The content of this blog is my personal opinion only. Although I am an employee - currently of Nvidia, in the past of other companies such as Iagination Technologies, MIPS, Intellectual Ventures, Intel, AMD, Motorola, and Gould - I reveal this only so that the reader may account for any possible bias I may have towards my employer's products. The statements I make here in no way represent my employer's position, nor am I authorized to speak on behalf of my employer. In fact, this posting may not even represent my personal opinion, since occasionally I play devil's advocate.

See http://docs.google.com/View?id=dcxddbtr_23cg5thdfj for photo credits.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Review of my Surface Book with Performance Base

Overall I like my SurfBook, my Surface Book with Performance Base. But ...

I purchased it in late January, but delivery was delayed until late February.  I did not really start using it until late March, and only made it my main machine in April, replacing my old MacBook Pro Retina 15" mid-2014. Reason for delay in starting to use: projects at work - the delay in shipment missed a window of opportunity.

I suspect that delivery was delayed because I wanted the 1TB SSD.  To be honest, I actually wanted to purchase an ordinary, non-book Surface with a 1TB SSD, but that seems not available. :-(


Overall, I am happy - I rate it 4.5 out of 5.

Happier than I was with my MacBook

I love convertible touch tablet.

I hate the hinge. The hinge scares me.

I hate the fact that the pen keeps falling off.

Pre-Purchase Rationale

Why 1TB?
  • This is my main machine. I am not a big streaming video user or anything like that, but I do play around with OSes:
  • I am currently using 461MB, Windows, Cygwin, and I have barely started, not fully installed, Ubuntu / Windows Subsystem for Linux
  • On my MacBook I had 756MB in use. Much of that was the Parallels VM to run Windows apps like FrameMaker.  I was able to reduce dramatically, when I migrated. 
  • Nevertheless, buying a new laptop with a fraction of the diskspace seems retrograde, a time-waster
  • I hate disk wars
Why 1TB SSD?
  • Do I really need to explain?
  • I did consider non-SurfBook convertibles, some with 1TB rotating disk.  I could not find a reasonable hybrid configuration with a "large enough" SSD cache.
Why switch away from MacBook?
  • No touchscreen for MacBook. I love touch, I love tablet, I love pen. I considered the MacBook with TouchBar, but it is not big enough, and apparently not easily customizable 
  • Work makes me use Windows, for FrameMaker in particular.  Using the Parallels VM was always a hassle.
  • Similarly, Microsoft Outlook runs better on Windows, even though available on Mac and iPhone. Features such as conversation mode are only fully supported on Windows.  
  • I will miss MacOS being a real Unix-family OS.  Historically I have used Cygwin on Windows, but within the first few days it was obvious how much slower Cygwin was for things like starting shells than MacOS. Hence my interest in Ubuntu / Windows Subsystem for Linux, although its unsupportedness is a worry.
Why not Linux? ChromeBook? etc 
  • I want touchscreen/tablet. I like pen.
  • Windows definitely seems to be the leader in convertible laptop / touch tablet.  Especially Microsoft Surface and Surface Book, but also other Wintel manufacturers like Dell and HP.
  • ChromeBook not available as a convertible tablet, AFAIK.  Who wants a touchscreen clamshell that cannot act as a tablet?
  • Uncertain how good Linux support for touchscreen convertibles is.  I will probably try when this SurfBook nears EOL.
Why not an iPad?
  • I frequently use my machine without network connectivity. It must be freestanding.
Why tablet / convertible?
  • I really, Really, REALLY want a portable computer that I can do use for real work on an airplane in economy.  (Not a problem for rich people who can fly non-sardine classes.)
  • The problem is the touchpad, which adds 3-4 inches of mostly unnecessary depth.
  • Certainly not my 15" MacBook.  Even 13" clamshell not so good.  
  • Whereas with a tablet I can fold away the keyboard, and get stuff done.  Screen keyboard not as nice as real keyboard, but can do a lot just by touch and pen.
  • I also sometimes use a tiny separate keyboard on plane, with Surface or SurfBook in tablet mode.
  • BTW, the non-book Surface is, surprisingly, not so good on plane. Kickstand and touchpad on cover take up too much depth. Have tried touchpadless keyboards with a slot to hold Surface...
Why touch?
  • I have long used "GUI Extenders" to increase my (in)efficiency with apps like Outlook email. E.g. keyboard and mouse shortcuts, and systems of menus and buttons, for commonly used commands. Sometimes joystick and game controller shortcuts.
  • On MacBook I used apps such as Quadro, which allow an external iPad to provide touchscreen buttons for MacOS.  I also wrote my own (Python AppleScript), using Duet Display to give me a touchscreen for my MacBook.   It was a pain to have to deal with the external iPad - more to carry. Plus, although I liked Quadro, it was obviously consumer grade software, not power user friendly.  No version control. No diff. Etc.
  • I have written AutoHotKey gUIx SEBP (Graphical User Interface eXtender, Self-Editing Button Pad).  Does most of what I used Quadro for, plus is real software that I can manage.  And the touchscreen is always present.
  • Right now, I am working while walking on my treadmill desk, with my SurfBook in outward facing mode (clamshell, screen reversed) on a tray above my keyboard, with 3 external monitors.
  • I also use my ahk-guix-sebp on the Surfbook by itself. I split the screen, with Outlook occupying 80% of the width to the left, and my touch buttonpad on the right few inches.
External Monitors:
  • Did I mention that my MacBook could only handle two external monitors?   While my SurfBook can handle 3 external monitors, just like as well as the Thinkpad touch that I used before the MacBook. (30" 2560x1600 mini-DP, with 2 1200x1920 24" on either side using USB display adapters; + SurfBook LCD 3000x2000 between keyboard and 30")
  • This was a surprise - I would have expected Apple to be better at multi-monitor support.

And now, the rest of the review story

Most of the above were my pre-purchase rationale, with some minor feedback on usage.

Review after almost a month of use.

+ SurfBook is good on plane
   + First time I have been able to empty my Outlook Inbox on a plane in years

+ Touchscreen button pads work nicely
   + Using AHK (AutoHotKey)

- I still hate the Surface Book hinge, that does not close completely
  - I am constantly worried that it will get crushed in backpack.

+ I like the fact that the SurfBook hinge works without kickstand
   + I constantly use sitting in a chair with clamshell on my knees, in situations where the kickstand Surface was inconvenient
   + A few days later: spent much of the day sysadminning my daughter's non-book Surface Pro 3. Drove home how it is nice to  adjust the screen angle on the SurfBook.

- Cannot detach display from power/base when power is low or off

   I have come to hate and fear the following error message, when I try to detach the SurfBook screen to reverse it:
Tablet Battery is LowPlease charge the battery now and try detaching later.
(which I would clip and insert, except Google Blogger won't let me - I think because of system font size) 
This usually happens when I have been using the SurfBook as a clamshell laptop at kitchen table, and then want to plug in at treadmill - since I use in reverse clamshell at treadmill.

Or it happens when I have been using as a tablet, folded over on top of keyboard, and I want to switch back to being able to use as a laptop.

Or it happens when I have run out of battery, and want to plug it in to use it.

Moral: I often want to flip display when power is low, but cannot detach when power is low.

I almost never use the display detached without the keyboard attached. 

But Microsoft seems to assume that the only reason to detach is to use keyboardless.  Not just to reverse the display.

- When using in tablet mode, I tend to prefer landscape to portrait. And I prefer to use with keyboard attached. With hinge away from my body (because of its thickness), display edge opposite hinge resting against my body. But the SurfBook's two edge buttons live on the edge that presses into my body - power, and whatever I have bound volume up/down to. You can imagine the problems - powering off by accident, etc.  
+ Not a problem if keyboard / power base detached :-).
- But then, I have to carry my backpack around. :-( 
- When the "power base" / keyboard is detached, I worry that the male connector "prongs" are exposed and likely to break, since at a funny angle. Likely to catch on something and break (and then MS will blame me, rather than their industrial designer)
+? Overall, I think this detachable hinge might work almost when left at a desk
- But it doesn't work for me, since I am constantly carrying it between home and work.

- As everyone knows, Windows 10 "tablet mode" GUI is suboptimal. Very poor use of pixels
   - also, not available when connected to multiple displays
   - oddly enough, I think that I most want tablet mode when connected to multiple displays
   + I have bought a 3rd-party tiling window manager...
- But the Windows "desktop mode" is really bad for touch
   - buttons are far too small, far too likely to mishit
+ My ahk-guix-sebp buttonpad helps me use the touchscreen in desktop mode
- but it would be nicer not to have to write code for everything I want to touch in desktop mode
+ At least I *can* use touch mode in clamshell / laptop physical configuration

+ I like the SurfBook magnetic pen
- I dislike that pen is constantly falling off.  E.g. when in my backpack.
- I usually find it after a few days, but seldom have it when I want it.  E.g. on airplame.
- The stick-on loops that came with the pen for my daughter's non-book Surface also failed after a few months.
- I wish that it had a physical dock or slot for the pen.  Possibly in the space left because the frigging hinge doesn't close?

+ I use clamshell laptop mode a lot (display facing keyboard)
+ I use reverse clamshell mode a lot (display facing away from keyboard, angled circa 75 degrees)
+ I use tablet clamshell mode moderately (display facing away from keyboard, closed to hide keyboard)
   - see note about power button getting hit by accident
- I almost never use "detached" screen from powerbase/keyboard

- I dislike Windows Hello face recognition login.  I do not trust it. In fact, I disable the cameras in the BIOS and tape them over.
- I prefer fingerprint, like on the old Surface Pro 4 cover, or on my iPhone and newer Macs.
- But all biometrics are problematic, security risks. Fingerprints can be lifted. Face recognition can be faked out by photos or masks.
- I want fingerprint as an easy way of keeping myself logged on - e.g. set a short timeout to locking the screen, that can be unlocked with a fingerprint.  But I want to be required to enter a longer password at least once a day, or every few hours.
- Face recognition could be used same way, even less intrusively than fingerprint. But the face recognition camera can be used to spy on you.  Not just a privacy risk - it can probably see enough muscle movement to infer your password.

- Similarly, microphones are also a security risk. They can also infer keystrokes, e.g. passwords.
- I started off disabling both cameras and microphones. I disable Cortana voice recognition.
- But I have grown to like some MacOS "say" commands, integrated in my shell. Mainly, to alert me when a long running shell command has finished.
- Unfortunately, SurfBook BIOS cannot enable speaker output and disable microphone input. (I know, any speaker can also be used as a microphone. But I would still like separate disables. And HW that did not allow input from speaker.)

Irony: I have one of the earliest patents on the webcam, but I would prefer my computer not to have one. I'll go further: laptops and tablets should not have cameras and microphones: leave that to the phone. Phones should have Faraday cage cases that block sound, light, and EM.

'via Blog this'

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