Just before my China trip, I bought new Surface Pro – a 2-in-1 device from Microsoft – and after using it for several weeks during my travels, I’d like to share my impressions about it.
First of all, new Surface Pro comes in many different versions which have different CPU, RAM and disk storage. And they greatly influence the price which ranges 799 USD to 2699 USD. I went with Intel Core i7, 16 GB RAM and 512 MB SSD disk. All versions come with Windows 10 Pro installed.
Tablet is very light, with a weight of 784 g, and also, it’s pretty small (just 8.5 mm thick!) so it will easily fit in any photographer’s bag and will be a great addition in the field.
Regarding the ports, Surface Pro features one full-size USB 3.0 port, MiniDisplay Port, 3.5mm Headset jack and a microSDXC card reader, which can be used to extend the memory of the tablet.
Build quality is also nice – the casing is all metal and feels very solid. It really feels like a device created for creative professionals.
The keyboard is covered with Alcantara material, which for me feels very nice and quite luxurious. Even though it’s quite small, there is enough spacing between the keys so typing feels very natural even if you’re used to full-size keyboards. I must say I love that keyboard but why on Earth it isn’t bundled with Surface Pro?!
Really great thing about Surface Pro is that it uses regular Windows 10 OS, meaning that all apps for Windows will work on it as well: Photomatix Pro, Lightroom, Photoshop, ON1 RAW, Capture One, Adobe Premiere etc. So there’s no need to make any changes to the workflow which is a really really big thing. And in fact, this was one of the biggest issues I had with iPad – as it’s running iOS which is a completely different system from OS X, not every application has its special iOS version, what greatly breaks the editing workflow I’m used to.
If you don’t have a keyboard attached, Surface Pro will switch into tablet mode. Unfortunately, not many applications are really optimized for touchscreen/tablet mode. On iPad – all of them are. It means that using many apps in the tablet mode is quite difficult. For instance, I found it really tough to drag sliders in ON1 Effects as their handles are just too small for fingers. One of the few exceptions is Adobe Lightroom, which offers quite advanced tablet mode, but I would say it still performed worse than its iPad version – its tablet mode on Windows is quite buggy.
Although Surface Pro isn’t as powerful as a regular desktop workstation it’s still quite a beast and editing photos with it is not a problem, even when using it in battery mode, what I did during train travels and on several flights. In most of the apps, I haven’t really noticed big performance differences compared to my PC. Probably partly it’s caused by the fact that it uses fast SSD drive and my version has 16 GB RAM which is quite a lot.
What surprised me, is how rarely the fan is on. Of course, it can sometimes turn on during some heavy editing, but not as often as I would expect. And Surface Pro never becomes hot.
Regarding battery. While Microsoft claims that it should be sufficient for 13 hours of watching videos, my tests don’t prove that. Generally, it lasted for 6 to 8.5 hours for me depending on what I was doing during that time (6 hours of photo editing and about 8.5 hours of watching video). Still, it isn’t very bad for the performance offered. And it was enough to survive some long-haul flights.
The screen is simply wonderful. With a size of 12.3 inches and a resolution of 2736 x 1824 pixels, fantastic brightness (I had to tone it down slightly) and great colour accuracy, it’s a fantastic tool for photo and video editing. The images look crisp, full of detail and with wonderful colours. Also, Surface Pro comes with two precalibrated colour profiles (sRGB and Enhanced) which seem to be pretty accurate from what I’ve seen. Even though the screen is quite small (I’m editing on a 24-inch monitor at home), most of the apps I use have panels that can be hidden/shown as needed so it’s less of a problem. Touchscreen works very well too – it’s very sensitive and reliable.
The Surface Pen, which unfortunately is sold separately (just like keyboard…), is a fantastic addition and I’d say a must for every photographer. If you’re used to Wacom tablets you will feel right at home. The pen feels solid and has good weight, is very precise and sensitive. Editing the images with it is a great experience. Another cool thing about it is that if you want to put it aside you can simply attach it to the side of Surface Pro magnetically. Pretty cool!
BTW regarding performance, I would like to mention that even some games run pretty well on Surface Pro. Of course, not the newest titles and not in the best graphics settings but still. For instance, I’m able to play Civilization VI just fine and as it is a turn-based strategy game, controlling it by clicking directly on the screen really improves experience!
What I don’t like
I already mentioned that there aren’t many apps optimized for the tablet/touchscreen mode. I hope it will change in the future as 2-in-1 devices become more and more popular but for now it’s a big disappointment. Of course, touchscreen still works for all apps but it isn’t working as nice as it should (for instance it’s quite difficult to grab a tiny slider handle sometimes).
Another thing is that Surface Pro doesn’t come with any accessories – neither pen, mouse nor Alcantara keyboard is included even in the highest priced models. And I would say that at least a pen and a keyboard are essential to truly appreciate that system.
Summing up, Surface Pro is an excellent tool for photo editing while travelling. Despite being extremely light and small in size it’s a really powerful computer that allows editing in any serious photo editing app. I love it so much that I sometimes use it even at home as I can comfortably edit the images while seating on the couch and enjoying the coffee 🙂
But to use full capabilities of that system you will need to buy a pen and a keyboard as they’re sold separately.
- great performance, even in the battery mode,
- fantastic bright screen with accurate colours,
- great choice of apps,
- quite good battery life,
- excellent keyboard and pen.
- not many apps are optimized for tablet mode,
- keyboard, mouse and pen are sold separately.