Godley’s new toys: Surface Pro 2

Originally posted 10th november last year, from the vaults of David Whale’s email inbox…

About a week and a half ago I bit the bullet, spent £750 and bought a surface pro 2 and the type keyboard (that’s £650 for the tab with a discount on pc world, then 100 for the keyboard). I still have my infamous pink laptop and I still use it and have it plugged in, but out and about I’ll take my tablet. I’m still debating whether to take the plunge and try out a flavour of linux on that laptop.

Overall I like it – I’ve had a lot of questions, particularly this week, about how well you can program on it and how comfortable it is. In truth, I haven’t tested this out enough, but the setup of having a type keyboard hooked on is pretty sweet. After a great deal of faffing this weekend I set up python and started to use PyCharm: to anyone else thinking of using a pc for python (good luck), pycharm is pretty nice. You can either pay for it or get the FLOSS version, I obviously have the latter. It integrates with git, github, svn, mercurial…probably all the common VCS programs, and if you run a python program on a virtual environment and have a module missing, (and also have the package pip installed), it will automatically ask you if you want the module installed, similar to Linux environments.

As for Visual Studio…I have VS2013 installed and so far it looks nice: I noted that they’ve included a python extension, but for development I wasn’t sure if, for example, projects from github would integrate well, as VS tends to need an SLN file and projects from github aren’t often built in VS…I haven’t used it as such because I have nothing to write in C#. I’m hoping to make myself write something, possibly a win8 app for merging Pi sources together (things like the foundation website and pi weekly currently merge lots of news from the community, but there are dosens of other feeds and shops you can buy things from and I think it’d be nice to have a hub of them in an app)

As always, there’s downsides: on windows there’s a fair amount of hassle doing any hardware programming, such as using the UART-USB cable for raspberry pi (which is awesome because that’s all you need – no power pack, no wifi, just a cable), plugging in an arduino or plugging in an In System Programmer (ISP) – on windows 8 there seems to be more hassle, especially considering you have to do several reboots and settings changes in order to get win8 to accept unsigned drivers. I still don’t think I have it 100% together on that phase of installation…

As well as that, occasionally when I’ve locked the device and tried to unlock, it doesn’t respond. I’ve then tried it again and it comes up with “performing automatic repair” and reboots. According to various sources it needs some driver updates in order to fix that problem.

Furthermore, I don’t like the fact that the charger is proprietary. I just don’t think that’s necessary. I think it’s nice they have a USB socket in the power pack though, that means that if I’ve forgotten to bring a USB plug converter but have brought my surface that I don’t need to use the surface to charge it up. Whilst we’re on the subject of the charge port on the Surface, WHY IS THAT ALSO THE PORT FOR PEN ATTACHMENT. I like the pen on windows 8, it kind of replaces having a mouse as you can click small links and stuff easily, and it’s nice getting PDFs like the FLOSSIE timetable and being able to draw on and circle what I want to do, but if I need to charge the surface and don’t need to use the pen, there’s no where on the table to store the pen to stop me from losing it. I lose things a lot: right now I’m not sure where the pen is, hoping it’s still in my red laptop bag/rucksack.

I quite like windows 8.1 as an OS for touch, but don’t think it should be used on a laptop, for example. I just find that annoying, hence why I upgraded, regretted it and immediately reverted to windows 7.

Apps on windows 8 are nice: I do like metro apps much more than just having the desktop program, but it’s nice to have the option for installing whatever I want from other sources. Once you get used to the gestures on the start menu it’s fairly easy to use, all the programs load pretty quickly and much faster than on my laptop.

I have yet to try out the mini display port, but the camera takes OK pictures and the sound quality from the speakers, and from the headphone jack, is pretty sweet. I like the fact I get 200GB skydrive, it means with my now not-crap phone I can sync them together easily, and I’m sure the skype minutes will come in handy if I ever need to contact folks like my penfriend in America…though I don’t really skype people often so it’s not entirely likely I’ll use many of them. Nice bonus though.

Overall, windows 8 on a tablet feels nice, but for the reasons listed against it, it always feels a bit like microsoft products are about 97% of the way there when they release them, and the 3% are the annoying little problems they never thought you’d need. (I mean why would you plug a raspberry pi into a tablet lol mobile hardware programming? no charlotte, you’re not allowed.) I’m looking forward to seeing how well it programs, and how much xna and open GL it can take before falling over 😛

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