Andrew Connell

Two Weeks with a Surface Pro 4 and Windows 10

Don’t get any ideas… I’m still very happy with my MacBook Pro and not planning to switch anytime soon. Spoiler alert: my MacBook Pro is still my primary & preferred machine I still prefer OSX over Windows.

A few weeks ago I got really lucky had a very good weekend playing on DraftKings … like real lucky. I thought to myself how nice it would be to have a machine for native Visual Studio based work. When I do need Visual Studio, I really don’t care for the virtual machine experience, either running native on my MacBook Pro or from a hosted machine in Azure. I had plenty of spare cash thanks to the misfortune of a few thousand fellow DraftKing players that weekend so it was effectively a free device (yeah… being #1 out of 2,500 & #1 out of 2,000 yields a nice realization right after Monday Night Football wraps up… I actually got a nice new set of headphones too!).

The following week I was going to be at a conference and figured I should take advantage of the op to test it out during the “30-day return same-as-cash” policy by the Microsoft store. Therefore, I went out to my local Microsoft store and got the new Surface Pro 4 (i5 / 8GB RAM / 256GB SDD) with the new keyboard. I quickly put Office 2016, Visual Studio 2013 & Visual Studio 2015 as well as a few other token apps and off I went to the conference.

So now, the good & bad… no uglies on this one.

The Good

Let me cut to the punchline: this is a really impressive machine. I was skeptical if it (i5 / 8GB) would be powerful enough for Visual Studio 2015 but it definitely is. I can easily run two instances, one with the debugger attached and stepping through code while it doesn’t miss a beat.

The other thing I love about this machine that excluded every other PC out there was the form factor. It’s so thin, even with the keyboard, and the power adapter is tiny. Microsoft actually beat out Apple on the power adapter… well done! This isn’t my primary machine, but I am surprising myself and using it a lot more than I thought I would. One thing I hated about my Surface RT was that it didn’t work well on your lap. The Surface Pro 4’s kickstand ability to fold way back nullifies this though because when on your lap, you want to lay it down more and this makes it quite stable. The pen is also very good. So much so, I’m likely going to cut back over to OneNote from Evernote soon (the data migration is the issue now).

All in all, I highly recommend the Surface Pro 4. This is a great device if you’re looking for a PC. If you’re a developer and not looking for a laptop that needs a special plan with your local chiropractor to haul it around, the i5 / 8GB packs plenty of power… especially for the price! You can’t beat a machine with this screen and this form factor, an i5 chip, 8GB of memory and a 256GB SSD for $1,300!

My Wish

One wish for the Surface Pro 4: I wish Apple would not be so stubborn and come out with something like the Surface Pro 4 but with OSX. Not the iPad Pro with iOS and a crappy keyboard. Microsoft nailed the hardware here, give me OSX and I’d have an absolutely killer device!

The Bad

There are a few things I don like about the Surface Pro 4. The most disappointing aspect is that the device was clearly rushed to market. Hardware-wise it’s tight… no issues there. But people all over are reporting issues with the display driver. Plenty of crashes abound. I’ve been back and forth with @SurfaceSupport on it. For me, it means that around 3 of every 5 times I go to use the device the screen won’t wake up. The keyboard backlight comes on (unfold it or tap a key or press the power button) but the screen never wakes up. The fix is to hold the power button down for 15s - 30s to hard crash it, then push it again for it to boot up. This means 60% of the time I want to use the device I have to wait 90-180 seconds. As someone who’s used to the instant-on of OS X with a MacBook Pro (and who Microsoft compared the Surface Pro 4 to in the presser & advertisements), that’s poor. I know they are working on it, but this shoudl not have been released like this. I hear plenty are taking them back to the store… I won’t as it’s not my primary machine.

The other big gripe I have is with the scaling. The screen is so damn nice that Windows has to scale to 200% by default. This by itself isn’t a problem… that’s good for me and works just fine in Office & Visual Studio, but there are so many apps that are simply terrible when you scale them like that. The git client I use looks terrible as do so many other dialogs for apps I use on a daily basis. Oh well…

One more thing… this experience was the first long one I’ve had with Windows 10. It really solidified my feeling that I prefer an operating system that doesn’t do much for me… just do the core stuff (networking, file system, power management, etc). Sure, all operating systems have some extra apps installed like stuff for mail, calendars and the like. Windows 10 just feels heavy. The start menu is very cluttered for me… like OSX, I just use search to find my apps. And the sounds… damn Windows 10 is noisy! I’ve yet to find the equivalent that we have on iOS for Notifications… just one place to manage them all please. Oh well… Windows 10 isn’t the version that won be back from OS X when I switched two years ago.

Andrew Connell
Developer & Chief Course Artisan, Voitanos LLC. | Microsoft MVP
Written by Andrew Connell

Andrew Connell is a web developer with a focus on Microsoft Azure & Microsoft 365. He’s received Microsoft’s MVP award every year since 2005 and has helped thousands of developers through the various courses he’s authored & taught. Andrew’s the founder of Voitanos and is dedicated to delivering industry-leading on-demand video training to professional developers. He lives with his wife & two kids in Florida.