Sunday, May 26, 2013

I wish I'd bought a Surface Pro

I wish I'd bought a Surface Pro.  Or a Windows notebook.

I started out with an Apple. An Apple ][. When it became obvious that the business world was going with the IBM PC and its clones, I shifted over to MS-DOS, and never looked back. When Windows started to make inroads into the business arena, I thought that it was a bunch of glitz and totally non-productive for programmer types. But I've gotten used to it.

Collin is a Linux fan. He's anti-Apple on principle, and grudgingly uses Windows machines. His feelings have helped to influence some of our purchasing decisions. Including the ones I made when choosing equipment for this trip. Of course, another factor was cost.

I bought a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 for $279 at Costco, and found a Logitech K810 bluetooth keyboard for $60 at Best Buy. The keyboard is really cool. One charge of its batteries will power it for about 700 hours. But if you turn on the backlights, like I'm doing now (it's dark here in the tent!), it will run for about 20 hours. Still not too bad.

So what's not to like? Android. The Android software market is really fragmented. Everyone and his brother is writing apps for Android. A lot of them are free. Which means, a lot of the time, that ads appear at the bottom of the screen while you're using the app. I find that really annoying. It also means that there are a lot of stupid apps out there, and useful ones that are not well thought out, and a lot of apps with non-standard interfaces. And even the apps that are written by the big companies (e.g., Google, with its Blogger app) bear only a passing resemblance to their full-featured implementations on Windows and the Mac.

Part of this is due to the really dumb way that Android has implemented text-marking. The primary - no, only - reason to mark text, the Android gods feel, is to delete, cut, or copy it. You can mark it with your fingers, which is really clumsy and doesn't work well 75% of the time; or you can use keyboard shortcut keys. But not all Android apps recognize the standard Windows shortcut keys (Shift-Ctrl-Arrow, etc.) as text-marking keys. And if you are working with an application that allows you to highlight text and then make it bold, or italic, or a link to a webpage, the text-marking turns off when you press the Bold or Italic or Link button, witlh the result (at least in Blogger) that the bold/italic/link html is placed at the end of the file, and not on the text you selected (which isn't selected any more).

Let's continue this rant. Tablets and smartphones are designed so that a physical keyboard is not required: a virtual keyboard pops up onscreen when you need to enter some text. Touch typists find these virtual keyboards well nigh impossible to use productively. So they hook up a bluetooth keyboard and type with that.

But the problem with that is that, any time you use your finger to point to a text field on the screen, the virtual keyboard pops up, and you have to press the Esc key or an on-screen button to get rid of it. There must be a way to disable the on-screen keyboard when a physical keyboard is hooked up, but I don't know it. (If you do, let me know!) This is just a nuisance, but one I could do without.

So what's the alternative? The Microsoft Surface Pro. It can run a full version of Windows, and it can run any Windows application. It's the next thing to being at your desktop. I think I'd love it. The drawback? It's $1000 with additional memory, and the touch keyboard is another $120, if memory serves me. That comes to over three times as much as I paid for the Android tablet and keyboard!  Or I could get a nice Windows notebook from Lenovo that costs about what I paid for the tablet and keyboard.  I shudda done that.

Of course, one advantage of the Android environment is the wide choice of free or inexpensive software that's available for it. But I sure think I'd be a lot happier, and more productive, running all my old familiar applications in the Windows environment.


  1. For Android phones, I always suggest that people force themselves to use the Swype keyboard for a day. Everyone that I know that has tried this has converted to it. But it does not help you with selecting text at all and if you already have a full keyboard on a tablet you might like that better anyway.

    I don't know any good blogging apps, but for your trip I would check out MyTracks. It is great for recording your routes and allowing you to upload them. (MapMyRide is also pretty decent for that.) One downside is that having GPS on the whole time does drain your battery quicker.

    If you are looking for a specific type of Android app, let us know. Someone might have a good suggestion.

    1. Yeah, I'm concerned about battery drain - especially since I had planned to stay at campgrounds most nights, and they have limited opportunites for charging. As it is, the weather has forced me into motels more often than I intended - that's bad on the pocketbook, but good for morale and wi-fi access. (Unfortunately, sometimes even the motel's wi-fi sucks, and I can't upload pics.)

      I'll have to check out the two websites you mention. For now, I'm committed to Blogger. It does a pretty good job from the desktop, as you can see from . I can come close by diddling the html that the Android version of Blogger spits out. A big nuisance, but I'll try to live with it for now.

      And yes, a separate keyboard is fantastic! Maybe someday I'll try Swype or a lookalike - there's a version that came with the tablet. But, of course, it works only with a virtual keyboard, and that reduces screen real estate, and I hate that. I guess I'm just an old retrograde.

    2. Okay, here's an app I'm looking for. Are you familiar with Beyond Compare in Windows? It can compare two files of just about any type (and allow you to copy changes from one to the other); and can also compare entire directories and directory structures, and synchronize them in various ways. I'd like something like that for Android. I think I'm asking too much.

  2. Funny you should mention the Surface Pro. We got one here at work, and my short time with it over the weekend indicates you might feel about the same with it as you do the Galaxy. Except it's $1000, has a shorter battery life and weighs a ton. I felt like it didn't do either the table experience or computer experience very well. Same issue with the on-screen keyboard popping up. And that crazy stylus - maybe it takes time to get used to it. I much prefer my MacBook Air, that costs and weighs about the same, but has an excellent user experience.

  3. Jeez, what a grumpy Old Coot!

  4. Bret, old buddy, I am mapping your ride as you report it. Hopefully, this link will take you to my Google map.

  5. The thing is I like it because, it's a tablet, but when I need to draw using corel draw or fill my time between meeting I could us it modeling 3d using 3d studio max or maya 3D. (Maybe not rendering though). If ipad and andriod tablet can do that than this device is worthless. Until then this device is the answer.


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