch of typing or precision pointer work, you can snap on a magnetically connecting keyboard with trackpad.



Before going further, let me say that the price of Microsoft Surface tablets is not for the faint of heart. If you are looking for inexpensive, stop reading now and look elsewhere. But there is a lot to like if you are willing to pay the big bucks.

Microsoft originally came out with Surface in October, 2012. It did not interest me at all as it could only run Windows Store apps, not the full Win32 applications we all know and love, like Photoshop, CorelDraw, and WordPerfect. The Surface Pro came out in February, 2013. In addition to Windows Store apps, it could run Win32 apps. But, I never looked at it seriously.

The Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 were released at the same time in October 2013. The Surface 2 was still only able to run Windows Store apps and did not interest me. The Surface Pro 2 runs Win32 apps and, thanks to a very generous brother, I ended up with one in early 2014. Its processor is a decent Intel Haswell Core i5, it has 4 GB RAM, 64 GB storage (there is a 128GB model as well. I opted instead for an additional 64 GB micro-SD card), a full HD, 1920x1080, 16x9 screen, a full size USB 3 port, a mini-DisplayPort, Bluetooth 4 and 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi.

With the add-on "Type Cover" keyboard/trackpad, I find it makes for a decent Windows laptop computer. I use it all the time for the library presentations I give and it is my go-to portable Windows computer. I actually rarely use it as a pure tablet, with keyboard removed.

If I had waited until last summer, I would have ended up with the Surface 3, which is the device where I think Microsoft really hit its stride.

The Surface Pro 3 has three processor options; Intel Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7. You can get 4 or 8 GB RAM. Storage options range from 64 to 512 GB. Both front and rear cameras are now 5 mp (up from 1.2 mp). For Wi-Fi, they added "ac" to the previous 802.11a/b/g/n. Most other specs are pretty much the same as the Surface Pro 2 - except for the kickstand and the screen, both of which most reviews rave about.

Microsoft moved from a 2-position kickstand on the Surface Pro 2 to one you can adjust to any angle. Most people seem to find this much better as you can adjust the tilt of the screen to exactly match your needs at any particular time.

But the screen is the really big change. Microsoft moved from the 16x9 aspect ratio with 1920x1080 resolution on the Surface Pro 2 to a 3:2 aspect ratio with a resolution of 2160x1440. While the 16x9 aspect ratio on the Surface Pro 2 made it really only usable in landscape mode, reviewers are finding the 3x2 aspect ratio on the Surface Pro 3 to be very usable in either portrait or landscape mode. And the increased resolution is welcomed.

The Surface Pro 2 can still be found and there are some deals to be had. At the time of writing this, Staples has one with 8 GB RAM and 256 GB storage for $900. Be sure to also buy the $100 Type Cover 2.

For the Surface Pro 3, there are lots of price points depending on processor, RAM, and storage. At the lowest level, you are looking at about $850 for a Core-i3 with 4 GB RAM and 64 GB storage. For the top of the line with Core-i7, 8 GB RAM, and 512 GB storage, you are looking at a breathtaking $1,800.

Oh and no matter which model of Surface Pro 3 you choose, you are facing an additional $130 for the Type Cover 3.

Originally published: May, 2015

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