If you’re a university/college student who needs a new laptop to help you move into the new age, this is the device for you. You’ll find yourself wanting to do more with it than just web browsing and document writing.
I am a medical science student who travels via public transport to university almost every day. I also tutor both locally and over Skype. I like to game and will be using a laptop as a laptop, not a tablet, for extended periods of time. All these factors were taken into consideration when I invested in the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (i5 Processor, 128GB HDD)
As a university student, I needed something light, with a long lasting battery. As this was going to replace my 5 year old ASUS UL30V, it had to have decent power. Price was also something that I had to consider. At $1200 including the keyboard and student discount, this isn’t a cheap solution but it is the best device you can get in the market for that price range. Trust me, I checked.
But nothing prepared me for how this device has changed the way I study. I use pre-installed OneNote to take notes during lectures. For most lectures I use the handwriting recognising keyboard. This is because, I like my notes to be converted to text so they’re searchable later on and also because I like to be able to physically handwrite like I would do in an exam, personally my brain remembers better that way. I could technically do that with any windows tablet, but the 3:2 ratio allows me to have so much more screen real estate visible when the handwriting recognition panel is open. It makes everything so much less claustrophobic, like the typical displays, while allowing me to look and see any drawings I may have made during the lecture.
That gets me to the second point, drawing. The previous Surfaces used Wacom technology for their screens and pens. The SP3 uses N-Trig. While this sacrifices the pressure levels you’re capable of using from 1024 down to 256 (something you’ll probably never notice anyway) and requires you to use a single AAAA battery, the pros far outweigh the cons. Since there’s no digitiser over the screen, the distance from pen tip to screen is virtually non-existent. It looks and feels like you’re writing directly onto the screen, like you would on paper, smooth, glassy paper. The weight from the battery makes it feel like a real pen. I have accidentally tried to write on paper with it more than once. The pen also comes with two buttons on the side. One as an eraser, the other a lasso tool to select the vectors in your drawings. It also has a purple button on the top of the pen. This is used to rapidly launch OneNote, even while the device is locked, and if double tapped, to take a screenshot to be cropped and edited in the program.
All of these combine to create an amazing drawing experience. I exclusively draw while making anatomy notes. The massive range of colours provided by the OneNote app, neatly arranged in a palette-like circle, along with the accuracy and ease of use provided with the pen allows me to draw and annotate diagrams perfectly. I also handwrite, directly onto the screen without any problems with legibility. OneNote lets you bring up lines like normal notebook paper. The 3:2 ratio makes it the same dimensions as a legal pad. Best part, if I make a mistake, one click of a button and it’s gone. A lot faster than pencil and paper and god forbid you make a mistake with a pen. I took pictures and sent them to my friends, they thought it was real paper.
Microsoft uses a stunning 12-inch 2160×1440 ClearType display. This makes everything look incredibly sharp and is very useful, again, while drawing. There are quite a few problems with scaling though. MYOB had me squinting with how tiny everything was. This is not so much the fault of the display as much as developers needing to catch up to high DPI screens. Brightness is very adjustable. Low settings good for a dark lecture theatre or at night and bright enough to use in a well-lit room. Haven’t tested it in full daylight as of yet, but I would expect some glare from the gloss screen.
The SP3 weighs in at 0.8 kg, which is next to nothing compared to having to carry multiple books or a full laptop, even a Macbook Air. The exterior cloth lining of the keyboard makes it easy to hold and move around. The kickstand goes anywhere between 0 and 150 degrees, allowing you to adjust it however you want. I found myself using it with the keyboard on my lap very easily and often. Though needing to pick it up and show someone something on the screen can take a bit of practice. But then again, you can always detach the keyboard.
The aluminium body seems incredibly sturdy and feels very premium. Speakers are decent. I use earphones most of the time, though. I also had an issue where the device would take a few seconds to recognise that earphones were plugged in. Doesn’t happen anymore, so I’m guessing an update fixed it.
The charger is connected via magnets, like Apple’s laptops and feels very sturdy. It also charges incredibly fast. Probably the biggest drawback of the SP3 is the lack of USB ports. There is only one. If you’re like me and you have a wireless mouse, that port is already taken. There are also no decent Bluetooth mice on the market. I can see it being a potential problem, and will be purchasing a USB hub to keep stashed in my bag. There is also a Mini DisplayPort (same as Macs) next to the single USB port and a microSDXC reader underneath the kickstand.
A lot of thought is evident in the new Type Cover keyboard. It is backlit with 4 different settings. The feedback is nice. Might be a bit noisy. Travel is good. It clicks up against the screen to provide you with a raised, tilted platform for typing much like a conventional laptop. The cloth texture feels nice and comfortable. The keyboard is definitely a must. I have no idea why Microsoft doesn’t include it in the package.
Performance is where I have some regrets. The i5 Processor 128GB HDD version has only 4GB RAM. I have copped the occasional ‘not responding’ and when the fan kicks in, it kicks in. I’m pretty sensitive when it comes to sound and it is definitely noticeable to me at least. Most of the time, the fan is dormant and you won’t hear it. If I could choose again, I would opt for the i5 256GB version which has 8GB RAM as future-proofing. It is significantly more expensive though (+$340).
The Surface Pro 3 is my new baby. I show it off to anyone willing to listen and I absolutely enjoy using it. It is perfect for a university student. Been using it for almost a month now and I have never had it die on me, even when I stay back at uni till 8. It is incredibly practical, robust and very easy on the eyes. I would buy it again in a heartbeat.