I bought a Surface Pro (2017) and I’m going to return it

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Ever since Surface was announced I loved the idea of a single device which could be powerful and flexible. When the Surface Pro was announced I was interested in the low latency pen input, so I went to my nearest Microsoft Store and played with one.

The pen experience was amazing. The device was thin, not as light as I thought it would be, but overall stunning. I decided I would save and eventually buy one. Last week the wait was over and I stopped by the same Microsoft Store and bought an i5 with 8GB RAM and 265GB Storage.

I rushed home and eagerly waited as the ‘Update Assistant’ downloaded the Fall Creators Update. The Update Assistant failed to install for unknown reasons, so I went through Windows Update which had a bunch of updates, then 1709, and a couple of hours later it was all up to date.

Using the Surface Pro was fast, responsive, quirky, buggy, and quickly began to feel like just another a half-baked Microsoft product. I should have known the failed update assistant was a bad omen, but the experience did not improve from there.

Disclaimer before I begin describing all the factors leading me to return the Surface Pro. I’m a big Microsoft fan. I used a Windows Phone longer than I should have, I develop UWP apps in my spare time, I was a Groove subscriber, I have been using O365 for years, I use Edge as my primary browser, I have multiple Windows devices in my house, I use Cortana, I use Bing, and OneNote is my favorite piece of software ever to be created. So to say the least I was excited to finally have this Surface Pro.

A big reason why I wanted to get a Surface Pro over the laptop or book was because I wanted a single device I could use as a tablet and a laptop. I’m an engineer during the day so I do a fair amount of sketching, annotating, and marking up on paper and PDFs. I use OneNote all day every day. I thought the Surface Pro would be the ideal device for me.

At first everything was going great, but as soon as I began using the Surface as a tablet the cracks began to show. Tablet Mode in Windows 10 is broken. The experience is terrible and there is no way to master it. Apps would routinely crash, only viewing two apps at once seemed pointlessly limiting. The compact keyboard and the pen input panel just float wherever, over the app you’re writing in or whatever it has no idea.

I have some content in the Movies and TV app, and I was playing Futurama in Compact Overlay while I browsing with Edge. When I would activate the Task View via the left edge swipe, Futurama would pause, then not be able to resume and when I switched to the Movies and TV app the episode would jump to the end and the next one would play. This bug was easy to replicate, a pain, and made the experience feel cheap.

Listening to music while in tablet mode was also painful. If I wanted to pause, play, next track, or previous track there were two options. First I could switch over to Spotify (which is a pain to use with touch) and then have full control. The other option was to bump the volume rocker and get a Windows 8 overlay from which I could control the music. Neither are too bad when you are using the device, but they are clunky, not ideal, and cheap feeling.

If you are listening to music on the Surface and not also working on the device the music situation is a blast from the past. Inline headphone controls do not work on the Surface. Also pressing the lock button after setting your music stops the music. When the screen times out and goes off the music will keep playing, but the keyboard pause button does not respond until the device has been awakened. This made me prefer to use my iPhone for music over my fancy new Surface.

The Taskbar is a core and essential tool when working on Windows . In tablet mode it is a sloppy mess. When there are too many icons Windows just mushes them all together and gives a dinky scrollbar to cycle through the app icons. So naturally they are hidden by default. Which means you must use the Task View to switch between apps, which as I mentioned does not work great with all apps, and requires you to take one hand off the device to pick the app to switch to.

The touch keyboard experience continued the disappointment. There was odd lag between tapping a text field and seeing the keyboard; when it decided to pop up at all. Also I never knew what keyboard I was going to get, pen input or small keyboard? To me those are the only two keyboards worthwhile when using the Surface as a tablet because they don’t take up 50% of the display like the standard and the split keyboards do.

Using Microsoft’s first party apps in tablet mode are a non-stop disappointment. For example, Mail and Calendar are so basic and are hard to use with touch and have zero awareness of pens. This is so surprising that Microsoft wouldn’t think to make their built in apps the best mouse, keyboard, touch, and pen apps the world has ever seen. Unfortunately they are a disappointment for every input method other than mouse. Maybe the people who build these apps were told to keep them dumbed-down and basic to avoid competition with Outlook 2016, but that would be sad if true.

Honestly I do not know how Microsoft can look at the Surface Pro and in any way suggest it should be used as a tablet. The device is essentially a super expensive weird laptop. I would be willing to live with all of these oddities and quirks if the device was $800, but clocking in at over $1,600 with pen and keyboard I cannot pretend this is a good value.

If you are a high paid, high visibility executive and are avoiding using an iPad in meetings then the Surface Pro is a really cool looking device. However, for 99.9% of everyone else either stick with laptops, or find a Windows tablet as cheap as the Tablet Mode experience.

As for me I’ll be returning the Surface Pro and going back to sharing the three year old HP x360 with my wife.

TL;DR Tablet Mode is broken, the touch keyboard is inconsistent and odd, nearly impossible to be productive in Tablet Mode. Built in apps are not aware of the pen. Bad media experience. Found myself just using the device as a laptop.

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