Surface Pro Review (Yes, the original)


I got a Surface Pro around this time last year, and between using it for school, work, play and basically everything you can think of (including as a remote sysadmin tool for managing my school renderfarm, life drawing, robocopy batch tool, note-taking, portfolio review during interviews, etc.), I feel I’m finally qualified to offer an unbiased opinion on it, and Windows 8 in general.

But first, some drawings! I haven’t been doing so in a while due to the nature of my work; ironic, since I’m an animator, and therefore an artist at heart.

(Yes, I normally paint in Photoshop/Manga Studio/SAI/Painter whatever strikes my fancy at the time. But on the Surface, Bamboo Paper is what I use.)

And now, the verdict.

It’s absolutely terrible. (Apologies to my friends at Microsoft)

The hardware is fantastic, the concept is executed almost without problems. But fundamentally, trying to mish-mash Windows 8 tablet functions into the OS doesn’t work, and without sounding like a remix of all the other reviews out there, here’s my own reasons why:

1. Obtuse UI. Metro is not a good example of UX design when it requires me to spend more time figuring out where my old, familiar functions are and how to use them.

2. The WinTab/Windows Pen and Ink debate can go on forever, but the reality is that right now, I really couldn’t give a shit as long as I can draw without interruptions and lag. The reality right now is that I cannot, and until then, I’d rather everyone stuck with WinTab, especially since it supports more stuff than Pen and Ink does at the moment.

3. The constant annoyance of security. UAC doesn’t let me write to %Program Files%, and new security checks are everywhere that prevent me from performing simple silent installs without doing a lot of stuff in gpedit.msc which I don’t even remember now. People who decided on this have obviously never worked in art asset pipelines, ever. Just because you only work with devenv.exe for your daily work does not make you a ‘power user’.

4. I can’t use it for anything other than sketching. It’s not good enough for ZBrush, Mari, Bodypaint, or even serious Photoshop usage. I’m sure it works fine for the majority of comic artists’ needs as a portable sketchpad and even actual production, but it just does not meet serious production needs for a more complicated art asset pipeline in terms of screen real estate, capacity, power, CPU/GPU capabilities etc. It’s in a form factor that demands portability and simplicity, yet burdened by the bloat and inelegant UI of what more powerful setups provide. There’s a problem if, all things considered, I prefer to use this for note-taking and my Intuos 4 for actual work.

5. Just a few hours ago, my Surface power connector decided it would only charge in one direction. Fine.

Then it ran out of power, and when I rebooted, I was greeted with the new Windows 8 Recovery menu. 3 options, all misleading, and tied to the idea of the Windows Store. Which, by the way, had its cache corrupted or something similar, leading me to Google several solutions (with the help of a friend from Microsoft) in order to try and resolve what was essentially a licensing issue that was preventing me from running my own goddamn apps, and, had Windows had its way, would necessitate a full OSRI in order to resolve.

This idea of OSRI to resolve problems, instead of finding out root causes, the idea of nanny-security, the idea that this device was meant to help liberate my artistic abilities more from physical, real-life constraints…what is the point of supporting these notions (and paying for them) if in reality, none of these advertised claims actually hold water?

Consumers will always want fancier stuff that works easily. But for the sake of people who produce stuff for consumers, we need stuff that works.

Now there, it seems, is a tall order.