I’ve had a Surface 3 Pro now for three months, and I thought I’d share my experiences with it for those interested.
TL;DR version: I hate it BUT I have some very specific use cases I bought it for—and it fails horribly at those. I know others who love their S3s, and there are a few things I do like about the system.
First off: My needs
I bought the Surface to handle loads of content production, authoring, and training when I figured I was heading out as an indie. I didn’t feel I needed a high-horsepower dev system, as that’s not my area.
Specifically, I needed a system that kicked butt at:
- Running smaller-sized VMs
- Video production
- Light dev work
I purchased a top-of-the-line i7 Surface 3 Pro with 8GB RAM and the 256 GB SSD. I also sprang for a docking station and a few other odds and ends. Total cost was somewhere around $2,200 I think. (I’m on the road and away from my receipts…)
There are some things I really enjoy about the S3:
- Form factor. Small, very lightweight.
- Keyboard. Except for the trackpad (see below), I like the keyboard. I take my MS Ergonomic full-sized board along if I’m doing workshops or sessions where I have to code, but for general authoring and every day usage the keyboard/cover works really well. Great feel, good responsiveness.
- Docking / undocking ease. Holy crap. I’ve suffered through decades of Microsoft’s crappy docking mess. The Surface 3 plus Win8.1 makes it a snap, literally. It’s a joy to not have to deal with the drama from way back.
- Stylus. Freaking. Awesome. Great feel, extremely precise, great use of buttons on the pen. Kills anything I’ve used on the iPad. Did I mention it’s awesome?
- FreshPaint. I badly missed Paper on my iPad. I fell in love with it for doing craay craay slides for demos and presentations. FreshPaint is nearly as good, although there are several icons/buttons that are a total mystery to me. The help for FreshPaint is non-existent, apparently.
Here’s where the wheels fall off. Completely.
- VM perf over USB3 is unusable. I lose horrific amounts of time trying to run VMs off an external USB3 drive—the same model I’ve had on other systems. It’s horrible. It’s unusable. Which means some of my demos requiring multiple VMs turn into a complete cluster fill-in-the-blank. I had better performance on Firewire 800 on an older MBP.
Power management. I hope the crew that designed power management on the Surface 3 gets infested with bedbugs and fire ants. The power management options are stupid, such that:
- I can’t tell the system to stay awake while on battery, but turn on the screen saver. Utter fail when I need to leave the system on for long-running renders and uploads.
- Hook up the S3 to my Bluetooth speaker, start music playing, system shuts down and goes to sleep at the hibernate timeout period. Apparently that timeout doesn’t monitor background system activity. Sigh.
- Battery life is pathetic, even when I’m not running anything. Apparently there are a bunch of registry hacks and deep system tweaks I can do, but WTF? Seriously? Yes, I know, I’m holding it wrong.
The screen driver is tetchy and causes issues when I’m working in VMs. It also won’t let me properly use Telerik Test Studio on the native S3.
- Sound output managment. Every time I plug in headphones I have to reconfigure the default playback device to play over my headphones. Same if I want to use an external Bluetooth speaker W.T.F?!? Crazy usability #EPICFAIL with much profanity.
- My device died a horrible death a month after I bought it. Best Buy Geek Squad guy wrote “BIOS screwed up” on the RMA. BTW, this is the second Surface 3 we’ve had die. My wife’s bricked a couple months after we bought hers.
- Wifi and bluetooth are tetchy. Dropped connections are far too frequent.
- Touch screen experience inconsistent. Sometimes I click a finger into a field and it won’t recognize that I want to type.
- Weird stuff when rotating (keyboard disabled, touchscreen weird)
- Apps (other than FreshPaint) are meh
Do keep in mind my very specific use case. I know other folks who love their Surfaces. Good for them, and frankly I see some good use from this when watching Netflix or reading while on the road.
That said, for ME this is worst tech purchase ever. Over $2,200 with docking station and extras. Wish I’d gone with a completely different platform. :-/