For a week or so I have had a couple of devices on loan from Microsoft, namely a Surface Pro, Surface Book and Surface Laptop. My focus has been on some initial experimentation with the Surface Pro device. My reasoning for focusing on the Surface Pro rather than the other options being the fact it is closer in nature to the iPad Pro devices we are currently using in school and therefore the Pro represents a clear direct alternative. So far my overall reaction has been a positive one.
It is sometimes the little things that make all of the difference. One of these little things in relation to the Surface Pro is the magnetic nature of the pen which means you can attach it to three out of four of the sides of the device. The only side you can’t attach it to is the one with the power and volume buttons on it. This should help in avoiding misplacing the pen plus means you don’t need a clunky case with a space to store the pen.
Sticking with the pen, I was surprised to find its power source is a AAAA battery. I had expected the pen to contain a rechargeable battery however on review I think Microsoft got it right with a removable battery in that it won’t suffer from memory effect as rechargeable batteries do. It does however add a cost consideration in that the batteries will need replaced. That and I suspect AAAA, being not as common as AA or AAA, will not be particularly cheap however from what I have read Microsoft reckon each AAAA battery will last a decent amount of time before needing changed.
A lovely feature of the pen is the eraser. Like a HB pencil with a rubber eraser at the rear, the Microsoft pen can simply be spun around to erase your annotations, drawings or mistakes. This is another “little thing” however I found this process of spinning the pen around to erase mistakes so natural and therefore such an excellent feature of the device.
Along with the Pro I was supplied with one of their detachable keyboards which magnetically attaches to one side of the tablet. The magnetic connection was easy to make as well as to separate the tablet from the keyboard. The keyboard itself gave a reassuring feel in use on a flat surface so I suspect would be reasonable for long term use. I also tried using it on my lap where again it seemed to work reasonably well although, as is the issue with keyboards of this type, it offered a little bit of flex making it not quite as good an experience as you would get from a conventional clamshell laptop. All of this being said, I think I would generally only be using the keyboard as a cover, using the inking facilitate to hand write notes, etc and make annotations with only occasional use of the keyboard where longer documents require typing.
The keyboard, as a cover, can be flipped round the back of the device out of the way allowing it to be used in its tablet form. I wasn’t too happy with this in that I didn’t like being able to feel the keys on the rear of the device, where the keyboard had been flipped to the back. This issue is a common issue with devices with flip around keyboards. It was a colleague who has been experimenting with the Surface Book who indicated that the keyboard could be reversed meaning that when flipped to the back of the device, the keys are then facing inwards onto the back of the device, allowing you to hold the device without feeling the keys. This was more comfortable to use in tablet mode but means when reverting back to using the keyboard, you need to remove, flip and reconnect the keyboard before you can use.
The tablet device comes with a kickstand on the rear allowing you to make it free standing on a desk or other flat surface or to keep it upright when connected to the keyboard for typing. This seems useful if you want to watch something on the device however I note that the tablet doesn’t have any rubber feet on its edges. As such when without the keyboard attached and when trying to write on the tablet I found it slid away from me and therefore required I use one hand to hold it in place. Considering the kickstand I suspect it would only see use where I was making use of the keyboard as in general operation I am more likely just to hold the device, as a tablet, in one hand while writing on it with the other.
The surface comes with both a front and rear facing camera, as is common in tablets. A quick use showed the rear facing camera to offer a good level and quality in its digital zoom feature although I note that I haven’t so far tried it out under varied lighting conditions, etc.
Overall I found the Surface Pro good to use. The one issue I had with it was the rather pricey cost of it meaning that it would be more expensive than the iPad pros we currently have in use. That said, the Surface represents a full desktop computer which is something which cant quite be said for the iPad. As a result of this one issue, it was with great interest I ready Microsoft’s announcement of the new Surface Go device, which basically will be a more affordable version of the surface, putting it much closer in price bracket to the iPad Pro device. You can read more about this here. I am hoping to get a trial of a Surface Go at some point during September. I believe it may just be the missing piece in my search to identify where I see classroom tech going over the next few years.