Not your Father’s Laptop

By Señior Tech from the July 2016 Edition

My apologies to my loyal readers, I was on vacation and missed last month’s publishing deadline.

First, let me remind you that the free Windows 10 upgrade (Windows 7 or higher) expires July 29, 2016. So if you were contemplating the upgrade, get it before the price increases to over $100.00.

Are you are looking to buy a new computer? Consider spending more and purchasing either a Microsoft Surface or iPad Pro. The reason I recommend these devices is that they are extremely portable and fully capable computing devices. Why spend the extra money when laptops are cheaper? That is a good question and I will endeavor to help you decide.

Microsoft has, for close to forty years, been a software company. They have, over the past few years, started to produce hardware optimized to run their software. In this article, we will look at the Surface 3 and the Surface Pro 4.

The Surface 3 and Surface Pro 4 devices are a new breed of laptop. The screen can be detached from the keyboard, and used as a tablet. To type, a soft keyboard is displayed onscreen and used for input. The screen is touch capable and using the accessory Surface Pen, the user can draw or sign documents onscreen. Battery life is advertised as ten hours (Surface 3) and nine hours (Surface Pro 4). Tablet mode frees the user from sitting at a desk while computing. The keyboard snaps into the bottom of the screen, converting the tablet into a standard laptop configuration.

The Surface 3 is a budget model – The processor chip is a Quad Core Intel® Atom™ x7-Z8700 processor which, in layman terms, means that it is limited to running basic software such as MS Office but don’t try editing photos. If your goal is to surf the web, send emails and occasionally run a spreadsheet, produce a PowerPoint presentation, or write a novel; then the Surface 3 may be your choice. The Surface 3 ships with Microsoft Office 365 (one-year subscription) which is a $49.00 option on the Surface 4 Pro. The subscription includes 60 minutes a month of SKYPE International calls to landline phones (including cellular phones in Canada and USA). Memory configurations are either 2GB or 4GB and SSD storage is 64GB or 128GB.

The Surface Pro 4 is a true laptop replacement – The processor chips are either Intel® i5 or i7 and memory choices are 4GB, 8GB, or 16GB. Data storage is available in either 128GB, 256Gb, 512GB and 1TB (1000GB) SSD (solid state) drives. Users are not constrained to the basic software programs that limit the Surface 3. The Surface Pro 4 components will make your investment more future-proof (less likely to become obsolete).

The Surface Pro 4 comes complete with a Surface Pen (stylus); the Surface Pen is a $79.00 option on the Surface 3. As I write this article the cost difference between the base models is $400.00 more for the Surface Pro 4 than the Surface 3.

Tablets are the future of computing. Touch screens make input more intuitive and fun. PDF documents can be modified to add your signature. Think of the time savings to sign a legal document and then return it to a third party by email.

If you are an aspiring artist, use the Pen as a paintbrush, pencil, or crayon to produce true art on a digital canvas. Once complete, print the final results on canvas or fine paper of your choice; suitable for framing. Or if you prefer writing freehand instead of typing, use the Pen to handwrite your notes. Microsoft offers OneNote, a note-taking app, that will be stored in the cloud with the One Terabyte (1000GB of data) included in the Office 365 subscription.

On the Apple front, there are two iPad Pro tablets available. There is a 12.9-inch and a 9.7-inch model in the Pro versions. The Pro versions work with the Apple Pencil which is necessary to do a true apples to apples (Apple to Microsoft) comparison. There is a $250.00 premium for the larger screen. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is $75.00 more than the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 when you include the Apple pencil. If screen size is not an issue, the iPad Pro 9.7-inch model is $175.00 less than the Surface Pro 4.

The iPad Pro 9.7-inch model has better cameras than the larger iPad Pro and the Microsoft Surface(s). Video can be shot in 4K (4x resolution over 1080P) vs 1080P which is the limit on the iPad Pro 12.9-inch and the two Surface models. Regular photos are at 12MP vs 8 MP for the rest. Both iPad Pro models allow Slo-motion video and Time-lapse video with stabilization. The Surfaces do not.

The Apps for the iPad Pros are generally less expensive that the Microsoft Surface, although MS Office 365 is the same cost. Powerful drawing, photo editing, and note taking apps are available on the App Store for less than $10.00 each. Included Apple apps are Pages, Numbers, and Keynote which can convert the files to their MS Office counterparts. Also included is iMovie so you can make and edit movies on the iPad including the Slo-motion and Time-lapse videos.

I would recommend the Surface 3 if you are looking for a budget touch screen Tablet / laptop. It is the lowest cost and upgradeability probably nil. But if you just want to occasionally edit documents / spreadsheets, surf the net, view Facebook, and send email; this product will do fine.

If you are looking for a true Windows laptop replacement, the Surface Pro 4 is an excellent choice. You can run all Windows software. In tablet mode you can draw, annotate, and take handwritten notes. The cost differential is justified as you will be able to stay current with software upgrades for years. The higher end Intel processors are much speedier than the processor in the Surface 3 so applications will open and run faster. The screen size is also larger for readability. For most people computers are used for 3-5 years so the yearly difference is between $80.00 – $100.00.

If you are looking for a device to satisfy your artistic side, then the iPad Pro should be your choice. While the Microsoft products are built well and are solid, Apple has always sold products that feel special. The Apple Pencil and Microsoft Pen both perform the same function, but the Apple Pencil looks and feels sleeker. I found it to be more responsive and accurate while drawing fine details. Apple products are usually more expensive, but in this case almost equal, and the 9.7-inch model considerably less expensive. The main difference between the iPad Pro models is size vs photo and video quality. If a larger screen size suits your needs, then the 12.9-inch model is for you. But if you want better quality video and photos then save $250.00 and buy the 9.7-inch iPad Pro.

When you go to purchase your next computer, ask yourself what is it that I want to do with this tool? How do you currently use your existing computer? Do you find it a chore? Is it inconvenient? If you do not enjoy the experience, then it may be the time to try a device that stimulates your creativity.

The prices above do not include a keyboard. The manufacturers offer their own, but there are many third party keyboards available at lower prices.

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Manzanillo Sun’s eMagazine written by local authors about living in Manzanillo and Mexico, since 2009

Manzanillo Sun Writer

Manzanillo Sun's eMagazine written by local authors about living in Manzanillo and Mexico, since 2009

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