The day after ... facing the Surface Book
It's time, finally
Oh was I looking forward to this weekends Saturday. The Surface Book has finally reached German shores and awaited me at a local electronics store.
For months I've been looking forward to this day, to finally find out what all the buzz was about.
And now, one day later I still can't get over the fact that I had massively overhyped that device as the ultimate harbinger of computational joy.
As I already admitted in my previous post: The Surface book turned me into a fanboi, more than I was ever willing to admit.
And at first my review was going fine. The ultrabook proved all its upsides as well worth. Nice finish, well built and simply beautiful. The keyboard also felt very nice. Typing was fun, even in that awkward position you have at a presentation desk at your local electronics dealer. The hinge thingy is actually somewhat cool and opposite to other reviewers I have no trouble with the lid not closing fully.
Having only 2 USB ports is kinda meh, but I can work around this. So far the Surface Book proved all claims made.
Closer look at the possible downsides
I have mentioned a few doubts in my preview, so let's have a look at them:
The Display glare: The display is really nice I have to admit. It feels quite huge with its 3:2 ratio and the quality is just superb. No surprises here. And the glare... well as much as I prefer matte displays, I saw myself working with this display without hesitation. I only wondered a bit about not being able to tilt the display as much as I would have liked to, but that's really a minor complaint. So, the screen may pass my strict eye.
The audio jack: As expected, having to plug in your cable to the right top of your screen is plain stupid. It's kinda always in the way of your wrist and feels distracting. Sure you'll work you way around this issue after a while, but why do I have to? So this is the disappointment I have expected.
- The keyboard layout: This remains a tricky one. First of all, it will always be a stupid idea to put the navigational functions on the same keys as the F1-F12 keys. This is a fact. But how cumbersome is it to deal with this issue?
The main issue is, that it interferes with a basic key layout paradigm. It's like they switched the position of a key ignorant of an existing standard. Yes, I will be able to learn pressing FN before PgDown, only to unlearn it again if another laptop comes along. Each laptop manufacturer has their own philosophy where those supposedly unpopular keys should go. And there have been a lot of weird layouts around. But those have only affected the position of those keys.
Microsoft goes one step further, ridding those keys of the privilege to be a first class key. As a key rights activist I cannot tolerate such an development. This is a strong red flag to me. Interestingly, a bit of research didn't yield many result regarding this issue. Maybe it's true and nobody cares anymore about those keys, because all the young people don't know what they are for anyway? Oh well...
A minor complaint goes to the arrow keys, that are cramped to the lower right like the unwanted stepchildren of your third marriage. A disease that has already spread across to many manufacturers. It's useless to dismiss them, without dismissing nearly a whole class of devices. I can only hope for this to change back in the future.
Nemesis and downfall
So most of my doubts I had, proved more or less true unfortunately. Yet, I was willing to embrace and accept them. With a little bit of work, this would have been possible. But then I faced a challenge I did not see coming at all. Apart from the inner parts, this was the only part I had so much confidence it, I nearly forgot to have a closer look at it. And yet it turned my review from hit to shit in 0.2 seconds. Let me introduce to you:
- The touchpad
Yes, the touchpad. The touchpad people call as "nearly on par with the mac book" and "finally somebody got it right".
In retrospect, I should have seen it coming. I don't like the mac touchpad and I never had problems using some of those "old" touchpads from other laptops. Regardless of their quality. Sure there are differences, if you use them over long periods. Some have good pressure points, some are rather inaccurate. I get that.
But my experience with the Surface Book touchpad reached levels of disappointment, even uber-ambitious Asian dads barely achieve.
In fact it was such an unusable experience for me, that I questioned even my own abilities. I wanted to get this straight: Do I use this device correctly? I have spent roughly thirty minutes fiddling with windows settings and watching closely what I did with my hands, to make sure I do it right until I gave up. Heck, I even tried a second Surface Book, just to make sure this one wasn't broken. But same results.
So what actually happened?
Well, ever tried to double click? Ever tried to single click? The touchpad makes that clicking noise but nothing happens. It felt like touchpad presses were registered by sheer randomness. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not a single click was registered. Moving the cursor was fine for most parts, but clicking was a real problem.
I don't know too much about touchpad tapping, that's just not my thing. I need pysical feedback of my action. May it be through separate touchpad keys that represent left/right click, mostly found on Lenovo devices or my current Toshiba Z830 - or by having a touchpad that supports a physical action like the Suface Book has. Unless it does jack shit... Oh I was so angry when I failed using their touchpad.
See, I'm a touchpad power user. With all modesty, I'm quicker and more accurate with that thing that many people are with their mouse. I can even play a 3D shooter with it and it's likely you'll get your ass handed.
I really tried to troubleshoot what was going on here. Instead of using my proven two-finger technique (index finger to navigate, thumb to click) to use the pad, I removed all limbs but one finger from the pad, just to perform one reliable double click - without success. I reached rock bottom and gave up.
I'm still sad and disappointed. I had so high hopes into this device and then it was brought to a fall by such an unspectacular device, that should have been perfected years ago. In fact it feels so trivial, that I can't believe it happened. If this was such a major issue for me, how come nobody shares this contentment with me? I wanted to be sure, and did some research. And lucky me, I'm not the only one:
On reddit I found a thread where people mention the same kind of problem. One guy even did a video that showcases the problem quite well.
They report about "deadzones" on the touchpad and apparently one guy got his replaced with a functioning model... do I wanna count on that?
On Paul Thurott's blog, someone describes the same experience with the thumb clicking technique. And I have read about it in a few other places, too. So this is absolutely an issue.
Who won? Who's next?
Now, that I understand more about this touchpad, it is clear to give it another chance. If I can wrap my head around this issue and it turns out it has been nothing more but an honest mistake, we will be able to settle at peace and share a few years together. If not, I will need to look another way, not sure what to feel.
To me it seems, Microsoft wanted to make a product too good to be true. No doubt, they did so many things right. But on the other hand they did so many things "wrong", It begs the question, if I'm the right audience for this kind of device. You know, maybe it's not them, maybe it's me. All my complaints in this post are related to personal taste, rather than technical limitations.
What if I have an old-fashioned way of using a touchpad? what if PgUp/PgDown keys are not considered important anymore and I didn't get the message? What if I failed to adapt to a modern world of devices? Is this the first step into obsolescence? A sign of "getting old"? Holding onto learned and proven paradigms instead of learning a new way of handling those devices?
But I'm a power user, I work keyboard focused - seeing all touch devices as a bow to usability but not productivity. Until now, but worlds could exist peacefully next to each other on the same machine. The Surface Book is priced as a power house for power users, yet it delivers qualities that are more interesting for the casual consumer that would buy the Surface, because of nothing short but vanity. Yes, you might dismiss this as a very very arrogant claim.
The Surface Book review taught me a lot. On one hand I will need to come back to it and find out more about its shortcomings.
But more than that I have to set my own needs in relation with the offerings of modern IT systems. I need to find out which of my pet peeves are common across ultraboks and require me to adapt to. I suppose this will mainly be about keyboard layouts.
But on the other hand I need to get a better overview what other manufacturers are offering with a strong on a power user's needs. It's time to renew my view on laptops, to stay ahead of the game.