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Surface Pro 4 Retrospective

Thoughts and opinions on getting a Surface Pro 4, a few months later.

A few months ago, I did something strange and bought a Surface Pro 4. Having owned multiple MacBooks, jumping ship to a Surface was weird. Seeing as Apple doesn’t seem to want to commit any resources to the Mac (hardware or software) anymore, and seeing how Microsoft is innovating and working on Windows 10 and the Surface family, it was pretty easy to see where to go.

My initial impressions of the Surface still hold true. It’s a wonderful machine. It’s well built and crafted with an amazing attention to detail. Plus, unlike Apple, Microsoft is constantly working on it. They get feedback, they use it in new updates. It’s pretty amazing how a simple update can make the Surface feel new again.

Now, normally I would be skeptical of a product that gets lots of updates after it gets release. It would indicate that the product wasn’t finished when it came out. For Windows 10 and the Surface line, that’s sort of true. Yes, there were lots of bugs at launch. But I got mine about 6 months after release, and I avoided the Surface Book (though I kind of wish I hadn’t, more on that in a bit). When I started, the Surface was solid and Windows 10 was great to use. Since then, it has only really gotten better.

Windows 10 Anniversary update

Microsoft still can’t name things. Think of the Anniversary Update as Windows 10.1. It’s not just a bug fix update, it contains lots of new features and improvements that make Windows 10 feel like a new OS. There are relatively few major changes, but the little tweaks add up.

For instance, the type cover. Since I got it, the type cover has been mixed. They keyboard is wonderful, but the trackpad always felt a little off. I wasn’t normal Windows laptop-levels of terrible, but it wasn’t quite up to the level of the MacBooks. Since the AU, it is now almost on par with the MacBooks. It’s just as responsive and it finally responds to my settings tweaks. The only reason I can’t say it’s as good as the MacBooks is that the multi-touch gestures just don’t feel as at home in Windows 10 as they do in OS X.

Development Work

For the last few weeks, I’ve used the Surface for my actual work. This involves running Visual Studio, SSMS, Slack, OneNote, Email, Calendar, IIS (with multiple sites), and SQL Express at the same time. The Surface handles it like a champ.

In order to make my workstation set up usable, I bought the Surface Dock. It seemed a bit ridiculous at first considering it’s a glorified USB hub for about a hundred dollars. Using it though, it’s absolutely worth it. Having just a single plug for power, keyboard, mouse, external monitor, ethernet, and headphones is just amazing and the Surface connects and disconnects without trouble.

I’m honestly considering getting another for my desk at home.

Bash on Ubuntu on Windows

I haven’t gotten a chance to really try this out, but it is super weird and super awesome that Windows basically can run Linux. I’m excited to see what I can do with this.

Battery Life

Ah, the bad. Battery life is not amazing. Like most things on the Surface, it’s miles better than most Windows laptops, but pales in comparison to any MacBook. Still, it’s pretty solid and got me through an entire day of note-taking at Stir Trek (with a fair bit of power management, though).

Windows 10 Apps

The Universal Windows Platform (UWP) is an awesome concept that unfortunately just won’t pan out for the majority of users. In order to really take advantage of the UWP benefits, you would need a Windows Phone, and that’s a (sadly) small group of people.

Despite that, I love that Windows apps can be built easily using HTML and JavaScript. I love when I find and can use nicely designed and built apps from the Windows Store. It’s sad that there is just so little there.

Favorites, by the way, are Plex, NextGen Reader, Readit, Tweetium, and NesBox.

Conclusion

Months later, I love my Surface. It’s not perfect, but it’s still wonderful and always improving. I’d wholeheartedly recommend one for anyone who wants a great and very portable laptop. The only caveat, and of course there is one, it that it requires attention to keep working. Windows 10 is great, but it still lacks the “it just works” charm of OS X.


Update: Surface Book! I forgot to discuss the Surface Book! I really did mean to. Whoops.

The Surface Book is what caught my attention first. It looks marvelous and I was considering it over the Surface Pro and a MacBook, but in the end decided to go the cheaper route and get the Surface Pro. The added cost of the Surface Book was the primary issue with it, though I was skeptical about stability and performance. I’d read a lot about bugs and issues with the detachable screen. Apparently most of those were software issues and seem to have been resolved. If I hadn’t gotten my Surface Pro when I did and if I were buying right now, I’d probably go with the Surface Book. The bigger screen and added power would be nice.

Of course, I’m not buying now, and I’m very happy with my purchase. Maybe in a few years, when I’m replacing the Surface Pro, will I consider getting whatever new version of the Surface Book is out then.