The release of Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet is set for February 9, 2013, and it's the second release of Microsoft-branded tablet hardware following the Surface RT that I reviewed previously and still own. Several readers inquired if I would be buying the Surface Pro, and at this point, the short answer is no. Here's why.
What I like about the Pro
The Surface RT was an interesting device in that it wrapped wildly compelling hardware around what appears to be a confused interface and slow tablet computing experience. The Pro brings similar styling to the table, and it appears to finally offer a single device that can function as a traditional desktop via an easy-to-use dock, a laptop with the various snap-on keyboards, and a tablet. I love the idea of a device that can easily be configured for a variety of missions. I could plop it into a dock to write an article on the big screen, then grab and run without unplugging cables and performing undocking procedures. The device could act as a tablet on the plane and a traditional laptop at a client site. Perfect.
Furthermore, the Pro offers what I have long thought was Microsoft's ace in the hole: pen input. Combined with the OneNote software (another underrated and under-marketed Microsoft asset), Surface might make the perfect digital notepad.
So, what's missing?
On the hardware front, the processor, RAM, and storage seem adequate, but battery life presents a major problem. My average workday might consist of a few hours in the office in the morning, several hours in an airport and on a plane, and then a few hours of meetings with a client. Reaching for the AC adapter is not optimal when moving around in this manner. While I'm probably in a minority of people with that type of schedule, the mobile knowledge worker who might spend an hour in the office, then the rest of the day moving between meetings and collaborative sessions, would likely find themselves in a similar predicament, and this seems to be exactly the user Microsoft is targeting with this device.
On the software front, with Surface RT, Microsoft hasn't convinced me that it's nailed the tablet side of the equation. Slow transitions between tablet and desktop mode, long load times, and a lackluster application catalog mean there's still an iPad slipping into my briefcase if I want to read on the plane or be able to take notes through a full day of meetings (despite the iPad's poor note-taking experience).
While Surface has all the right physical characteristics for the multi-mission computing device I keep dreaming about, the battery and software are an Achilles' heel that would basically make Surface Pro an expensive laptop for my style of usage.
With Surface Pro looking as if it won't meet my needs, I'm left with carrying a laptop and tablet for most of my computing tasks. I am considering switching my desktop to an Ultrabook or MacBook Air, and switching tablets to an iPad mini. This gets me the best of all computing worlds, with a lightweight traditional computer for work and personal business, and a capable and light tablet that will last through an entire workday with battery to spare.
I'll keep an eye on Microsoft, since their thinking seems to be headed in the right direction as they strive for a device that can serve in multiple roles and has a great selection of keyboards, docks, and accessories to customize the core computing device for the task at hand.
Do you plan to purchase a Surface Pro? Why or why not? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company, and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology, as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. Patrick has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are Patrick's alone, and may not represent those of his employer.