If you look very carefully at the audience picture for my AI Frenzy talk on Thursday you’ll notice that in the bottom right hand corner you can see a tiny slice of my Surface Go. I’ve used it for presentations in the past and I thought I would again. This time I was running PowerPoint, Visual Studio and the Machine Learning app that I was demonstrating. It worked just fine. I was very keen to show people that you can use such a lowly machine to deliver presentations and it worked just fine. I love this little machine. It is properly portable and properly useful.
I didn’t plan to use my Surface Go for my presentations at the Black Marble Architecture Forum. It’s just that my Azure Function demo worked on the Go, but not on the Surface Pro that I was intending to take to Leeds. Something to do with Visual Studio needing an upgrade. But of course I didn’t have time to do that. So, I headed out to the venue, hoping that someone would have a way to get video out of the single usb c port that the Surface Go is fitted with.
Turns out that they could connect me up. The device above, from Dell, worked wonderfully. I reckon it is a perfect companion to the Go. It gives you three different kinds of video, VGA, DisplayPort and HDMI, along with USB, wired networking and a usb c port pass through. The cable is coiled niftily inside too. I plugged it into the Surface Go, got a solid video signal out into the projector and I was away.
Everything just worked. I had PowerPoint, Visual Studio Community edition and a bunch of browsers I was hopping between. Running up the Azure Function demo in Visual Studio just worked, and at a reasonable speed too. I even managed to use my old Surface Pen to remotely change the slides (although the battery in this is a bit tired, so I had to stay close to the computer).
I’d taken along my venerable old Surface wireless display adaptor that I bought years ago. It also works a treat on the Go but I didn’t need it thanks to the lovely little Dell device.
If you’re thinking of using the Surface Go as your portable presentation machine, just do it.
I really love my Surface Go. I reckon that the best computer is the one that you don’t know you’re carrying, and on that basis it is great. You hardly notice when it’s in your bag.
But if I was using the machine all day and charging it every night I’d like it even more. This is because, like most Windows 10 machines, its sleep performance is not that great. Sometimes I leave the machine in my bag for a day or two and that usually means that when I open it up to use it the battery is pretty much flat.
However, you can fix this, at the expense of a tiny bit of convenience. The trick is to use the additional power settings to re-define the what the power button does. By default both closing the lid (or type cover in this case) and pressing the power button send the computer to sleep. That’s fine if you’re going to want to use the computer immediately in the next hour or so. When you open the lid or press power Windows 10 snaps right back into action. However, the problem is that in sleep mode the machine will only last a day or so before the battery goes flat (that’s been my experience with Surface Go and other Windows laptops - if yours is better, let me know)
I’ve changed the power button to make my Surface Go hibernate instead of sleep. When a machine hibernates it saves a copy of everything that’s running and then turns off completely. Waking from hibernation takes a few seconds more than waking from sleep, but you’ll have a lot more battery life left.
You can access the menu to set the behaviour of the power keys by doing the following:
Press the Start key
Type “power and sleep” and select the “Power and Sleep” option from the matches
Then select the “Additional Power Settings” from this menu, as shown below
Then click “Choose what the power buttons do” on the top left of the menu that appears.
Now select the options as you can see at the top of this post
When you know you won’t need the computer for a while, just press the power button rather than close the keyboard cover. You can then wake the machine with another press of the power button, and it will pick up exactly where you left off, but with a lot more charge in the battery. You can use this trick on any laptop.
When I finish writing a book I allow myself by buy a new computer. It's quite a thing for me. Last year, when I finished "Begin to Code with Python" I got myself an Apple iPad Pro. I was hoping to be able to use it to do proper work on the go. It has an OK keyboard and versions of most of the applications that I use. However, I found it impossible to use productively, over and above responding to emails. Simple actions such as copying values from one spreadsheet to another were taxing beyond belief. And of course, there was no way I could use it to write code. It's great for reading magazines and playing Zoo Keeper, but as a way getting something done, it sucks.
So, move forward to the latest book, the C# exam reference that has just gone to print. This time I've gone and bought myself a Surface Go. I got the bigger of the two versions available, with 128G of storage and 8G of ram. Both versions use a Pentium Gold processor, a model I've not heard of before. If the Surface Go used an Intel Atom processor I'd not have bought it. I've lost count of the number of Atom based computers that I've bought over the years. I was always tempted by the low price, but I was also always annoyed by the way that the things ran with the speed that custard flows uphill.
I'd read a few mixed reports of Surface Go performance, but enough people who I respect had said it was OK for me to take the plunge and part with cash. I needn't have worried. The Surface Go just works. It gets there. If I compare it with my venerable, i7 powered, Surface 3 device it's like comparing the tortoise and the hare.
The Surface Pro 3, like the hare, sets of in a blaze of speed, and then, a few seconds later the fan comes on, the case gets hot, and things slow down to a much more sedentary level. Then a couple of hours after that the batteries go flat and everything stops.
The Surface Go tortoise sets of at a somewhat more sedate pace and maintains that until it gets there. There are no fans, nothing gets hot and nothing slows down. And the battery seems to go on for a lot longer. If you remember the story, you'll remember that the tortoise was the race winner. Enough said.
I've not bought and commissioned a new Windows computer for a very long time. The Surface Go "out of box" experience was very slick, involved Cortana, and had me working and connected to my Office 365 account in about ten minutes. Microsoft Office is already installed andI didn't need to copy all my files onto the small hard disk, just the ones I wanted to have with me all the time. All the rest will be automatically fetched when needed. Of course, there were updates, but these weren't too onerous.
The device arrived in Windows 10 "S" mode. This isn’t a separate version of Windows, its more like a safety catch that, when set, stops you from running anything other than programs from the Windows Store. However, this is easy to remove and in no time I was installing Visual Studio 2017, Visual Studio Code, Python, GitHub, the Arduino SDK and few other tools of the trade. All worked fine. Visual Studio 2017 is a beast of a program and, sure enough, large projects take a little while to load (around twice the time they do on my Surface Pro 3) but once they are open you can work on your code with a commendable lack of slowdown. I'm not going to use it with Lightroom or Photoshop because that's not what I got it for. Although, in a pinch, I reckon it could deliver if I was patient.
The Surface Go uses Windows Hello face recognition to log me in and while it isn’t quite as good as the one fitted to the iPhone X, it is properly useable. The screen is lovely. The sound is OK, within the limitations of speakers as small as they have to be to fit in such a tiny device. Battery like is OK too, nothing like the promised 9 hours, but good enough to remove any battery anxiety during a working day. It's also possible to charge the Go via its USB C socket, so I'm able to use my portable battery pack to top up the charge when out and about.
The keyboard is a smaller version of the lovely type cover on the Surface 3. I've just about got used to the smaller keys and I can type at good speed using it. If you're thinking of buying a Surface Go I'd strongly suggest you get the keyboard, along with an Office 365 subscription that gives you the use of the Office suite of programs and removes the need to have all your files on the device all of the time. I've paired my old Surface 3 pen with the Surface Go and discovered that the drawing and text entry experience is very, very, good. I reckon it's easily on a par with the Apple pencil on the iPad Pro.
I find that the Surface Go is a device that for me brings a bit of joy when you use it. The quality of manufacture and finish is the equal of much more expensive devices. Everything about it feels just right. It is the perfect size to take with you everywhere and has enough processing grunt to allow you to be useful when you get there. They say that the best camera is the one that you have with you at the time. By that yardstick the Surface Go is the best computer.
It's not that good for games though. Fortnite runs jerkily (although slightly better than on my Surface Pro 3). Graphically simpler games, for example Minecraft, run rather nicely. If the lack of Fortnite is making you think you need a more graphically powerful (and expensive) device like an iPad Pro my advice would be to get a Nintendo Switch with the price difference.
I think this is pretty much the perfect student device. Plenty of battery life, a workable processor, and access to proper productivity. You also get premium finish and the ability to be used as a tablet. And a genuinely pleasant user experience. It's a really nice feeling to have a tiny machine with you that you know can be used to turn out some proper work. If you're thinking about getting a little portable computer you really should take a look at the Surface Go. The girl in PC World was saying that they're selling quite a few Surface devices these days. I can see why.
So, I was talking to Lilian from Microsoft last week, and explaining how I didn't think I needed to buy a Surface Book device because the only difference between it and my Surface Pro 3 is that it has a Graphical Processor Unit (GPU) in it. I reckoned I that I had no need for GPU support because I don't play games or do graphical things. She reminded me that lots of programs, including Adobe Lightroom - which I use a lot - make heavy use of GPU hardware to speed things up.
I tested this theory over the weekend, running Lightroom on my HP Sprout, that has a reasonable GPU in it. Turns out she's right. The GPU makes raw decoding of images much, much, faster. So now I want a Surface Book. The big one. With the GPU.
Thanks for that Lilian.
So, here I am in one of my favourite places in all the world. For one of my favourite events of the year. I've been coming to the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional summit for a while now, and it is always fun. it is great to see a bunch of familiar faces and get to talk tech.
I flew in this afternoon on a geek-packed plane. The best way to get from Hull to anywhere is to nip down to Humberside airport, take a one hour flight to Schipol airport near Amsterdam and then fly anywhere; usually non-stop. So that's what I did.
The flight was great, although the last twenty five minutes were a bit more action packed than I was expecting. On some flights the captain says "Watch out for turbulence" and nothing much seems to happen. Well, this time we definitely got the bumpy ride that was promised.
After a bit of queuing at the airport we headed for the bus. A 2.50 dollar bus ride beats a 50 dollar cab ride every day. Once I'd unpacked I of course headed for the Bellevue mall and the Microsoft Store there. I wanted to have a look at the new Surface Book and see what other goodies they had in stock. The store was mad busy. Packed with people stacked up and waiting to buy stuff. It was so hectic at one point I had to go upstairs to the Apple store for some peace and quiet....
The Surface Book looks really nice and I was mentally setting aside the funds to get one but I've now really changed my mind. Thing is, it is rather expensive and probably scratches an itch that I haven't got. I don't need hairy graphics performance or all day battery life and so I reckon I can make do with my trusty Surface Pro 3. The other thing that I discovered is that the Surface Pro 4 Type Cover is awesome. Awesome, awesome, awesome. The keys are much better, the trackpad is proper and the hinge arrangement seems a lot stiffer, so it is much less "clacky" if you fold it back to angle the keyboard a bit. This keyboard is so good that I think it makes the Surface Pro a really viable laptop, without the need for the fancy book.
I'm typing this post on the new keyboard and it works really well. I managed to get one of ones with built in fingerprint reader (not available in the UK sadly) and It works wonderfully too. I'm going to have to live with slightly wrong keys here and there, but I reckon it is worth the trade off.
They also had some Microsoft Band 2 devices on sale. I quite liked my version 1 band, but it was never really as comfortable as I would have preferred. The new band addresses that, with much more flexible sides and a really premium feel that is streets ahead of the first version. I picked up one of them too (I figure that if I decided to get one any later they would have sold out) and I'll have a play with it later in the week. All I want to do at the moment is sleep....
My Surface Pro is really coming into its own now. Folks I know who have purchased new ones recently seem to have a very high opinion of them. None of them are complaining of the issues that I had a while back. Perhaps recent firmware updates have sorted out the problems I was having with suspend and resume.
So for the last few days I've tried something new with my poor device. I've been treating it abominably. Up until now I've been very careful about starting up and shutting down and docking and undocking. But recently I've given up on that. I've been snapping the machine in and out of the dock and just closing it when I'm done and opening it up again when I want to work.
It seems to work really well. In fact last night I went a bit too far and undocked the machine while Adobe Lightroom was still running and connected to an external drive. That caused Lightroom a few problems as its universe collapsed around it, but the Surface took it all in its stride.
The one major difference in my approach is that I'm very careful not to interrupt the machine when it is sorting itself out on startup. Previously I'd press the power button, not see anything happen and then press and prod other buttons. I'd also probably press the power button and close the cover and generally do things that confused things.
I'm much more careful now. If I want it to shut down I just close the cover. When I open the machine I check by touching the Windows button to see if the Surface is trying to wake up. I get a buzz from the haptic feedback motor in the machine if it is doing something and so I just wait for things to appear, which they have done so far.
I hope this post doesn't jinx things, because at the moment the machine is completely living up to the promise it had when I bought it.
My Surface Pro in its natural habitat......
So I've had my Surface Pro 3 now for a couple of months or so. We've had our ups and downs:
Ups: Reading magazines at full size (and weighing less than the printed copies). Running full fat Windows apps at blistering speed away from home on battery power. Snapping in and out of the dock with ease. Being very shiny and pleasing to own.
Downs: the time it refused to start up in front of a full class of first year students. And then later the same day hid my Bluetooth mouse and keyboard in front of a slightly smaller audience. Getting a horrible experience using Hyper-V (which you need to emulate but not write Windows Phone apps)
I think it is fair to say that I now love the device. If you're thinking of getting one, here are my tips for how to get to love yours too:
Don't enable Hyper-V (f you don't know what that is, skip to the next paragraph) I’ve turned off Hyper-V and don’t intend to turn it on again anytime soon. Hyper-V has broken pretty much every machine I’ve ever used, starting with my Samsung Slate whose usb drivers were just not able to handle it, going through my Sony Ultrabook and earlier Surface systems. If not having Hyper-V is a deal-breaker for you, then think hard before acquiring a Surface Pro 3. I now write Universal apps and debug them by deploying to the machine. That works without Hyper-V being enabled and if I want to debug on the phone I plug one in and deploy to that. Not sure if this is optimal for everyone, but it works for me. If you want to turn Hyper-V on and off there are a couple of batch files you can use here.
Shut down before you undock if you have hard disks connected to your docking station. I always shut my machine down before I undock it. To me this seems like common sense. If I corrupt one of my big USB drives I might have a data recovery job on my hands which I’d rather avoid. I’d use eject if I could be sure that I’d always do it. The machine boots from cold in under a minute or so and this doesn't seem to be costing me much time. If you don't plug your Surface into an external monitor while it is undocked and you haven't got any storage devices attached to your docking station it should be fine to use the dock as it is meant to be used, just snapping the tablet in and out as you go through your day.
Be patient when you hit the power switch. I’m working on acquiring more patience (if only I could get that in a hurry). I give the machine time to get going after I press the power button and I've turned off "Allow this device to wake the computer” for the Surface Type Cover in Device Manager. It’s so that I don’t open the cover, turning it on and then press the button and turn it off again.
A few years ago a machine like the Surface Pro 3 would have seemed like impossible magic. And now it is here and working for me. And I really like it.
My Surface Pro 3 arrived earlier this week. I ordered it when they were released because I really, really wanted one. I'm going to have to sell lots of things to pay for it, but from the look of things it will replace my iPads and desktop machines.
The hardware is lovely. It's as if they've listened to all the complaints about earlier versions and acted on them. The power plug is no longer designed to gouge lumps out of the expensive paintwork, the kick stand tips all the way back to make it work really well on your lap and the touch pad on the keyboard is actually usable (like it was on the original Type keyboard before they broke it with the 'improved' version).
I've spent a happy evening or two loading software onto the machine and it has finally got all my working files from OneDrive. For this new machine I'm trying a new trick. I'm writing a log of all the software that I install and all the funny settings changes that I make to get things to work. This will be useful to me if I ever move to a new machine (it has been known). I always end up having to remember where I got that program from, or what it was that I did to make it work properly. And writing the log gives me something to do as the progress bars drag themselves across the screen.
I've not noticed any problems, except for one. The Surface Pro 3 has a feature called InstantGo. This makes the machine wake really quickly from sleep. It also enables a neat trick where you can start the machine and open up OneNote just by clicking the button on the active pen that comes with the machine (and is lovely by the way). Problem is that this feature doesn't work if you enable Hyper-V on the Surface. So, why would you enable Hyper-V? Well, you need it to use the Windows Phone emulator among other things.
If you install Visual Studio 2013 it enables Hyper-V automatically, which causes a couple of bad things to happen. Firstly InstantGo (and Sleep) disappear from the Power Options, which become really confusing. Secondly the machine doesn't reconnect to the WiFi at all well. I had a nervous few minutes thinking I had a broken machine before I did some searching and found the cause of the issue.
This is not a huge problem for me just right now. Without Hyper-V enabled I can debug Universal apps using the local machine (although the simulator doesn't work) and I can deploy programs into the phone to debug. To make life easier for myself I've written a couple of batch files that turn Hyper-V on or off and reboot the machine. I just right click on them and run them as administrator (or I could create a Start Menu shortcut that does that). This makes it easy for me to flip between the modes. If you have a use for them you can find them here.
One thing about the Surface Pro 3 that is completely wonderful is the way that it works with Xinio. I signed up for Xinio a while back and earlier this week they had a 40% discount event (I think they have discounts quite frequently). I managed to get subscriptions to four titles that I normally buy for around 45 quid for the year, which I reckon is very good value.
Magazines look lovely on the screen and the pages are pretty much life sized. The 4:3 aspect ratio of the screen is just right for reading and the Surface itself weighs a bit less than one magazine, particularly if you unclip the keyboard. I think the days of me having a big pile of paper by the bed are now numbered.
This really does look like the "everything device" I've been after for a while. I reckon that it should replace my desktop and I should be able to use it as a proper tablet too. The OneNote integration is very useful if you want to scribble a note or capture something off the screen and use it somewhere else. In fact it has left me looking at OneNote anew. I've never really got to grips with it, finally this platform might be the one that makes it part of my life.
If you are looking at your iPad and thinking "Wouldn't it be nice if I could actually use it to make things" then the Surface Pro is for you. I've got the i7 version (I'm going to have to sell a lot of things) but my old i5 Surface Pro 2 ran all the power applications I could throw at it, including Photoshop, Visual Studio, the Office Suite, FreeCad and Cura. Sometimes all at the same time. So I reckon you could quite comfortably get the i5 Surface Pro 3.
I hope they sort out the Hyper-V issue. I've a feeling that a machine like this will be lapped up by serious developers and it is a shame that their lives are being made more difficult by this problem. But apart from that, strongly, strongly recommended.
I love my shiny new Surface Pro 2 dearly. It is very, very, close to the perfect computer. It is useful in about any situation. It weighs next to nothing for a machine of this power. The screen makes movies look lovely. The battery lasts for a good while. There is enough disk and memory space to put all my work on it (I got the 256G disk version with 8G of ram) and the machine seems powerful enough to run just about everything I throw at it.
And yet it is not perfect.
The first problem I’m having is one shared by very many Surface Pro 2 (and perhaps Surface 2 owners). The machine is a bit like me first thing in the morning. It really doesn’t like to wake up. Putting the machine to sleep and then waking it up again is a terrible lottery. Sometimes it works. Other times it does a fresh reboot, killing any applications that were running. And now and again it does a really frightening thing involving “Automatic Repair” that doesn’t seem to result an any great data loss, but it does scare the bejesus out of you, and is just the thing you don’t want to see on the way to a lecture you are about to present from it. From the forums I notice that quite a few people are having the same problem. Some link it to the Type Cover 2, others to the WIFI adapter. I’ve tried a few of the suggested fixes, but the only one that really worked for me was to tell the machine not to sleep when you closed the cover, but to hibernate instead. This is the mode where the machine copies all of the memory to the hard disk and then shuts down, loading the memory back on restart. This is a tad slower than waking from sleep, but it does seem a lot more reliable.
The second problem I’m having is that the Wi-Fi adapter does not work reliably on the university network. At home fine. In Starbucks fine. On the Microsoft Campus fine. At the University I get around five minutes of operation followed by failure. The Wi-Fi hardware thinks it is connected but all applications that try to use the network beg to differ. This is very annoying. Initially I thought I was going mad, but then I found a post on the Surface forums describing these exact symptoms in another device.
I’m inclined to wonder if all this is an issue with the Hyper-V virtual machine feature. I’ve, rather unwillingly, had to turn this on so that I can develop for Windows Phone 8, but I’ve noticed on other computers that some device drivers really don’t work well in this mode. I also think that the power on problems are not restricted to the Surface platform, some other machines I’ve used seem startlingly bad at getting going.
I’m hopeful that these will be fixed by a firmware/driver update some time soon. Microsoft are maintaining a stoic silence in the face of these problems, which I hope means that they are working feverishly behind the scenes to fix them.
If you have been unlucky/daft enough to chip the paint on your lovely new Surface Pro then I have have some good news. Revell enamel paint “32109 Anthracite” (see here) is an absolutely perfect match for the paint on the Surface. I’ve put a tiny amount on the scratches (which, admittedly were pretty tiny to start with) and they have completely vanished.
And, bearing in mind no new scratches have appeared, I think the little tin above (price at one pounds sixty pence) is going to be a lifetime supply as far as I’m concerned.
Well, I’ve had my Surface RT for quite a few weeks now and so I thought I’d write down what I think of it so far.
General usefulness: Very high. It has replaced my iPad as my browsing weapon of choice, principally because web sites seem to work better for me. Especially those which have nasty pull down menus that you can’t access via a touch screen. Because I have the touch cover plugged in I can just open them with no problem. I like being able to plug a memory key directly into the device and pull the files straight off it. And the Office/Skydrive/Printer combination (i.e. I can get documents off my Skydrive, edit them and then print them) is a wonderful thing. Great for presentations too, I’ve got the VGA output and that works a treat.
Battery Life: OK but not as great as the iPad. Having said that, it has never let me down. I just have to remember to charge it.
Fun to Own: Getting better. There aren’t as many apps as other platforms, but because the browser is more capable you can do more things on the web, for example BBC iPlayer. Since they added solid implementations of Solitaire and Mah Jong to the store it has got a lot better for me personally. There is now a really good image editor (Fhotoroom) and I don’t feel the lack of much. I’ve got tons of applications on the iPad that I’ve never actually used after the day I downloaded them.
Annoyances: The Mail client is very weak and deeply annoying to use. I really miss Outllook. I was upset to find that there is no Silverlight support. There seem to be more updates that I expected, and the application updater seems to get stuck every now and then. Having said that, every time I turn on my iPad I find that at least four or five applications need updates there too.
Surprises: I was gobsmaked to find that I can actually create and deploy applications on the Surface RT using Visual Studio. Nothing anywhere tells you that this is possible, I was convinced that the only way I could get code onto the device was to put an application in the Windows Store and then buy it. If you want to do this you can find out more here. The really nice thing is that once you have remote debugged an application it remains on the Surface RT for later use from the Start menu. When you install the remote debugging client on the Surface you have to give your developer id but after that it all just works, barring a bit of fun and games configuring remote debugging.
Conclusion: I’m pleased I bought a Surface RT. Having said that though, I’d love to get my hands on a Surface Pro, that could well be my dream computer.
I got my Surface Type Cover earlier this week. It makes the Surface even more useful, in that I can touch type up a storm on the device now. There have been some mutterings on the interwebs about performance and how things slow to a crawl when you are typing into the Word program. I’ve not noticed this. I did notice that the day after I received the Surface it did a dirty great upgrade of the Office 2013 installation, which might be why I’m not seeing problems.
I’ve been using the Surface for presentations and it seems fine. I even got one presentation directly off Skydrive, which was a little bit slow to render, but it worked well apart from that. The presenter view in Powerpoint 2013 is actually quite nice to use.
One Surface tip: I wanted to put a SD card full of music onto the Surface but adding content from removable drives into the Music folder doesn’t work. It seems you are not supposed to do this. Fortunately, with the whole thing being based on Windows you find that someone else has already figured out a way of doing this, which is rather nice.
Some folks have asked for more details about the cover. So here goes. The keys actually move, and the distance they move is very impressive bearing in mind the depth of the keyboard itself. I like the feel of the keys. I reckon I could type quite a bit faster using the type cover than I can with the touch cover. The touch cover is nice enough, and way better than an on-screen keyboard, but I miss the tactile feedback that you get with moving pieces of plastic.
The spacing of the keys is about right too and there is a tiny touchpad, around the size of a business card. This is actually one of the weaker points, in that the click parts are integrated into the pad at the bottom. This is fine for clicking on things but makes dragging things a bit of a, er, drag.
If you have a Surface I think you can make it much more useful by adding this cover. If you are thinking of getting a Surface as a replacement for a laptop then I reckon the keyboard would not hold you back much. I've used laptops which worse keyboards than the type keyboard. The thing that would hold you back a bit is the paucity of applications for the device. If your horizons only reach as far as Microsoft Office, email and web browsing, along with media playback and popular games like Angry Birds then you'll be fine. If you need a specific Windows application that only runs on "full fat" Windows 8 (the Surface that you can buy now only runs the "RT" version which supports the latest Windows 8 apps and nothing else) then you'd be best waiting for the Surface Pro which should be out in the new year.