Why the Surface Pro 2 Will Be a Game Changer in the Tablet World Series

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

Last updated 9/6/14

(Related articles: “Thoughts on the Surface Pro 2 After 8 Months” and “The Surface Pro 2 Will Be the Death of Notebooks.”)

I’m one of the 15 million who bought the first generation iPad in 2010-11, and I’m still using it today as a flexible extension of my desktop. I can take it anywhere within my WiFi zone and have instant connection to the web. Press, sweep, and tap, and I have my email. Tap and tap, my favorite websites. Tap and press, I’m done. No desk, no mouse, no keyboard, no waiting around.

Microsoft Surface Pro 2

Microsoft Surface Pro 2

But it’s not a desktop PC, and it still can’t do some of the basics. It can handle email, both reading and writing, but it can’t multitask very easily. This means that any task that requires grabbing info from one app and using it in another is iffy and requires so many steps that it’s almost not worth doing unless you’re desperate.

My iPad also can’t do standard PC apps such as MS Word and Excel and the gazillion little utilities that I can’t live without, and its ability to handle the vast range of webpage styles is poor, which makes web browsing and research a more miss than hit exercise. There are countless workarounds for mainstream desktop programs and app alternatives for mobile devices that are supposed to render standard websites readable, but these are clunky and offer poor alternatives to the real deals.

My iPad can’t handle images and videos very well, and it balks at most online video formats outside of YouTube. Thus, it’s a great tool for what it can do, but it leaves me on a short tether to my desktop.

I’ve been closely following the 2nd-to-4th generation iPad releases, but I haven’t seen the breakthroughs that I need. I also have an android tablet to keep an eye on what’s happening in that sector, but the issues are similar. 

For a while, I was tempted by the iPad Mini’s small size, but the size was also a problem when I consider the screen dimensions I need for serious work. My iPad’s 9.7-inch screen seems about minimal.

I’m a college English teacher, and all my classes are online. Thus, I need a tablet that allows me to easily maneuver and work in my university’s learning management system. My iPad is barely usable in this environment, balking at basic functions.  I maintain student records in Excel, which is beyond the iPad’s range. I use my desktop’s Gmail features for recording and sending students reports on their papers, but my iPad’s version of Gmail is too primitive for this. I work extensively in WordPress to provide course information and learning resources, and, again, my iPad is only about 50% functional in this environment.

I use my iPad as a reader for the latest breaking news in course-related topics as well as ed tech developments in general, and one of the things I need to be able to do is grab quotes and bibliographic info on the fly in a form that’s quickly transferable to WordPress. The quickest and simplest method is to work with two windows: one for the articles and another to a WordPress composing page. Copy from one and paste in the other. Simple enough on a desktop with a large monitor – or even better, two large monitors. On my iPad, I won’t even try to explain how difficult this is to do.

Once you’ve experienced the freedom of a tablet you begin to realize how desktops dictate and limit how, when, and where you’ll work. It’s the difference between a landline and a smartphone, between teaching onground and online, between walking and flying, between driving a car and riding a motorcycle.

My iPad is 1.7 pounds, but I’ve learned to wedge it in the fingers of one hand (sorta like a heavy hardback novel) so I can hold it for long periods of time and use the other hand to tap, slide, pinch, and key text. From the specs I’ve seen for the Surface Pro 2, it weighs only 2 pounds with the features I want. Its screen size is 10.6 inches.  This means that the Surface is only three-tenths of a pound heavier than my iPad with a screen that’s nearly an inch larger.

I don’t think I’ll feel the weight difference that much, and if I do, I’ll probably grow used to it after a while. The point is that I’ll have a full-blown PC in what’s essentially an iPad form factor that I can continue to hold in one hand.

I’m sure I’ll still revert to my desktop setup for really serious work (working with media in Photoshop and Camtasia), but I’ll be able to do so much more away, on my tablet. And this is why I think the Surface Pro 2 will change the tablet game: it’s a next generation tablet, and it’s not just a tablet but a tablet with the power of a desktop. This can mean a lot of things, but the one that matters most is productivity. Instantly, it reduces the iPad and all similar tablets to toys.

Obviously, I’m assuming that the Surface Pro 2 will have enough speed so that I don’t end up turning to my iPad for relief. According to Dan Ackerman, it has excellent speed (CNET, 10/20/13). Eric Limer refers to the original Surface Pro as “one hell of a zippy tablet” and claims the Pro 2 with its “new Haswell Core i5 is even better” (Gizmodo, 10/20/13). Still, I won’t know for sure until I have it in hand and try to do the things I’m used to doing on my desktop. Ideally, I won’t see a drop off. If I do, hopefully it’ll be barely noticeable and something I can learn to live with as a tradeoff for portability.

I haven’t gone into the Surface Pro 2’s other features because they’re covered in numerous reviews. I’ll just say that I wouldn’t be giving it a second look if I felt it had any weaknesses that are, in my mind, critical.

Perhaps the deal breaker is price. With tablet prices steadily dropping across the board, the Pro 2’s seems out of whack, especially for the higher end models that promise greater productivity. But we all felt the iPad was too pricey when it first came out so it’s hard to say whether sticker shock will be negated by the sense of freedom that comes from a tablet-sized Windows PC.

In the next several months we’ll see if I’m on or off the mark. In this business, three months is a long time and there’s no telling what will happen. One very real possibility is a better mousetrap. Microsoft, with its Surface Pro 2, has started a whole new ballgame, and it doesn’t take much to imagine the competition working feverishly to catch up and bypass the new kid in the tablet game.

5 Responses

  1. […] By Jim Shimabukuro Editor I'm one of the 15 million who bought the first generation iPad in 2010-11, and I'm still using it today as a flexible extension of my desktop. I can take it anywhere withi…  […]

  2. Price is a big factor with today’s tablets at prices of $80, although with small displays and weak processing.

    The burgeoning market for all sorts of devices puts software providers in the position of having to build software for all of the different platforms. It’s costly. How can you do this in the education market and keep prices down?

    I have one solution that I use, and it’s from Google.

  3. One problem with focusing on one device is that the device of the moment changes so rapidly. We’ve certainly seen that with school- or system-wide iPad adoptions. Next year, you may be able to obtain better devices at less than half the cost. Some new feature may be added that truly changes the basic nature of the device.

    The other side of this coin is the software. If you standardize on one device, then you can choose the software specially for it, which means that you’re stuck with that hardware. The future is coming at us with ever-increasing speed. We must be prepared.

    A few years ago, I was a skeptic regarding HTML5. Javascript is very slow because it’s interpreted. HTML5 was not and is still not a standard. I was not even interested in revisiting this area. However, a very significant prospect convinced me to look again.

    After a week of looking, I was depressed. Then, my colleagues and I ran across Google Web Toolkit (GWT). This amazing system allows you to write your code once and run it across the spectrum of devices right own to the smart phone. The key to universality is HTML5 plus generating device-specific code automatically to handle the variants of HTML5 that suffuse the technology. Performance provides the remaining link. Google has put enormous effort in understanding how to make Javascript as fast as it can be.

    The point of all of this is to encourage you all to seek out universal software instead of the next killer tablet. The former will yield positive results, but the latter may well lead to nowhere.

    • That’s precisely the point, Harry. The Surface Pro 2 is a move to a software platform that’s universal — Windows. You’re not buying into a proprietary system that locks you into a dead-end branch of the evolving software landscape. Instead, you’re entering the mainstream via a hand-held tablet that frees you from the desk and gives you all that that freedom implies.

      Re drop in prices: Yes, of course prices will drop in time as other models enter the game and competition kicks in. And yes, with every new model, designs will improve so later models will always be lighter, faster, more powerful, and cheaper in fact or relatively speaking. These are givens, and it’s up to the consumer to determine when to pull the trigger, based on her/his needs.

      Microsoft is making a smart move by creating a hardware path that aligns its operating system with the sweep toward mobility that positions tablets as the most versatile and productive alternative to desktops and notebooks.

  4. Curious to hear how it went after 8 months–any updates?

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