Trying to Nail It

A few weeks ago I wrote a piece on the newly-announced Surface Pro 3 from Microsoft: For the Want of a Nail. In summary, while I thought that the device was impressive, it seemed to me to miss a few things that I would be looking for in my next tablet.

First, the positives of the SP3 (from my perspective):

  • The form factor is both a tablet and a notebook.
  • Build quality is high.
  • Beautiful engineering – particularly on the adjustable kickstand.
  • Thinner and lighter than the 13 inch Macbook Air laptop.
  • The 12 inch display (2160×1440 pixels) has a more comfortable 3:2 aspect ratio with a high pixel density (216.33 pixels per inch), and is both pen and touch-enabled.
  • The pen feels and behaves like a proper pen, not a pointy stick.
  • There will be a range of models available, running from devices fitted with the Intel Core i3 processor, through ones with the Intel Core i5, up to the most powerful, fitted with the Intel Core i7.

And the negatives:

  • It’s got a fan – I really want my tablet to be fanless.
  • All the currently announced models are WiFi only – no WWAN.
  • No models have GNSS included, so the Location services in Windows 8.1 won’t work without carrying around an external GPS device and using a software shim such as GPSDirect.
  • No models have NFC included
  • It appears as though the rear camera is fixed-focus, and not auto-focus.

The Surface Pro 3 models are also premium-priced, but that’s no different to Apple’s pricing strategy. Actually, I think you can argue that Microsoft gives you more value for money than Apple, because no MacBook is currently touch-enabled or equipped with a pen.

Reading, and watching, the reviews of the Surface Pro 3 that have been published in the Media, it is depressing to me how many reviewers seem unable to grasp that Microsoft are attempting to change the game here with a totally new form factor. These reviewers seem to be, to a man (or woman), technical journalists who use their Macbooks to type out their articles with their laptops balanced on their knees. The pinnacle of silliness in this respect are the animated images of this reviewer crossing her legs while typing. As Hal Berenson writes:

Microsoft is going for a unique form factor with the Surface Pro 3, one that says we compromised the tablet a little and we compromise the notebook a little and have this one device that can be both at the same time.  Detachables are a device class that let you have a notebook or a tablet, but not at the same time.

Still, as I wrote a few weeks ago, my primary usage case for this type of device would be as a tablet. I don’t own a laptop or a notebook. And in that case, I thought:

If I were to look at the SP3 models for simply a replacement for my TPT2 as a companion tablet, then I would go for the Core i3 model of the SP3. However, for roughly the same price as what I paid for my TPT2 eighteen months ago, I would be losing GNSS, NFC, and WWAN with the SP3. I really don’t see the point.

And I concluded then:

Frankly, I think I’ll give the SP3 a miss. I don’t see that I could justify it. It’s more likely that I will be replacing my 18 month old ThinkPad Tablet 2 with a new ThinkPad Tablet 10.

However, I’ve been thinking about this some more, while waiting for Lenovo to release models and pricing details of their new ThinkPad 10 tablet. Now that those details are beginning to trickle out, I’m really wondering whether the decision is quite as clear cut as I first thought.

At the moment, as I wrote here, of the 17 different configurations that Lenovo list for their “TopSeller” ThinkPad 10 20C1 model, only three are currently being listed by Dutch retailers. Those are the:

  • 20C1001DMH – 64GB, 2GB RAM, Wi-Fi only
  • 20C10024MH – 128GB, 4GB RAM, Wi-Fi, WWAN (LTE), NFC
  • 20C10026MH – 64GB. 4GB RAM, Wi-Fi, WWAN (LTE), NFC

All of those models are equipped with a touchscreen, digitiser and pen, Bluetooth, and GNSS. They run Windows 8.1 Pro (32 bits for the 2GB 20C1001DMH, and 64bits for the 4GB models).

Indicative prices are:

  • 20C1001DMH – €685
  • 20C10024MH – €880
  • 20C10026MH – €806

Now the interesting thing is if I look at the Core i3 model of the SP3. Like the Lenovo 20C10026MH model of the ThinkPad 10, this model of the SP3 has 64GB, 4GB RAM, touchscreen, pen, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. It also runs the 64bits version of Windows 8.1 Pro. However, it has no WWAN, GNSS, or NFC.

On the other hand, it has a bigger screen (12 inches diagonal, 2160×1440 pixels, versus the 10.1 inches and 1920×1200 pixels of the ThinkPad 10). Being a Core i3 machine, it is also faster than the Atom-based ThinkPad 10. And the price?

  • €819

That’s right, less than €15 more expensive than the 20C10026MH model of the ThinkPad 10.  OK, so I’d need to provide WWAN capability via my smartphone, use my bluetooth GPS tracker with the SP3 to provide real-time GPS data, and forego NFC. But would that really be such a major hurdle? Even if I went with the cheapest ThinkPad 10, the WiFi-only 20C1001DMH, the Core i3 is only €134 more expensive, and I’d be getting more storage, more screen and more performance for my money.

Ah, you say, but you’ve forgotten to include the cost of the Type Cover in the cost of your SP3 – that adds in a further €130. Well, I respond, it’s true that I will need a cover for the SP3; but I don’t need a Type Cover, just a plain cover will do. Even a swish leather case such as the Manvex will only set me back about €40.

Really, the only sticking point for me now is the fact that the SP3 has a fan. I really have appreciated the fact that my trusty ThinkPad Tablet 2 is fanless. Do I really want to take a step back and go with a device that has a mechanical fan in it?

Well, here in the Netherlands, there won’t be any models of the SP3 available anyway until the 31st August, so I have a while to watch and wait. There’s no rush. My ThinkPad Tablet 2 is serving me well.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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10 Responses to Trying to Nail It

  1. Matt Healy says:

    At present, I still prefer a regular laptop for serious content creation and analysis — with an external LCD panel to give more screen real estate — and this Android tablet for portable use. Right now I am lying on my living room carpet typing on the touchscreen. For light content creation such as email or meeting notes, I use a Bluetooth keyboard with this Android device. At present, I think I get better value for the money with separate gadgets.

    As for WWAN and GPS, my 4G LTE hotspot also has GPS built in, and the Google Maps Android App knows how to use it. However, after one recent road trip on which I used Google Maps for navigation, I decided for in car use I’ll resume using my Garmin GPS-only device. I found that in order to check directions on the tablet I had to get off the highway because using the touchscreen while driving was just too distracting. My Garmin GPS has a small number of buttons which I find much less distracting to use while operating a motor vehicle at highway speeds (where taking eyes off the road for 15 seconds could be rather dangerous). So for road navigation the simplicity of a dedicated gadget turns out to be a major advantage.

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      For my use cases, I don’t need a laptop in addition to my Desktop PC and tablet, but that’s my situation. It won’t apply to everyone, as you make clear.

      I agree that using a tablet for car navigation is definitely dangerous. I don’t do it, but will continue to use my ancient TomTom until it dies. But for out rambling, a small tablet has its uses as a paper notebook replacement and navigation device. Whether I would feel quite the same way lugging around an SP3, I don’t know.

  2. Greg says:


    Read your post about the SP3 compared to your ThinkPad Tablet 2 with interest. I’m a teacher in the US who uses iPads in my classroom, but I’ve always wanted a better inking/pen experience than the iPad provides for marking up PDFs, correcting student work, etc. I just purchased a TPT2 (for a very good price) but so far it’s a mess. I can’t get all the (99!) updates from Microsoft to install. Any suggestions?



    • Geoff Coupe says:

      Greg, I’m assuming that your TPT2 came with the factory-install of Windows 8. That will likely be from a few months, or even over a year ago, so it’s only to be expected that Windows Update will want to install many updates. This can take a while, and what I do in this situation is to adjust the Power settings so that when the tablet is plugged in, it won’t go to sleep (when in sleep, installation slows right down, so it will take forever). It may well be that the first time round, some updates fail to install. I just repeat the “check for updates”, and go round again. Eventually, you should get all the necessary updates installed. At this point, you’ll be able to download and install the update from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1 from the Windows Store. Once that’s done, there will be a raft of updates for Windows 8.1 to install. It’s a slow process, and a pain, so patience is a virtue. Look on the bright side, once the tablet is up to date, Windows will keep itself up to date in the background, and you shouldn’t notice it.

      You should also run the Lenovo System Update utility – this will check that all the Lenovo-specific drivers and BIOS releases are present and up to date.

      • Greg says:

        Thanks for your reply, Geoff. The problem is that every time I try to install the Windows Updates, they download and try to install but eventually a “Failure configuring Windows updates” message appears and the device locks up on the “Reverting Changes” screen. I then have to reset the TPT2 and start all over again. I can’t get the update process to complete. From what I’ve seen online, this tablet (with OneNote) will do just what I need it to do, but if I can’t get the updates, followed by 8.1, installed, I’m going to have to return it.

  3. Greg says:

    Finally got the updates to go through by doing 10 or 12 at a time. Took forever (all day), but wow, 8.1 makes a huge difference. Much smoother performance, and the pen (so far) works great in OneNote. Thanks so much for your help!

  4. Pingback: Still Trying To Nail It | Geoff Coupe's Blog

  5. Pingback: Nailed? | Geoff Coupe's Blog

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