But given it's solid x86/x64 computing capability, could you use a Surface Pro 2 or 3 to tackle tasks that you do at your desk? Can you realistically replace your office work PC with a svelte slate and still get everything you need done? In this installment of Lifestyles of the Mobile Road Warrior, I show how you can not only ditch that boring black box on your desk, but give you the luxury of being able to take your work with you when you head out of that office.
I'm fortunate to have had ample experience using the original Surface RT, Surface Pro and the Surface Pro 2. While I have yet to get my hands on the newer Surface Pro 3, Microsoft's latest product announcement in no-way suddenly makes the Surface Pro 2 an obsolete device. In it's favor, it is still more compact, and something that you can actually buy and use today, as the higher-end Surface Pro 3 models are still a few weeks out from retail availability.
Indeed, that more compact 10-inch form factor will appeal to mobile road warriors, especially as you can fit the device with it's Type Cover 2 keyboard easily in a netbook-sized case or sleeve, toss it inside your attache, or head out the door without.
Many business-class notebook users also tether to a special docking station when working at their desk. This may also include a separate monitor with a larger display, external keyboard/mouse, or even speakers and an external drive for storage. These folks already understand the benefits of both a device that they can take with themselves, yet perform work the same as they would do sitting at the desktop, without compromising on their productivity.
Docking stations can totally transform the usefulness of a device, letting you do things that would be impossible to do, and unable to do with other devices. They introduce a level of connectivity and flexibility that can push the capabilities of your otherwise simple device into an advanced solution and highly effective work tool.
Microsoft's docking station for the Surface Pro 2 (and 3) is, in that regard, a very niche yet significant add-on. It is incredibly well designed in both form and function, able to complement the slate rather than, compared to 3rd party solutions for competing slates, look like just an afterthought.
But it's what you can do with the docking station that sets the Surface Pro 2 apart, able to not only take on the duties of a notebook, but push it to where no slate has ventured before - the realm of the desktop.
We've all seen examples of how the Surface Pro 2 can replace a notebook, but does it have what it takes to kick a business desktop to the curb? What kind of accessories should you be looking at to replace your work PC with a Surface Pro 2? It's actually not all that difficult, or expensive, especially if the software you use for work is already installed and running well on your Surface Pro 2.
1. Docking Station
|Your desktop-killer centerpiece|
Sure, you can still connect multiple devices to the Surface Pro 2 with hubs and adapters, but a matching docking station simplifies your connectivity and lets you manage cabling tidier/easier. It will also look a lot more elegant sitting on your desk, especially in offices that adhere to a strict no-nonsense, work-focused environment. Price - $199.
|Give your productivity a major boost|
One might argue that a triple-screen solution is unbeatable, but that means looking at bezels and straining your neck all-day long. The LG 34UM95 I reviewed recently is a fantastic 21:9 IPS monitor to pair with the Surface Pro 2. The HD4400 can comfortably push 3440x1440 at 60Hz over DisplayPort attached to the docking station. That opens up some serious real-estate on your Windows desktop fur running multiple programs/windows simultaneously. It also suffers from none of the drawbacks of 4K, notably UI scaling at high pixel density. The monitor even gives you a 3-port USB3.0 hub to expand connectivity. Price - $999.
3. External Keyboard
|Nothing beats a full-size keyboard|
With it's isolated, inverted-T cursor keys, four-column number pad, long-life battery and a dedicated Windows calculator key, it will be a useful piece in your hardware arsenal when it comes to taking care of those heavy typing tasks. And because it's backlit, you can comfortably work even in situations when you don't want to keep a nearby light on. Price - $69.
4. Pointing Device
|You'll never go back to using a mouse|
Ergonomics get a big improvement, since I no longer need to move my entire arm, and working a large ball with a thumb offers precise single-pixel accuracy, along with faster speeds to roam that cursor across a vast, high-resolution desktop. But the fact that I can use a single USB dongle to piggy-back with a matching Logitech keyboard makes this the perfect accessory for the Surface Pro 2, and will work on-the-go better than any wireless mouse. Price - $49
|HiFi audio for your slate|
Of course, being at a desktop, we can flank these alongside our monitor, creating a truly immerse visual and audio experience. That's going to be important for folks working with audio software, but also in video editing to check the audio soundtrack. You may also just end up being the office favorite to stream Pandora during the day - a nice benefit if working in a more relaxed office culture. Price - $119
6. External Storage
|4TB in your pocket - access on-the-go|
Seagate's recently-released 4TB Backup Plus Fast portable external 2.5 inch hard drive is again an extremely ideal accessory for use with the Surface Pro 2 slate. It's got a massive 4TB capacity - enough to hold an entire digital library of HD audio and video. You can access files at USB3.0 speeds with data transfers as fast as 220MB/s. But best of all, it will also work on the go, plugging in to the Surface Pro 2's USB3.0 port, without requiring any external power. It is the Cadillac Escalade of portable storage that works great on the desktop, yet can also stash in your pocket and will work while you're on the move. Price - $269.
THE BENEFITS OF USING THE SURFACE PRO 2 AS YOUR WORK PC:
When we look at the traditional computing tasks being thrown at the bulk of office black boxes (Office, web, finance), we find the hardware inside the Surface Pro 2 more than adequate. Even proprietary x86 business software and legacy programs created for Windows XP can be run successfully. The need to harness the benefits of a touch UI become secondary.
For more modern work scenarios that involve social media, the Surface Pro 2 still is able to deliver the goods, especially for multitasking on an external monitor. It's easy to keep multiple windows/tabs open, run your twitch stream, chat window, twitter feed and keep tabs on background tasks like Skype or your RSS.
Of course, the real benefit begins for those who work in the field or need to be productive both in and out of their office. For these folks, the benefits of working on the desktop cannot be compromised, yet they require the capability to still get real work done while on the go. Carrying a smartphone OS-based slate with watered-down apps is useless - do you really want to go back to the office to finish up that task you could have done with your time earlier? Carrying a second PC (notebook) is not only cumbersome, but requires file-sharing/syncing with your desktop and a duplicate software install. That latter more of a headache when software requires special settings that you cannot match, or licensing restrictions create an additional expense for each installed copy of that software. Let's not even get into time lost managing software updates on multiple machines, saved passwords and network credentials.
But the biggest draw by far for choosing a Surface Pro 2 for work will be the convenience factor - that feeling that you can take your files and your work with you. For many that means security, since you're not "leaving" your work behind for others to potentially access. It means that you can keep sensitive or proprietary information that you're working on with you. It means that you can pause your work while you travel, and continue working where you left off at another location.
It makes your work tool more personal. It allows you the opportunity to get straight to work whenever your inspiration hits you, the moment you get that great idea, wherever you happen to be. And it opens up new ways to communicate and keep in touch with office colleagues, family and friends, anywhere, anytime.
Even more compelling is the possibility of setting up a second docking station, one at home and one at work. Mate the same monitor, mouse, keyboard etc. and you now effectively have TWO fully usable desktops in two different locations, using just one very portable slate as the heart of the system. For folks who regularly take their work home with them, a solution such as this provides an unparalleled level of freedom and utility. This is, in my mind, the Surface Pro 2's ultimate killer feature, and I wonder how many out there have figured this out.
Should you want to upgrade in the future to a Surface Pro 3, your monitor/speakers/keyboard will remain usable. That means you maintain your hardware investment, saving you money.
Some may argue that there's no need anymore to keep your work with you since you can remote-desktop to/from home. That requires two machines - an additional expense. It requires keeping that second machine on - an additional energy consideration. You'll need reliable internet access - difficult to do if mobile, and a burden on a home DSL connection. And it also requires security permission at work, something that you may not have access to.
Many may also highlight the security concern of device theft during travel, but that is also true of notebooks. In reality, you can stash a Surface Pro 2 away in a manila envelope, and be far more inconspicuous than toting an easy-to-recognize notebook bag that screams "steal me".
WHAT ELSE CAN YOU CONNECT:
With the array of USB ports both on the docking station and the LG 34UM95 monitor, it's quite possible to add a pair of external USB Blu-ray burners for those who need to create physical media. In particular, full-size external 5.25 inch burners will provide the high burning speeds and fast media creation times common with internal optical drives, a boon for those who need to burn and copy discs frequently.
Passionate about your audio? The Asus Xonar Essence STU is an external USB DAC and headphone amplifier easily integrated with the Surface Pro 2 docking station on your desk, and will daisy-chain with the Creative speakers shown above very well. In fact, you could run this in tandem with a USB turntable plugged into an adjacent USB port for monitoring and recording audio.
For the wannabe paparazzo or photoshop user, it's easy to invest in a full-size SD card adapter if your camera lacks built-in wifi to transfer images. Alternatively, prosumer videographers could use a USB cable to transfer camcorder footage across, using file explorer to access your recorded content as if it were directly attached storage. With Quick Sync support now standard, the time needed for encoding tasks can be cut down dramatically.
Got gobs of data that you need to work with? It's relatively simple to connect an external RAID box either via Ethernet or USB3.0, and have 20+TB of storage at your fingertips to manipulate. In a similar fashion, you could just as easily access a NAS box in your home over wifi or at work when connected to your corporate network.
One thing that I do need to make obviously clear is that you are free to choose your options when it comes to accessories - consider this list a best-case recommendation based on my own experience. You can save plenty of money by going with a 2560x1440 monitor, for example, and re-purposing an older keyboard. Similarly, if the monitor you get has built-in speakers, that will save you space on your desk. It's also quite possible to reuse your existing office monitor, keyboard, mouse etc. and not even spend a dime. My goal here is to show that the Surface Pro 2 can, with the right accessories, tackle a wide range of traditional computing tasks and provide a similar experience akin to working on a desktop.
With the exception of perhaps the heaviest duties requiring workstation-class graphics and server-grade processors, it's more than evident that the Surface Pro 2 can take on an office PC and match it for productivity. This is especially true when adding accessories to do specialist tasks such as audio/video and image work - important for creative professionals.
For users invested in Office or web-intensive tasks, this solution is also extremely attractive, more so when harnessing the screen real-estate of LG's 3440x1440 display for multitasking and a quality full-size keyboard and trackball.
Most importantly, you enjoy the rarest of luxuries in the tech world today - a single device that does everything. A solution that can work as a slate for content consumption, a notebook for content creation, and as a desktop with it's accessories all connected for heavy-lifting. This all possible without being anchored to your desk, as you can effortlessly take your Surface Pro 2 with you and continue your work on-the-go. Set up another docking station with the same accessories in a second location such as your home... now your possibilities truly become limitless.
For the hard-core, die-hard mobile road warrior seeking absolutely zero compromises and ultimate utility, the Surface Pro 2 becomes the ONLY go-anywhere and use-anyhow device.