I’m no stranger to Microsoft’s products. I’ve been using Intel laptops since 1993. In the tablet arena, though, I’ve been devoted to Apple’s iPad. I love the UI, the rock solid performance, and plethora of apps for it. For the longest time, I’ve resisted getting an Android or Windows tablet. With the recent announcement by Microsoft about the latest iteration of Surface Pro 3, and the positive reviews it received, I thought the time has come to give a Windows tablet a shot. Last Saturday, I took the plunge! Microsoft touted it as a laptop replacement, which is exactly what I’m trying to do: To replace my Toshiba Portege Z835.
I brought the Surface Pro 3 home from a local Microsoft Store at South Coast Plaza. They offered me to unbox it at the store, but I had to be somewhere else, so I had to unpack it the next day. For the most part, it was rather painless. I had enough experience with setting up my own PCs and laptops, so I assumed this should be pretty straight forward. But, I hit a couple of snags with the Surface Pen, which I don’t particularly like. Using the pen to navigate Windows is clumsy. During setup, it crashed after setting up the bluetooth pen. Windows also crashed while my daughter were playing with it on Freshpaint drawing app. I’m kind of curious why Microsoft is pushing for the pen. I believe the pen is not that useful for business use, unless my job is graphics design – which I’m not.
All in all, the experience has been pretty good. I truly like the big 12″ display as a tablet, for reading news off Flipboard (Metro app) and The Old Reader (web app). I also like the smaller and lighter AC adapter, for easier transport. I’m still trying to gauge the battery life, but so far I was able to use it for hours and still have 45% battery life. The keyboard feels nice, as I’m able to comfortably write this blog post. I’ve also installed and configured all of my necessary business apps, so I’m good to work with it, on the road!
- Cooler Master Elite 120 Advanced – Mini-ITX Computer Case with USB 3.0
- MSI Z77IA-E53 LGA 1155 Intel Z77 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 Mini ITX Intel Motherboard
- Intel Core i3-3220T Dual-Core Processor 2.8 Ghz 3MB Cache LGA 1155
- Crucial Ballistix Sport 8GB 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Low Profile
- OCZ Vertex Plus R2-VTX 120GB SSD
In addition, I had a spare 1.5TB Seagate 7200RPM hard disk to store OTA live TV recording (via Windows 7′s Media Center).
All output is driven thru HDMI, with the built-in graphics support from the Motherboard+CPU. The whole thing runs around 33 Watts when idle, and about 40 Watts while viewing a 1080p video. While it’s probably possible to cut that power usage in half by using a PicoPSU (as suggested by Jeff Atwood), I decided to use a spare regular PSU that I had one lying around. I didn’t want to waste it. Besides, I don’t constantly keep it running. I have Windows shutdown if idle for 1 hour, and Media Center will wake up automatically if it has to record a TV show.
The setup works well with playing Blu-Ray discs, too! It’s just too bad there isn’t a cheap software player available. So far, the best I’ve used is a trial version of WinDVD Pro. But still, the experience wasn’t as straight forward as a standalone Blu-Ray player. I doubt I’ll be using the HTPC to watch discs. I may just get a Sony Playstation for that!
I’ve “cut the cord” since 2009. That’s the popular term for ditching the dish or cable companies, and then only use indoor (or outdoor) TV antennas and online video streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and/or Amazon Instant Video. It has worked out nicely, so far. Even better now, Netflix and Amazon started beefing up their video contents, especially original programming, to compete with each other, delivering quality shows. But more on that later.
For me, I’ve added low cost network TV tuner, such as SiliconDust’s HDHomeRun, enabling me to place an antenna anywhere in the house accessible via Ethernet. Conveniently enough, that’s in my home office, on top of tall cabinet, on the 2nd floor of the house. Although I still couldn’t get all of the HD channels, I manage to get at least half, such as CBS, NBC, CW, plus affiliates, PBS channels, and foreign language broadcasts. Oddly enough, if I move the rabbit ears antenna a few degrees clockwise, I’m able to get the other half. But I’m keeping it on the current angle because I needed to record golf tournaments on CBS.
As a side analysis, I can see this movement to cut the cord is getting more popular. The phenomenon prompted the cable companies and content providers to find alternative revenue streams (so to speak). One way cable companies can do is concentrate on becoming a giant Internet Service Provider by pooling their resources, such as the Comcast and Time Warner Cable proposed merger. They’ll also squabble over who pays the additional video traffic. Content providers, meanwhile, prefers to be exclusive for cable subscribers, because cable or dish companies can pay a premium for their programming. That’s not to say Netflix won’t pay for premium shows, but they do have to count their cost, as they’re a fledgling broadcaster. So, for those of us who rely on Netflix or Amazon for those popular TV shows, we might be stuck with the extreme alternatives.
There’s a focus on quality in cord cutting. As a family, we’re now very picky on what shows to watch. We’re not couch potatoes, sitting there flipping channels all day. Hollywood’s traditional technique of “throw these new shows on the wall and see which one sticks” has become less effective. I’m glad Netflix decided to use its considerable knowledge base to figure out which programming is worth creating (or re-creating, in some cases). Amazon is now trying to crowdsource original shows by letting customers vote. I like how they are letting the viewers choose, instead of some Hollywood executives.
It goes to show, the free market is the best way to decide who wins or loses. Consumers don’t need the government, like the FCC, to tell companies out there what they can or can’t do. If the system doesn’t work, let the system fail! Don’t let the bigger companies, with a bigger money bag, to influence the law and regulations. When the customers choose the winners, the customers win!
As a customer, I highly recommend others to cut the cord to cut monthly cost. As an avid TV watcher, cord cutting sends a message to oligopolies like cable companies and television studios that we are not going to take whatever they randomly throw at us. As a geek, I like to tinker with gadgets and HTPCs to maximize usability, and having fun doing it. It took a little bit of effort, but overall, the adventure was worth it!