Note: This post originally came from my program blog for teachers and parents at University Prep. It was cross-posted at UPTIE on April 30.
The Upper School Device Program requires a laptop and touchscreen device. While these can be two separate devices, as in a tablet and laptop, there are many new devices which combine both of these features into one device. The Surface Pro 2 by Microsoft is one option for students that satisfies both parts of the device specifications. Below are my testing notes on this device as for our Upper School students.
I have been testing the Surface Pro 2 since its release as my primary computer and have been pretty impressed with it. Generally speaking, most devices in this area seem to be laptops adding a touchscreen or tablets trying to house greater computing power to compete with laptops. The Surface Pro feels more like a very heavy tablet than a traditional computer, but I think that actually facilitates the touch interaction better than the laptop-style models.
The Surface Pro comes with several options in terms of storage (64, 128, 256 and 512 GB), and this is an area where families will wart to make a decision of cost, value and longevity. U Prep uses Google Drive, and students have access to SkyDrive, both of which are good cloud storage options.There’s no way around, however, that music, audio and video take a lot of storage especially when students are producing their own media. Furthermore, unlike desktops and many traditional laptops, expect these devices to be hard or impossible to upgrade in the future. Given the storage space taken up by the Windows operating system, I do not recommend the 64 GB model. The 128 GB model will likely serve but require some disk-space management over time. The 256 and 512 GB models are more than ample for regular use.
There is one significant “option” to be aware of with the Surface Pro 2. The device does not sell with an included keyboard: one must be purchased separately.The two options from Microsoft are the Touch and Type Covers. Both also function as screen covers, allowing the unit to fold closed in a familiar manner. I find the Type Cover to be comfortable and natural to type on. The Touch cover, on the other hand,was very difficult for me to get comfortable with. The keys give very little feedback, which makes typing accurately a very slow and taxing challenge. At this point, I strongly recommend the Type Cover over the Touch. There is a new cover called the Power Cover, which integrates a keyboard into an additional battery for more power. I have not tested this cover and can’t speak to the keyboard, although it does appear from Microsoft’s promotional materials that it is the same keyboard as in the Type Cover. For all of these options, physically testing the typing surface at a retail store with Surfaces on display will be a good judge of what you’re likely to be comfortable with.
Finally, there is one limitation with the Surface Pro 2: the screen size. While it works well for portability and is very comfortable for traditional tablet tasks, the screen is a bit small to be a full-time productivity machine. External monitors are fairly accessible in a variety of sizes, and one can find many deals on Craigslist if you are interested in looking at used options. I would consider adding an external monitor at some point to a study desk or location. While not essential, I suggest that it may be beneficial when using the device at home for long periods of time.
Please note: There is another model of Surface called the RT. This device runs a mobile version of Windows which does not meet our program requirements. Please make sure that you are looking at the Surface Pro 2, which runs the full version of Windows.