|New to 3D art?|
Want to get started?
Check my tutorials!
One of the last Steve Jobs legacies to humanity was transporting computers from the desktop to our pockets. Any smart phone can read your email, send text messages, browse the web and even take pictures. Running apps is fun, but rather uncomfortable on tiny phone's screens, so tablets were the next logical step.
Although we can choose from millions of apps from the Apple Store and Google Play, that original computing migration from the desk to your pocket doesn't really happen if you can't run the "real" programs we have in our computers. So far we have used laptops for that purpose, but they are heavy and bulky to carry around. From carrying my laptop to work every day, the strap was leaving a bruise on my shoulder.
So the next logical step was the hybrid portable. Those have a form factor of a tablet with a touch-enabled screen, but often come with a detachable keyboard and run a full-fledged desktop OS, like Windows. Many of the mainstream manufactures have released their own hybrid portables, like Samsung, Lenovo and others, but oddly enough, the one that caught my attention was made by Microsoft.
In spite of Microsoft being traditionally a software company, they had a history of creating some of the best PC peripherals money could buy, like game controllers, mice and keyboards. They were also the last ones to enter the console game industry with the XBOX. But to them, computers were always on the desktop, so tablets and smart phones got them by complete surprise. Their answer was to create two new things: a new OS and their first full computer hardware to support it.
The OS was Windows 8, which is obviously targeting the new portable hybrids platform with the new "Metro" touch interface. Their first Microsoft manufactured computer was the "Surface", which was tailored to make the best out of Windows 8. So much that most users without a touch screen have complained the new interface was impractical for regular keyboard and mouse operation.
Microsoft was a company firmly based on the desktop computer, but now was betting everything on the touch-based mobile platform, which seems to be the current trend, started by Steve Jobs. But this is basically ignoring the fact that most people are still using keyboard and mouse, while touch screens are still a thing of the future. So Windows 8, in spite of design and stability issues, is indeed ahead of its time, and is already being replaced by the upcoming Windows 10 as early as next year.
Yes, I said Windows 10. What happened to Windows 9? Well, it seems like Microsoft wanted to avoid confusion with older versions such as Windows 95 and Windows 98, which are often referred to as Windows 9X. In addition, the new OS is planned to be radically different in some aspects. It will have multiple desktops, like Linux and MacOS already had for years, and the possibility of the OS being given away for free is being seriously discussed (?!).
When we look at the competition, Linux was always free, and more recently, MacOS has been offered for free as well, so Microsoft was the only company still selling their OS to the public. On the portable sector, basically all OS are also free, like Android and iOS. On that side, the new Windows 10 will supposedly try something completely new: it is planned to be a SINGLE OS in all platforms, be it a desktop PC with keyboard and mouse, a hybrid tablet with a touch screen, or a smart phone with a tiny screen. Windows 10 is supposed to automatically switch to the proper interface depending on what hardware it is running at, so the experience will be seamless.
This means the end of running multiple OS in different platforms, such as Windows RT, Windows CE, and the special version used on Windows phones and the XBOX console machines. With Windows 10, these devices will all run the same OS, which I still have no idea how they are going to pull that out. For these reasons, Microsoft claims Windows 10 will not be just an updated Windows 8, but something completely new. The release date has been set to November 2015.
To make sure people will like the new OS before it's actually out, Microsoft has released a free version called the "Technical Preview", which comes with an app people can use to submit feedback back to them. This version is still very crude because it's still in a very early stage of development, which is very different from what people saw from the Windows 7 beta version, which was a nearly finished OS. Nonetheless, Microsoft is releasing a periodic newsletter showing the most voted ideas and how they were integrated into the new OS.
Either if Windows 10 will be free or not is yet to be seen, but they have already promised a free upgrade to all Windows 8 users - I believe because Win10 is replacing Win8 in the same way that Vista was quickly replaced by Win7. In that aspect, Win8 will be as short-lived as Vista and Windows Millennium were in the past, even if for different reasons.
Personally, I don't believe such progress would ever happen to Microsoft for as long as the likes of Bill Gates and Steve Balmer were running the company. At least on the part where their mainstream OS could become free would definitely never happen. This is a very different Microsoft comparing to what I was used to in the past, and, I believe, for the better. As a matter of fact, Microsoft was losing money every day when Balmer was running it, and the company reputation was at rock bottom.
As a matter of fact, Microsoft was doing so badly that Balmer ended up being removed, and most of the people they had invited to become the new CEO have kindly declined the position. They didn't think it could be fixed. In the end, the new CEO came from the company's own ranks - an employee from the tech department. Looking at the progress so far, it seems to be working.
This year I have acquired Microsoft's third generation hybrid PC, the Surface Pro 3. It's a full-fledged Windows 8.1 PC on a 12 inches tablet form factor with only 800 grams, and 9 hours battery life. It's only 9 millimeters thick, and comes with a built-in friction-based kickstand that can be placed in virtually any angle, plus an active stylus pen that can be used to take notes or anything else you like, like drawing. There is a full-sized USB 3.0 port, mini HDMI, MicroSD slot that supports up to 128GB cards, front and back 5MP cameras that can shoot Full HD 1080p pictures, ambient light sensor, microphone, and front mounted stereo speakers.
The Surface Pro 3 built quality looks as top notch as the peripherals they used to manufacture in the past. The 12" screen is sharp and bright, optically bonded with the latest and greatest shock and scratch resistant Gorilla Glass 3, and coated with a grease-repellent layer that helps keeping fingerprint smudges to a minimum, and easy to clean. In my tests, I could easily browse the web for 9+ hours on a single charge, so I guess Microsoft was not overestimating the performance this time.
My model is the i5 with 8GB RAM and 240GB SSD, and my biggest complains are that the Type Cover keyboard is sold separately and Office 2013 is installed for only 30 days trial period. For the price, one would expect such things to be included. So far I find Win8 much more fun to use now that I have a touch screen. This is basically Microsoft showing us how they think the future of computing should be, so I guess it's understandable - but I am still using good old Win7 on my desktop and laptop because they run on traditional keyboard and mouse.
Since the Surface was my first experience with Win8, I've found it generally pleasant, but with some drawbacks. First of all, it's extremely unstable, and I have been presented the new blue screen of death even when doing the most trivial things, such as browsing the web, reading emails, or even when watching a movie. The new Metro interface is fun to play with when using the Surface, because I can use the multi-touch gestures to get things done quickly and intuitively. Conversely, Metro is also unstable and can cause Win8 to instantly reboot unexpectedly.
To most Windows users, Win8 can also be confusing, because you are in the modern Metro interface, and in many cases we are suddenly thrown back to the desktop. This is because most Windows programs were not designed to run on Metro. For example, Photoshop can be difficult to use with a touch screen because the interface is too small for the size of a finger to reach. One could use the included pen to manage tiny desktop program interfaces, but the Surface body has no place to attach the pen to, so I don't usually carry it with me.
Looking back in time, I see this new Win8 Metro interface pretty much like the same paradox as we had in Windows 3, Windows 95 and Windows 98, where the OS was actually DOS and the graphic interface was just a shell running on top of it. Metro is not Win8 - it's just a shell running on top of it. In the upcoming Win10, the familiar Win7 start menu will be back, and Metro will be embedded into it, which should remove the confusion from this odd dual interface model. Here again, Microsoft claims all Surface users will receive Win10 upgrade for free (hopefully).
Compatibility-wise, there is nothing I had in Win7 that wouldn't run just the same in Win8.1 on the Surface. Sometimes there is some confusion because the interface is different at some places, like I still could not find a way to set a program to always launch "As Administrator" in Win8.1. It used to be a checkbox in Win7, but it's gone in Win8 and I couldn't figure out how it's done now, so I have to manually change the credentials every time I run the programs.
Performance-wise, my Surface Pro 3 has a dual-core i5, which is way less than my desktop's full quad-core i7, so I suppose the performance is proportional to that. For normal usage it's pretty smooth, but it can lag a bit on processor or GPU-intensive applications. No surprises there, since the desktop runs at quite hi-res on an integrated video adapter (Intel HD4400 at 2160x1440), which offers decent, though not fantastic performance. It is possible to play 3D games at medium quality, though.
Nonetheless, it's still much higher res than the 1050p display I have on my desktop. One major thing to remember is that the Surface Pro 3 has an active cooling system, so it will not throttle down the processor like other hybrids do. The fan does keep silent for most of the time, and it never gets too noisy during heavy-duty operations. Surface Pro 3 uses the new Intel 22nm Haswell processors, which can achieve high performance using less energy than the previous i5 generation, which is what provides the longer battery life.
On ergonomics, the Surface Pro 3 is quite pleasant to handle. The extra wide screen provides better web browsing, and plenty of screen real estate for most desktop applications. When used in portrait mode, the form factor looks pretty much like the size of a regular notepad. Clicking the pen's back button automatically launches OneNote, even if the device was in sleep mode, so I can take notes or just draw some doodles. The new friction-based kickstand allows pushing the Surface as far to the back as a drawing desk, making drawing with the pen quite easy and natural.
The SSD + Win8.1 combo allows booting the device from cold shutdown state to full desktop in mere seconds, which is something I never had with the iPad or Android tablets. This is something I've learned to appreciate since Win8 crashes so easily, but it's also back in mere seconds. The frequent Windows Updates also used to be a hassle, since most require rebooting, but it's not so bad now.
When watching movies on the Surface Pro 3, the color quality is quite good but not as great as a Samsung display. Dark areas are too dark, and the display offers pretty low color contrast, especially on grayscales. This makes dark movies too dark for my taste. On the sound department, though, the two speakers are mounted on the front face of the device, making sound both louder and clearer. Software-wise, I was surprised not to find a video player that can be controlled with touch like we have on Android. I am a long-time VLC user, but the Win8 app version still cannot be controlled with touch, and most of the customization options were not included in this version.
Also surprisingly, the Surface built-in video player cannot be controlled with touch gestures. As a matter of fact, the Microsoft Store is still far from being as content-rich as the Apple Store and Google Play, which is not surprising when we see how unpopular Win8 has been from the beginning, and also how new the whole platform still is. It's not just the amount of apps we find there, but also the quality of the contents. I suppose most premium apps are still concentrated at the Apple and Android stores, but we can easily install BlueStacks on the Surface and run all your favorite Android apps straight from the Google Play store. Remember this is a full-blown Windows PC, so we can do such things that would otherwise be impossible on Apple and Android tablets.
Strangely enough, I have found MANY misleading web reviews where people insist on comparing the Surface Pro 3 side by side with the Apple iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab, trying to tell which one is "better". The Surface is a full PC, so it's on a whole different device class comparing to the iPad and Android tablets. For example, the new iPad processor has impressive performance stats, but it can only run those little Apple Store apps and nothing else. This makes "performance" a very relative term, since the iPad cannot run full-blown desktop applications, and probably never will. Conversely, everything I run on my desktop PC will also work on the Surface, so if we really want to compare, the iPad and Android tablets are just fancy toys.
In other words, all these web reviews are just plain pointless. A more conclusive comparison would be to put the Surface side by side with UltraBooks, but again, none of them have a touch screen, or can have the keyboard detached to work as a tablet, and they are all at least twice the weight, so how can we compare? The only real comparison would be between other hybrid PCs, and even here the Surface seems to beat them all in ergonomics, performance, and built quality.
That's how I decided to pick the Surface over other devices. At the moment, Win8.1 still sucks because it's unstable, but I have hopes that the free upgrade to Win10 next year may make up for this, and also bring new functionality, like the new 3-fingers gestures that were introduced into the Win10 "Technical Preview" this week, and a few other features people had asked for - including one I have suggested myself! It's not like ALL we suggest will be added, but instead the ones that were most requested, which makes sense.
All in all I am pretty happy with the Surface Pro 3. I have bought the Type Cover keyboard, and there are situations where I cannot imagine using the tablet without it. I can type on it as fast as I can on my extra-wide Logitech G11 keyboard. The on-screen keyboard is also pretty good, though auto-correction is not as nearly as good as in iOS. Conversely, there is an option to switch to a split keyboard layout that allows typing with the thumbs like we do in smaller tablets - pretty handy.
I suppose the whole point about the Surface is to have a tablet that can also work as a laptop when the keyboard is attached, or a drawing tablet when the pen is used, and I can choose whatever I want to run on it - as opposed to the Apple/Android dictatorship where THEY impose what you can or cannot run. Using BlueStacks, I have also ran all of my favorite Android games straight from the Surface, so I can also go there if I want to. I guess that's what freedom is all about.
There is also the full-blown i7 quad-core Surface Pro 3 with the more powerful Intel HD5000 GPU as well, but I think it gets to that price tag threshold where it's not such a great deal anymore. Microsoft claims the i7 quad-core version will yield the same 9 hours battery life, but if you make your math, that just doesn't add up unless something somewhere is being sacrificed or it's using a different battery.
Buying the Surface Pro 3 from Best Buy gave me a full version of Kaspersky Internet Security, which includes a 1-year subscription plan for free. This happens to be the same anti-virus I have been using for a decade, so it was a pleasant surprise. Best Buy also has the navy blue keyboard that I find prettier than the Microsoft cyan one. You can configure the Surface to automatically match the desktop color theme to match your keyboard color whenever you plug it. Silly but cool!
With the Surface I can now give my heavy-duty desktop a break depending on the task. I switch to the Surface when I want to watch movies, browse the web, play casual (including Android) games, chat on Skype, write Office documents, capture full body motion with the Kinect, and other tasks that don't require much hardware muscle. For working with 3D graphics, or playing the latest 3D games, I have to go back to the i7 desktop with the dedicated heavy-weight video card. I think it's a fair trade. ^^