Julie’s gadget diary – It’s time for me to try a Surface Pro 4

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If you’ve been following my recent gadget diary posts, you will know that I’ve been trying to decide what my next travel computer will be. I’m set on it being very light weight (including the charging adapter) but still capable enough to handle the desktop browser version of Gmail, and Photoshop photo editing software in case I want to work on reviews while traveling.

A few weeks ago I ordered a 12″ iPad Pro with high hopes that it would be a great solution to my travel computer conundrum. I ended up returning it within a day or two because the desktop version of Gmail was slow  and glitchy using a mobile browser and trying to get images into WordPress posts was not easily done due to file naming and resizing issues. But the biggest issue why the iPad Pro didn’t work for me is that I finally came to the conclusion that I just don’t like iOS.

When I posted my thoughts about travel computers and the iPad Pro, several people commented and even emailed me that I should try a Microsoft Surface Pro 4. I kept ignoring those suggestions because I’m a Mac person, not a Windows person. But then Apple had their event where they paraded their new MacBooks models that cost way too much and don’t even have USB 3.0 ports or a micro SD card slot anymore. Why? Because that’s what Apple wants and to heck with the people who buy their products.

It’s funny that back in 2005 when I made the switch from Windows to Mac, I felt like I was suddenly a member of the cool kids club. I was going from the dark side of Microsoft to the creative and cool Apple light side. Now I feel like the sides have flipped and Apple is now the dark side and Microsoft is rising to be the light side.

I have decided that I am going to take your advice and order a Surface Pro 4 with the keyboard next week on Black Friday so I can get a great deal. Microsoft is already advertising that the SP4 256GB/i5 – 8GB RAM and Type Cover will be on sale for $999 on 11/24. That’s $429 off the normal price.

And if the SP4 doesn’t work out for me, Microsoft has a free returns policy. Considering how crappy my gadget batting average has been lately, that’s a good thing!

It will be pretty crazy if I end up loving the Surface Pro 4 and switched back to Windows after 11 years of using a Mac.

37 thoughts on “Julie’s gadget diary – It’s time for me to try a Surface Pro 4”

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  2. I was actually eyeing the LG Gram. While I want to travel light, I’ve come to appreciate a large screen with FHD display. I will wait for your review as usual.

  3. I’ve been in the Apple world for 9 years now and, like you, when I first came out of Microsoft I couldn’t believe how different and better everything Apple was. It just worked. Need something? There’s an app, terminal command or it just does it. Now I feel I’m being given the finger by Apple for my loyalty. I’ve had a Macbook Pro and three MBAs. It means that I’ve got PSUs all over – upstairs, downstairs, in my travel bag and at the office. I’ve got peripherals (disc drives, memory, cameras, etc) and, once again, I’ve got a whole bunch of cables scattered around my world so I can connect.

    Now, if I want a new Mac, I have to bin all the PSUs, USB connectors, I need new iPhone connectors, etc – and I’ve got to carry two cables and two adapters now if I want to be able to charge my phone. That’s about $400 worth of stuff that becomes immediately useless – straight to land fill. Not only that – I’ve got to buy a whole new set of dongles so that I can connect backup drives, memory cards, TomTom (custom connector) etc. to the Mac. What’s the f*****g point of making a Mac so small and neat that you need to lug around a suitcase full of adapters and connectors just to work. There’s no good reason for this other than to make me buy new stuff.

    Sorry, where was i? I’m at the same point as you – I’ve been looking at the Surface range. I can’t believe I’m considering going back to MS (I hate cloud, I don’t want a 365 account, I don’t want to pay a subscription for apps, and I dread using Windows iTunes) but I think that I’ll simply have no choice given that the new Macs are no longer compatible with my world.

    I predict that these days of telling users they are wrong for wanting 3.5mm jacks, physical connectivity and removable memory will be seen as the turning point for when Apple lost the lead to Microsoft and descended back to a niche market of users who cared more for looks than performance.

    1. 1) You don’t have to use the cloud if you don’t want. Personally, I use Dropbox.
      2) You don’t have to have a 365 subscription, you can have MS Office standalone.
      3) iTunes sucks on whatever platform it is on.
      4) USB, mini SD, headphone jack


      1. Thanks, Robert – I didn’t know I could buy MS standalone (although I bet MSP isn’t included)

        I sense I’m in a minority of 1, but I love iTunes. I have about 3000 albums, 37,000 songs. I organize them into playlists by plays, year, composer, artist, type, etc. (just created this year’s Christmas list) and spend about 8 hours a day listening to my music on either laptop or iPhone and hours a week in iTunes messing around with playlists. I use iTunesU for free lectures and convert my DVDs to movies so I can watch stuff on iPad. I’ve never found any other app that comes close in terms of flexibility, playlists, podcasts, etc. It never crashes, it doesn’t hog memory (like Firefox) and it manages content on 3 iPhones, half a dozen iPods and an iPad.

        What’s not to like?

          1. iPod, iPad, and iPhone users don’t absolutely have to use iTunes. Maybe you should look around for alternatives. I’m using SyncIOS to load mp3 files onto these and to download my photos to a Windows desktop system.

    2. I don’t use MS products on my MacBooks.I use Open Office if I need to work with MS documents. I will install a similar application on the SP4 if I stick with it unless the subscription for MS Office isn’t outrageous. I really don’t mind the subscription model as long as I can get the latest version without shelling out $100’s of dollars for each major update. Back in the day I would buy Photoshop which was VERY expensive. Now I’m happy to pay about $120 a year (I can’t remember the exact price) to keep it up to date. PS is currently my only subscription based application, so I may be in the minority. I would be grumbling if I had a lot of subscription apps though 🙂

      1. Instead of Photoshop have you tried using the open source GIMP? Works just as great if you aren’t doing super advanced Photoshop work.

      2. Julie, OpenOffice development is dead for a few years now. All the developing community moved over to LibreOffice (because some problems with Oracle). Is basically the same program, but it receives constant updates (security ones too) and now it has better compatibility with MS Office documents than OpenOffice.

      3. You can get Office on your SP4 in the Home edition for $99 per year. It includes Access, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, OneNote and Word. Plus you can run it on up to 5 machines, and that does not include the mobile Android and iOS versions which are included in the 5 licenses.

        If you buy your SP4 from the Microsoft store in person, they sell their protection plan which used to include the Home license.

        1. Thanks, I’ll make sure to look at that when I place an order Thursday. When you say that you think the protection plan comes with the Home license, you mean it comes with a year of Office? Or just that the SP4 is compatible with the $99/yr version of Office?

          1. My Surface protection plan came with a year of Office 365 Home plus a sleeve. I’m sure at $200 I paid for both somewhere.

    3. Nobody seems to have stopped buying iphones from having to upgrade cords, docks, speakers, etc.. every few years, they just assume if you can afford their hardware in the first place you’re good with shelling out for proprietary cables, adapters, and peripherals. So why not expand that revenue stream to their mac line….

      I had a surface pro 3 in the run-up to win 10 (I was on the dev preview, no way I was running with 8) and I found the experience completely disappointing even in the months following the official 10 launch. I have friends with surfaces who tell me it’s gotten much better since 10.1, so maybe, but I went out and got a $200 Chromebook that takes care of 95% of my daily needs. I have an old win laptop for a few tasks CrOS doesn’t cover, but all-in-all I was surprised how capable ChromeOS has been. It makes sense when you look at the numbers. Mac used to have ~30% market share, now they’re under 10% and Chromebooks are out selling them, especially in the B2B market (education & business), so I shouldn’t have been shocked considering how many people are finding them good replacements for ipads and even laptops. Now that they’re getting the Play Store, well I think that’s game over. Admittedly my $200 Chromebook is a little sluggish, especially with more than a dozen tabs open, but it kicks the butt of any $200 windows machine. Now I’m just waiting for Samsung’s Chromebook Pro to come out and I’ll see what a real ‘premium’ CrOS machine can do (and the price-point for that “Premium” device is a whopping $500).

  4. I wound up getting a SP4 a couple months ago when there was an amazing deal at Best Buy that brought the price way down after adding in a student coupon. I wanted something powerful enough for every day tasks but light enough to travel with since I spend a lot of time on the road for work and every ounce counts. So far I love it. It is not the most powerful model they have which I notice at times but it is good enough for my day to day uses and I have never regretted picking one up to replace my iPad.

  5. I tried the SP4 myself but didn’t like it because of the fact of a proprietary charger when everyone is starting to move to USB-C chargers. Also not too fond of carrying a stylus that can’t slide into the tablet. I have a Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga X1…it has a built-in stylus that recharges when you slide it back in. Also a “real” keyboard is better than that SP4’s keyboard cover.

      1. I’ve been using the Yoga X1 for a while now. Having had numerous Thinkpads over the years, I find that Lenovo consistently makes the best keyboards. Also, I really like a stylus. For the Yoga you can get a full-sized stylus with a replaceable battery and those work great.

        Flipping the top over makes it into a large tablet that is a bit heavy (for a tablet) but fully functional. Using it in tablet mode and with the stylus I find that I can make lots of handwritten notes in Evernote while sitting in a confined space, like a waiting room, and get a lot of stuff done instead of flipping through magazines.

        I also tried out the SP4 at Best Buy, but the keyboard just drove me nuts. I do a lot of actual typing and its shallow keys with almost no travel meant I made lots of mistakes.

        You might give it a look.

    1. I didn’t mind the stylus so much, it comes with the little sticker holder that was ok, and the pen was never an important interface anyway because it basically only worked in onenote. But I totally agree about the keyboard. The type cover (for the SP3 anyway, seems like the 4’s is better) was really difficult to work with, especially as a left-hander because they off-set the trackpad to the left. Super uncomfortable to use and always hitting it with my palm. I have had some ipad keyboard covers with a better typing experience than the type-cover. And you can forget about using it in your lap with the kickstand, it’s so wobbly if it’s not on a table. I would looks at the surface book if you’re serious about using it out-and-about instead of just carrying it from desk to desk.

  6. Funny, I went down the same road as Julie. I really appreciate the “tablet feel” on the road (reading/drawing), the precision of the pen (it’s not just capacitive touch) and the keyboard with a mouse pad (!) for heavier data entry. To me the surface feels more “universal” and supports me in more life situation than any of the current Apple products. The application “StaffPad” really was a game changer for me! I guess, I was dreaming of a product like that for years. And I do know NotateMe and Notion on the iPad. Being able to easily draw music everywhere and get a readable digital sheet music was mind blowing for me – in my little universe at least.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m really looking forward to giving the switch from Mac to Windows a real try. One thing about the SP4 that does worry me though is lap usage. I’m wondering how well that will work with the attached keyboard and the kickstand thingy.

  7. The only thing I really don’t like about my SP4 is Windows 10 – specifically how it handles multiple monitors. I went all-in and bought the dock, and in the 7 months I have had it I am completely unable to use my external monitor when plugged into the dock – it is recognized, but sends nothing to the monitor. I have replaced the dock 3 times with no change. On the other hand, if I plug directly into the SP4, the monitor works like a champ – but there goes the “1 cable dock” thing.

    My external monitor is a 4k LG 27 inch which I love. Natively Windows 10 wants to run the SP4 screen scaling at 200% and the LG at 150%. If you do that, apps do not respond well. Start PowerPoint on your SP4 screen, then move the open window to your external monitor, and it suddenly looks like exactly how you’d picture Mr. Magoo’s screen. Plus Chrome extensions can’t read the scaling properly, so hot spots within extensions are off – display-wise they look correct but the actual mouse location is significantly off. The only resolution to the problem is to run both monitors at the same scaling percentage. I went in the middle, and now my SP4 screen is just slightly too small to read without my reading glasses while the LG screen looks like a Fisher-Price toy computer.

    The native Windows 10 mail and calendar programs work, but here we are at the end of 2016 and there are still missing things like HTML mail signatures. This has been a promised feature for nearly 18 months, yet no traction even in the upcoming “Creator” release next year.

    There’s a lot to like with the SP4 (dock not withstanding), but most days it feels hobbled by the OS and Microsoft’s support (ask anyone who lived through the first 8 months of poor battery life before MS got around to fixing it in a firmware update). Kind of feels like they take a product 80% of the way to release, then dump it out there for you and I to finish testing.

    I have a MacBook Pro as well, but compared to the SP4 it feels like carting around a chunk of iron. Plus OSX/Sierra has continued Apple’s slow descent into “who cares what you need or do, we’re telling you this is better for you and you’re gonna like it.” When I upgraded to Sierra, nowhere did I read about what they were planning on doing to existing keychain items – and promptly after updating I could no longer connect to Amazon Web Services. I had to regen keys and go through all sorts of hoops to get reconnected, and that at the expense of about 2 days’ work.

    I guess in the end, it comes down to which approach works better for you: Apple and their complete disdain for you; or Microsoft and their desire to test on your work.

  8. I have been using the SP4 for almost a year now. It replaced an 5 year old IMac. I have to do photography jobs on the side and needed a portable device to download pictures to and save on a usb stick, plus it was nice to use for vacations and such. So instead of having a desktop and a portable machine I know have a single one. When I am at home I use the docking station to hook it up to 2 displays plus a backup drive, trackball mouse and full sized keyboard. Sometimes the display on the SP4 will be too small of a font, but that is adjustable. It was a bit flakey when it first came out, but the last updates over the past 6 months have really stabilized it. I guess that is what I get for being bleeding edge.

    I like that it runs full blown Windows and all of my software just works like it should.

  9. Let me know how that works out for you… i’ve been tempted by the SurfacePro for years 😉 … agreed, the iPad PRO is severly overpriced for a “consumption” device and priced too closely to a macbookpro that I can do much more with.

  10. I just pulled the trigger. Ordered the Surface Pro 4 i5 256GB + Black Type Cover for $999. I wish I could have picked a different color for the keyboard cover, but I couldn’t pass up the good deal that they are having today.

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