July 25th, 2014

Initial Surface Pro 3 Review

I probably should have warned my long time readers first; I willingly bought a Microsoft product.

A little background first. My older sister interviewed at the Squish in 1984, give or take a year. She loathed them, and went off to Bell Labs instead, then took a deep dive into JW end times prophecy and one of those chronic, exhausting, possibly psychological illnesses that so characterize my family. My father put some of his IRA (back when those were still kind of a new thing) money into Microsoft stock and all through the time I was at Amazon, he kept trying to convince me to go work for Microsoft instead. No amount of arguing about the long hours, bad treatment of women or Has Been nature of the Squish would change his mind. I did work on their campus for a few months, part time, when I was on the DEC Alpha NT C/C++ compiler project.

But I would have flipped burgers before I bought Microsoft products back then. I did fork over for the Mac Office for Students or whatever back in 2007 or 2008. I was on a board and that was the expected communication form. My husband has a desktop and that's where we do our taxes every year. My efforts to figure out a non-PC solution for that particular problem are not yet successful, altho I am beginning to feel optimism.

When I realized just how ignorant I had become of the Microsoft ecosystem AND started to believe they really were actually going to survive the transition we're in the middle of, I thought I'd better stick a toe into the muck again. So I picked up a Surface Pro 3, since review volume is finally substantial enough and positive enough to justify experimentation. I also bought Office 2013, without Outlook.

First things first: I LOVE the kickstand. My friend R. who visited in February had a different Surface, and the kickstand was enormously attractive. Apple's case decisions have permanently confused me, and the kickstand is the kind of thing I wish they were doing. I also LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE the keyboard. It is comfortable. The keys behave well. And there is none of this bluetooth mysteriously deciding to quit working crap that I've been dealing with for years now.

The pen is interesting. I keep forgetting it exists. I like the touch screen, altho I tend to forget it is a touch screen part of the time.

My efforts to get LastPass plugin working with IE have not been very successful, so I downloaded Firefox and everything is just brilliant with that.

Second, Complaints! I have them. Setting up a Microsoft account was not difficult, and it defaults to an administrator while setting up the machine. But the instructions for setting up a child's account online and while doing it got me to a point where I was told I needed a parent to set this up so go online (no link supplied!!!) to fix that.


I went through the few pages on FamilySafety that exist. I asked R., who shrugged -- he knew nothing about this. Eventually, I thought to just create my son's account on the login website, where it worked. It sent me through a whole credit card .50 verification procedure -- which I approve of -- and required me to obvs have an account of my own already set up to be the parent, which could have been confusing if I'd done things in the wrong order. I don't have any problem with this system beyond the TELL ME WHERE TO FUCKING START YOU IDIOTS part of it. I suppose it's nice to know that some things never change. If you want to use Microsoft products, you'd better already know how.

I had trouble with the camera. I was able to find it when I wanted to add a picture to my account -- but I couldn't find a button to press to make it take the picture. R. said just touch anywhere, and indeed, that worked, which is pretty amazing. But again, you sort of have to see someone else use it first or already know.

I downloaded the FB app. It seems fully functional. I downloaded the ancestry app, and I don't think it'll draw a tree for you, no matter what you do, which makes it less functional than the one on my phone. Weird. I keep thinking I must have missed something? Of course I can just use the web interface so no harm no foul.

I'll be working on connecting more accounts, probably, maybe downloading more apps. I may explore OneNote, altho I'll have to see how that plays in other ecosystems before I consider switching. I'll also be looking at how Amazon video plays. R. claims I can connect this thing to my Apple display. I'm not sure I believe him. (I have the Thunderbolt display. He would be right if I had the Cinema display.) I'm excited that this thing has ftp, since I use that for my website and I don't have it on my Chromebook (I use Cloud9 if I'm dumb enough to update my website from something other than my Mac.).

The rationale for buying this had several pieces:

(1) Oooh, cool gadget. I want one.
(2) In my real life, it is important to me to understand the future prospects of a variety of companies. In particular, I need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the dominant mobile computing platforms (google/android, apple, amazon/kindle) and recognize when the field changes. I had no visibility into Microsoft's offerings, and they suddenly started looking plausible.
(3) I have kids; they should have at least some experience with anything they are likely to need to know about as they get older.

The Pro is already satisfying these three desires. Next up will be deciding whether it is a better travel option than the Chromebook. On the negative side, the Pro is so fucking expensive I might as well just bring the Mac with me. On the positive side, I sure love this screen. For the purposes of someone reading this review, if you aren't already quite dedicated to the Microsoft universe, I don't see a lot of reason to switch from any of the other universes, especially given the price point.