Mobile Technology

Windows 10 on the Surface Pro 3: Now the 2-in-1 makes perfect sense

When you replace Windows 8.1 with Windows 10, the Surface Pro 3 transforms into a device that makes a lot more sense
When you replace Windows 8.1 with Windows 10, the Surface Pro 3 transforms into a device that makes a lot more sense
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The Microsoft Edge (Project Spartan) browser in the Windows 10 preview
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The Microsoft Edge (Project Spartan) browser in the Windows 10 preview
Handwriting input may not sound like a huge deal, but it goes a long way in justifying the Surface as a pen-based productivity tablet – even without its keyboard
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Handwriting input may not sound like a huge deal, but it goes a long way in justifying the Surface as a pen-based productivity tablet – even without its keyboard
Detaching the keyboard instantly switches from desktop mode to tablet mode
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Detaching the keyboard instantly switches from desktop mode to tablet mode
The Start Screen gets a makeover, and no longer feels like a foreign country compared to the desktop
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The Start Screen gets a makeover, and no longer feels like a foreign country compared to the desktop
Windows 10 is still in preview, but launches to the public on July 29
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Windows 10 is still in preview, but launches to the public on July 29
When you replace Windows 8.1 with Windows 10, the Surface Pro 3 transforms into a device that makes a lot more sense
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When you replace Windows 8.1 with Windows 10, the Surface Pro 3 transforms into a device that makes a lot more sense
The new desktop in Windows 10, with its unifying UI design
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The new desktop in Windows 10, with its unifying UI design

The Surface Pro 3 is already one of our favorite mobile PCs, but if there's anything to criticize, it's its dual-natured Windows 8.1 software. But what happens when you replace that with the upcoming Windows 10? Based on our time with the latest previews, we think it could transform the Surface into the futuristic mobile productivity device that Microsoft has been trying to build for years.

Windows 8 (and its incremental follow-up, Windows 8.1) had a black & white approach to tablet/PC hybrids like the Surface. Windows 7-like desktop OS on one side, Windows Phone-like tablet OS on the other. The two UIs felt like they were coming from opposite sides of the universe (not to mention different eras), with no continuity and too many confusing transitions.

Windows 8 did make more sense on 2-in-1s than it did on non-touch PCs. But even on the Surface it still felt like you were looking at a painting where Jackson Pollock created one side and Andy Warhol the other. Each can be brilliant within its own gallery, but try to put them both on the same canvas and you just get spilled soup.

Windows 10 fixes all of that. Skipping "Windows 9" and branding it as "10" may be a smart way to distance Microsoft from the Windows 8 fiasco, but it's also an accurate reflection of just how big a step forward the update is.

The new desktop in Windows 10, with its unifying UI design
The new desktop in Windows 10, with its unifying UI design

In Windows 10 the desktop gets a modern makeover, borrowing the dark menu backgrounds and Segoe UI font from the tablet UI, while the tablet side steals a few UI elements from the desktop (like a touch-friendly taskbar and browser toolbars). When added up, these cosmetic details create the consistent interface we all missed in Windows 8.

And when you attach or detach the keyboard, Windows automatically switches between desktop and tablet mode, with individual apps following suit (they'll automatically go into full-screen in the tablet UI and a more traditional windowed view in the desktop UI). Gone is the jarring transition between old Windows and future Windows.

Detaching the keyboard instantly switches from desktop mode to tablet mode
Detaching the keyboard instantly switches from desktop mode to tablet mode

You may have already known all of this, but until you've used Windows 10 on a Surface, it's hard to grasp just how seamlessly it all flows together. These little details combine to create the experience that some would say the Surface should have provided all along.

Perhaps Microsoft did rush its Windows 8 strategy to try to compete with the iPad (which, at the time Windows 8 was in development, looked like the future of computing), but you could also argue that Windows 10 wouldn't be possible without the 2-in-1 groundwork that the clunky Windows 8 laid. It's nearly impossible to see Microsoft, several years ago, jumping from the desktop-only Windows 7 to the seamless, beautiful and 2-in-1-friendly Windows 10.

Either way, if you dismissed 2-in-1s up to this point, it may be time to question whether it was the idea you were rejecting, or simply Microsoft's messy implementation of it in Windows 8. Because we think Windows 10's smoother execution is going to convert some true 2-in-1 believers.

Handwriting input may not sound like a huge deal, but it goes a long way in justifying the Surface as a pen-based productivity tablet – even without its keyboard
Handwriting input may not sound like a huge deal, but it goes a long way in justifying the Surface as a pen-based productivity tablet – even without its keyboard

Windows 10's handwriting recognition could be another underrated update for Surface owners. It makes it easier to enter text using only the tablet and Surface Pen, cutting down on the annoyance of repeatedly reattaching the keyboard when you're trying to use the device as a pen-based tablet. And since you can leave the handwriting input box open at the bottom of the screen while you do other things (taking up relatively little space on the Surface Pro 3's huge screen), it's easy to quickly jump in and out of handwriting when you're, say, working in a Photoshop file where you're primarily writing with the pen but also need some occasional text entry.

This simple change gives the Surface Pen a place of prominence that it didn't have up to this point. The pen-based productivity tablet is something Microsoft has been aiming for since long before the iPad came along – and though the Surface has done a better job than anything else so far, it never completely lived up to that promise.

The Microsoft Edge (Project Spartan) browser in the Windows 10 preview
The Microsoft Edge (Project Spartan) browser in the Windows 10 preview

While the 2-in-1 up to this point was a cross between a productivity-based laptop and a play-based tablet (and one that didn't have a great app selection), Windows 10 makes the tablet side a bit more productivity-friendly, and the laptop side a bit more fun. A Windows 10-running Surface is simply a great mobile PC – no matter how you use it.

There are still many unknowns facing the consumer release of Windows 10. How will the Microsoft Edge browser (known in the previews as Project Spartan) shape up in its final iteration? Will desktop users be quick to forgive the touch UI nightmare they were forced to endure in Windows 8? Will the company get Windows 10 to a completely stable place by the time July 29 rolls around (the public preview builds are still fairly buggy, even at this late stage)? And will Microsoft have a Surface Pro 4 to sell alongside the big software launch?

No matter how those unknowns play out, from where we stand now it looks like Microsoft has steered its ship back on course with Windows 10, and could be on-track for an enormous brand-redeeming update. Windows 10 will be a sigh of relief for desktop users, but it also paves a road of prominence for the Surface that we hadn't seen before.

With Windows 8, we could kinda see a future where 2-in-1s might have a prominent seat at the table. But with Windows 10, it's hard to imagine 2-in-1s like the Surface not playing a central role in the future of computing.

5 comments
Komakai.Okane
I visited a Microsoft kiosk last weekend and spent a few minutes with an SP3 with Win8.1 to evaluate its potential as a photo editing system. The screen had a strong greenish cast that was evident in every application that was loaded. Don't know if this is typical of the product line, or just this one system. Can anyone else provide a response to the "green" issue?
Neurogami
I've had an SP3 for about two months and see no greenish cast. Of course my experience as as anecdotal as yours; maybe I'm the lucky one. I did check out the device a few times at a local Microsoft store and it always looked good, so I think maybe you ran into a glitchy instance. I don't recall any reviews of the device commenting on screen color shifts. BTW, the Microsoft store where I got mine has a 30-day return policy. If you can get that then you can check it out and take it back if doesn't look right.
grtbluyonder
As a private pilot, there are virtually no windows applications for flight planning and tracking. As a boater, the same criticism. The opposite is true for Android and ipads. Windows has never understood the mobile marketplace and still doesn't. Mobile app developers have abandoned Windows for other OS's . If you want traditional business apps then Win is a good alternative to Apple, for anything else fuggedaboudit.
Calson
What would be great is for Microsoft to produce an operating system on par with Apple's OS X. Instead we have GUI layers on top of NT 3.51 with the most inefficient and vulnerable operating system in existence. I went through the Apple II to Lisa to Mac to OS X and the need to buy new computers and update software and it was not ideal but far better than having a kludge of an operating system that requires multiple third party applications to minimize spyware and viruses and needs daily scans each day of the files and registry. If you wanted to create the ideal operating system environment for hackers it is difficult to imagine one better than that of Windows with its registry and dll's that provide hundreds of hiding places for malware to reside. Actually Microsoft with Windows 7 made it even better for the hackers with its implementation of ACL and the new user directory structure. It is like painting a bullseye on the user's key data and profiles for hackers. Adding the layers to this NT kernal has also throttled the processor with Windows 7/8/10 requiring double the CPU power as Windows 2000 or XP and double that of the Apple OS X. It is small wonder that Microsoft now has less than a 10% market share for computing devices in the world. I can think only of Lotus Notes and Wordperfect and Toshiba (with its laptops) and HP (under Carly Fiorina) having lost their dominant market share to this degree.
BankAkinmola
Microsoft has already made a system as good as Mac OS in Windows 7. And despite the loathing of Windows 8,it's actually a pretty good OS on the desktop side. In 7-8 yrs, I've never had a virus or been hacked. It's just a matter of taking care of your machines. I'm definitely excited for Windows 10,and bought a Surface 3 in anticipation of it. Love the device so much I'll probably get a Surface 4 add my primary driver whenever it's announced.
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