Month: April 2013

Day 3 with the Surface Pro: Simmering Down

I needed a good day with this device after the wireless troubles of yesterday.  The registry fixes worked as advertised; the problem does seem to be linked exclusively to wireless N networks of certain configurations.  Forcing the card to “g” networks has brought flawless connections, so at least there’s a fix in place (even if it is unofficial).

In the meantime, I’ll forge ahead and see if this device is suitable for work (or at least my work).

Today’s thoughts:

– Windows 8 is truly a treat in this particular packaging. Most of their design choices make sense in the context of a portable touch-screen ultrabook (which is really what this is…more on that later).  There are still a few foibles, but nothing close to gamebreaking, and the positives far outweigh the negatives.

– Trying the type cover again and I like it more than I did before.  Regardless, the touch cover is the way to go.

– This isn’t Microsoft’s fault by any means, but the incongruity of interface ability from app to app really sucks.  Going from something like Outlook 2013 (which is quite optimized for Win8 and the SurPro) to, say, Spotify, can be very jarring indeed.  It prevents from using a similar interface usage all the time; you’re more or less forced to switch away from touch to pen/mouse/trackpad for more accuracy for these apps.  Not really a big deal (thanks to these fabulous keyboard covers), but still “a thing.”

– There were a few all-star moments today that really showed off the versatility of this device.  Bringing it in, confirming the issue, checking the configuration notes in our KB program (which is the same as our aforementioned ticketing system), updating the information as needed, RDPing to a server to make a necessary adjustment, testing with user, then finishing the ticket entry and closing.  Time-saver?  Maybe not, but certainly convenient and organized.  Those two attributes are not lost on me.

– The WiFi issues from yesterday illuminated the fact that this device absolutely needs it.  If I have no WiFi and thus cannot access my ticketing software, then I’m resigned to just typing in notes to transfer to that system later.  At that point, my Nexus 7 becomes a better device simply because it’s smaller.

– And the previous observation begs this question: do I need this much power on the go, at least in this situation?  I’m not so sure.  The convenience of having better browser access and other tools such as RDP is certainly admirable, but in my situation it might not be enough.  Time will tell.

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My Week with the Surface Pro Part #2: And it was going so well…

I’m still hanging in there, resisting the urge to go back to the desktop.  The urge is more born out of the fact that staring at a 10-inch screen isn’t fun all day and I don’t have the display adapter to hook up another monitor.  However, there was another good reason to walk away that reared its ugly head today.  That was an unfortunate rhyme, and I apologize.

Internet and network access is pretty important.  While a computer of any kind can still be very useful without network access, the powers of the inner tubes are what largely power the best computers have to offer, from streaming pretty much anything to cloud-based services.

Being an ultraportable device, the Surface Pro needs a network connection a little more than most computers.  To say it might be the most important feature wouldn’t be an exaggeration.  At least a desktop bought for the same price would be a powerhouse; the price tag on the Surface Pro isn’t for its speed, but rather its versatility.  It might not be a tablet, but it needs a wireless network connection to help justify its very existence.

And that’s what makes the problems I had today all the more puzzling.  My wireless connection was dropping, repeatedly, for no explainable reason.

Power configuration issues?  Adjusted those; same thing.

Issue with moving between wireless repeaters, causing the connection to drop?  No, a disconnection often happened just sitting here.

Drivers?  Updated and verified.

The core reason for this is actually quite surprising: it’s due to a crappy wireless card.  Among what appears to be a premium device with premium innards and premium branding sits a piece of crap wireless card that compromises the whole device.  The usefulness of any portable device (phone, tablet, ultrabooktabletSurfacething) hinges on connectivity, and Microsoft went and got cheap with the wrong part.

What makes this even more unforgivable is that this was a known issue with the Surface RT tablet, the Pro’s x86-less little brother who was on the market months before.  The same wireless card (Marvell’s AVASTAR family, if you were curious) is in both models, and in both models it experiences the same issues: dropped or “limited” connectivity, inability to reconnect without rebooting, and a general malaise in connecting in the first place.

Now, it’s important to note that this issue only really affects 802.11n connections using WPA or WPA2, though that probably accounts for most wireless networks.  It’s also important to note that there is a registry fix that remedies the problem, but that fix just forces the wireless card to connect as a 802.11g network, which has less speed.  Yippee.

Microsoft addressed the acknowledged and known issue with an update in March, but that didn’t work and Surface RT and Pro users are still waiting for a solution.  And that’s ridiculous.

Bluetooth is something you can mess up.  Wireless is not.  Messing with the lifeblood of a portable device doesn’t make for a happy user.

Outside of that possibly deal-breaking issue, things have continued to go well.   I did apply the “fix” and have had no troubles since.  Here’s some other random thoughts:

– Windows 8 becomes far more comprehensible and fluid on the Surface Pro.  Makes sense that an OS that feels like a hybrid works great on a hybrid device.

– I’ve read a demand for an adjustable kickstand; seems silly considering the viewing angles on the display are quite good.

– Seriously need a dock for this.  Seems silly one wasn’t developed.

– Let’s all agree that this touch cover is the best accessory for anything ever.

– Non-business usage: gaming is surprisingly nice.  Ran Torchlight 2 at maximum settings and used the touchscreen to great delight.

More tomorrow.

In progress: My week with a Surface Pro

So based on availability and a perverse love for gadgets, I’ve decided to spend a week using a Surface Pro exclusively at work.  I didn’t purchase this unit, but I’m allowed to use it both at work and as a take-home.  Though I’ll be using it at home as well, my primary focus is to see if this machine does the job, at my job.

Some background info:

– My primary ecosystems are Google and Android; I own a Galaxy S3 and a Nexus 7, and I’m very immersed in Google services.  My Chrome Sync is pretty much something I can’t live without at this point, and services like Google Music and Drive are pretty much non-negotiable (though Spotify has quickly made a move in recent weeks).

– I don’t have any true Microsoft bias; I’m actually going in with a middling opinion on the Surface and Windows 8, the latter of which I’ve used both at home and work for months now.

– The “work” in particular: I’m currently performing IT support at a school.  The job includes a good deal of classroom-to-classroom travel, so a device to keep notes in order is very useful.  My company uses an internet-dependent ticketing system whose web GUI is pretty atrocious, so my solution thus far has been using Evernote on my phone or tablet to keep track of things, then dumping this info into the system once I get back to a desktop (where the Windows app for this system is usable compared to vomit-inducing).  This is where the Surface Pro could truly shine, as I can run this ticketing system app right on a portable device, cutting out the Evernote middle man.

– I’ve started to use this yesterday, and I’ll post my thoughts as they come to me.  So far though, here are a few.

#1: Despite what one would think, the touch cover is clearly superior to the type cover.  The type cover’s tactile feedback isn’t bad, it’s just cramped, thicker, uncomfortable, and I consistently make errors on it.  In stark contrast, the touch cover is creepily accurate, and my typing speed rivals the speed on my favorite keyboard (currently the Logitech Solar Keyboard).  This touch cover has creeped me out, frankly, because I didn’t expect it to be this good.

#2: My approach to the use of this device is quickly changing from “hybrid tablet/laptop” to “just a really portable laptop”.  I think I’ve used the onscreen keyboard twice, and the vast majority of my use with it is on its stand, as if it were a laptop with the superpower of “not as bulky and more comfortable”.

#3: I’ve had some issues with WiFi thus far (which is obviously a huge problem, potentially), but that might be the wireless network setup I’m on rather than the device.

#4: I really wish this thing had a dock accessory.  I have a feeling I’ll be typing a whole lot of words about that at some point.

Stay tuned for more.  Or don’t, this post will likely reach 5 people, and that’s generous.