Is the Microsoft Surface tablet the ultimate tool for on-the-go photographers and bloggers? Let’s try to answer this question…
This is a review of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3. I have not been paid to write this review and all of the points below are based on my own personal experience.
I’ve received a lot of emails from readers following my earlier posts on the Surface. More recently, these emails have been from photographers deciding whether to buy the Surface Pro 4 or the iPad Pro. So, given the recent launch of the Surface 4, I figured it’s about time I write one final verdict piece. Something that summarises my experience with my Surface Pro 3 over the last 8 months.
Ok, so… I did something crazy. Something quite insane. I got on a plane for a one month trip around South East Asia with no laptop. Nudda, nothing, zip, zilch… That’s right, just my Surface in hand. I have tried such bizarre antics in the past. I got on a plane once with only my iPad and nothing else… It was a short 2-day business trip so I figured I ‘could last’… I sat smugly in my economy seat, glancing around at other passengers. I scoffed at them trying to contort themselves into yoga-like positions to work on their laptops as I took out my sleek iPad and stood it up in all its elegant thinness, carefully on my tray table. It was a small piece of art really… But as I began typing away, I became frustrated with iOS. I yearned for a ‘proper’ keyboard and an operating system that allowed me to fully multi-task and manage documents easily on the device. I did what I could on the iPad, but left any heavy-lifting for later when I was in front of a ‘real computer’.
So, it’s with no surprise that I felt uneasy stepping on the plane with my Surface. However, to my delight, I found using the surface actually enjoyable. I didn’t once yearn for a ‘real computer’ and I flawlessly completed all my intensive tasks (such as Lightroom and Photoshop Editing) on the Surface with ease. I loved the fact that I could use it as a genuine desktop using full Adobe apps and then snap it out of its keyboard into tablet mode and read my Kindle books.
Normally devices that try too hard to be hybrid end up average in both arenas… An average laptop and an average tablet. Not the Surface. I found that it performed remarkably well using both; memory hungry, CPU stressing apps and was a delight to hold and use as a touch-screen tablet using the Windows Store apps that are designed for touch screen. The only thing that lets it down as a tablet is that there are simply not enough apps in the Windows Store yet. If you’re accustomed to the iOS app store or Google Play, you will be disappointed that a lot of your favourite apps are missing from the Windows counterpart.
I also used the tablet as my only PC at an office job recently and I loved it. At my desk, I would dock it with a monitor and external keyboard/mouse. I would completely forget that I was working from a tablet as I dug through large excel documents, responded to thousands of emails in Outlook and worked with multiple CRMs and documents. The best part was when it was time for a meeting. I would unplug the tablet and take it into the meeting with me to take notes using the stylus and Microsoft OneNote. This was awesome as it was a company where people don’t really take laptops to meetings and often you feel like a bit of a try-hard if you type your notes, so being able to hold it like a notepad and write on the screen was fantastic. I love OneNote and found it very useful to store all my notes in sections, create to-dos, audio notes and even screen grabs. Then, when I returned to my desk, all my notes are already there for me to action… Perfect.
What I love about the Surface as a photographer:
I love using desktop apps with a touch-screen. I don’t care much for the mobile versions of Lightroom and Photoshop, so it was nice to use the familiar desktop versions on the road. To me, photo editing naturally lends itself to a touch screen. Using the stylus to work with adjustment brushes and layers is simply joyful and easier than using a mouse. Being able to detach the keyboard, turn the tablet into portrait mode and dodge and burn my image with a stylus like an artist sketching was not only enjoyable but incredibly accurate. If the sliders became too small to push around with the stylus, I would use Lightroom’s ‘Tablet Mode’ which makes adjustments easier on the touch screen. I then saved my final images and exported them to my portable USB drive that I plugged into the onboard USB port.
However, my favourite aspect of the Surface is using it to do a ‘Tethered Shoot’ in Lightroom. I can use the USB port to plug the Surface straight into my Nikon DSLR and shoot using the tablet and see the images live on the screen. This allows you to see incredible detail and get your camera settings spot-on, saving a lot of time in editing later. Using the tablet to trigger the camera to fire also reduces camera shake and allows for pin-sharp photos that are perfectly exposed. You can then go ahead and tweak them straight away in Lightroom and export them.
The battery life is also excellent. Even when using applications like Photoshop, I find I get several hours of editing out of the tablet. I took a 12-hour train ride recently from Kho Samui in Thailand’s south to Bangkok. I did a couple of hours of editing, watched some ‘Breaking Bad’, and listened to music and I arrived in Bangkok with the tablet still going… Not bad at all.
As a Blogger:
If I suddenly come up with an idea, I can push the purple button on the end of the stylus to take a ‘Quick Note’ in One Note so I don’t forget… This is great as I always forget. To make a note, I can write on the screen, record a voice note or type it on the keyboard. Both One Note and Evernote have ‘touch’ app versions, however, you can also install the full desktop versions and seamlessly interchange between both as you need.
I also like the stock windows ‘Mail and Calendar’ app in Windows 10. It’s just simple and allows you to quickly glance and reply to your emails and check your calendar. If you need to do anything more significant like, search for an email in an archive, you can open the full version of Microsoft Outlook.
The keyboard (available separately) for the Surface 3 is not great. It’s ok, but I find the keys too close together and often hit the wrong keys with my fat fingers. However, Microsoft has fixed this with the Surface 4. The new keyboard has the same layout but uses smaller keys with more space between them. It also has a new trackpad made of glass! I’ve also learnt that the keypad for the Surface Pro 4 also works with the Surface 3 so I’ll be going out to buy that.
In summary, Is the surface the ultimate tool for photographers and bloggers? I think so. I think it is the best of the current market for what I need to do with a device. I have loved my Surface and have never had any regrets stepping on a plane, train or going anywhere with just my Surface, my camera and my ideas. I have the Pro 3 however, I’m sure that the Surface 4 is an improvement and should be an excellent device. Personally I would recommend the Surface for photography and writing on the road due to its sheer versatility, hybrid nature and the ability to use peripherals with the onboard USB port. A great tool for creatives on the move!
Have a questions about the Surface? Leave a comment below!