I never owned a Surface, pro or otherwise. I currently use a Samsung Galaxy Notes 10.1 2014 and an iPad Air. I preordered Surface 3 from Costco as soon as I read the features and specs. Let me tell you why.
I have an iPhone, two tablets, a laptop, and two workstations at home. I almost never use the laptop at home and only use it to check email at work. That’s because I have two workstations at my desk and access to many network servers if I need even more compute power for work.
To me, a laptop is really not very useful. I can’t do real work on it because even the highest end laptop would look gimped compare to where I actually do work, on my workstations. Just in case someone wonders, at work I use dual socket Xeon workstations, one with 96 GB of RAM, the other with 64 GB. Even at home, my workstations have 64 GB and 32 GB of RAMs each.
I realize this is probably uncommon for most consumers to have such machines at work or home. But that’s not the point. The point is, if you want to do work, then do it on the best system you have access to and your money can buy. For HPC work, that means workstations with fast CPUs, GPUs, large amount of memory and disk space. At any price point, I can build a desktop machine that performs better than a laptop at the same price (tablets are worse at price/performance). That’s not to say laptops and tablets are useless. For many people, laptop is a perfect compromise of workstation and mobility and tablets are just for fun. Macbook Pro has long been a workhorse for video editing professionals. But if we put portability and cool factor aside, I’m convinced that these professionals would take a workstation over a laptop any day of the week. Why not? How about a 27 inch monitor rather than a 15 inch screen? Sure you can dock your laptop and use a larger monitor or even plug in a disk array, but you can’t replace the CPU speed, memory, and multiple high end GPUs. If one is serious about work, there’s nothing can replace a dedicated workstation. Laptop is always a compromise. To some that might be acceptable. To me, it is not good enough for what I need to do.
So I have been using a laptop, two tablets, and an iPhone for browsing internet, email, etc. But I what I really need when I’m away from a workstation is something I can
- Read ebooks, papers (primarily PDFs)
- Write notes (typed and handwritten)
- Use Microsoft office
- Browse internet
- Compile programs (Visual Studio)
- Watch videos
- Photo editing
That’s not a long list, but they are critical to my productivity. Almost any device can browse internet and do emails. But there’s very few devices can do 1, 2, and 3 very well. For a while I was happy with an iPad because it is pretty good at reading ebooks, but writing notes and MS office work are simply not good enough. That’s why I replaced it with a Samsung Galaxy Note with pen support. I thought, since Galaxy Note supports stylus natively, that should solve my note taking problems. But Android is really not useable to me. Maybe it’s Samsung not doing a good job, but I find the whole Android system to be slow, lack of consistency, fragile, and generally not up to bar compare to the iPad. The stylus is certainly better than the iPad, but OneNote, and PDF reading felt half baked compared to the Windows variants.
Android reminds me of Linux back in 1998. I use to be able to spend a week to hack whatever system I was having a problem with, change configs, install a million different drivers, etc. to get things working. That was when I had time to do that. Now I simply don’t have the time. When I use a system I expect it to work and work very well, especially when I pay money for it. Android is not that system. I looked and looked for a decent PDF reader with annotation support on Android, I simply could not find one, free or paid. It feels like I’ve tried them all on Google Play store. None of them are half as good as similar apps on iOS.
Needless to say I’m not happy right now. Friends have showed me Surface Pro 3. I thought it’s decent, but here is why I’m not really interested in Surface Pro 3:
- It’s almost like a laptop (see what I said about laptop earlier)
- It has a fan
- It’s too big
iPad sets the bar for all tablets. I expect tablets to not have fans in it. Ideally the tablet should be about 10-11 inches. This is the device I want to carry with me at all times (24/7), so it can’t be bulky or heavy. Price is less of a problem if Surface Pro 3 didn’t have these other issues. If I’m willing to buy an iPad for $600, why not pay $1000 for something at least twice as good? I was eagerly waiting for Surface Pro 4, but I was afraid some rumors say it will be even larger (14 inches). Now something even better than I imagined came along sooner. Surface 3 seems like the ideal device for me. I’m eagerly waiting for the day it shows up at my door steps next week. Bye-bye iPad, Samsung Galaxy, and laptops. I might write a follow up post on how well Surface 3 works for me.