I'll admit that I was a little disappointed that this meant that I'd be diving into a Microsoft product instead of an Apple product. Generally speaking the price point of Apple products have been the major deterrent for me engaging with them on a personal level. MacBooks tend to run around $1000 while fully functional PCs laptops are half that. However, when it comes to tablets, a refurbished iPad 2 runs $319, new at $399. The iPad 3 and the Surface run approximately the same price somewhere around the $700 range. When it comes to having a simple device that works well, that has always been Apple's strong point. It is when trying to get powerful performance and flexibility that Apples have lacked.
So I started to look into the Surface. The current Surface RT proved quite an interesting device. It contains a pared down version of Windows 8 and comes default with a the basic version of Office which includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. This deals with one of the biggest struggles of mobile devices, having the common programs that people are used to using. The iPad charges $10 each for their equivalent versions iWorks programs Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. Not that the $30 couldn't just be rolled into the machine, but the idea that to get true functionality out of the device I need to buy a couple of basic programs that Microsoft is giving me for free is just somewhat annoying.
Surface ProIn January Microsoft is releasing the Surface Pro which, unlike the name suggests, isn't really just an upgraded version of the Surface RT. The Pro will come with a full version of Windows 8. That doesn't sound very impressive until you start to delve into it a bit. A full version of Windows 8 makes this less of a tablet and more of a full laptop as far as functionality goes. It doesn't have a mobile processor, it's got a full Intel chip. Perhaps the most important feature of the whole show is also the simplest. It's got a USB port.
The combination of a 3.0 USB port and a full version of Windows 8 is what really makes this device shine for me. A single USB port is enough to plug into a Targus Docking Station. This means a Surface Pro is the tablet when I'm traveling, and a computer when I'm at my desk. The idea of this is very intreaguing. It reminds me of a home inspector that I hired at one point that had a laptop with a screen he could flip around into a touch style device. His was a 5 lb laptop; this is a 2 lb tablet. The touch laptops of old never really did it for anyone because they weren't ergonomically designed tablets. The ability to easily plug into a station through a USB plug means for teachers they could move from their desk with the device quickly and easily. They've still got a functioning tablet for meetings and roaming, and it's a single plug to reconnect to the projector and keyboard. This might work.
There is a few odd things with the Surface Pro. First off, while the RT comes with the limited version of office similar to Office Home or Student versions, the Pro doesn't ship with office installed. This isn't a big deal for me personally because my district has licensees, but it is odd. Second you're looking at a 64gb internal solid state drive. I like solid state, but 64gb concerns me for a laptop. By the time windows, office, and a few other basic software things are installed it doesn't have much room for media. Also the $899 doesn't come with the keyboard which I think will be a vital piece of the puzzle as it works as both a screen cover and keyboard. That means you're really looking at $1K to get started. Plus you'd need a dock, and another keyboard and monitor and -- crap. That's a lot of money.
Teaching StationsWhen I start looking at the whole package of what it'd take to set up a teaching station for each teacher with a Surface Pro the price gets out of hand really quick. I just ordered 2 Lenovo laptops (L430s) with docking station and carrying case for $710 each. That gives me enough extra coin compared to the $1200 (with dock) of the pro to pickup an iPad 2 (Refurbished for $319 from Apple.com) and a couple of accessories. Because the L430 is a real laptop I don't need a separate keyboard. and monitor and such, though I'd probably use them anyway. It's got a full 320gb storage, dvd drive, and all the necessary hookups already on it. It's a tough sell to get it all in one for more than I'm paying for it separate.
While the idea of an all in one I'm not sure if the price tag is worth it, yet. I feel that eventually we'll be looking at tablets replacing laptops and using a good dock as a working station. Laptops have already basically replaced desktops in most light business applications, and if they haven't it is simply because people haven't bought one in the past three or four years. I'm curious to see how Apple responds to this. For the first time we see Microsoft taking a step ahead and making the OS on a new device better than the competitions. Apple needs to respond with a full iOS version of an iPad.
The FutureWhat I'm hoping to see in the future is the combination of all of these things into a cell phone that you can plug into your tablet, or into your computing docking station. Solid state drives are becoming more powerful and will eventually replace moving parts drives altogether. Eventually we'll just be carrying around the very core of what we need with us and just need to plug it into the format we want to work.
As it is I'm very curious to get my hands on a Surface Pro to see if it really lives up to expectations. While it might not be the answer today, it is a first generation machine. In two years, we should expect to see major changes in the tablet arena. The iPad 2 is still a fully viable tablet at under $400 and it is only a year and a half old. The Surface Pro might find some similar drift towards affordability on a mass deployment level. I could see paying an additional $100 or $200 to get a tablet over a laptop, but for now the additional cost of a new iPad 3 over the laptop equivalent is a bit high out of pocket for a really good idea.