Dower’s Surface Pro Finally Arrives – My Initial Impressions!

Microsoft’s Surface Pro made it’s world wide debut this past Saturday, and the launch was rather disappointing. The problem wasn’t so much the product, but more with the way the launch was executed, shipments were slow to arrive and Microsoft didn’t allow for pre-orders on their website; in contrast with their Surface RT launch back in November. Needless to say, my hopes of getting in over the weekend were dashed, with retailers like Best Buy and Staples not having much stock. My wife was lucky enough to get a pre-order in on Friday at Best Buy, but that didn’t materialize until yesterday afternoon.

I was on my way home from work when my wife sent me a text message saying I could drive down to Best Buy to pick up my Surface Pro, and immediately changed course to do so. The pick up was uneventful, and once home I was able to film my unboxing video, and did a quick physical comparison to my Surface RT.

Physical Differences

From the front, the Surface Pro and Surface RT don’t look different, it’s when you look from the sides you will notice the Surface Pro is a tad thicker than the Surface RT. Other differences are the placement of the USB 3.0 ports. The RT has it on the right and the Pro has it on the left. Microsoft replaced the microHDMI port on the top left of the Surface RT with a more normal Mini DisplayPort port on the lower right side of the Surface. The position of the MicroSD card slot also differs, the RT had it tucked under its kickstand, the Pro has it right on the right side. Fortunately, the Touch and Type covers work on both the Surface RT and Pro.

Installing Software

Once the video was done, I was off to put the Surface Pro to the grinder to see what I could do with it. First thing, installing my glut of software I’ve been wanting to cram onto my Surface RT.

Here’s the list of things I began cramming onto my 128GB Surface Pro:

  • Photoshop CS6
  • MS Office 2010
  • Autodesk 3D Studio 2013
  • Visual Studio 2012 Professional
  • 7Zip
  • Notepad++
  • Sublime Text
  • Steam Client
  • Balsamiq Mockups
  • Manga Studio 4EX
  • Autodesk Sketchbook Pro 6
  • Google Chrome

Of course, I had to load a few games on, so for starters I started off light:

  • Torchlight 2
  • FTL (Faster Than Light)
  • Terraria

I’ll probably cram more heavy hitters on there shortly, but I wanted the apps more than the games.

Impressions of Performance and the Screen

Once I got a majority of things installed I gave some of my installed apps a go. All the apps I put on ran without a problem, and why would there be? The Surface Pro is a full fledged Windows 8 Pro system with a real Intel laptop CPU, not a tablet CPU found in the Surface RT or other traditional non-Windows based tablets. The only thing I found to be a bit detracting is some apps were a tad unreadable or had blurry text because of the resolution and size of the Surface Pro display. The Surface Pro has a full 1080p (1920 x 1080) resolution screen crammed into a 11″ form factor… It’s like my 42″ TV crammed to 11″… So it’s not surprising that some text is REALLY small, and others scaled up, but became blurry. Part of the issue is because of the dense small display, the default Display settings for the Surface Pro is 150%, because 100% would make the on screen text quite tiny. The blurry text in some dialogs comes from this setting, and some games don’t perform well at this magnification level (I’ll elaborate on that a little later). The setting can be changed, and I opted to change mine to Medium; but the change requires you to log off and re-log back into your account.

Display Settings Default to 150%

Display Settings Default to 150%

Aside from the few dialogs with blurry text, The screen itself is very good, it has rich dark black levels, and the images appear crisp in most cases. 

Wacom Digitizer

The one feature I’ve been really excited for in the Surface Pro is the active Wacom digitizer that’s included with the package. For anyone new to using a Wacom, they are the industry standard for pen enabled computer input, and every digital artist I’ve known relies on a Wacom to do any digital drawing. It is the one feature that has been truly lacking in every tablet device that has been out since; only Samsung has attempted to put a Wacom digitizer into some of their tablets and phones. 

The digitizer pen is made of light weight plastic and feels a little like a cheap mechanical pencil. It’s smaller than the typical Wacom digitizers, but works fine. The pen doesn’t fit into the tablet anywhere, instead clips onto the magnetic power port on the right of the Surface Pro. The port connector on the pen also doubles as an additional pen button. The pen also features an eraser point which gives the pen 3 digitizer buttons. 

Surface Pro Wacom Pen.

Surface Pro Wacom Pen.

I read online that the Wacom digitizer that comes with the Surface Pro does not sense pressure in Photoshop, and indeed that is correct. It’s disappointing to come to that realization, and Microsoft has acknowledged this. The issue is driver related, I’m not sure who’s fault this is, but the pen also does not sense pressure in Manga Studio. I was able to overcome this problem on my Asus EP121 Slate by installing Wacom’s Tablet PC driver, but the current Wacom Tablet PC driver from their site doesn’t recognize this digitizer. This issue might be easily resolved if Wacom made the driver recognize the Surface Pro digitizer, either that, or Microsoft needs to fix the issue. At this point the only app I know that works well with the digitizer is Autodesk Sketchbook Pro Express and Sketchbook Pro 6.

It’s Hot in here!

The last thing I’m going to reveal in this post is heat. It’s no surprise that the Intel CPU’s will generate more heat, and indeed, this tablet does get warm. When you start taxing the system you’ll hear a light whizzing noise, which is the Surface Pro’s fans kicking in to keep the device cool. The device won’t give you third degree burns, but it does get warm. I even noticed it stay warm in my bag in sleep mode…

That’s it for now

I’ll probably have more to talk about in regard to battery life, heat, and performance over the next few days as I get acquainted with the Surface Pro. But regardless of what else you may read about this device from the internet, I personally, am very excited about this device. People are ill comparing the Surface Pro to the iPad, which isn’t a fair comparison. The Surface Pro is so much more than an iPad can ever be. Unlike any other product of its kind out there, this device truly changes things. With all other tablets, and even the Surface RT, I had to come to the sad conclusion that I must change to fit the function of the device. This is NOT the case with the Surface Pro, I can now meld this device to do what I want it to do, and that my friends is a significant difference that sets the Surface Pro apart.

Stay tuned for more.