I bought a Surface Pro 4. Those of you who know me know I’m a *nix guy from way back, and I love my Macs. So, actually spending more tha...
Those of you who know me know I’m a *nix guy from way back, and I love my Macs. So, actually spending more than one Canadian cent on anything from Tinylimp can well be regarded as delusional at best and treasonous at worst. But I couldn’t help it - I was forced to do it simply because, as near as I can tell, there’s nothing else that provides the right fit for my needs...
…which is perhaps the saddest part of this whole affair.
Still, I want to share my travels through the Mordor of computing. Not surprisingly, you’ll learn that it’s not quite as bad as I might be implying with all the hyperbole so far, but it’s still not as good as it should be.
Start with the basics. Why, for the sake of all that’s holy, would I ever stoop so low as to buy a Tinylimp product? Here’s the feature set I was after.
- Properly integrated keyboard. I have a keyboard for my Samsung Note Pro, but I have to charge it separately from the tablet itself. It may seem like a first-world problem, but it isn’t. If you are keyboard-oriented - like me - then being able to depend on your keyboard means having to remember to charge it, in addition to charging the tablet itself. The keys themselves have to be arranged in something akin to what my fingers are used to. I haven’t got time to teach them multiple layouts. And the bluetooth connection from the Note Pro to the keyboard does impact battery performance of the tablet too, so….
- Backlit keyboard. I often end up wishing I could write in the dark: in a darkened lecture room, on a night flight, in bed without waking my sleeping wife, etc. Sorry, but I just can’t do that without some backlighting on the keyboard. I can’t find a reasonable backlit keyboard for my Note Pro that doesn’t kill the battery or miss some other necessary requirement.
- A reasonable pen/stylus. I love pens. I know pens. I depend on pens at least as much as I do on keyboards. I need a stylus that’s as close as I can get to an actual pen. Using my finger, or a stylus the business end of which is as fat as my finger, is just a bad joke. The s-pen on my Note Pro isn’t too bad for performance, but it’s no where near the right form factor for me.
- A platform that leverages the stylus well. For my teaching, I really benefit from being able to doodle, write, and draw in real time so that my students see how I’m writing/drawing as well as what I’m writing/drawing. That means I need apps that actually take advantage of the stylus, and a platform to which I can slave the presentation tech we have at my university. This is one area where the Note Pro does quite well. After more investigation than I would have thought necessary, I found suitable hardware (a Diamond WPCTVPRO transmitter and the DisplayLink Desktop app for Android) that work just fine. Beyond that, though, I want to be able to integrate writing, text, and other things more easily because I know there’s really no technological barrier to it, and I know that that would help me get shit done better and faster.
- Usable, useful apps. LectureNotes for Android is simply amazing for drawing on the Note Pro. Evernote, though quite buggy on Android, is good enough; although I find its stylus/writing handling to be rather primitive. Simplemind works pretty well and runs on all my other platforms, so I can access my mind maps from any of my devices. But they're all separate and hard to use in an integrated way. This is magnified by the relatively haphazard way that the Samsung s-pen is supported, or not, by the various apps. I've heard good things about OneNote, but the Android version is so pathetically lobotomized that it's simply not worth the effort. And while Google Apps are fucking awesome on Android, Google just doesn't make all the apps I need.
- A real operating system. Since the drawing-in-lecture thing is working out really quite well, I want to depend more on the tablet for mobile work computing and less on my laptop, which is quickly becoming my desktop. See, I don’t really need much in the way of computing power. My iMac has become my server. My Macbook Air has become my desktop. And I would like my tablet to become the thing I carry around with me to get stuff done. iOS just isn’t going to cut it for me - far too restrictive. Android is quite close, but it’s still too clumsy - especially for simple content creation where I’m switching between a browser, and writing app like Evernote, and some other apps to help find appropriate bits of information. Also, Android apps tend to be just a wee bit dumber than their full blown desktop counterparts, and that wee bit snowballs quickly into a time suck I’m just unprepared to live with.
When you put all this together, there seems very little choice; I’m pretty much stuck with a Windoze 10-based 2-in-1 computer with a good stylus. iOS is just too precious for its own good (though I continue to maintain that OSX is fucking awesome). Android just doesn't yet have the feature set - both in hardware and software - that I need (though I continue to maintain that Google Apps are fucking awesome). Nothing else comes close.
The thing that pushed me to get a Surface rather than, say, an HP Spectre X360 or a Lenovo Yoga 900 was the price. The day I wandered into that icky Tinylimp store, they were having a sale: M-class CPU Surface Pro 4 for $999 (CAD). The M CPU is all I need, performance-wise, and since it’s passively cooled, it should kill the battery a bit more gently that the i5 or i7 CPUs.
And so, there you have it. It was depressingly inevitable. I walked out of the Tinylimp store with a Surface, a “type cover,” and a dirty feeling.
Next, I’ll write a bit about my initial experiences with the Surface.