Julie’s gadget diary – Using the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (Day 1-3)

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A few weeks ago I complained about the weight and bulk of the gear that I take with me when I travel. On my last trip to Florida, I took a 13″ laptop, 10″ tablet, my phone, various cords and AC adapters. Combine that gear with the weight of the bag that holds all of it and it was not fun lugging it through the airport from gate to gate. I in my gadget diary post I talked about how I wished I could make a tablet (iOS or Android) do everything I need while I’m away from home. When I got back home I ordered a 12.9″ iPad Pro with hopes that it would become my next travel buddy. No luck, I returned it to Apple. 

Each time I post about my travel gear experiences, I have a few people suggest that I should try a Microsoft Surface Pro 4. I finally listened and ordered one on Thanksgiving day to take advantage of a $429 discount on the SP4 256GB/i5 8GB RAM with the Type Cover.  I received it this past Saturday and immediately noticed how slow it was browsing the web. I thought it might be defective but then I googled “surface pro 4 slow wifi” and found that this is a known issue with some WiFi routers. It appeared that the SP4 didn’t get along with my Amplifi router. I tried the registry edit that is supposed to fix the problem, but it didn’t help, so I switched back to my TP-Link Archer C7 router which did help but not enough to make me want to use the SP4. So ignored it all day Sunday.

On Monday I took the SP4 with me to my day job in order to take advantage of the faster broadband so I could install any needed OS updates. The updates seem to have fixed all the issues because when I took the SP4 back home that night, it worked like a champ.

I also installed the Chrome browser, Photoshop and a few other tools to duplicate some of the tools I use on my MacBook Pro. I installed tools like AutoHotkey which lets me use macros to insert frequently typed text, Irfanview for batch renaming and resizing of images and Wondershare Filmora for editing video clips. And with that, I was ready to use the SP4 exclusively (at home) for the next couple of days to determine if I’ll keep it or return it.

I spent Monday night using the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 on a desk, on my lap sitting on a couch, while reclining in my LazyBoy recliner and as a tablet with the Type Cover keyboard detached. Here are a few of my first impressions.

  • Nice hardware that is light weight while still feeling like a quality device and not a cheap toy.
  • Actually feels “ok” using it on my lap with the keyboard attached. The kickstand, not sure what Microsoft calls it, is really pretty cool. It opens and stays open at the exact angle I choose, so it feels stable perched on my thighs.
  • I need to look up how to do a right mouse click when using the touchpad
  • I’m a touchpad snob and tend to compare every touchpad that I try with the one on my MacBook Pro. Although the SP4’s touchpad is a little on the small side, it does work well enough that I don’t hate it. But I’m not exactly in love with it either.
  • Tablet mode works well too. In the past, I’ve complained that Windows 10 isn’t finger friendly, but the SP4’s display is large enough that I didn’t have that much trouble tapping small onscreen buttons in the browser.
  • Using the onscreen keyboard while in tablet mode is doable, but it takes up most of the screen.
  • The Type Cover is very nice. I enjoyed touch typing on it and noticed almost no flex when using it on a desk or on my lap. The keys are nicely spaced and provide great tactile feedback. They even have a backlight which surprised me.

That’s all for now. I will post another update after I have a chance to put it through my normal work flow for a couple days. So far I like it a lot more than I thought I would, but I don’t know if it’s that much of an update over my Dell XPS 13″, so it remains to be seen if I end up keeping it.

21 thoughts on “Julie’s gadget diary – Using the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (Day 1-3)”

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  2. Looking forward to reading your experiences w/ the SP4.

    Right-click should be either use two fingers to tap or click the bottom-right of the touchpad on the keyboard.

    You can tweak the layout of the on screen keyboard – either a “split keyboard” that puts 1/2 keyboards in each corner of the screen or remove the side margins a bit. Sometimes this is a little better in tablet mode because the windows can resize around the keyboard a bit better as well as popping the keyboard automatically when you enter a text entry area.

  3. The question is if you still like it after the initial “new tech” interest phase. I was interested in the SP4 at first then I started to complain about things with it and had to return it.

      1. I think I’m nit-picking at small things about it.
        1) Preferred full sized SD slot vs microSD. But I understand that they need to keep everything small to make it slim. Wished the microSD slot had a cover on it though.
        2) Would be happy with another USB port instead of the HDMI port.
        3) Getting rid of that proprietary charging port/charger and replacing it with a USB-C port that charges also would be better.
        4) Should not nickle and dime potential buyers with having to purchase the keyboard. Should be included with purchase price. I have the Acer Switch Alpha 12 which included the keyboard (and USB-C port)
        5) Would prefer if the screen used Wacom technology and have a stylus silo even if they had to use a small stylus (with option to purchase bigger if needed).

        I did have high hopes for it since I’ve owned the Surface RT, Surface 2 Pro and Surface 3. I did give the RT for mom to use until she dropped it and massive screen crack. Surface 2 Pro I used it for a week and gave it to an employee to use. Surface 3 was my going out to the city tablet for awhile but I gave that to my cousin to use afterwards.

  4. My husband uses a Surface Pro from his workplace, with keyboard, and when they first came out I was like.. how is that even going to work on a lap??? I still don’t understand it, but he will surf the web in a chair on the Pro over his laptop sometimes, while I stare wide-eyed at how that is comfortable. Obviously, it must be pretty decent on the lap, since you and he mentioned it works well.

    1. Yes, it works but it’s not completely comfortable like a regular laptop because it’s not the same as a flat slab on your thighs, it’s a thin straight edge of the kick stand that kind of digs in after a while.

      1. He’s never mentioned it digging in, but that’s what I thought of right away was how that would not be comfortable at ALL. I’m eager to see what you think about the Surface in the next update! 🙂

  5. Three things on the keyboard:

    1) The rectangle on the top of the keyboard toggles between docked and undocked. When undocked the keyboard can be moved to avoid getting in the way.

    2) You can add a traditional keyboard layout with a numbers row by going to Devices / Typing and turning on add standard keyboard layout.

    3) Tablet PC Review has a Registry mod that resizes the keyboard. I just found it so I don’t know how well or if it works but I’ll experiment. http://forum.tabletpcreview.com/threads/how-to-resize-on-screen-keyboard.70030/

    1. Thanks for the tips. I can already tell that i would not want to do a lot of typing in tablet mode. It’s ok for a few words, but I would not want to use it when I’m working on a review. I’m typing this right now un tablet mode using the split keyboard and it’s at least 10 times slower for me than using a physical keyboard.

      1. I agree a keyboard is always going to be much faster. If you (or anyone else) wants to experiment, the registry hack seems to work.

  6. Hi Julie,

    I bought a SP4 last week too, although I opted for the CoreM configuration. It’s working very well for my needs so far. I happen to like the track pad very well (and I’m not a fan of them normally) that I didn’t even hook up a wireless mouse on this travel trip I’m on.

    The only issue I’ve found so far is a bit of lag on occasion when using the touch screen for anything but scrolling. It’s not horrible, but it’s enough to make me wonder if I touched the button/X/whatever in the right place or not.

    I was also quite surprised at how comfortable the kickstand/keyboard combo was on my lap. Although it’s taken some training for me to remember to pull the kickstand out when I go to sit down!

    Right now I think it’s a keeper. It’s zippy enough, good screen resolution, keyboard is very usable, and will do well as an alternate machine to my bigger HP Spectre 13″.

    1. I haven’t noticed any lag with the one I have – yet.

      I did notice the lack of USB ports last night though. I use a mouse that requires a USB dongle and I had to remove it when I needed to take pictures with my Canon 70D DSLR that I use tethered to a computer instead of using an SD card to transfer photos.

      1. I plan to overcome the USB dongle for the mouse by getting a Bluetooth mouse instead. Mostly, I’m finding the trackpad to be very responsive and I love the glide on it – I’m teaching myself to use my thumb with it. 🙂

  7. This has nothing to do with the SP4, but a thanks for mentioning AutoHotKey. I use Scrivener as a writing program, but one of its failures is that it has no native capability for macros. I downloaded AHK, fiddled with it (OK, for longer than it should have taken) to set up some simple macros, and it works!

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