Final Words on the Surface 3

I’ve had the device for over a month now and I think I’ve come to some sort of conclusion on it.

That’s the basics of it. I can’t see the device being all the useful past the current year, and I’d say almost any person with only modest computing needs would be better off with an iPad Air + keyboard combination (if they feel the need for a keyboard). The iPad Air is just a sleeker device overall, feels faster (because it is being asked to do less), and has better battery life. I’ve found myself using the iPad Air more while testing the Surface 3 than I was before I started testing.

This isn’t some sort of blanket verdict on the Surface line of devices or even Windows 10, but I would avoid the Surface 3 at all costs.

Apple Open Sources Swift

Apple finally went ahead and did it!

Today Apple unwrapped their open sourced Swift programming language. Yes, Swift has been around for a while already, but today it was opened up to the community (Engadget link there).

You can find out more at the website but also check out the repositories at GitHub as well. Currently Apple’s GitHub organization houses pretty m much only projects around Swift.

Sadly, on the Linux-side of things, only Ubuntu binaries are available.

So go forth OSS friends and contribute!

Testing a Surface

I recently came into a Microsoft Surface 3 and receiving the device coincided with our office at Martin Luther College considering the purchase of a number of Microsoft Surface Pro devices to deploy to the faculty at our college. So I’ve been testing out this Surface 3 for the past few weeks to see how well it can hold up under some sort of usage along with taking an extended look at what Microsoft has done with Windows 10.

Let’s call it a mixed bag, overall.

Microsoft Surface 3 – Device

  • Surface 3 TabletIt is a rugged device overall. No bend in the frame, kickstand is solid, never have any fear of damaging it when putting in and pulling out of bags.
  • Screen is decent. It is nothing to write home about, but attractive-enough. A Surface Pro 4 is going to get you a significantly better display.
  • It doesn’t act like an iPad. It does not wake instantly, I’m not always sure when to use the “power’ button, etc. … which makes it far more annoying than an iPad. I know it is a hybrid device, but that is an annoyance.
  • Battery life is fine. Definitely not as nice as on my iPad Air, but not terrible either.
  • Ports are limited. Oh well, I try not to use ports as often as I can.
  • You charge it through a mini USB cable, which is really annoying. Apple’s iOS devices and the Lightning port have spoiled me. I’m hoping USB-C is better, but for now, the charging is a ton more annoying than on any Apple device. I know the Surface Pro has a better port, but I don’t have one right now.
  • The Keyboard Cover is fine as well. I like how it doubles as the cover and the keys are fine, if mushy and extremely loud. Turning it around on the back is fine, but make grain the Surface a little annoying because you are grabbing keys along the way.
  • Trackpad is bad. Just bad.
  • I haven’t had a lot of time to test the camera (no need), but they are just fine.
  • Overall the device is quite slow compared to even an iPad Air. Of course it can do more, but responsiveness can be sluggish and I believe that the Intel Atom x7 processor can be blamed for it. The Surface Pro 4 should provide a lot more oomph in comparison.

Overall, it is a fine device. It is rugged, which is the most important part. It is obviously cheaper, and that makes it quite limited.

Windows 10 – Operating System

  • Surface 3 OpenMicrosoft has done an admirable job attempting to marry the tablet and laptop.
  • Windows 10 is still quite buggy, but each release squashes a few more of those. The Surface 3 still has some problems figuring out when it is waking from sleep/hibernate and that can mean it gets caught in between things and I need to force the login screen again. Annoying.
  • While Microsoft’s work is admirable, it is a strange marriage at times. Some things work well with a touch input, and then not as well with a cursor … but then you switch to tablet mode and things are reversed. Actions are not that understandable at first, with some apps hiding their toolbar so that you need to swipe from the top … there are many hidden features like that.
  • I had the Threshold II update (1511) fail at first so I needed to download the ISO and upgrade myself. Annoying.
  • Windows 10, overall, needs more time to cook to get the kinks worked out. Edge needs some more work as well.

Overall

The Surface 3 with Windows 10 is an interesting device combination. It works relatively well, but there are still some issues that need to be worked out.

One huge pain source is just the software available for Windows 10. The catalog of software cannot hold a candle to what is available on OS X and iOS as far as integration across devices and quality. Part of that is my affinity for Apple-like software, and part of it is the difference in the ecosystems between Microsoft and Apple.

The Surface 3 is a decent hybrid device. It is a lousy tablet in comparison to the iPad but an okay small laptop (compared to the MacBook Air, perhaps).

Windows 10 is along the same lines. It is a good hybrid operating system (and one of the only ones). However, it isn’t as good on a tablet as iOS or as good on a desktop machine as OS X is.

I’m looking forward to getting my hands on a Surface Pro 4 soon to see how it fares as well. Watching Microsoft continue to move forward with Windows 10 will be something to watch as well. The Surface 3 is not something I would run out to get, but it has been an interesting experiment to see how another computing ecosystem works.

I will continue to carry it with me for now and see if I can find a way to use it more as time goes on.

Indecision to Carry

Each workday I go through the same routine:

  1. wake up to alarm
  2. get out of bed
  3. shower and change for work
  4. head downstairs and help with breakfast/lunch prep/etc.
  5. drink cup of coffee with wife
  6. brush teeth
  7. pray with family
  8. gather together my stuff for work into bag
  9. say goodbye and head off to Martin Luther College

There are sometimes a few small variations to that routine, but for the most part that is it. However, out of every small decision I make in the morning it is #8 on that list that gives me the most pause each and every morning:

  • gather together my stuff for work into bag

Looking at the picture I used at the top of this post, it is probably pretty easy to see why. While my iPhone is always in my pocket and I have various amounts of reading material in my bag, I am constantly shuffling what technology I should be carrying between home and work.

Here are the three devices I currently work through my mind each morning:

  • Apple 13″ MacBook Pro with Retina display
  • Apple iPad Air
  • Microsoft Surface 3

The iPad Air is the easiest to carry, fits nicely into my bag and fulfills probably 85% of my needs on any given day. The Surface 3 is a test device for the Windows 10 deployment we are looking at for work along with an interesting look at the differences between form factors (and fits nicely into my bag). It fulfills maybe 75% of my needs on a given day, but a slightly different portion than the iPad Air.

The 13″ MacBook Pro is, surprisingly, just a little too big to bring along every day. It just fits into my bag, means I can’t bring too much else along, but fulfills 95% of my needs on any given day. It is just less portable. It takes up more space and so it sits on my desk.

In my own mind it looks like an iPad Pro or MacBook would be great compromises, but they are coming from different ends of the spectrum. Do I want a laptop more like a tablet or a tablet more like a laptop?

The Surface 3 is interesting only because it tries to toe the line between laptop and tablet by having different modes. It sorta works, sometimes (not a rousing endorsement, I know). The other problem with going all-in on Microsoft’s platform is that the software is just not at the quality I’ve grown accustomed to over in Apple’s camp.

Sadly, my trusty Lenovo X220 with openSUSE Tumbleweed has been relegated to primarily system admin work as I fix things around campus requiring a serial interface and a CLI. I eagerly watch for what the response is going to be from the open source operating systems to where Microsoft has taken Windows 10, but maybe Windows 10 is not the proper course.

All of these words are here to whine about the fact that I often don’t know what to carry with me between home and work. We have a Surface Pro 4 coming in as a test machine for our next faculty deployment at Martin Luther College. Maybe the increased size and speed will force me to start moving to a more device-agnostic way of working.

There are four amazing platforms to work from right now: Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Linux/Open Source. They all have their strong points and their weak points, but the entire ecosystem has been polluted by the fact that each platform is ever so slightly different in major ways (yes, I did read that phrase three times … it is what I want to say). Where do you turn?

Maybe it just doesn’t matter.