surface pro 3

As I researched the Search Filter Host problems plaguing my Surface Pro 3 — which results in hot temperatures and low battery life — I am reminded that functionality isn’t the same thing as usability.

The search index is a good idea. Windows builds an index of your files as unobtrusively it can, so when you search for something, results instantly appear. It’s a wonderful thing when it works. This is an example of high functionality; all modern operating systems should have it.

However, Microsoft’s implementation comes at a sacrifice to usability. While you can specify which locations and file types to include in the index, Windows will try to index everything within those specifications. Good, right? Nope.

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Some time ago, we wrote the following about the upcoming ecosystem war, which will be delineated by display size:

At this screen size, productivity is possible and most consumers will want to do some work with such a device. I’m seeing more people purchase keyboard covers for their iPads; and of course, 2-in-1 PCs address this segment as well. Going forward, no device in this [10- to 13-inch display size ] category will be purely about consumption or purely about work — consumers will expect to do both on a device this size. That is why Google acquired QuickOffice; Apple is rumored to debut a 12-inch iPad Pro soon; and why Microsoft is desperately courting developers to create for consumers.

Apple and Google seem to agree. With tablet sales leveling off; the 12.9-inch iPad Pro expected to launch soon; and Google and HTC developing a keyboard cover for the new, 9-inch Nexus; Apple and Google are moving into Microsoft’s traditional stronghold of devices designed for work.

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I’ve had the Surface Pro 3 for less than a week, but unless things change by the next, I will be returning the device. As you can tell from my first impressions post, I loved it, so what brought the change of heart?

Three things. First, the tablet gets unbelievably hot frequently and when it does it’s incredibly uncomfortable to hold. It’s not much of a tablet when you don’t even want to hold it. What kind of tasks, might you ask, was I doing while its vapor magnesium was brought to a boil? Intensive, taxing stuff like web browsing, email and OneNote of course.

Second, the battery life isn’t great. I’ve consistently gotten 6 hours of screen time. This is on a balanced power plan, 37% screen brightness and sleep after 2 minutes of inactivity. I was expecting 9 hours of battery so 6 is disappointing.

Third, there’s something funky with the WiFi. Sometimes the connection is just awful slow and it’s not the fault of my connection; a reboot fixes it.

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I’ve made it plain on this blog that I’m a fan of the Surface concept, despite its flawed unveiling. Yes, the same Surface that lost Microsoft over a billion dollars. This must mean the concept sucks right?

Well, no, it it’s not because the vision is flawed, it’s the execution and timing that weren’t right. The first and second Surface Pros were too early — the hardware wasn’t ready to deliver the vision. The first Surface RT was just plain bad. I thought the Surface 2 was ready for primetime, if not for its Windows RT roots.

Timing aside, I’m a fan of the concept because convergence will happen between laptops and tablets, just like the telephone, camera, MP3 player, GPS navigation and PDA converged into today’s smartphone. Microsoft absolutely has the right idea with the Surface; just a few years’ early.

So, does the Surface Pro 3 do it? I’ll want to use this bad boy for a few weeks before concluding anything. My initial impression is that it falls just short for the mainstream; it’s too expensive and the form factor is a hairline from perfect.

Fortunately, it still hits the mark for someone like me. I’m loving the Surface Pro 3 so far.

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Congratulations to Ashwin, Aniela and Jesus (!) for getting the three OnePlus One invites. Gentle reminder that invites have a time limit, so please place your orders before they expire. Once you get your phones, check out my nine suggestions for improving usability.

With that announcement out of the way, it just occurred to me who should adopt OnePlus’ marketing strategy: Microsoft with the Surface 3. To recap, the OnePlus One strategy is to sell flagship devices to tech geeks as a loss leader to generate hype and demand (see here for the blueprint).

I don’t think the Lumia is a good fit for this strategy as consumers won’t have an easy way to compare the value of a Lumia to an iPhone or Android, so its ability to act as a loss leader is limited. But that restriction doesn’t apply to the Surface, which competes with 300 million PCs shipped every year.

Microsoft should create a Surface 3 that is priced aggressively: one with a beastly Nvidia Tegra K1 chip, pen digitizer, Surface Pro 3 display, and a thinner and lighter profile than its predecessor.

Charge $199 for this device. With Office included.

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I had written a few days ago about how Microsoft took customer feedback too much to heart with the Xbox One, which resulted in an E3 showing that was too focused and none too exciting.  It’s only fair that I now point to where Microsoft has used customer feedback in exactly the right away.

Gabe is a comic book artist at Penny Arcade.  He went on Microsoft’s radar after he wrote a glowing review of the first Surface Pro; possibly the most positively influential of all the coverage given to Microsoft’s first gen device.  As a comic book artist, the Surface Pro’s thin-and-light tablet form factor and pen were transformative.  Not surprisingly, he liked the second version even more.

So the Surface team was likely looking forward to getting his reaction to the Surface Pro 3, which is a giant leap better than its predecessors.  Except, Gabe had a few major problems with it and posted a less-than-glowing review.

So Microsoft did the right thing and tried to learn what went wrong.  Check out Gabe’s remarkable update here.  Read it and mosey back.

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I’m not a baller, so there’s going to be a bit of “who does this guy think he is?” and I acknowledge that. Nevertheless I’ve always been pretty good at presentations and have a view on how Panos Panay, chief of Surface for Microsoft, could have done better in his Surface Pro 3 unveiling.  So I’m going to share that view.

If you look at people’s comments on tech websites and forums, quite a few thought Panos did a great job. And he did do a good job. He did a lot of things right, chiefly:

  • Positioning the Surface as a tablet that can replace the laptop — there’s finally a sentence people can point to and say, that’s what the Surface is
  • Identifying the MacBook Air as the most direct competition
  • Comparing the Surface size and screen ratio to a legal notepad
  • Demoing with the new Photoshop, crossword puzzle and movie scripting
  • Emphasizing pride and passion in the work they’ve done

But he could have done a lot better.  2000 words’ worth of suggestions better.

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For 13 years, David Pogue was the tech columnist for the New York Times before making a move to Yahoo in October last year. Pogue was not a fan of Windows 8 or the previous Surface Pro, so imagine everyone’s surprise when he came out with a positive review of the Surface Pro 3:

If you own or carry around both a tablet and a laptop, then the Surface is calling out your name. There’s nothing like it. It’s so much better than the sales figures would indicate. We, the buying public, are not giving it a fair shake. If this marvel of engineering doesn’t lift the Microsoft hardware curse, I don’t know what its designers are supposed to do.

What’s more eyebrow-raising is the video review that accompanied it, which is probably the most creative and entertaining tech gadget review I’ve ever seen: it’s a spoof of the “I’m a Mac and I’m a PC” commercials that Apple ran before.

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Before the iPhone, there were good MP3 players, good phones and good PDAs that could browse the Internet. But efforts to combine all that functionality into one device failed, because software and hardware weren’t ready for that convergence.

To replace several devices with just one device, the replacement had to replicate the functionality of those focused devices well enough to justify its existence. The iPhone was the first to succeed, and today you no longer buy MP3 players or mobile Internet devices; you just buy smartphones.

For the last several years, Microsoft has been trying to do the same trick for laptops and tablets. It’s been trying to create that one replacement device, and that device is called the Surface.

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