Microsoft Surface Pro 3 – Two weeks on…

I have had the Surface Pro 3 for two weeks now, and in real terms that is around 6-10 hours of use per day. Every day. Because I like using it. Because I can. I think that in itself sums up my overall thoughts. This, in my humble opinion, is finally a machine that gets it right. The balance between performance and battery life. The balance between use and styling. The balance between “tablet” and “laptop”. And dare I say it, the balance between Mac and PC. It leverages to the hilt the stylus, OneNote and Windows 8.1 – and does it with style. Surface Pro 3 style.

I’m a science teacher who also has management responsibilities. This means day to day I flit from morning tutorials with students, to formal class lessons, to boring management meetings, to student or parent presentations, and then at 4pm the obligatory staff PD session. The Surface Pro 3 does what I need in each of these scenarios, and then some. For me, this is the almost perfect educational device.

So firstly the pros. It is gorgeous. Sexy. And light. Really light. The high gloss screen is nice to look at, even at 30% brightness when I’m trying to squeeze the last bit of power out of it because I left the charger at home. Which brings me to the power – it runs forever. I regularly get over 8 hours battery life, which lasts me most of my day. This is almost a negative, as I regularly leave my charger behind because of my overconfidence with its battery life! From an input perspective, its got everything I need – a keyboard with track pad (which doubles as a cover, but can be left in the bag). The screen is multi touch enabled. The stylus is the best I’ve ever used (and I’ve used a few!), allowing for native digitisation of any pen style input. It’s got inbuilt front and rear cameras and microphone and speakers, and a mini display port out, USB 3 port and micro SD slot.

In day to day use, the full size keyboard with its “flat” and “tilted” positions is easy to type on, although the different from normal “function” keys is taking as bit to get used to. The track pad is very responsive, and the left and right buttons work, but again this is taking me some getting used to – especially the right mouse button which seems further over than I expect. The way the keyboard clips off and on with magnets is also very clever, and I’ve only had keyboard issues a couple of times, each of which was resolved by clipping off and reattaching the keyboard. As a cover the keyboard is also really nice with is soft texture, and it’s nice to see it wraps easily around the screen at the rear when not in use but still attached.

The display, as I’ve already said, is also really nice. The 2160 x 1440 resolution on a 12” screen makes for very crisp images with beautiful colour tones. I’m also incredibly impressed when attaching an external display, the way that the Surface pro 3 and Windows 8.1 work in concert to just, well, work! Around the school we have about a thousand different projectors and screens (well, maybe 10 or so!) and after spending a small fortune at lindy.com.au on each of the mini DP to HDMI/VGA/DP cables, it was nice to find that each time I connected that the image just worked. The computer sorted out whatever the resolution needed was, and it just worked. That’s a time saver. And a head saver.

At meetings and tutorials, the fact the kickstand folds all the way back to give a tablet and stylus experience that was just meant for writing is the envy of students and peers alike. And the stylus is just wonderful. Out of the box calibration is perfect, both for touch and stylus, and the purple button on the top of the stylus is not the gimmick I first thought it was – one click opens OneNote (even from sleep without unlocking) which allows a note to be taken – as fast as it would be to pull out a pad. Two clicks takes a screen capture and puts this in OneNote, which allows for annotation over anything!

The single USB 3 port works well, but I really feel like there should be two. At my desk a USB four port hub solves this, and to be fair, out and about I don’t even use the single port often – but there are times when two would make a real difference to me. The only truly disappointing thing is the cameras – at 5 megapixels and with a fixed focus lens and no flash they are really not good for digitising any content from a desk or bench distance with any quality or readability – forget trying to digitise an A4 page with it!. The camera app doesn’t allow digital zoom, although the editing features with crop and exposure correction gives a viable workaround – but I do hope the Microsoft acquisition of Nokia will see their phone camera technology making it into the next Surface release.

With only minor criticisms aside, the Surface Pro 3 is a serious contender to be the educational device, for both students and staff. It has the style, features and usability that we need, all wrapped up with the multiple inputs that we need (touch screen, stylus, keyboard and mouse). Microsoft have quite simply, almost got it perfect.

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