So I got a Surface Pro 1 on the cheap...

Discussion in 'The Tablet PC Life' started by NamelessPlayer, Jul 18, 2018.

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  1. NamelessPlayer

    NamelessPlayer Scribbler - Standard Member Senior Member

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    How cheap? $100 with a Touch Cover and AC adapter, to be exact. No matching pen, but hey, that's where I break out my trusty UP-911E/Axiotron Studio Pen.

    That's what brought me back here after a long hiatus. I just haven't really had a need for a new Tablet PC in so long, with the market mostly being a bit of a letdown with the shift away from EMR, that I kinda figured that deconverging would be the better bet going forward. That's what pushed me toward getting a Cintiq Companion Hybrid, after all; hooking that to my main desktop at home, or a laptop on the go, is pretty trivial, even without AC power.

    Anyway, I've been wondering if that Surface Pro could earn a place alongside - or perhaps in place of - my Fujitsu T902, but there's some substantial tradeoffs.
    • Only 4 GB of RAM! This is why I told myself I'd go no lower than a Surface Pro 2 with 8 GB of RAM, but I probably would've had to pay twice the price for one of those. Surprisingly enough, though, I haven't managed to lag the thing to hell when opening up a bunch of tabs in Edge.
    • ULV CPU vs. full-voltage CPU, of course. I'm not sure I'd notice this in casual computing or my usual light-duty sketching, since anything the Surface Pro would choke on is anything the T902 would also choke on. Besides, weak sauce Intel graphics will only get you so far.
    • The screen's quite a bit smaller (10.6" vs. 13.3"), but 1920x1080 is quite the leap over 1600x900. Unfortunately, it's not enough for comfortable 200% DPI scaling, which means apps that aren't properly DPI-aware look awful due to the lack of pure integer scaling.
    • There is one really good thing about the smaller size, though, and it's that I can feasibly one-hand the Surface Pro without having to cradle it in my arm. That alone improves its usability as a tablet immensely. I couldn't really do that with a T902 without cradling, maybe a T904 due to the lighter weight. It would never happen with the heavy, bulky mass that is the Cintiq Companion Hybrid.
    • The Touch Cover is surprisingly usable for what it is; I can rest my fingers on it without setting it off by accident. But it's still awful-feeling to type on without real keys, plain and simple. The trackpad isn't much better due to tiny size and really tiny "buttons" in front of it that are hard to press consistently, and the Type Covers that fit these early Surfaces correctly don't do anything to correct that AFAIK.
    • The totally-not-MagSafe charging connector can be a bit fiddly to avoid the charging/discharging randomness that's sometimes occured, and it's not the sort that just slides in easily by feel alone, which the revised connector on the SP3 onward supposedly rectified. Maybe it's the AC adapter cord for all I know.
    • Thankfully, Windows Update isn't trying to shove broken Wacom drivers down its throat, and the latest 7.3.whatever versions work fine, whereas a T902 needs 7.2.0-10 and Windows Update driver downloads disabled in Group Policy, no exceptions, end of story. Also, unlike my Cintiq, one can touch UI elements with their non-dominant hand while the pen's in range, so long as the dominant hand's palm isn't in contact and setting off the touch digitizer. Makes those sidebar utilities a lot more usable.
    • Build quality is far, far better on the Surface Pro than the plasticky T902, but the same could be said of the T902's own successor, the T904.
    • On the other hand, upgrading the SSD (and pretty much nothing else since the RAM's soldered and I don't think the Wi-Fi NIC's on a mini-PCIe card) on a Surface Pro entails using hot air to loosen the adhesive holding the screen on so you can pull it off, which isn't doing its iFixit score any favors.
    The biggest thing that blindsided me on the Surface Pro, though, is its edge inaccuracy. I'm talking HP 2730p/2760p levels of bad here when you get close, "Us into Vs" sorta non-linear cursor response. This is, of course, something everyone here knows about Wacom EMR in general, but it seems to be better-behaved on bigger screens.

    It was one of the first things I noted about the massive Gateway E-295C/C-140XL, after all, and in turn by Fujitsu's 13" line (T5010/T900/T901/T902/T904), further cemented by Wacom's own Cintiq Companion Hybrid and their massive 27QHD (at a friend's house) with their fancier DTK digitizers. The response is smoother and consistent, instead of feeling like the cursor's suddenly trying to go over a hump if you get too close to the edge.

    No, running additional edge calibration doesn't really help with this. There's still all this non-linearity going around on various areas of the screen. It's quite irksome, really, and while most people just draw in the center area of the screen anyway, it makes working with UI elements near the edges a pain.

    Oh, and that screen's too narrow in portrait mode, too. The later Surface Pros solved this with a better 3:2 aspect ratio, but at the cost of switching to N-trig, which was downright inferior until the current-gen models with the upgraded pen - a pen that is now sold separately at significantly more cost, for a system that would have me looking at the MobileStudio Pro for the egregious prices involved.

    These are all just first impressions from a system that isn't a demo unit, though. Maybe I'll warm up to it a bit more, but I have to experiment with some other potential use cases first... like GPS navigation with an old Bluetooth receiver I haven't used much (in part because smartphones have largely supplanted that today), since I found out that there are drivers for adapting NMEA serial port data to whatever modern sensor format is required for UWP apps to use GPS, and the Surface Pro doesn't have such a receiver by default.

    How do you think these older-generation Surface Pros hold up?

    UPDATE: I gave the Surface Pro a drive with that Bluetooth GPS unit and the GPSDirect drivers to see how Microsoft's own Maps app would hold up.

    The tracking works, but the orientation's always pointing in the wrong direction (something that curiously also happens a lot with phones like they don't calibrate the compasses properly or factor in screen orientation) and the connection to the GPS receiver's not entirely reliable. Seems like closing and re-opening the Maps app is a safe bet to make sure it holds steady should the system ever need to be put to sleep.

    But even then, that's just me trying to figure out how to put a more compact tablet to good use. Most people use smartphones for GPS nowadays, and for good reason.

    UPDATE 2: The drift seems to happen within an inch of the edge, almost like the cursor is trying to get over a hump. Seems worse on the bottom edge (the one with the Windows capacitive button).

    The T902 is clearly far better behaved throughout the screen range, with only the right side having any sort of issues, but that could also come down to me being right-handed and tilting the pen accordingly during calibration.

    The Cintiq Companion Hybrid performs even better than the T902 near the edges, but I expected that with the professional DTK-series digitizer board and the fat bezels. It's a Cintiq 13HD first and a tablet a distant second, after all.

    UPDATE 3: The trackpad on the Touch Cover is amongst the worst I've used, even speaking as someone who isn't a fan of trackpads that aren't on bitten fruit products post-2005 (when two-finger scroll became standardized).

    The big annoyance isn't just the barely-existent discrete buttons below the pad surface and right on the edge, but also that there needs to be a minimum amount of movement before the cursor budges - and when it does this, it skips pixels, effectively destroying any semblance of precision.

    Once the cursor's moving, it's fine; you can move it in one-pixel increments. But once it stops for even a brief moment, the problem restarts. Most users seem to call this a form of delay/lag.

    It reminds me of that pesky "hysteresis"/axis reversal bug on the Logitech G940. I know most of you aren't flight sim enthusiasts and have no idea what that is, but hear me out here: that system got blasted by end users because if you needed to reverse an input on the analog controls, small movements would do nothing, while movements past a certain threshold would cause a jump, possibly overshooting the intended input and forcing even more correction, all because Logitech forgot how to do axis filtering properly in their firmware. (If they used the raw axis readings from the potentiometers, you'd probably see some jitter even when you're not touching the controls.)

    Some say that disabling a settings-related entry in Device Manager will fix the problem. It doesn't; all it does is take away smooth scrolling.

    It probably isn't helping that the Touch/Type Covers didn't get a "precision touchpad" until the Surface Pro 3-sized ones, but I did notice that emulating one with an on-screen trackpad (right-click on the taskbar to see the option to show it) resulted in pixel skipping with the sensitivity slider above 2. That's pretty bad - the exact opposite of precision, if you ask me.

    Also note that one of my standard Windows setup procedures is to go into the Mouse control panel and ensure that the sensitivity slider is dead center, "Enhance pointer precision" checkbox off. This ensures a pure, 1:1 mouse input from the OS side, only limited by the mouse itself.

    UPDATE 4: It just hit me how badly this thing needs a power LED somewhere, because without InstantGo/Connected Standby (introduced on Surface Pro 3 for the x86 models), I often can't tell when it's actually on with the screen off, in standby mode, or powered off entirely due to how long it takes to respond to each press of the power button.
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2018
  2. Shogmaster

    Shogmaster Pen Pro - Senior Member Senior Member

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    I feel no shame. Had that part of my brain surgically removed.
     
  3. doobiedoobiedum

    doobiedoobiedum Scribbler - Standard Member Senior Member

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    Having owned an HP2760p I can say this nearly put me off digital art for life until I tried the Apple Pencil and Dell Canvas.

    On the subject of the original Surface Pro, isn't there a current chinese clone that pretty much duplicates the Surface Pro 1 including version 1 EMR inaccuracy?
     
  4. thatcomicsguy

    thatcomicsguy Pen Pro - Senior Member Senior Member

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    On a 10.6" screen, a half-inch cursor drift around the edge sounds pretty challenging. Especially at 1080p, where GUI elements are small enough to fall right into that dream zone and defy physics and logic.

    I found the HP 2760p 12" screen at 1280 x 800 to be not too bad in terms of GUI elements falling into that same drift margin, but I didn't do any real work on those things so I don't know how they would have been long term. (I always had bigger screens available, and why bother with tiny when you can have big?)

    Still.., for $100? Sounds like a neat toy to play with.
     
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  5. JoeS

    JoeS I'm all ears Senior Member

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    Yeah, sounds similar to my SP2, where exactly around UI elements like maximize, close window and the scrollbar I would not be able to hit things. As infuriating as that was, I still loved the dang thing.
     
  6. surfaceproartist

    surfaceproartist Scribbler - Standard Member Senior Member

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    My SP2 had much less accurate edges than my SP1 did. According to Wacom at the time, inaccuracy was all due to slight shielding imperfections during assembly.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
     
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  7. NamelessPlayer

    NamelessPlayer Scribbler - Standard Member Senior Member

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    Wow, people are actually replying to this thread now? I thought I was going crazy, editing more and more updates into the original post to avoid double-posting!

    With that said, what I've noticed is that smaller screens need better accuracy at the edges because there's less screen to work with, and in a bitter fit of irony, they tend to have it worse where EMR implementations are concerned. The weird thing is how surprisingly usable the Galaxy Note smartphones are despite their really small screen sizes, though someone at Samsung needs a stern talk for thinking that curved screen edges on the Note 7/8 belong on a penabled device at all.

    My Cintiq Companion Hybrid isn't perfect in pen response either, but it's certainly a lot more usable. Then there's the opportunity I had to use a Cintiq 27QHD at someone else's house, and dare I say, it was even easier to ink on than the tiny CCH, felt really steady to draw on. Maybe it's just the massive screen size working in my favor there.

    Alas, my current desk setup does not have the space for a 27" monstrosity with gigantic bezels in spite of today's bezel-less trends that could push it toward 36" or so worth of slab, and with the weight of a CRT or plasma to boot. I think the Cintiq Pro/MSP 16 might hit the sweet spot in terms of desk space for a monitor that sits below my main (and no Cintiq will be a fitting main monitor as long as they remain strictly 60 Hz affairs), but those things are crazy expensive, as you all know.

    But back to the Surface Pro: I'd probably be using it a lot more if I wasn't so used to how all my past Tablet PCs were laptop first with a built-in Cintiq, so to speak. It's not very lappable, and the kickstand not kicking out as far as its descendants is probably a large part of that. The Touch Cover is barely more usable than a touchscreen keyboard. Also, 4 GB of RAM really isn't very much for multitasking in this day and age; 8 GB should've been the minimum, even then.

    I have a feeling I'd adapt better to the T904 or its descendants as far as more portable, solidly-built options go, but I still want to know what Fujitsu was smoking with having only one SO-DIMM slot and the possibility of soldered RAM on those systems.

    I do wonder if my younger bro would be more inclined to use the smaller Surface Pro instead of the hand-me-down T901 he currently has (and barely uses, instead opting for a tiny iPhone SE), despite only having half the RAM.
     
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  8. doobiedoobiedum

    doobiedoobiedum Scribbler - Standard Member Senior Member

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    To be fair, I haven't tried anything with the latest Wacom EMR unless the Dell Canvas uses it (the fact my old EMR pens work on it makes me think it's older tech) but whenever anyone tries to convince me the Apple pencil is 2nd to Wacom EMR for accuracy I find it hard to disbelieve my own experience and tests.

    What I found straight off with the Canvas was the sheer physical space offered allows you vast accurate drawing area and I really didn't notice that when I tried selecting tabs or menu items at the edges I got everything first time. My second experience is actually second hand experience - I've had several tablets here at home including intuos type tablets and my partner and 8 year old daughter never expressed any interest in trying them (my partner trained in textile design so is very analogue) and my daughter - I'm doing a lot of claymation and stopmotion with her for an instagram - but the first time they saw the Canvas which I had for trial - they were all over it. I had to barter for time and even then if I ever foolishly put the pen down my daughter had it in seconds.

    Now I have one at home they are still using it - but it's not as big a fight. So, what does this waffle mean? I think I'm trying to say is bigger is better, the hesitant take-up of digital drawing is because most analogue artists just won't put up with old EMR inaccuracy on tabletpc. The way to have engaged with that bigger audience and really develop pen based drawing sales was for bigger tablets where edge accuracy became less and less of a factor.

    That said, the latest EMR tech could be amazingly pin-point accurate but I physically haven't had the chance to test this myself.
     
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  9. Diminuendo

    Diminuendo Pen Pal - Newbie

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    I've recently received one too. I'm looking into converting it to android OS so I can use Adobe Draw. while 4GB might not be much for a PC, for an Android its pretty beefy.
     
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