Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Bullet Has Been Bitten

After mulling if over for a considerable amount of time, on Monday I finally decided to buy a Surface Pro 2.
You may recall that I was considering several options, including buying a new desktop to use for my day-to-day computing needs and turning my current desktop into a dedicated graphics workstation, which was part of the reason I was reluctant to pull the trigger on buying a Surface Pro 2.
Ultimately, I decided I could kill two birds with one stone by picking up the docking station for the Surface Pro 2 and hooking it up to an external monitor and making it into my primary desktop – with the added benefit of having it serve as an on-the-go graphics workstation, given that it has a Wacom active digitizer, and also being able to carry my primary desktop with me wherever I go.*
So that’s what I did.
I’ve run into a couple of issues with that so far, mostly due to a lack of space, but I’ll delve into that in another post; the point of this post is to mention that I bit the bullet and now have a Surface Pro 2 – in addition to a power cover, which is a variation on the Type Cover, a removable cover/keyboard, that contains an additional battery, which extends the overall battery life of the Surface Pro 2 by several hours – and to give my first impressions about it after using it for a couple of days.
Not that I’ve really used it all that much, as I’ve mostly been setting it up and personalizing it, but overall I will say that I’m pretty happy with it.
I actually have only the most minor of complaints, and haven’t really had any issues with it so far, and that issue wasn’t actually a problem with the Surface Pro 2 itself, but rather with Office 365.
After getting the Surface Pro 2, I pulled the trigger on taking advantage of the yearly Office 365 subscription.  It’s a good deal – I can install the latest version of Office on five different computers.
The problem I encountered was one I’ve run into several times in the past – it’s a mistake I keep repeating because I’m an idiot – which is the process of setting up Outlook to connect to my work Exchange account.
This is, in theory, a simple process, but if you forget a step, or make a typo, you’re kind of screwed.
Basically, unless you have the sense (which I never do) to set up a default profile that can be automatically configured – say, your Hotmail or Gmail account – if you screw anything up while manually setting up an Exchange account, Outlook will not let you fix it.  Because if the Exchange account you’re setting up is the only account, that becomes your default profile, and if it’s set up incorrectly, Outlook will not open.  Period.  It will tell you that your profile is screwed up, and will close without giving you an option to fix the problem.
This is frustrating, and it’s happened to me every single time I’ve set up Outlook to connect to my work account**, and, as mentioned, I’m an idiot, so I never learn.
You can fix it by accessing the mail settings in the Control Panel, but for some reason I couldn’t get the settings to open on the Surface Pro 2 until after I uninstalled and reinstalled Office (and when I reinstalled, Outlook recreated my screwed up profile, even though I deleted it after the uninstall, so I couldn’t even get a fresh start).  But eventually I got into the Control Panel and fixed the problem.
So, again, more an issue with Office/Outlook and my inability to learn, though it was odd that it took so much effort to just get into the Control Panel.
As for the actual complaint I have about the Surface Pro 2, it’s really more of a Windows problem than anything else.
The Surface Pro 2 has a full HD screen.  It’s also pretty small.  So with the normal settings for displaying text/items on screen, in Desktop mode, it’s almost impossible to see anything.  So, by default, the Surface Pro 2 is set to scale everything up to 150%.  That works well on the small screen, but when you connect to a larger, external monitor, the 150% scaling looks terrible.
You can’t set the scaling for the displays independently, so in order for the external monitor to look good – setting the scaling back down to 100% – I have to make the Surface Pro 2’s screen almost impossible to read when it’s on the Desktop (it looks fine in the “Modern Interface,” or whatever Microsoft calls it since they can’t use the term “Metro.”).
Not a big deal, as I don’t do much on the Desktop on the Surface Pro 2 itself when it’s docked, but when I remove it, I have to reset the scaling, which requires logging out and logging back in.  (For some reason.)
Still, if that’s my only real complaint, I’m doing pretty well, all things considered.
So far I haven’t done much actual drawing on it.  I installed Photoshop, but that’s hard to work in on a smaller display.  I will be installing Manga Studio 5 on it, but I had to order a physical copy, as they no longer allow you to purchase it via download, so I won’t get that until Saturday.
That said, I can say that it’s an improved experience over my old tablet – at a minimum, palm rejection seems to actually work on the Surface Pro 2.  So that’s a plus.
In any case, that’s my quick mention of having bought the Surface Pro 2 and my overall happiness with it.

*Which is to say, to the living room while I’m watching TV, though I do take it with me to work.  Of course, given the ability to sync things between computers in Windows 8.1, that’s not as much of a boon as it once might have been, especially since I really don’t store that many files locally; most are on my NAS, and I can access that from any PC in my house, and, with some effort – more than is necessary, but that’s a long story –  from anywhere I have Internet access.

**There are other options available, such as simply accessing it via webmail, but using Outlook is my preferred method.  I could also set up the Windows 8.1 mail app to connect to my Exchange account in much the same way that my phone does, which is simpler, and has some advantages, but that would require that I download and install some of our IT’s security features.  I’m okay with doing that on my phone, but less okay with doing it on my computer.


Merlin T Wizard said...

Hah! We (my work team and I) have a similar issue with the Pro 2 and scaling. The HD seems to be more of a gimmick than anything. I suppose movies will look good on it, but anything else is too small to be usable. However, one of our requirements is to allow all 1920x1080 pixels to be available for our content providers. So we have scaling turned off, which makes our interfaces unusable. To get past that, we had to develop a plugin that zooms the browser to 150% for our non-content interfaces and zooms it back to 100% for content interfaces. The fun bit is that we have to make the content interface HUGE to compensate for the 100% zoom. It is comically massive on a monitor. Thanks, Microsoft!

Jon-Paul Maki said...

Yeah, it's not really an issue in the "modern" interface, but on the desktop - which is what I'm using most when it's docked - it's a nightmare.
The ideal solution would be independent scaling, but at a minimum it would be nice if I could find a way for it auto-adjust the scaling based on whether or not it's docked.
It would also be nice if it would remember that I want to open x86 applications on the external monitor when it's docked...