Nailed?

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve been looking at the specifications of the Lenovo ThinkPad 10 (the TP10) and the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (the SP3) tablets, and trying to decide which of them is the best fit with my needs and usage. It’s been a bit of a saga, beginning back in May, with the announcement of the SP3 by Microsoft. I thought that the specifications of the SP3, whilst impressive in some respects, had some surprising omissions. I concluded that I would probably give the SP3 a miss.

I revisited the topic in June, once TP10 models were becoming available, and pricing details were known. At that point, despite the SP3’s negatives, the SP3 model that I was most interested in (with the Intel Core i3 processor) was only slightly more expensive  (€15) than the closest equivalent TP10 available at that time, with its smaller display and less powerful processor. However, my decision was still not clear-cut, so I returned once more to the topic in July when I compared both the TP10 and the SP3 to my current tablet, the Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet 2 (the TPT2).

I’ve had the TPT2 since January 2013, and it has served me very well. Things were becoming clearer by July 2014, as a result of both the TP10 and the SP3 getting in the hands of customers, and them posting their experiences and issues in community forums. In recent weeks, the TP10 has started appearing in Lenovo’s online web stores around the world. Interestingly, the models offered include versions with Windows 8.1 with Bing, a lower-priced alternative to those offered with Windows 8.1 Pro (which have, up until now, been the only versions available here in the Netherlands). I don’t need the additional features of Windows 8.1 Pro in my tablet, so that gives me an immediate saving of €130.

That means that a TP10 with 4GB RAM, 64GB storage and no WWAN (i.e. the closest equivalent to the Core i3 version of the SP3) is €620 versus the SP3’s €819. I have to say that while the SP3 is an impressive engineering feat by Microsoft, the design has just too many compromises for me:

  • The rear camera is a low-resolution, fixed-focus device, which can’t be used for scanning documents, and which does not support the Panorama feature in Microsoft’s Camera App (despite Microsoft’s SP3 User Guide falsely claiming that it can). Addendum: The Panorama feature is now working, thanks to a software update released in September 2014. However, no software update will be able to compensate for the fixed-focus camera…
  • There are too many complaints that the WiFi capability does not work properly. Microsoft has admitted that there is an issue, and is working on a fix, but that is not yet available, with no estimate on when it will arrive.
  • In addition to the WiFi connectivity issue, there is also evidence that WiFi performance is poor under certain circumstances.
  • There is no GPS chip in the SP3. Personally, I think that every tablet should have one by default. Location via WiFi triangulation is not sufficient outside of built-up areas.
  • The SP3 is very difficult to repair (that IFIXIT teardown is hilarious, and well worth reading). If something goes wrong, the SP3 really needs to be thrown away and replaced. That doesn’t help my hankering to improve my green credentials.
  • And the big one: the SP3 is not fanless. It uses the Haswell generation of Intel’s Core processors, and their thermal output requires fan-assisted cooling for the most part.

On that last point, it is true that Intel has now managed to produce a version of the Haswell chip that can be used in fanless tablet designs, but it’s clear that the SP3 was designed around the mainstream Haswell chips, and that means a fan is a necessity. All eyes are now turning to Intel’s next generation of chips, code-named Broadwell, and now becoming available under the moniker of Core M. These really do promise to deliver a full x86 platform as well as the performance beyond that of a smartphone or an Intel Atom-powered tablet (e.g. the TP10) in fanless designs. The first Core M-based fanless tablets/convertibles have already been announced by Lenovo (a new Helix model) and HP. They are both larger than the 10.1” form factor of the TP10 (possibly because the Core M chips are physically larger than the current Intel Atom chips?), so it’s quite possible that smaller tablets will continue with Atom-based designs. However, it seems almost a certainty that Microsoft must be at least thinking about a fanless SP4 having the same form factor and size as the current SP3, and such a design would be based around Core M.

To sum up. Now that a wider range of TP10 models are available here in the Netherlands, I could get a TP10 (faster, with a better display, and twice the RAM) to replace my existing TPT2 for €620. I definitely won’t be going for the SP3 (at €819) – too many compromises and issues for me. I could also equally continue using my TPT2 quite happily and wait to see what an SP4 has to offer. There’s no rush.

Addendum: I have a TP10 on loan!

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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4 Responses to Nailed?

  1. Thanks for narrating the whole journey; I’ve enjoyed and benefitted from it.

    It’s interesting, as I’m looking as to what will replace my current MacBook Air. The form factor of the SP3 is attractive, but I need to look harder at the other OEMs, especially as new lineups have been announced.

    Horsepower remains one of my key concerns, as through the magic of desktop virtualization, my work desktop is now a virtual machine on my MacBook. (I’ll let that sink in for a moment.) That makes RAM in particular a key concern – 4 GB isn’t enough breathing room. I’m very comfortable with Win 8.1, so I’m keen to try a tablet/convertible form with a good digitizer pen.

    All of that to say: Please keep writing about your experiences. Still learning from you. 🙂

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      Hi Mike, good to hear from you, glad you find my ramblings of some interest! It always seems as though the tech that we want is just around the corner and six months down the road… I think that the Core M generation will be a success, but I’m already seeing grumblings from some artists that the chips won’t have the power that they need in their drawing/painting applications…

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

  3. Pingback: A Comparison of ThinkPad Tablets | Geoff Coupe's Blog

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