The Microsoft Surface is a polarizing device. Supporters of the hybrid laptop-tablet appreciate how portable and fun to use it is while still providing access to all of the Windows-based applications and services used by most organizations. Detractors criticize it as a “Frankendevice” that tries to do everything and ends up doing nothing well in the process. As with many technology debates, both sides are kind of right.
With the Surface Pro 3 coming out later this month and Microsoft’s claims that it’s “the tablet that can replace your laptop,” it’s worth giving the Surface another look. The Surface is a compelling option for your next laptop purchase – if you don’t mind a few compromises.
Rather than do a full hardware review (of which there are many online), we can say here that the Surface works well, but not perfectly. As a 12” Windows tablet, folks may prefer smaller size and better apps on the iPad. The Surface is a great laptop with the optional snap on keyboard, but the pricey keyboard and docking station accessories quickly raise the overall cost, and heft, of the device. And Windows 8.1 as an operating system has its shortcomings with its awkward melding of the touch-friendly “Metro” interface and the traditional, mouse-friendly Windows interface.
But Windows is also the Surface’s key strength.
Since the Surface runs Windows, it is fully compatible with Windows-based servers and networks and with our Community IT device management utility. This means that folks can easily access the office file server and edit a document in Microsoft Word or open up the office accounting software. Most tablets can’t offer this. (Incidentally, Macs sometimes struggle with this too depending on the network. It’s as much about Windows as the form factor.)
The Surface would be one of the first Windows 8.1 computers at many of our clients, so some minor modifications to the network’s policies and computer setup procedures may be required. But after this initial setup, the ongoing maintenance and administration is basically the same as any other laptop. This is notably different from Apple’s iPad and Macbook, which may require additional network support time and will never provide the same easy integration or management in a Windows network.
Is the Surface a good choice for your next laptop? It depends. If what you really want is an iPad, the Surface will be disappointing. If you really want an ultraportable laptop, you may be more satisfied with a Macbook Air or Dell Ultrabook. But if you’re interested in a device that can be both a laptop and a tablet and works well in a Microsoft environment, the Surface merits consideration.