Surface Pro 7 – Review Update

Thought the device could do with a longer review. In the main, I’ve not used it nearly as much as I expected. Almost to the point where I think I would have been better off just getting a HDMI-Lightning connector for my aging iPad. But that’s being coldly logical…. but where’s the fun in that?

Whatever, it has worked excellently in the areas that I purchased it for. It has surprised me in areas that I secretly hoped it might work out (gaming). Overall I’m happy with it, though as it’s been about 10 years since I bought a PC, and more than that since I last purchased a PC laptop, I can’t really compare it to anything. Oh, except the heavy, large, cumbersome and slow work laptops I sometimes need to use. (Which reminds me, my new work laptop is due soon – wonder what rubbish that will be).

Gaming

Not really what I picked it up for, but anyway. Playing some scrollers, it is fine. Trine and Assassin’s Creed Chronicles : China seemed to run without much problem. I can hear the fan start up, so even these will have a effect on battery life. Remember, it’s only onboard graphics, not a discrete card. Massive slow down when I tried Rise of the Tomb Raider though, enough that I deleted it straightaway. Mechwarrior Online wouldn’t even start.

It does play Wow alright, at least for questing, I’ve not tried it in a dungeon. The Arc mouse isn’t great for WoW, as I usually use a 17 key Naga. But it’s workable. Enough to grind out some solo questing.

Office Work

It works well for this and I have no complaints. Being a full system, it has the full versions of applications. I find the keyboard pretty good to type on. It does have a little more flex than a standard laptop keyboard but not enough that its noticeable. The keys are well spaced for my normal man sized hands. I like the hot keys up the top, as they are used much more frequently than F keys these days. I really like the backlighting too, the first keyboard I’ve used with it.

I do have the Creative suite installed (well some of it) but haven’t had cause to use it yet. I imagine Photoshop will work well, but it might be a little slow when generating high def movies in Premiere, but I don’t know yet. I do most of my video work on my iMac.

Connectivity

Wireless and Bluetooth connectivity are excellent. GSM connection would be nice to have (I think the Surface Pro X has that option), but I just hotspot my phone. For that I use the USB-A, as it charges my phone as well and is more secure.

The USB-C I have a dongle left over from an Apple, that gives me USB-C to HDMI and that works well.

Discovered the nicely tucked away microSD slot. Massive expansion in storage if you buy a large card. Most of my stuff is cloud stored, so it’s okay. I do have to watch how many games I load though!

You’re not going to be able to connect a whole lot at once, but the USB-A, -C and microSD pretty much covers everything these days. You can get a range of USB-C dongles to connect other stuff even all at once. I haven’t been motivated to do that yet.

Battery Life

I’ve not really pushed this so far. Obviously gaming pushes the battery, I can probably play WoW for a couple of hours. Using it in class to play videos and put things on the screen, it happily goes all day and then some. Even while charging the phone. It would be an unusual day if I took my charger with me.

Tablet / Laptop Mode

It switches readily between the two. I sometimes find the screen a little unresponsive to my finger, but I put that down to the screen protector I’ve added. Keyboard folds readily underneath and you’re in tablet mode. Most controls are workable with your finger, but if I get stuck I just use the stylus.

Using the stylus in the little writing box mostly works well. I also haven’t actually done that too much, so I know some my feeling of being underwhelmed is about practice. The Apple Pencil on the iPad was the same (and needed an OS update or two).

Other Comments

I do like the face recognition for unlocking it. It works quite quickly even in darkness and opens the device.

Physically, it slides nicely into my backpack.

Peripherals

I’ve added a glass screen protector and a case. The case is a Procase Cover. I liked this one as it covered the whole device, seemed moderately rugged and covered the fold out stand. I don’t actually use the Surface’s stand when its in the case. While some of the colourful or picture cases were inviting, I needed something more substantial, where if I’m carrying it about at school, I can relax about it. Been a solid cover so far.

The pen is still great. I use the buttons to open other apps which it does quite quickly. One press and I have OneNote open, two and Whiteboard opens. Handy. As above, more practice.

The Arc Mouse is a fine mouse, and it’s slim nature when stored is a big plus. As above, not so good for MMO gaming 😉

Battery wise both have lasted some time.

Surface Pro 7 – Quick Thoughts

On Monday I worked from home as I didn’t want there to be any problems with the planned delivery of my Surface. The good natured teasing of my colleagues, talking about wrong deliveries and such did nothing to dampen my positivity. The only thing that did was that DHL was reporting 2 items out for delivery and not the third. Once again, the actual Surface was lagging behind.

Working in the study I can hear whenever our front gate opens and with the windows open for the breeze, even the few vehicles passing are easily heard.

I was deep in the middle of painting some Battletech minis when I heard the distinctive sound of a diesel engine idling along and a glance out the window confirmed a DHL van rolling along the street, clearly looking at house numbers. I went out and watched from the gate. There was no chance I was going to let them just “fake deliver” and just drop a card.

I felt a lot happier as he drew THREE boxes from the van and walked towards my gate.

And then it was here.

So I contained my excitement as I carefully packed away the minis and paints. I didn’t want any chance of spilling Waargh Flesh Green on the new Surface!

I ended up with the i7 16GB 256GB, along with the MS Pen, the Signature Pro Type Cover (not with alca… that cloth finish), an Arc Mouse and they threw in a free STM branded case (not a brand I’ve heard of). This case turned out to be more like a small laptop bag, rather than a snug sleeve that I was expecting. It was free, but it’s likely to sit unused in the cupboard.

First impressions. It’s a lot heavier than I expected, especially when compared to the iPad Pro 9.7 (it’s nearly double at 770g vs 440g). Larger, clearly (at 12.9″), but the aspect ratio seems nice for laptop (in landscape) and table style reading, note taking (in portrait). The weight and the lack of protection (I did already have a glass screen protector waiting to install) has meant that I’ve ordered a folio style cover for it. This will let me relax a little, carrying it about in class or at school. I’m also trying to find a nice vinyl overlay as that might look pretty cool.

A collection of software updates followed and a few installs and copying data around occurred for the next couple of hours. However, with most of my data in the cloud (in this case – OneDrive) that’s not so much of an issue these days.

I fluffed about putting a bunch of documents on the cloud and having them available offline on the Surface. This is quite smoothly done and so far space on the Surface has not been an issue, though on the smaller 128GB I had planned it might have been. I’ve added a few games, though being Tomb Raider: Guardian of Light and Trine 2, they aren’t asking for much. I will likely put a more recent TR on it as well, just to see.

And it compares very favourably to my PC performance wise, but then that’s a 2009 vintage i7 1st gen, so not hard. It worked fine on everything I threw at it. Sometimes the screen seems to need a firmer press than my iPad, but I think the screen protector may be a factor there as well.

But how does it go for my work? Well it was tested in real life today. I wouldn’t say this one YouTube video I had to show a class meant that the Surface paid for itself, but it’s put in its first payment. So again, this school has the teachers using their own (some were school issued, but you could BYOD as well) and so I arrived in the class with the teacher walking out with the laptop. She had passed me a lesson plan that used a YouTube video…

As luck would have it, she had a Surface Pro as well. So, a USB-C dongle was waiting that was already connected to the class display AND she had a Surface charger there as well. Sweet. Plugged in and connected to the screen without any button presses from me. Nice.

I did have some hiccups connecting to the network, but that was around my unfamiliarity with the school’s setup and not to do with the Surface or Windows. In the end, I hot spotted off my phone. The video was played and the lesson continued.

Some specific details below before my final thoughts.

Pen – The writing seems a bit clunkier than the Apple Pencil. In OneNote, it will take more practice to get smooth with it. Additionally, like iPadOS, prior to v14, using the Pen outside of a drawing function, that is, as a way to “write” text is awkward to say the least. On the plus side, in OneNote at least, you can convert Ink to Text. I am going to have to practice with this. But the Pencil was the same when I first got it…. it took more consistent use of it before it became “normal”.

Arc Mouse – I really think this is cool. Flat and slim, you “bend” it and it switches on (it’s Bluetooth). This also puts it in a shape that replicates the curve of a mouse. It has a smooth touch sensitive panel that acts as the left/right button and scroll wheel. I think this works very well. The only gripe is that I will need to learn a slightly different grip as the “sides” of the mouse are just air, so it feels like there is nowhere to rest your thumb. Overall, I like it.

ON and OFF.

Surface Pro Type Cover – Easily attached, nice feel keyboard. Happy with it. Make a good cover when folded closed.

OVERALL – I think it will work well as intended. My current teaching (mostly session by session in different classes) means that I am not writing day or unit plans and taking notes about things, so that side hasn’t been tested. The pen will take some more practice (just as the Pencil did).

Its a very nice laptop and a good tablet. Sure the Windows interface is a little less tablet than iPadOS but the tablet side has been built over the top of the many versions of desktop OS before it and it shows up all over the place. But a few clicks with the pen if your finger is too fat and it’s fine.

I am being positive about it meeting my needs, but I will say that after using iPad since the first one in 2010 I am a little set in my ways. It is going to take a little more than I thought to get used to Windows as a tablet/pen combination (as opposed to a desktop/keyboard/mouse).

My first laptop… almost

One of the first things I’ve discovered in my few casual teaching days is that some schools, the teacher brings their own (school issued?) laptop to the class, but this also means that when they aren’t on class, they may have the laptop with them. This means that I can be in a class and have no IT. This is certainly something that can be worked around, but isn’t ideal.

This was the last push that got me thinking about finally upgrading the iPad Pro 9.7 I’ve been using for the last 3 years or so. I would have preferred to stay on Apple, but until Apple has a touch screen, pen enabled, convertible (perhaps?) laptop (oh, they do, it’s called an iPad), then I think they miss out. The other factor is that NSW Public Primary schools are currently all Windows based. And of course, since they are super interesting, I’ve decided to buy a Surface Pro. So it’s almost getting a laptop that is still really a tablet?

Now it has been some time since I’ve had a laptop. And yes, I consider the Surface basically a laptop as it runs a full desktop OS, unlike Android or iPadOS. My first laptop was an Apple Powerbook 145B in 1993. Then we had some mid range Dell in about 2004, which we ended up giving to a friend in about 2005. Then nothing since the iPad in 2010.

It’s probably not quite the right time as I suspect sometime in the next 4-6 months they will announce an upgrade to the current Pro 7, but I might need this as early as next week, so I needed to do something.

I had seen them about 2 months ago at an amazing 20% off. But at that stage I hadn’t decided what I wanted to do (and I hadn’t had my first teaching day back then). So when I did decide, they could only go to 10% off and not off the accessories. I also found that the Microsoft website does 10% off everything for educators and students. But the Black Friday sales were only a couple of weeks away. I decided to wait.

Black Friday sales opened on Wednesday and both the retailers and MS were doing 20% off, with MS still doing the 10% off the accessories and throwing in a sleeve as well. I ordered off MS.

I had settled on the i5 8GB RAM and 256GB HDD version. It was more than I wanted to pay to get the i7 version, and even doubling the RAM was a little more than I was happy to spend, especially when you add about $500 of accessories (type cover, pen, mouse). I knew the i5 would be fine for my use, HDD space can be expanded with USB and cloud storage. And I’m fairly certain the i5 and i7 have the same onboard graphics. However the sales meant I could get an i7 16GB RAM with 256GB HDD for less than the original i5 price. Plus the accessories came down to just over $400 and a free zip up sleeve to carry it all in.

So order placed.

Shipping details arrive…. accessories scheduled for this Friday. Awesome. Surface itself, Monday.

Argh! Frustrating.

DHL let me delay the first deliveries, so I’ll stay home Monday and everything is scheduled for then.

Exciting.

It’s amusing to note that I suspect it will be a more powerful gaming rig than my desktop, which is a 10 year old 1st gen i7 (i7 850).