Surface Tensions


So I got myself a Surface Pro. Took until Thursday morning last week, and a high speed white knuckle walk over to the Microsoft Store in Bellevue first thing to pick one up after I called and found out they had some stock (of course I couldn’t reserve it). In the end I took my 128G device, paid the lady and left. And I really like it. But that is not to say there haven’t been issues.

First up there is the finish. The Pro looked really nice when I first got it. Shiny and lovely. Unfortunately, unlike the granite like paint job on the Surface RT, my Pro looks as if it has been covered with icing rather than paint. I’ve already chipped lumps off the kick stand simply by brushing the device against the zip on my backpack. For someone as fussy as I am about my gadgets this is a major blow. I’m keeping it in a little “Surface bag” and babying it as much as I can, but I’m also anxiously checking it every five minutes for any more bits of paint that have dropped off. For a premium device which is sold at least in part on its toughness this is a bit of a let down to be honest. Not that it in any way affects how well it works of course, it is just that I like my new stuff to stay new looking. It helps with the subsequent sale on eBay.

Second there is the screen resolution. Now actually this is wonderful. The sharpness and colour depth are amazing. And there are loads of pixels. Too many in fact. If you look at the screen in “normal” 100% scale everything is teeny tiny. Microsoft have addressed this problem by setting the scaling for the display to 140%, and this makes all the icons and most programs look fine on the tablet. Of course things like Adobe products, which for no reason at all have their own display management, look stupidly teeny tiny, but that’s not the worst problem. You get that when you plug the Surface into an external monitor for a lecture and find that you are now viewing 1024x768 at 140% magnification. I thought I’d gone mad. Nothing fitted on the screen and everything was too large. Once I figured it out I then had the unpleasant realisation that I have to change the resolution and then sign out and back in again to fix it. Every time I do a presentation. If the system was smarter it would either realise that scaling up on a 1024x768 screen was perhaps a bit stupid, or perhaps it could allow me to scale different displays different amounts, so I could scale the tablet at 140% and the external screen at 100%. But it doesn’t do either of these sensible things. One answer, I suppose, is to just set the desktop to some lower resolution, but that kind of defeats the point of that gorgeous display. Everything works fine under the Windows 8 Metro display of course, but that is not something I use much.

Finally there are the Windows updates. This is not really the fault of the Surface itself, it is a more general malaise. Twice during the update process the system got stuck because it needed a reset to install updates and it didn’t get one. Twice I had the update process break and had to go in and delete all the cached update files and restart. Initially I thought I’d leave the machine to sort itself out, and was rewarded with the message that “This machine will reboot in the next two days” to finish installing updates. Of course, with an update reboot pending I couldn’t install any other software in that period and so I had to wade in and waste valuable chunks of my life watching progress bars. Wah. I know that updates are important and necessary, but there must be a better way than making the customer lose the best part of two days of faffing around before the machine can be made properly useful and stable. This is not just a Microsoft problem either, I dread turning my MacBook on because of the inevitable torrent of upgrades I’ll get (and don’t get my started about the 30 or so updates that are pending on my iPad applications). Perhaps the shops could apply updates to machines before sale. Perhaps updates could be applied behind the scenes. Perhaps somebody could figure out how to get updates out to machines without upsetting the user. We’ve had PCs for thirty years or so and we as still fixing them the same way. And it is awful.

And now the good news. The Surface Pro is ace. Goes like the wind. Runs everything I throw at it. Good for at least four hours of whatever I want to do on battery power. Weighs not a lot. And probably the only machine I really need.