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  • My Experiences with a Surface Book

    Posted on Nathan Parker Comment on the AskWoody Lounge

    Home Forums AskWoody support PC hardware Questions: Microsoft Surface My Experiences with a Surface Book

    This topic contains 4 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  anonymous 6 months, 3 weeks ago.

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    • #336727 Reply

      Nathan Parker
      AskWoody_MVP

      I was using a Surface Book when I first began actively reading Windows Secrets and participating in the Windows Secrets Lounge. I won’t repeat everything from the posts I made in the Windows Secrets Lounge, since those are coming over when the forum merge is complete.

      I will give a brief summary to the AskWoody community about my experiences with a Surface Book, and what cautions I have for potential Surface customers.

      Some of my issues with the Surface Book stemmed from Windows 10 in general (Windows 10 updates, issues attempting to adjust to Windows 10 from a Mac, etc.). I eventually ended up going back to a Mac for my day-to-day work machine, but there are still many who need Windows, and who are going to have to bite down hard and endure the oddities of Windows 10. For those who do, my advice would be keep reading the AskWoody newsletter and keep posting to the AskWoody forums, and they are an excellent place for advice, and the Windows Secrets Lounge was there for me when I had my share of Windows questions.

      My biggest issues with the Surface Book stemmed from how Microsoft attempted to integrate software with hardware, and especially with firmware. For those who would think (as I originally did) that with Microsoft designing both the hardware and software, that Windows would offer a more integrated experience like Apple offers with the Mac, you would be (and I was completely) mistaken. While the Surface hardware itself was decent during my usage of it, Microsoft has not yet “cracked” hardware/software/firmware integration well at all. The high DPI screen on the Surface Book was nice, but some apps loaded extremely clunky with it and didn’t scale well. Automatic graphics switching didn’t always kick in properly, and at times I would begin rendering large video projects using the integrated GPU, forcing me to quit and re-open the app while forcing it to use the discreet GPU.

      My most vexing issue was the “sleep of death” issue due to the way Microsoft handled sleep mode on the Surface Book. They set the firmware to now allow traditional sleep mode and forced it to use “connected standby”, which due to a bug in how the chipset and firmware worked, when my machine would go to sleep, many a time it wouldn’t wake back up, forcing a reboot.

      Additionally, I attempted to use the Surface Book as my primary tablet for a while, and no matter how much Microsoft tries to optimize Windows 10 for touch, the hybrid experience is poor. It’s not so much that the touch screen itself was an issue, but I found that touch apps were generally sub-par over competing tablet platforms (and far fewer on the Windows Store), plus because the machine was running a full i7 processor and Windows OS under-the-hood when un-docked from the keyboard, battery life was extremely poor as a tablet.

      So my advice would be for those considering a Surface for a Windows computer: beware. Microsoft hasn’t near perfected hardware/software integration yet, as well as firmware is one of the major issues I encountered with the Surface Book. AskWoody members are better off sticking with traditional PC manufacturers (although I have had issues with Dell as well), and my advice would be when purchasing a new PC, come to the AskWoody community and discuss with members about their experiences with various brands, models, stores, etc., and use the research to choose what brand of PC to purchase and the best avenue for purchasing it. I personally use all Macs now, and if I had to run Windows locally, I’d likely do so on my Mac, but for those who need a Windows PC for their day-to-day work machine, I’d send them here to ask around for advice and encourage them not to consider a Surface for the time being.

      Additionally, for those considering a Surface for a day-to-day tablet, I would also not encourage using a Surface as a tablet. Windows 10 is still a desktop OS with some touch-friendly UI on top, but the full “baggage” of a desktop OS still travels when on a tablet. Those who want a tablet for a wide range of apps, for media consumption, reading, web browsing, email, etc., I recommend sticking with a competing tablet. For me, I personally use and recommend the iPad, but there are some decent Android tablets also available for non-Apple users, and I have friends who use Amazon Fire tablets with great success.

      I also recommend keeping ones “computer” and “tablet” duties separate. I haven’t bought into Microsoft’s approach to blend the two experiences in Windows 10, although I haven’t bought into Apple’s marketing that the iPad Pro can fully replace a computer either. I own and happily use an iPad Pro for many tasks, and it syncs very well with my iMac Pro over iCloud and with my work cloud accounts (such as Exchange). However, there are certain tasks I do every day when I reach for my iPad Pro since those tasks are better suited for a slate I can hold in my hands. There are other tasks that would be impossible and others very difficult to perform on an iPad, even an iPad Pro. For those, I need a computer, so I turn to my iMac Pro. To use the analogy from Steve Jobs in a different way, there are times when I need to zip around town in a “car”, but there are other times when I need to do some hefty work hauling in my “truck”.

      In the end, I gave my Surface Book away to my corporate attorney as a thank you gift when I closed out my IT company to focus on a PhD program (which I hope wasn’t a mistake that I didn’t stick her with more PC issues!) and moved back to a Mac. For others who still needs Windows, there are plenty of good PC hardware manufacturers out there, and while Surface devices look great and have overall decent hardware, Microsoft still needs time to perfect the hardware/software and especially firmware integration, so I recommend looking at other alternatives besides a Surface for now.

      Nathan Parker

      3 users thanked author for this post.
    • #337011 Reply

      anonymous

      So after reading your experience, one should wonder why Consumer Reports reinstated their recommendation. Maybe more people like their Appleesque overpriced Surface branded things or do not?

      Some old blog links I had about experiences with breaking Surfaces have now disappeared from the internet for any variety of reasons, and that skews data in Microsoft’s favor. You have reconfirmed that the Surface machines individual parts are better than the whole.

      Reads like you are a person who enjoys freedom now and then, good on you!

      …In the end, I gave my Surface Book away to my corporate attorney as a thank you gift …

      If if it does not break social boundaries, please inform us how the post gifting went because that was so naughty to surprise a corporate lawyer (you appear trust & appreciate) with a Microsoft Surface thing. 😉

      1 user thanked author for this post.
    • #337084 Reply

      Ascaris
      AskWoody_MVP

      Thanks for that in-depth review.  Your comments about Windows 10 as a touch platform matched my expectations, certainly.  Ever since Windows 8 arrived, I’ve been of the opinion that trying to have one OS to rule them all was a fool’s errand, and the arrival of Windows 10 has not changed my mind.

      While a tablet and a laptop’s display look quite similar, it doesn’t mean that it would be a good idea to try to make a laptop out of a tablet, or vice-versa.  A UI designed around a mouse or touchpad has different characteristics than one that’s designed around touch, and any attempt to cram them together into one necessarily gives short shrift to one or the other platform, if not both. The more friendly to the desktop they make it, the less suitable it will be for touch platforms, and vice versa. A Jack of all trades is master of none!

      I concluded that (IMHO) a person would be better off with a purpose-built tablet and a purpose-built laptop, each with an OS built for the specific platform in question, rather than one device that tries to do both. Cloud services are inherently platform agnostic, and the same can be said for data formats.  A Mac can work seamlessly with an iPad without running the same OS.  If the cloud is your thing, you can easily have both devices sync their data that way, easily switching between the two form factors as needed.

      I think that this idea of unifying tablets, phones, and desktops under one OS (and ultimately one UI, as MS keeps broadening the reach of the touch UI in Windows 10) will be one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time, but that we now know doesn’t work.  Canonical already dropped support for their Unity desktop, and the changes to GNOME 3 compared to the desktop-oriented GNOME 2 were so annoying that they spawned two forks of the GNOME code to return it to being desktop-friendly.  Apple has rejected the idea of convergence outright, and they’ve stated that their work to allow iOS apps to run on the Mac platform does not mean the platforms are being merged.

      Convergence seemed like a neat idea on paper, but the fact that it can be done hardware wise, to have the screen of a laptop detach and function without the base as a tablet, doesn’t mean that it will ever be as good in either role as a purpose-built laptop or tablet would be.

      That’s the problem that many of us have with the Windows 10 UI.  Microsoft has moved the little slider a bit more to the “desktop” side than it had been with 8.1, but it still falls far short of the UI quality that Windows 7 has.  As long as the touchscreen design parameters are part of the picture for an OS that’s running on a traditional PC, it can’t be as good as an OS that was designed specifically for the desktop or laptop platform upon which it runs,without any of the compromises that touchscreen necessitates.  Why should any Windows 7 user have to accept a worse experience than what they had before just so that Windows can better accommodate devices he doesn’t even use?

      If MS can’t make a unified OS that works as well on a mobile device as iOS or Android AND as well as Windows 7 on desktop, that’s a pretty good sign that it was a bad idea.  If they believe they can do it, that’s fine; they should just get to the point where they can demonstrate this bi-platform excellence before they inflict it upon the computing public and attempt to make everyone use it.  Otherwise, they should admit that they can’t do it and stop trying to cram round pegs into square holes.

      I know that MS has enjoyed the attention it has gotten since they started to be seen as these huge innovators for their work in unifying the two platforms, but that doesn’t mean they should mistake that initial enthusiasm as proof that it works even when evidence to the contrary begins to mount.  Theranos once received its share of accolades for being great innovators too, after all, but there has to be a second act where the thing they’ve been promising is actually delivered.

       

      Group "L" (KDE Neon User Edition 5.17.0).

      1 user thanked author for this post.
    • #338774 Reply

      Nathan Parker
      AskWoody_MVP

      She still has an aging Dell notebook, but her secretary’s notebook is hopelessly out-of-date, so she may be giving her secretary the Dell and using the Surface.

      Microsoft informed me before giving her the Surface they’re working on the firmware update for the “sleep of death” issue, so hopefully that’s already installed for her.

      She’s had some health issues where she’s scaled back her work, so she hasn’t had to be working on a notebook as much as usual, so she hasn’t had to deal with some of the Surface quirks as much as I did, and by the time she gets back to working with it full-time, Microsoft will have (hopefully) ironed out some of the kinks.

      She’s also more used to Windows than I am and knows she’ll have to embrace Windows 10 to keep using Windows long-term. Since she’s not interested in switching to a Mac like I did, she’s more inclined to work with a Surface and be more patient with the Surface and Windows than I was.

      Nathan Parker

      • #346718 Reply

        anonymous

        Sorry for the really late reply thank you for sharing, I do hope she does get well and also not encounter troubles with her newer machine.

        1 user thanked author for this post.

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