I’ve been enjoying my time with my Surface Pro, and I wanted to share with you my setup for working on my Surface Pro. First off, I don’t use the Surface Pro vanilla, I’ve tricked it out with all manner of software and peripherals to make it as useful as possible. I’m taking advantage of all the ports and connectivity the device has to offer. I’ll also give you some of my recommendations for other accessories that you might want to consider if you jump onto the Microsoft bandwagon.
To really be productive, I must have more than one screen. It’s not vital, but it’s nice to have room to lay things out without the need to flip through windows. As lovely as the display is on the Surface Pro, using it at 100% display scaling makes things REALLY small on the 11″ (1920 x 1080) display. Normally, most folks will probably be running the system in it’s default 150% (Large) scale factor, but I’ve noticed that some activities can look a little blurry and games don’t like this scale factor; Medium settings are a little better, but things can still be small. Thankfully Microsoft put a Mini-Displayport on the Surface Pro, so I was quite happy to take my Macbook Pro’s Mini-Displayport to DVI adapter and plug in an external secondary display. I’ve heard of people having trouble with the Mini-Displayport adapters, but I’ve not had any trouble with mine. The only consideration is it may be possible to plug the adapter in upside down, because there is only a slight bevel on one end to distinguish which side is up… So it possible to force it in the wrong way, so be careful.
The next thing is peripherals and the best thing about the Surface Pro is it has a USB 3.0 port on it; which offers the ability to plug just about anything your heart desires to the Surface Pro. But sadly, there’s only one port. One of the first peripherals I had to attach is a mouse. Yes, it sort of defeats the purpose of having a touchscreen, but a mouse is still more accurate than a touch at times, and a real mouse is still better than the trackpad that’s on the Touch or Type Cover. I opted not to use up the only USB port I had for a mouse, so lucky for me I made an investment in a Microsoft Bluetooth Notebook Mouse 5000 a while ago for my Asus EP121 Slate. I was able to easily pair it with my Surface Pro, which solves my mouse need.
When it came time for me to choose which Surface Pro to buy, the 128GB or 64GB, I opted for the larger one. In my experience, it never pays to go small, and having had only 64GB in my Asus EP121, I knew I’d easily exceed the space I had. I still had reservations about 128GB, and Microsoft was once again kind enough to give me a MicroSD card slot to expand to. To ensure I had plenty of space I opted for a 64GB MicroSDXC card, and to also make sure I didn’t encounter any slowdowns, I opted for Sandisk’s Ultra series, which are Class 10 cards. Higher class cards are faster, so I would avoid the cheap class 4 cards, unless you enjoy waiting. The main goal of having the MicroSDXC card in the system is to offload as much as I can from the main SSD, and I was able to move my Steam install from the main drive onto the SSD and I was surprised how well my games still ran from the MicroSDXC card. I haven’t been able to figure out how to move my Dropbox or SkyDrive sync folders onto the MicroSDXC yet.
While still on the topic of storage, I also picked up a Western Digital MyPassport Portable 2TB USB3.0 drive. The drive is an excellent companion for the Surface Pro because it’s small, doesn’t require an additional power supply to run, and is blazing fast because it’s a USB 3.0 drive. I was able to move my 38GB Steam install from my main laptop, a monsterous Dell XPS17, onto this drive in a matter of about 5-10 minutes, then moving it the Surface Pro in about the same amount of time!
The best thing about the Surface Pro that sets it apart from other tablets on the market is it has a Wacom digitizer. Now, currently, there is a driver issue that prevents the Wacom digitizer from recognizing pressure in applications like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Hopefully this will be resolved soon. Programs like Sketchbook Pro and Fresh Paint don’t have this problem, so drawing with these programs is fantastic, it’s still not as sensitive as a dedicated Wacom Intuos tablet, but it’s still quite acceptable. The interesting thing about the Surface Pro, is it seems to use the same Penabled technology that’s been around for years on Tablet PC’s like the HP Elitebook 2730p, HP TC4400, and the Asus EP121 Slate. I was able to use the Pen from my Asus EP121 on the Surface Pro, and I was thrilled to be able to use my old Wacom Cross Executive Pen with my Surface Pro! The pen that comes with the Surface Pro is ok, but it feels like a plastic mechanical pencil, whereas the Cross Executive Pen is more hefty and has a partial metal body. Sadly, they appear to be no longer available to buy. Hopefully with the upcoming Wacom enabled tablets we’ll see more pens like the old Cross Executive make a comeback.
Lastly, even with the very capable Type Cover, I like a more roomy keyboard, and once again, using the Surface Pro’s Bluetooth connectivity, I was able to use my Microsoft Bluetooth Keyboard 6000. I also own an old Targus folding keyboard which I can use too, but with the Microsoft keyboard at home and the Type Cover for when I’m out and about, there’s no need for it. Another nice alternative if you don’t have Bluetooth devices hanging around are the Logitech peripherals that have their Unifying connector. What’s nice about these is there is a single USB dongle that can connect up to 5 devices, so a nice keyboard and mouse from Logitech can be attached to your Surface Pro, that is, if you don’t mind losing your single USB port.
All in all, the Surface Pro has proven to be the most flexible tablet I own. It’s not marred by the limitations of an iPad or Android tablet. I can easily develop with Visual Studio 2012, create graphics with 3D Studio Max, edit photos with Photoshop, run games from Steam (to a certain extent), and attach just about whatever I want to it. The only down side which doesn’t affect me too much is the 3-4 hours of battery life. I don’t live in the city or in college, so I’m always near an outlet at the office, and having 2 more hours over my Asus is still a win in my book.
I hope you found this useful, I’ll be sure to report on my further exploits in the future. Thanks for reading. Oh, before I go, I’ve included links to the products I talked about above. Enjoy.