Selecting a companion device for my PC

It’s time to find a more portable device than my current laptop, an HP Envy 17 that I like very much for its design, appearance, large screen and expandability. I replaced the two 500 GB 5,400 rpm drives that came with the Envy and replaced them with 256 GB SSDs and the PC just screams along no matter what’s thrown at it, including several virtual Windows 2012 servers running Exchange 2013.

But the Envy is heavy. In fact, it’s a brute that won’t fit into normal laptop carrying cases. I had to find a pull-along Tumi laptop case to transport the Envy with some reasonable degree of protection (and protect my aching back). And when the case is stuffed with AC power connector and various bits and pieces like a mouse, the result is that it’s a real heavyweight.

I need a much lighter and more portable device to bring on the road. Because of what I do, the device has to run Windows and Office, so that’s the starting point.

I bought a Windows RT Surface for my son last November. He likes the lightness and 10-hour battery life and finds that the Touch cover is acceptable for informal typing. Documents and presentations need a better input device and a USB keyboard provides a good solution. It would be nice if the Surface supported two USB ports as this would allow use of both an external keyboard and mouse. Fortunately one of the USB hubs that I’ve accumulated over the years has solved that problem.

Windows RT has many good features but the big issue that has to be overcome before I could use it permanently is the lack of Outlook. Yes, I could run Outlook Web App to connect to Office 365, but I’m just too used to Outlook with all its limitations and shortfalls. The devil you know… An excellent post by Hal Berenson speculates that Microsoft has Outlook for RT but don’t want to ship it because Outlook’s real value is its extendibility. None of the add-ons for Outlook would probably run on RT so you’d be left with bog-standard Outlook; I’d be happy with this but many would probably not be so content.

I am interested in the Windows Surface Pro. It seems to tick many of the boxes for features that I need and I would not be upset with the 5-hour battery life claimed for the device. I like the RT’s build quality and assume that the Pro will deliver much of the same. Some reviews have remarked that the i5 CPUs run hot and there could be a lot of fan noise. I suspect that some of this FUD originates from PC vendors who aren’t thrilled about Microsoft’s foray into PCs. In any case, we shall soon know after production Surface Pros go into general use. The reviews published after the embargo period expired have not been great for the Surface Pro, but it seems to me that a lot of people have treated the Surface Pro as a replacement PC or as an ultrabook rather than a companion device, which is what I have in mind.

When it comes to PC vendors, I have a natural affinity for HP. This doesn’t mean that HP wins every deal in our house as we have a MacBook Air and Acer and Toshiba laptops in use plus an array of iPads and iPhones. But I always look at HP to see what the PC business group is doing. Last week I spoke at a conference in Dublin and had the chance to handle the new HP ElitePad 900 and also look at the HP Envy X2. The X2 is aimed at consumers while the ElitePad is very much a business device – the differences being cost, the materials used, and the fit and finish, all of which are better on the ElitePad. In addition, consumers aren’t usually happy to buy expensive but probably essential accessories such as “productivity jackets” (sounds like the jackets that iPAQs used to have). On the other hand, they’ll be charmed with the detachable keyboard and much lower price of the Envy X2. But I do wonder about the long-term robustness of that keyboard.

Even so, I liked the Envy X2. It seems like a nice device and detaching that keyboard is party-trick neat. But when I consider why I am even looking at these devices, the ElitePad seems to be more like a device that I’d use. The X2 is just too much like a laptop. In fact, it is a laptop. I don’t want another laptop – I want a companion device, one that is very different in some respects than my Envy 17. I like the idea of figuring out whether touch is an interface that I really like and to see how Windows 8 behaves when its interface is touch-driven rather than through the classic keyboard-mouse combination that I’ve used to date.

The challenge over the next few weeks is to figure out whether a Surface Pro or ElitePad is best for me. The fact that the Surface Pro doesn’t come with a 4G option (the ElitePad does) is not a deal breaker for me. The higher resolution screen (1920 x 1080) of the Surface Pro is probably not a deal breaker either. In fact, the decision might come down to cost. The Surface Pro seems like it might be a good deal more expensive. Using U.S. prices, a 64GB Pro costs $899, plus the $129.99 Type cover that I’d probably buy. The ElitePad seems to be around $735, depending on where you buy, but the cost of the accessories such as the expansion jackets is not clear to me yet. The cost difference between the two base units is probably down to the much faster i5 CPU in the Surface Pro.

Even though there’s been some fuss about the amount of disk eaten by Windows and recovery utilities on the Surface Pro (leaving 23 GB of available space), in reality I don’t think this is an issue because you can expand storage easily with cheap Micro SD cards (another interesting post by Hal Berenson discusses this and the use of compression for the Surface). In any case, 23 GB is more than enough for what I plan to do on a companion device. I don’t need vast storage to write blogs, articles, and the like and PhotoShop can be safely left to the Envy 17.

There’s no Microsoft Store in Ireland (however, Microsoft has announced that it will sell the Surface online in Ireland from later on this month), so it’s difficult to get hands-on exposure to a Surface Pro. I’ll be in Bellevue in mid-February for the annual MVP Summit and plan to pay a visit to the Microsoft Store there. Some other contenders will probably come to light before then to confuse matters. Decisions, decisions…

Follow Tony @12Knocksinna


About Tony Redmond

Lead author for the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook and writer about all aspects of the Office 365 ecosystem.
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2 Responses to Selecting a companion device for my PC

  1. Magnus says:

    It seems like we share “problems” Tony

  2. Verboon says:

    Your poor acking back? Tears coming to my eyes

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