Microsoft or Google’s Productivity Apps

My original post was going to be about the two different AI assistants that Microsoft and Google offer, Cortana and Google Assistant respectively. However while writing and reviewing the post the theme of productivity and how the two assistants are making life simpler kept appearing. So instead I discarded that post and started this one. I try to streamline and make my life easier by looking for ways to automate, digitally organise, and remove redundant or boring tasks while taking advantage of applications on both mobile and PC to keep everything together.

As someone with an Android phone and has/is still using Google’s products on a number of platforms it would make sense that I lean towards Google’s ecosystem and productivity apps. But, Microsoft’s own products are just as good (if not better IMO) than Google’s. Are there other productivity products out there that do the same job or better? There could be but I generally only like using first party products because I don’t like giving other applications access to my account information. If others have suggestions about other apps that are useful let me know in the comments and I’ll potentially take a look at them and break my rule.

Email

Be it personal or for work, I use email a good amount. On my Android phone I have disabled the Gmail app and have opted for the Outlook app. There are several reasons for this. Aesthetically the Gmail app is pleasing and the performance is great, you never see any slowness or lag. Outlook is not as visually pleasing and appears more formal but it too performs well with little to no lag or slowness. If you are on PC then you can use both Gmail and Outlook through your web browser of choice, and if you subscribe to Office 365 (like I do) you can get access to the Outlook application where you can have both your Gmail and Outlook accounts synced up. The features that you get with Outlook on their apps and the web are also far superior than what Google offers. Outlook can be far more complicated and daunting with all your options, etc while Gmail is more user friendly, streamlined but lacks the options that Outlook offers. Score one to Microsoft here with the number of email features on offer when using Outlook.

Calendar

This one is a no brainer. For some reason Google has a separate app for your calendar which is a little bit of a pain. But the calendar app they do have is like the Gmail app aesthetically pleasing. Not only does it look good but it also performs very well. However the major draw back is that it will only sync with your Gmail account (perhaps I have not found the right setting but I cannot sync other calendars to it). Microsoft’s Outlook app has an inbuilt calendar (yay, less apps) and it has all the features the Google Calendar app offers. On the PC you can again use a web browser to access both Google and Microsoft account calendars. The Outlook app to manage your calendar on PC is a power user’s dream. There are a number of features that are either really hard to find in Google Calendar or are not present. So again Microsoft takes the win here by making Outlook such a powerful app on both Android and PC.

Tasks, To-Dos, and Reminders

I decided to bundle tasks, to-dos and reminders together because I generally treat and use all three in a similar way. Microsoft allows you to handle these either through the dedicated To-Do app (would have loved to be able to do this through the Outlook app like everything else unless you use Outlook on PC) or the AI assistant Cortana, plus there is the Microsoft Launcher, but I won’t discuss the details about that app here. I just want to point out that aesthetically Microsoft’s apps on Android feel very corporate and formal, but the To-Do app feels very consumer friendly and welcoming like Google’s apps. Google handles tasks, to-dos and reminders in a much similar fashion. Google has Google Keep and a new Google Tasks app, plus there is the Google Assistant. I previously used Google Keep and it did the job really well, but after moving to Office 365 and Microsoft’s products I found that Google Keep was/is fairly basic. From what I have read about Google Tasks, that product is also basic and has only the very bare minimum features with more coming the future. If you want a number of features for your tasks, to-dos and reminders then Microsoft’s products are the way to go, but what Google offers do the job just fine.

AI Assistant

The AI assistant of choice really depends on which ecosystem you are using. If you are in the Google ecosystem using Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Tasks, Google Keep, etc. then the Google Assistant is the one you should be using IMO. If you use Outlook and To-Do then Cortana is the AI assistant you need to use. Google Assistant on Android is integrated so well it is really a shame that Cortana does not integrate as well. If I could identify one area where Google is leaps and bounds above Microsoft is the quality, performance and appearance of the app on Android. I believe Cortana does not look as good as Google Assistant and also is not as responsive. There have been graphical issues when I launch the app at times, there is the occasional lag, etc. However with every new update of Cortana on Android it gets better. Cortana on PC however does not have the same issues as it does on Android in regard to performance and appearance. Both AI  assistants perform very similar when I ask them questions in my day to day use so if you’re worried about not being able to answer or perform a task during day to day use then you shouldn’t. They have their own ways to perform the same task but it is just a matter of getting used to it. Google’s feels a little more natural than Microsoft, but it is not a major issue. If I had to lean one way, Google’s integration with all their platforms, products and services, aesthetics and performance makes this one a win for it.

Overall Google and Microsoft offer a number of products and services that can pretty much handle everything that you throw at them. Google’s products are simpler, easy to use and are very consumer friendly. They perform very well and visually are superior to the ones offered by Microsoft. Microsoft’s products feel more business, formal and professional oriented. The number of features that they have is also far superior to that of the features the Google products have. If you are a power user and really want to streamline, organise and stay on top of all your things then Microsoft has you covered. At the end of the day you cannot go wrong with either ecosystem and it is all about what you want out of your apps.

Moving to Visual Studio Code

I performed a clean install of Windows 10 on my Surface Book 2 recently and I have not installed my default go to Java IDE, which is IntelliJ. Instead I have now moved to using another tool, which I am finding is much more versatile and beneficial; Visual Studio Code. I have previously used Visual Studio Code but mainly as a way to edit my various data files such as XML, XAML, JSON, etc. and not any of my source code files like Java, C# or C++. I treated VS Code as a text editor only previously.

Visual Studio Code comes with a crazy amount of extensions which is great because that gives you options. To get started with Java, the extensions that I suggest you get is:

  • Java Extension Pack – this comes with all the necessary Java dependencies for Visual Studio Code such as proper language support for Java, Debugger for Java, Java Test Runner, Maven for Java.

On top of that extension you will need a JDK installed. If you want to know how to setup the environment for Java then have a look at the comprehensive page that Microsoft has created here. Microsoft also has a pretty sweet tutorial about how to build a Spring Boot application that can be found here.

One thing that IntelliJ made super simple was the compilation of Java code and managing all the dependencies, not to mention providing some really convenient debugging tools and project management. This makes it a really powerful development tool. When I was at university I primarily used a terminal or command console with a basic text editor for developing software, but as I moved towards writing commercial software for the company I work for I relied less and less on the terminal and command console and more on the IDE for the heavy lifting. Now that I use VS Code I am using the terminal and command console more again, and all of the necessary information such as the class path, dependencies, etc to ensure everything complies correctly is critical. Looking at this now, I really appreciate what the IDE does to simplify development process but realise how important it is to know the fundamentals.

I wrote about a similar scenario a month or so ago regarding Git (this can be found here) and how important it is to actually be really familiar with the Git commands through a terminal and/or command console because it is cross platform but it allows you to truly understand what is going on. Using a GUI is fine but all that does is issue the same commands you would use if you were using a terminal or command console. Using VS Code and the terminal to compile and execute my Java applications has allowed me to really appreciate what the IDE does to simplify the development process but also familiarise myself with the fundamentals and important concepts that can be carried between platforms.

 

Kaspersky Anti-Virus + Microsoft Windows 10 + Microsoft Office 365 Issue

Recently I had updated three of my household’s Windows 10 machines (one Surface Book 2, one custom built gaming PC, and one ASUS laptop) to the latest stable/release version of Windows (Microsoft Windows April 2018 Update). Each of machines also have a copy of Microsoft Office 365 installed, along with the latest version of Kaspersky Anti-Virus.

What I have found after the Windows 10 April 2018 Update installation; Microsoft Office 365 fails to properly recognise that I have a registered version. I can still use the products in the suite such as Word, Excel and Outlook, but am given 3 days to rectify the problem before the product runs in a limited capacity. I have the correct account logged in, the credentials are correct, and if I try to register and authenticate via the Internet option (phone option is not available) it completely fails. Googling or Binging the error code that is produced does not show any resolution or worthwhile results.

Restarting the machine, restarting any of the Microsoft Office 365 products also does not seem to resolve the problem. Initially I thought that communication to the Microsoft servers was unavailable (sometimes servers go down), but trying to use the product at any time resulted in the register/authenticate prompt to appear on all the machines. So out of sheer desperation and curiosity I thought perhaps I should disable my anti-virus because sometimes they can cause problems with certain applications. Low and behold when I booted up any of the Microsoft Office 365 products the registration/authentication prompt no longer appeared. It appeared that Kaspersky Anti-Virus was blocking or limiting my ability to properly communicate with the Microsoft servers.

Now that Microsoft Office 365 could be restarted without the register/authenticate prompt appearing I decided to re-enable my Kaspersky Anti-Virus, restart my machine and launch the Microsoft Office 365 products. Still no more register/authenticate prompts; great news. Whatever happened between the Windows 10 April 2018 Update, Kaspersky Anti-Virus and Microsoft Office 365; it seemed like it invalidated my copy of Microsoft Office 365. If you encounter the same problem after updating your Windows 10 machine then try the following steps because they worked for me:

  1. Close any open Microsoft Office 365 product you have open.
  2. Disable any anti-virus that you have running (if possible).
  3. Open a Microsoft Office 365 product.
  4. Close the Microsoft Office 365 product.
  5. Turn on your anti-virus.
  6. Restart your Windows 10 machine (this is optional).
  7. Open a Microsoft Office 365 product (the register/authenticate pop up should no longer appear).

Hopefully the above steps helps to resolve your problem.

Android Wear Are You?

Is it just me or has every smartwatch that doesn’t run watchOS become vaporwear? I feel like if you want to buy a smartwatch then you will most likely have to settle for the Apple Watch or a smartwatch that really isn’t “supported” by Google. By supported I mean that they are featured on the official Android Wear web page and will be getting continual OS updates from Google.

When the start of the current smartwatch craze occurred I really wanted a smartwatch too. It wasn’t for the style or visual appeal but the convenience of not having to actually have your smartphone in the same room as you to respond to a new message, or even check the time (like a standard watch). Right now I generally carry my smartphone with me and leave it on the table whichever room I am in. Recently I started to get the itch to get a smartwatch but when I saw what was on offer I was a little disappointed. There was nothing on the market that I could find that was easy for me to purchase or supported by Google. Living in Australia has not made getting a smartwatch very easy it would seem.

Going to the official Android Wear website and examining the different Android smartwatches that are available was flat out disappointing. Not only was the selection fairly poor but actually getting a hold of one of the smartwatches through the officially supported stores was near impossible. Starting with the LG Android Wear smartwatches, none appear to be available to purchase in Australia. I continually get routed to the US website and when I change to Australia and check for availability it shows “coming soon”, even though these smartwatches have been out for some time. The three other Android Wear smartwatches (Zenwatch 2, Huawei Watch and Moto 360 2) all are supposed to be available through the Harvey Norman store. But when you click the link to examine the item all you get is a “Page Not Found” page. Google appears to not have abandoned the Android Wear platform entirely either. Android Police appears to have obtained information about Android Wear smartwatches that will be getting Oreo updates and/or already have the latest version of Android (see here). But why are these smartwatches not displayed on the Android Wear webpage?

Microsoft is also out of the smartwatch market as of 2016. They stopped producing more Microsoft Band 2 devices and unfortunately had no plans to release a Microsoft Band 3 according to this article from The Verge. Unlike the traditional smartwatches the Microsoft Band was closer to a fitness band with its emphasis on health and fitness monitoring. With Cortana integration it was super appealing to me as that is my primary AI assistance, even on my Nokia 8 (running Android Oero), Cortana has replaced Google Now/Assistant. Maybe Microsoft will return back to the smartwatch market, but with them also pulling out of the smartphone hardware market I doubt it very much. If (and this is a big if) they release a Surface Phone or Surface Watch then I will most likely be picking them up. I have never had any major issues with any of the Surface products that I have purchased, even the Surface RT. But nothing Microsoft has said, shown, or even hinted at has indicated a new smartwatch from them.

Do I really need a smartwatch? Not really. Would it be a nice to have? Absolutely. I have a couple of really nice standard watches. Some have leather bands, some have metal bands. None are “smart” and none do anything more than show me the time and date. For now this will have to do. I will be taking a look at various online stores to see what I can get here in Australia, but right now the Android Wear future does not look as bright as it once was.

Being an Xbox and Windows Insider

After installing a new Xbox OS update on my Xbox One X console, I launched the Xbox Insider application to see what the changes were and if there was any new Quests, Polls, Survey, etc. I noticed that I had been an Xbox Insider for 3 years and 11 months, essentially as soon as there was an option to try the latest features and opt in to new functionality I jumped on it. Along with being an Xbox Insider, I am also a Windows Insider; but I have not been as active in that program in recent months. Checking out the new features and functionality that the teams over at Redmond and around the world working at Microsoft are developing is something that really excites me. I love trying out new gadgets, devices, software, etc. What Microsoft is doing with both their Windows and Xbox platforms, allowing individuals to try new features and provide constructive criticism and feedback is extremely positive and very pro-consumer. It helps ensure that the best product is produced.

However by trying out early builds on either platform is not always fine and dandy. There have been a number of times when simple and basic functionality such as Xbox Live Party Chat did not work at all or installing and/or updating applications completely failed. Luckily to combat this, Microsoft has separated the Insider builds into “Rings” which determine the stability of each build and how new the features you will be getting are. If you are in the Alpha Ring (like I am) then you will get the latest and potentially breaking builds or you could be in the Delta Ring and get a significantly more stable build but not have the newest features. This creates choice for the individual while still allowing them to contribute to the evolution of the platform and assist in bug reporting (something as a software engineer is extremely helpful, the more testers the better). More software companies really need to start providing this feedback process as software is becoming ever increasingly more complex.

Many people will most likely not want to be involved in trying unstable or incomplete builds/features for various reasons. To me though, providing feedback and helping the features become less buggy and complete ready for the masses is rewarding (even though I do not write a single piece of code). To make trying out the new features more enticing and understandable, Microsoft has created Quests and Surveys. Generally if there is new functionality added after an update a new Quest will appear which shows you how to activate and or try it out. It is a very handy way to get your device configured with the new features. The Surveys provide an easy way to communicate how you find the new features (if they even do work as intended) and if there are any issues that you encountered. Reporting bugs and issues is also extremely easy. Each platform as their own Hub that allows you to provide as much detail as possible to help Microsoft resolve your problem, and if others have the same issue then they can piggy back off yours and add further information and diagnostic data.

Overall the entire Insider experience on both platforms has been fun and for someone who is looking to try new features before others, or just wants to help Microsoft out in providing the best possible experience for everyone then the Insider programs are a must. For more information about the Xbox Insiders Program check out the following link. For more information about the Windows Insiders Program check out the following link.

Microsoft Edge and Paid YouTube Content

This evening I decided I wanted to watch some YouTube content on my PC using Microsoft Edge. I have a decent list of purchased movies and TV series through the Google Play Store. After looking over the list of paid content I settled on a movie and I clicked on it ready to watch on my second monitor while I was doing some other stuff on my primary monitor. To my surprise I was greeted by a playback error. To be exact I got the following error message in the video player (I have blacked out some content that I deem not relevant).

YouTube Paid Content Playback Error

The exact message reads, “An error occurred. Please try again later. (Playback ID: MLeXgYpv05LH1Uhq)“.

I decided to click the “Learn More” link which would hopefully provide some informative information as to why I got this error. But in typical Google fashion I have found it was little to no use. I decided to try their troubleshooting steps.

YouTube Paid Content Playback Error Troubleshooting Page

I first closed every tab that I had open except the YouTube tab and tried again. No luck got the same error message, a different Playback ID error code was presented though. The next step was to restart my router, did that and still no luck. I restarted my computer to see if that would help like it said, again the same error message. The second last option was to verify that I was using the latest version of my browser; there was no Windows updates and I am unaware of any other way to update Microsoft Edge (if there is please let me know). The absolute last resort is to use Google Chrome. I’m sorry Google but this isn’t going to happen and really is not a troubleshooting step.

Curiously I decided to try some videos from some of my subscribers and those videos played absolutely fine with no issue on Microsoft Edge. In fact I am watching one of my favourite YouTubers playing XCOM 2: War of the Chosen as I write this. So clearly there appears to be an issue trying to stream paid content through YouTube on Microsoft Edge. I quickly tried my Android phone and using the official YouTube app I had no issue playing the same video (so it was not a licensing issue) and the video plays absolutely fine on my Xbox One X using the YouTube app.

Finally I decide to try Google Chrome. Low and behold the video starts with no issue. I tried again on Microsoft Edge and I get an error message. To me it seems that Google is doing something in back that is restricting content being played on Microsoft Edge or Microsoft has something in Edge that Google does not like, blocking paid content from being played. Perhaps being paid and licensed content I thought maybe there was a setting that was causing issues, but Netflix on Microsoft Edge had no issues playing. Has anyone else had the same issue? If so did you get it resolved or does the problem persist? Generally I have found Google to be near useless when it comes to any support and their response to issues is down right abysmal (the only other company to be close or worse is Valve and Steam Support). Looks like when I am on my PC or laptop I won’t be streaming any paid content from YouTube until this is fixed.

Google Chrome VS Microsoft Edge On My Surface Book 2

Now that I have moved on from my Surface Pro 3 and have been using the new Surface Book 2 since it was released on a daily basis, I thought it would be a good time to do another comparison between the two browsers. If you want to check out my previous comparison of the two browsers on my Surface Pro 3, it can be found here. This time around I put Google Chrome up against Microsoft Edge on my Surface Book 2, and the results surprised me a little. If you want to read about my Surface Book 2 experience then click here.

Normally it is standard practice to install another web browser as soon as you install a version of Windows. Nearly everyone I know uses either Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox (no kidding, I maybe know a handful of people who use Microsoft Edge and they all live in my house). No one even bothers to give Microsoft Edge a go and see if it does the job, which is a real shame. Whatever Microsoft has done with the Fall Creators Update and subsequent updates to the Microsoft Edge browser has made it extremely more stable, responsive and well, usable.

Here is just a short list of gripes I had with the Microsoft Edge browser that resulted me in having to install Google Chrome when I was using my Surface Pro 3:

  1. Lack of first, and third party extension support.
  2. Web pages failing to load and render.
  3. Tabs would become unresponsive too often.
  4. Constant crashes after not being able to recover web pages and tabs.

Now as you can see some of these issues are problems that make the browser not usable in one’s day to day browsing, I mean who would really want to properly render and load a web page without it crashing?

Once I setup my Surface Book 2 I did not install Google Chrome, I wanted to give Microsoft Edge a fair go. On paper Microsoft Edge has all the features a user would want and more. Since using Microsoft Edge I have noticed little to no issue with web pages failing to load and render, tabs are very rarely becoming unresponsive if ever and when they do become unresponsive they recover quickly and do not cause the browser to lock up and crash. Come to think of it I have not had Microsoft Edge crash on me once during my time using it on my Surface Book 2, and I have not had to force close it either.

Microsoft Edge has had no negative effects such as causing my Surface Book 2 to generate a large amount of heat or spin up a fan (my Surface Book 2 does not have a fan because I have the 13.5” i5 version), and the battery life has been extremely good. The only thing I wished was better with Microsoft Edge was the support for extensions, and from the extensions that are available most are buggy or do not function as well as their Google Chrome counterpart. With all this positivity I still wanted to see how Google Chrome performs on my Surface Book 2. After installing Chrome and using it for a couple of days, it showed me how far Microsoft has gone in catching up and passing Google when it comes to web browser optimization.

Google Chrome is known to be a resource hog and to Google’s credit it has been improving the resource management of the web browser with each subsequent release. Google Chrome chews up a large amount of your available RAM, unlike Microsoft Edge. But chewing up your available RAM is not the major problem here; I mean really using up available resources is not an issue (it is there to be used for a reason). The absolute worst part about Google Chrome on the Surface Book 2 is the drain on the battery. With Microsoft Edge I can get solid day’s worth of use on my Surface Book 2; Google Chrome on the other hand cannot give the same amount of battery life doing the same browsing. A solid day to me is 8 hours and using Microsoft Edge with other tools running easily passes this. Google Chrome and the same tools running can only last me around 6 hours. To some people 2 hours is not much, but that 2 hours can determine whether you leave your charger at home or now.

The issue where watching YouTube on Google Chrome would spin up my CPU fan of my Surface Pro 3 did not happen on my Surface Book 2. The primary reason for this is because my Surface Book 2 does not have a fan. What did happen though was that my device was a little warmer when watching YouTube on Google Chrome than on Microsoft Edge, it was not too hot to use on my lap but there was a noticeable difference.

Overall I think I’ll be sticking with Microsoft Edge completely now on my devices (on my Android device I have switch to Microsoft Edge and will most likely change my default browser back to Microsoft Edge from Google Chrome on my gaming PC), especially on my Surface Book 2. With the fixes that Microsoft have done to the Edge browser, if you have not given it a chance then try it out; it will surprise you I think at how well it performs compared to Google Chrome, and if you have a device you take on the go with you then it will probably drain less of your battery.

Well done Microsoft in really taking the time in optimizing your default browser, now if people only could shake the bad taste of Internet Explorer out of their mouths, they may give Edge a go.

Surface Book 2 Impressions Part 3 of 3

If you haven’t already please check out my two previous posts about my impressions and experience with the Surface Book 2. The first post can be found here, and the second post can be found here. Enjoy 🙂

This is my third and final part of my Surface Book 2 impressions. The first post was an introduction to how and why I chose the Surface Book 2 as my primary laptop device over everything else on the market. The second post was about how I felt about the design and aesthetics. Now it comes down to one of the most important aspects when choosing a new device, what is the performance like and does it live up to expectations.

I have been using my Surface Book 2 while at home whenever I can. It has essentially become my daily driver when it comes to a PC; I have been avoiding using my gaming PC for most things like programming and word processing to ensure that I test the Surface Book 2 completely.

Display Detached

I have only detached the display a couple of times and it has been an okay experience. The detach process is fairly quick and there are no issues attaching the display back to the base. What I found was that using the display by itself (like a clipboard or a tablet) I would get 4 hours worth of battery easy (which I think is acceptable for its size and what you can really do without a keyboard). I didn’t really do too much with just the display; I watched videos and did some note taking with the Surface Pen and OneNote. In my day to day use I will most likely be keeping the Surface Book 2 as it came out of the box and like a traditional laptop.

Windows Hello 😉

The Surface Book 2 is equipped with Windows Hello, and is also the first Windows device I have ever had with this feature. Logging in to your Surface Book 2 is super easy and quick with Windows Hello and I highly recommend it; just look at your camera on the log in screen and it logs you in if it authenticates you. The entire Windows Hello experience is less than 3 seconds.

One thing I noticed was that when I first launched and configured my Surface Book 2 with Windows Hello, I had a beard so Windows Hello was recognising my face with a beard fine. Recently I shaved my beard off and it didn’t recognise me so I had to improve the recognition, not a major issue but something to consider if you change your facial hair frequently. To its credit though it recognised me with and without glasses with no issue.

Top Shelf Battery Life

The 13.5” i5 Surface Book 2 has an absolutely amazing battery. It has lasted me easily 10 hours before going to around 15% (shown by the battery indicator), and it could go for a little longer. The maximum amount of batter life I have gotten from the Surface Book 2 is around 11 hours (but closer to 12 hours really). Is it the 17 hours that Microsoft claims? Well no, but in saying that I have not been using the top of the line model and have not been watching videos only while offline with the display on a low brightness settings. The 10 hours that I have experienced is an average over several battery charge cycles with the lowest being 8 hours (closer to 9 but rounding down, this was when I was doing some taxing tasks) and the highest being 11 hours (close to 12 but I rounded down and this was with normal tasks).

Surface Book 2 Battery IndicatorA nice feature is the battery display which shows two batteries. From what I can tell “Battery 0” is the battery in the display and “Battery 1” is the battery in the base of the Surface Book 2. Microsoft didn’t need to do this and could have easily only shown a single battery level. What this allows you to do is before you detach the display from the base you can easily check to see if you will have enough battery to use the Surface Book 2 as a tablet. Kudos for Microsoft for adding this feature for the Surface Book 2 through Windows 10. The complete harmony of the hardware and software is present here, very Apple like.

Initially I used the Surface Book 2 fairly lightly and did not do any programming or perform any heavy duty tasks; I mainly did some web browsing, video consumption and document editing. I let the battery completely drain (well around 5%) and then let it completely charge. Once I knew that the battery was charged all the way back up to 100% I started to push the Surface Book 2. To get a good average I did this battery drain cycle and charge a number of times.

Even when taxing the Surface Book 2 with Visual Studio and the Windows Mobile emulator plus a number of other apps running in the background the battery still impressed me. My Surface Pro 3 could get close to maybe 6 hours battery if I was lucky, here with the heavy duty use I was getting close to 9 hours. Can this device be your “leave your charger at home” type of laptop? It sure can, no problem. Personally I would have no issue leaving my Surface Book 2 charger at home and it would last me the entire normal work day. Rating the battery life for the time that I have been using the Surface Book 2 I would give it a 10/10.

Cool to Touch

One thing that is really good about the Surface Pro devices is that all the components are in the display, the keyboard that is attached is essentially just the keyboard and cover. Your lap then would never get hot if you were using the device on the go and not on a surface. This is a major problem with most traditional laptops in the market, but it is not a problem with the Surface Book 2.

I found that compared to other traditional laptops the Surface Book 2 runs extremely cool, I barely even noticed any heat on my lap while doing taxing tasks. I have used some laptops that are incredibly hot after a short period of time making them near impossible to place on your lap. Where you palms rest while you type and where your thighs are positioned under the base of the Surface Book 2 there is no heat generated at all. The only place where there is any heat felt at all is at the center back of the base, and that really isn’t too hot or uncomfortable at all. The heat distribution and management is fantastic.

San Fan (No Fan)

The Surface Book 2 that I have has no fan (i5 version). So unlike the insanely loud fan that would spin up on my Surface Pro 3 whenever I was doing anything taxing (or watching videos in Google Chrome for that matter), there is no noise being generated from my Surface Book 2. This is a welcome change and something that once you realise how quiet your device can be, you may miss it when you go to another device that has a loud fan. If you have an i7 version of the Surface Book 2, you unfortunately do have a fan and I imagine that when you do something that really pushes the device you will end up hearing the fan fairly easily.

No Lag or Compromise

With the combination of some pretty decent hardware and Windows 10, the Surface Book 2 has never lagged or slowed down on me, even when I was on less than 15% battery while doing programming tasks. I imagine that Microsoft has done some optimisations to the OS so that it runs well on the Surface Book 2 (like the battery indicator for example).

Other laptops and even to a lesser extent my Surface Pro 3 when the battery was getting close to being completely depleted the mouse would start to slightly lag and then some apps would take a little longer to respond. To date I have not experienced this with the Surface Book 2. Visual Studio is known to at times freeze/lag and then pick up again (even on my beefy gaming PC), but I have not had any issues with Visual Studio on my Surface Book 2, even when running the Windows Mobile emulator on around 20% battery.

My Final Thoughts

Microsoft has crafted and extremely durable, elegant and pleasant to use device in the Surface Book 2. From the premium unboxing experience to the outstanding battery life and no compromise performance even under heavy use, the Surface Book 2 can pretty much do whatever you need. For me, the Surface Book 2 met all the criteria for me to purchase and use as my primary laptop device, and it has exceeded my expectations from the unboxing to using it.

There really isn’t too much that I can fault the Surface Book 2 on. The keyboard is one of the best keyboards that I have ever used. The trackpad is the best trackpad that I have used. The display is one of the sharpest and crystal clear displays I have seen on a laptop and that is even after using the Surface Pro 3. The battery life has amazed me and can easily go a single work day with one charge and there is still battery life to spare. Windows 10 and every application that I have used on the Surface Book 2 has not lagged, frozen or crashed on me. If I had to fault the Surface Book 2 at all I would say that having the 3.5mm headphone port at the top right of the display when docked is a little annoying.

I would recommend the Surface Book 2 with no hesitation.

Surface Book 2 Impressions Part 2 of 3

If you haven’t already please check out the first part of my Surface Book 2 impressions here. It outlines how I chose the Surface Book 2 and what I was after in a laptop.

This post is going to be about the look and feel of the new Surface Book 2 13.5” version. I will be doing a performance and usability break down in the coming week as I want to have as much time putting the Surface Book 2 through its paces first.

The Surface Book 2 unboxing experience (actually any Surface product I would say) is very close to how I would imagine an Apple MacBook unboxing would be. I’ve never had an Apple product so I wouldn’t know exactly, but from what I hear Apple tries to make the unboxing experience as premium as their device. The box is extremely durable, minimalistic and has each component placed ever so thoughtfully to make the experience as pleasant to the consumer as possible. From the get go Microsoft has made the experience feel premium, kudos.

Once you take the Surface Book 2 out of the box you immediately feel you are holding a premium product. I will probably end up using the word “premium” or the phrase “top of its class” a number of times in this post because that is probably the best word and phrase to describe the Surface Book 2. The Surface Book 2 is not too heavy and not too large, so carrying it and using it on the go or on your lap is not going to be an issue. Note that I am using the 13.5” version and not the 15” one, so perhaps the 15” might be a little different; the 13.5” is the perfect size and weight for me your experience may vary.

Covering the ports and buttons quickly, the Surface Book 2 has on the left of the base two USB A ports and an SD card slot. On the right side of the base it has a USB C port and a proprietary charging port. Something most phones in 2017 don’t have is a 3.5mm headphone port; however the Surface Book 2 has a 3.5mm headphone port. It can be found on the top right of the display/lid which is great when you are using the device as a tablet but not so great when you are using it as a traditional laptop. The top left of the display also has the power button and the volume buttons which is nice to have, especially if you are going to use the device as a tablet.

Every part of the device is made from what appears to be a premium metal, it has a matte finish so there are no finger prints and makes the entire device look and feel luxurious. There are really only two colours on the device (not including the chrome inlayed Microsoft logo on the display). The colours are the light gray and black. I don’t think I can find any plastic on the Surface Book 2. Microsoft seems to have gone the route of “if you are going to be spending big bucks on a new device, then you are going to get premium parts” and I commend them on that. I have bought gaming laptops in the past which come close to the price of the new Surface Book 2 and have significantly more plastic in the build. They could have skimped on some parts but they didn’t.

If you look at the device from the side with the display/lid is closed there is a gap (it does not completely close) and that is a result of the hinge that Microsoft uses. I personally have no concern that my device does not completely close and actually am a fan of the hinge design; it is unique and does the job well in giving the consumer a good display tilt. Lifting the display/lid is extremely easy and takes minimal effort. Closing the display/lid is also just as satisfying as when the display/lid touches the base there is a satisfying magnetic click; most likely they added this to highlight to the consumer that you have closed the display/lid and it will not open up by accident. It is the little things like this that make the device feel premium and well thought out. Microsoft didn’t need to add these little touches, but it shows they really care. This is something that Apple does well and many other manufacturers miss.

One of the top two most important features of any laptop is the trackpad. Many manufacturers like HP, Dell, Lenovo, etc. generally have extremely poor to barely adequate trackpads. They are sized poorly, or placed in an odd location, or feel cheap. The Surface Book 2 trackpad however is top of its class. It is positioned perfectly on the base, is large enough, and feels smooth which to me allows for extreme pointer precision. Apple makes some of the best trackpads in the business, but Microsoft has caught up and its trackpad on the Surface Book 2 is on bar with the best that Apple offer. Kudos to Microsoft for not skimping out on the trackpad, they could have easily given us something smaller and made from plastic but they have gone again with the premium materials used throughout the device.

Something that a laptop needs to truly be useful is a solid keyboard, especially if you are to be typing on your lap or are not docked anywhere. Along with a premium trackpad there is a premium feeling keyboard. I have used many different keyboards, both on laptops and on desktop PCs. Personally I am a major fan of mechanical keyboards. There is something about that key click and key travel on them that makes typing on it such a pleasant experience. The Surface Book 2 has the keys perfectly spaced and the key travel is also near perfect. I don’t know if it is a mechanical keyboard but it sure performs like one. Every time you hit a key you get a satisfying click, and with the optimal spacing and travel you can easily type with little slow down. The keyboard is backlit which is pretty common now and is a handy feature to have. Out of all the laptops I have used this has one of the best if not the best keyboards. A close second would have to be my old Lenovo ThinkPad which also has that satisfying click and mechanical feel. It also worthwhile to note that the device feels perfectly weighted so there is little to no wobble when you are typing on your lap.

With the keyboard and trackpad covered I should probably move on to the display. You get a beautiful 3000 x 2000 resolution display. Some people are really picky about the colours on their displays, me personally I am not overly too concerned. As long as my blue is blue and my red is red I’m happy. The colours on this display are perfectly acceptable and I would not think many people would have any issues with them. The display also can go extremely dim and also extremely bright, so you have both ends of the spectrum covered. Images, video, everything that is presented on the display is crystal clear and extremely sharp. On a laptop, it has to be one of the best displays I have used. I cannot fault Microsoft here on the display. If there is one thing that I would have liked is a slightly smaller bezel, but I can understand why they had to have a bezel of this size. Coming from the Surface Pro 3 which itself had a large bezel and brilliant display, the Surface Book 2 is miles ahead in display quality.

Overall I feel that Microsoft has crafted a premium and top of its class product. I know there really isn’t much different when you first glance at the Surface Book 2 over the original Surface Book but this device really has been refined. From the precise trackpad to the near pixel perfect display, everything has been thought of. Microsoft have designed and engineered a marvelous device that can act as a laptop and a tablet. Nothing feels cheap or tacky, you are getting a premium product with premium looking and feeling parts.

As noted at the start stay tuned for my final post which will cover the Surface Book 2’s performance, and let me know if there is anything specific you want me to test. I’ll be pushing the device to its limit while I use the development tools I have installed and work on my side projects.

Surface Book 2 Impressions Part 1 of 3

My History with the Surface Line

I have been a big fan of the Microsoft Surface line since it first launched. Hell I even purchased a Surface RT, and to the device’s credit it lasted all the way up until mid 2017 before the battery was no longer any good and trying to load a web page was near impossible. Windows RT might not have been the future but Microsoft had something with the original Surface products and I am happy that they continued to refine and rework them. They could have easily thrown the line out like the did with the Zune, RIP Zune I will miss you.

My primary mobile computing device was a Surface Pro 3 and one of the main reasons why I purchased that product was that it was a laptop and tablet in one with decent performance and a good battery. Plus the Surface Pen and OneNote made taking notes in my Artificial Intelligence and Mathematics classes while doing my post graduate Computer Science degree far easier. I also credit that device to my higher average marks overall. With the combination of better note taking and easier material management I recommend that any student who wishes to take notes in class and have everything digital then a Surface product with OneNote and the Surface Pen is the way to go.

While my Surface Pro 3 had done the job while I was studying, some of my side projects were not running as well on that device compared to my gaming PC. Over time the more I started looking at AI and emulation programming the more I realised that purchasing a device with only 128GB of total hard drive space and 4GB worth of RAM might have been a mistake. I should have saved up a little more cash and purchased the 8GB and 256GB model, but we all make mistakes and we all learn from them (I know I have).

With the announcement of the new Surface Pro 2017 edition, and the new Surface Laptop I knew that I had options. Before pulling the trigger I waited a little longer to see if Microsoft will be doing a refresh of the Surface Book line. There was the Surface Book with the Performance Base, but I didn’t want a first generation Surface Book and the discrete GPU did not interest me. Thankfully my patience paid off as Microsoft announced the new Surface Book 2. I started to read and follow any news about the new Surface Book 2, making note of the little details that were mentioned in the videos and blog posts I read. One week before the release date I decided to pre-order the device from the Microsoft Store. It had everything that I needed.

My Laptop Needs

I used my Surface Pro 3 originally as my primary mobile study device while at university, but I also used it as a development laptop while and after I graduated. I used Android Studio, Visual Studio and IntelliJ on it. So any new device needs to be a workhorse, but it also needs to be built like a tank with all the ports that I need. I really appreciate the details that Microsoft put into their Surface line so I decided to stick with them as the build quality of my Surface Pro 3 was top notch.

I have used other manufacturers laptops in the past and they have been hit and miss. I had a Lenovo but the device is very “plasticy” and the trackpad is horrible, but the keyboard is amazing; I had a HP which has a more solid feel than the Lenovo but the keyboard is one of the worst I have used (poor spacing and key travel). I also had an ASUS gaming laptop which has all the necessary power I need but is not very portable.

The Surface Book 2 appeared to check all my boxes (according to the initial impressions from the media and the individuals who had used the device at preview events). It has:

  • A fundamentally solid build, no obvious plastic here.
  • A keyboard that is spaced well and the keys have a near perfect travel, plus there is backlighting to the keys (I sometimes code deep into the night so this is now a necessary feature).
  • A trackpad that is Apple like.
  • More than one USB port (this is something that I needed, as having a single USB port on my Surface Pro 3 was quite annoying and even the new Surface Pro 2017 edition and Surface Laptop only have one USB port).
  • The ability to function as a tablet and has touch/pen support (I still use OneNote to draw up wireframes for apps and take notes, plus at time I just want to watch Netflix in bed).
  • Enough horsepower to run Visual Studio and any emulation software I need when developing my apps and working on side projects.
  • A battery that can last a near full day’s worth of work (so around 6 hours worth of development and Internet browsing at a minimum).

How Big and How Much Horsepower?

I have used laptops from both ends of the spectrum with regard to size and performance. What I have found is that the optimal size for me is a device that does not have a screen much larger than 13”. Any larger and the device becomes too large to lug around and is too heavy. So right out of the gate the Surface Book 2 that I was getting was the 13.5” and not the 15”.

Do I need a laptop with a discrete graphics card? No. I don’t play any video games on laptops, all my gaming is done on my Xbox One X or my gaming PC which has a GTX 980. Maybe a GPU would be useful in regard to AI programming but I doubt a single card would matter too much. The new Surface Book that I would end up purchasing would not have a discrete GPU.

Something unfortunate is that all the i7 laptops have a discrete GPU. This means that the Surface Book 2 that I would be purchasing would have an older generation i5. I had spoken about this with the other software engineers at work and they all felt that having an i7 option with no discrete GPU would have been great. I most likely would have purchased that build. Maybe in the future Microsoft will offer an i7 with no discrete GPU, but I highly doubt it. One nice feature with the i5 version is that it is completely san fan 🙂 Not a major loss here, but having a new generation CPU which has better performance would have been nice.

With the i5 version I don’t really get much choice in regard to RAM and HDD size (in Australia anyway, not sure about the rest of the world). It comes with 256GB worth of storage space, which is going to be a big relief after living with only 128GB worth of space on my Surface Pro 3. Having 8GB worth of RAM is also going to be a nice bump from the 4GB that I had with my Surface Pro 3 (2x worth the bump I might add).

I plan on releasing two more blog posts, one about the build quality of the Surface Book 2 and one about the performance. The build quality post will be released very shortly, but the performance post will take a little longer. I want to spend some more time running the Surface Book 2 through it’s paces while I am doing some development work. So stay tuned in the coming days for part two and in the coming weeks for my final (part three) Surface Book 2 impressions.