A long-term Surface Pro 2 test - UPDATE 1

(I'll be updating this post periodically with the good, the bad and the ugly)

The Thing

I bought my fiance a Surface Pro 2... she doesn't know. It gets here tomorrow.

The Goal

To see if a technological layperson can use and enjoy a hybrid PC.

The Subject

She just started a 4 year PhD program in a biology lab. She is not a techy and doesn't have brand loyalty nor any deep feelings about electronics. As long as the phone, tablet or PC she is using let's her do what she wants, she is happy.

Her first smartphone was a POS Android phone she got a couple years ago. She upgraded to a slightly less crummy Android phone about a year ago. She was content with Android though she would often have crashes and other annoying glitches. About 6 months ago I gave her my iPhone 4 that I was using as a testing device. She liked it reasonably well but she could never get her Gmail contacts to sync and show up in various apps and the photo sharing of iOS was very cumbersome.These were enough for her to give that up.

Luckily for her I had just purchased a Nokia 520 for testing. I had a choice between giving her my beloved Nexus 4 or the Nokia so I gave her the Nokia. For everything that she does on a smartphone the 520 fits perfectly, except that Gmail contact syncing problem (that I guess is a problem on all non Android devices?).

Her work has her typing constantly when she is at her desk. When she is home and using a computer it is mostly her laptop that is propped up on her knees either in bed or on the couch. Hulu is on that laptop whenever we are in the kitchen cooking or cleaning. She never really got into apps besides a fitness tracker and a fling with Bejeweled (maybe that's why she is able to use a Windows Phone without problems :-p). Facebook, blogs, Reddit and scientific publication sources are most of her web surfing.

The Problem

She has been using a HP ProBook 4350 for a few years and she is sick of it. The battery, as with most HP products, was junk after the first year. Now she gets maybe 30 minutes of runtime. We discussed buying a new battery to give it a second life but she just wants something new.

We went to some electronic stores to try some stuff out and to see what her priorities for a new computer were.

The Requirements

  • At least 6 hours battery life during actual usage
  • Wide viewing angles (that HP is horrible)
  • Light weight. From holding the different laptops she wanted something lighter than 3lbs
  • "Thin" (I could never really nail down exactly how thin because of things like the trademark Apple "curve" (Air, ZenBook) seemed to be successful in covering up the real thickness when she was holding them)
  • Full size SD card slot (for moving pictures from point n shoot)
  • Stylus
  • Not less spec'd than her HP ProBook (Core i5, 4gb memory)
  • Less than $1000

The Conclusions

So with the exception of the stylus a MacBook Air or Ultrabook would fit great. She had a great time playing with the stylus on the Notes and the Surface Pro, but I'm kind of doubtful that the stylus will get much use. She spends her time in a laboratory running experiments, taking notes and creating mind maps and other diagrams. This sounds like a perfect fit for OneNote or similar but I have had a hard time convincing her to go paperless in the past so we'll see.

The Purchase

Well, my own bias kicked in when the Surface Pro 2 was announced. I want this thing. It would fit my needs as a mobile game developer perfectly. Besides the full SD card slot it fits her needs too. We'll see if she minds having to have a USB card reader. Most of the time she loads up her 16gb card with pictures over a few weeks or months then dumps them to the PC but every now and then she takes a picture that she wants immediately.

I ordered the 128gb ssd , 4gb memory version with a purple Type Cover 2 from the Microsoft Online Store. All told with tax and the $100 student discount it came to $1083.63. A bit over what she said she wanted to spend, but it is my money too. ;)

The Worst Case Scenario

She doesn't like it, I get a Surface Pro 2 and we have to spend another $1000 on a PC (with her purchasing it that time).

UPDATE 1

The Unveiling

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I laid out the Surface in the dining room where she usually goes directly after get home. She was surprised for sure. Apparently she had told me at some point that this is the one that she wanted. So that is good. Unfortunately she had a lot of work to do that night and said she wouldn't have much time to "play". She used it for about 30 minutes and then got to work. What is wrong with non-techies? Every time I get any new bit of electronics, I play with it for hours regardless of what I have to do. :p

The First Hiccup

After she went to bed I stayed up for a while to check this thing out. I'm sold and I'm going to get one. I'm waiting for the 8gb models to come out in December before I buy though. In playing around, I downloaded and tried to play Wordament (her favorite game on Windows Phone) and found that for some reason it won't connect to Xbox Live. Then I tried some other Xbox Live games and they wouldn't work either. I've been in contact with Xbox Live support and Surface support and they can't figure it out either. From some reading online I found some people that had the same issue and nothing would fix it short of clearing all partitions and reinstalling Windows. Doing a Windows Reset won't fix the problem. I might end up exchanging it for another one.

The Verdict So Far

The next day she used the SP2 for most the night. I tried to get her to use the Facebook, Reddit and other apps instead of the browser but I was unsuccessful. Just like when I gave her my Nexus 10 to use, she did not ever get used to using apps. She would always just use the browser. She spent the whole time on the desktop in Chrome with multiple tabs with Hulu, Facebook, Reddit, and science publications open. Whether using the Type Cover or using touch, she had no problems with it.

She loves the form factor. The kickstand is constantly being used either by itself or with the kickstand open and the cover flung up underneath for a bigger surface(!) area. As suspected she hasn't used the stylus beyond when I first showed her OneNote. I'm sure she'll get some use out of it when she takes it in to the lab. She (and I) are very impressed with the Type Cover 2. Who would have thought that such a thin and light keyboard could feel this good (typing on the cover now).

The thing is, she hasn't started transferring her files over yet! She has this brand new computer that makes her old one look like a dinosaur but she is still lugging that tank to and from school. I think this weekend she'll find the time to move all her things over, but, like I said earlier, as a technophile this kind of thing makes no sense to me. I tried to get her to use SkyDrive last year and that was pretty unsuccessful. I'm hoping that the awesome integration with Windows 8.1 will make it easier for her. With this new setup, she won't have to think about it and with 200gb of storage, all of her stuff should fit.

After a full night of usage, I turned the Surface on this morning and it had 46% battery remaining. Considering she is going to have it plugged in all day when she is at her desk during the week, she should only have to bring her charger home on the weekends.

Overall, she seems very happy with it. I'm not sure she is ever going to use the Metro side of things. She feels very comfortable in the desktop. To me it seems like a waste not to use it, but as long as she is happy, it's all cool.

I'll make another update once she brings it into her work setting. I'm curious to see how that goes.

More to come...