Screen Time Is Time Well-Spent

Girl Reading - Charles Edward Peruigini - 1870

Girl Reading – Charles Edward Peruigini – 1870 (Source: Tumblr)

I’ve placed a bibliography on the value of computer games at the end of this article. I will continue to update it past the date of publication.

Yet another fear-mongering article about the brain-damaging effects of computer games is making the rounds of the Internet. The absurdity of its claims reminds me of the Victorian hand-wringing about masturbation – but that at least got us Graham Crackers.

Computer games – like other fun, engaging activities (including sports, sex, and solving jigsaw puzzles) – ping the pleasure centers of the brain, often in ways we do not fully understand. Consequently, most people keep engaging in those activities. Some people find those little dopamine hits addictive, so they cannot self-regulate their exposure to them.  This can be particularly true for some young people, regardless of what they obsess about (be it baseball stats or Torment: Numenera). Regardless of the pleasurable activity, good parenting is teaching your children how to recognize healthy and unhealthy behaviors, regardless of their preferred source of a dopamine fix.

The single fact that a particular activity provides that fix does not make it any more inherently dangerous than other, otherwise-safe activities. Why should throwing a baseball or reading a book be privileged over playing a computer game? I would bet that nearly all of my friends have, on more than one occasion, stayed up hours later than they should have because they wanted to finish a book. Yet we do not talk about the “dangerously addictive” nature of books.

The argument could be made that the substance and quality of books is, on average, better than that of computer games. Since, as I will note below, the caliber of art, storytelling and interactive experiences available through the best of interactive media is exceptional, arguments based on the content of computer games carry little weight. Nonetheless, even if that were not the case and all of the games out there were mindless brain candy, the issue would still be the poor choices consumers of the media make, not the inherent dangers of the medium itself.

For this reason, in our household, we did not limit our son’s “screen time” any more than we censored his books; which is to say, we did not regulate either activity. I did play the games he played, and engaged him in long, thoughtful discussions about their contents. I also read the books he read, and engaged with him in the same kinds of discussions. Many of the things he learned from games would not have come as easily through a different medium. In fact, I cannot imagine a better method than “screen time” for him to have explored many of the things he learned about the larger, adult world when he was a child.

As parents, we did not regulate those “screens” because we saw them as no more dangerous than books. We ignored the panic around the medium because it seemed, and still seems, no more justified than the expert admonitions from previous eras against letting young women read novels. The danger with novels, as with good books and good games of all kinds, is that your child’s curiosity will lead them to dangerous or disagreeable or unfamiliar ideas. Knowing your child’s strengths and limitations, and participating with them in, rather than banning them from, whatever media form they find the most engaging, allows a parent to work with their child to equip them with the skills to navigate those perilous waters.

Whether the topic is the content of the media, or the “addictive” nature of the medium itself, good parenting means knowing what a child needs and working with them within those limitations to help that child achieve the goals that they have set. That may mean teaching them to learn to regulate the pleasure they take in certain pastimes. It may mean recognizing the value of those pastimes, even if they may hold no interest for the parent. It almost certainly means sharing in the child’s own engagement, helping them to place it into a larger context, and helping them make the most of the experience.

Now that we are on the other side of that parenting stage, not only do I think that “screens” are no more “dangerously addictive” than books, I would go so far as to say that – in their potential to stimulate the brain, educate, and convey information – “screens” (PC’s and slates in particular) are better than print books. The issue is not the medium, or the activity; the issue is what content is consumed through that medium, and the degree to which involved parents discuss, analyze, and share in that content with their children.

Using a “screen” a young person can read a book above their reading level, or in another language, thanks to hyperlinked dictionaries. Using a “screen” a young person can learn about economics, politics, history, and military strategy by painstakingly shepherding their society through hours of Civilization (see it in action here). Using a “screen” a child can build a working aqueduct in Minecraft. Using a “screen” a young person can directly engage complex themes of bigotry, religious demagoguery, and political isolationism in the Bioshock series. Using a “screen” a young person can interact with one of the best novels I have ever read or played, Planescape: Torment. Using a “screen” a young person can adventure with their friends through a vast world of rich storytelling in Elder Scrolls Online, or they can travel alone through similarly artful and complex storytelling in the world of Dragon Age.

I’m young enough that – as a child – I engaged in earlier incarnations of all of these activities on a Commodore 64 for thousands of hours, so this generation is certainly not the first to have this opportunity. Nor was I any more adversely affected by those pursuits than my friends who spent hundreds of hours designing D&D campaigns or working on their fastball. I would argue that, to the contrary, the games I played on my PC and online through BBS’s enriched my knowledge base as well as the rigor of my thinking.

Until we have chips in our heads, screens are going to be how we share information and engage with interactive media. Parents would do well to quit obsessing about the perceived evils of the medium and instead learn to take full advantage of it.


For Further Reading

(This Penny Arcade comic is a handy glimpse of what happens when I bring up this topic at dinner parties. )

What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy (James Paul Gee –

Good Video Games and Good Learning (James Paul Gee –

Video Games and Learning (Kurt Squire –

Reality is Broken (Jane McGonigal –

Don’t Bother Me Mom, I’m Learning (Marc Prensky –

Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology (Collins & Halverson –

The Multiplayer Classroom (Lee Sheldon –

Video Games and Learning: Teaching Particaptory Culture and the Digital Age (Kurt Squire – Amazon)

How to Do Things with Videogames (Ian Bogost –

Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames (Ian Bogost –

Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter (Tom Bissell –

Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America (NEA)

To Read or Not To Read (NEA)

Orality and the Work of Walter Ong (Wikipedia)

Oral Tradition – Online Academic Journal

Share This:Print this pageEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on TumblrShare on Google+Share on LinkedIn

Let Students Use Their Laptops

Students and teacher using Microsoft Surface Pro

Surface Pro in the Classroom Source: Surface Blog

Dear Colleagues, Friends, and Fellow Teachers:

Please do not take arguments like this one too seriously.  They remind me of the classical Greek arguments against the dangers of literacy, that teaching people to read and write would impair their ability to memorize things.

Forcing students to take notes in a way that does not work for them does no one any favors. A better practice is to encourage students to be aware of the benefits of different methods for different learning styles, and try to accommodate as many different learning styles as possible. I let students record me if they are auditory, and I write bullet points on the whiteboard for students who are taking bulleted notes. I draw diagrams for the very visual.  I also talk about note-taking strategies with all of my lecture-heavy, survey-level classes, and recognize that part of my role is to teach them how to use the various tools that are available to them.  If I’m concerned that the presence of technology will inhibit discussion, I talk with students about strategies for using their preferred tech in ways that will aid rather than limit their ability to participate.

Just because studies show that on average people retain more by handwriting their notes, that does not mean that the technology of typing is flawed. It just means that the way some people use it may be ineffective.  A computer (or, even better, a tablet with keyboard and stylus) is vastly superior to pen and paper as a tool for organizing written information.  Students can quickly group ideas, correct content errors, flesh out earlier points, and correct for errors in their own (or the professor’s) organization and taxonomy.  They can bold things or color code them, and they can also hyperlink key points to web content.  They can easily back their notes up to the cloud, and review them on multiple devices.  Simply put, notes on a laptop are better-organized, cleaner, and more versatile.

Yes, some students will blindly transcribe your lecture without critically analyzing or organizing it, just as some students with pen and paper will write down random points without understanding the structure of your lecture.  Similarly, some students will instead surf Facebook, just as some students will doodle on a piece of paper instead of taking notes.  None of this is the fault of the tool.  The laptop (or full-featured tablet) is, plain-and-simple, as much of an improvement over paper as paper was over clay tablets.

Good students spend their whole academic careers learning the study and note-taking techniques that work best for them.  Do not handicap them because you don’t trust them to be able to make these kinds of decisions for themselves.

If someone asked me to handwrite notes for an hour, I doubt I could do it. I’m not sure the last time I hand-wrote a complete sentence.  Also, since I keep all my notes typed up and on a tablet, I think it would be a bit hypocritical to then deny my students access to technology because I don’t trust them to function as members of the twenty-first century.

Share This:Print this pageEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on TumblrShare on Google+Share on LinkedIn

Finding a Good Field Watch

I think, perhaps, I tend to over-think the purchasing process.  I generally research something compulsively (a hat, a messenger bag, a bicycle) until I find something that is sufficiently over-engineered that it not only exceeds my needs but will last me a very long time.  I then continue to use it until it wears out.

Here’s an example of what my process is like.

I need a decent field watch.  It needs to be durable enough that I can use it in training environments, but nice enough that I don’t have to swap it out when I am dressed up.  (I am, ultimately, utilitarian both in my aesthetics and my purchases.  I don’t see the need to own more than one watch.  I want one watch that will do everything I need.)

Initially, I thought I wanted a watch with tritium tubes for the hours and the hands, but I couldn’t find anything that didn’t look like it might also be on the wrist of a Vegas Three-card Monte hustler, so I let that go.

I then decided that I wanted either a purely mechanical, automatic watch (I like the elegance of something that keeps time without electricity), or a solar watch (I like the idea of a watch that keeps incredibly precise time but doesn’t need a battery replacement).

My other main choice is between a olive watch face or a black one.  All of the watches I looked at have day/date, water resistance to 100m, and a mineral crystal.

After checking reviews and reliability ratings, I narrowed it down to six.

Seiko SNZG09

Seiko SNZG09

Seiko SNZG09 – Olive Face – Big Hours, No Minutes, Small 24hr – Automatic/Mechanical


Seiko SNK805

Seiko SNK805

Seiko SNK805 – Olive Face – Small Hours, Big Minutes, No 24hr – Automatic/Mechanical

Seiko SNZG15

Seiko SNZG15

Seiko SNZG15 – Black Face – Big Hours, No Minutes, Small 24hr – Automatic/Mechanical

Seiko SNK809

Seiko SNK809

Seiko SNK809 – Black Face – Small Hours, Big Minutes, No 24hr – Automatic/Mechanical

Seiko SNE095P2

Seiko SNE095P2

Seiko SNE095P2 – Black Face – Big Hours, No Minutes, Small 24hr – Solar

Citizen BM8180

Citizen BM8180

Citizen BM8180-03E – Black Face – Big Hours, Small Minutes, No 24hr – Solar

So, three decisions:

  • Solar or Mechanical?
  • If Mechanical: Olive or Black watchface?
  • If Mechanical: Large Hours or Large Minutes?

The watchface decision is the easiest.  Olive watchfaces look odd with a black band, but black ones look fine with an olive or a black band – so black.  It also has more of a classic look, in my opinion.

Between the two mechanical Seiko watches, it’s a tough call.  The larger “minute” numbers make for easier timing of seconds or minutes, but I think I prefer the aesthetic of the larger hour numbers.  I also prefer a “12” at the noon position, rather than an arrow.  Here they are side-by-side:

Seikio SNK809 and SNZG815

Seikio SNK809 and SNZG815

This is a really tough call for me.  I can see the benefits to the SNK809 dial, and – if someone were to give me one for a month to carry around – I’d be willing to give it a try.  With that said, if I’m going to be spending my hard-earned money, I’d rather risk it on a watch I can read at a glance – that’s the SNZG815.

The two solar watches also offer a very tough choice.  Here they are side-by-side:

Citizen BM8180 and Seiko SNE095P2

Citizen BM8180 and Seiko SNE095P2

Wow!  I like the look of both of these watches!  The Seiko really captures the vintage Army feel that reminds me of the watch I (and I suspect everyone) bought at the PX in Basic Training.  The bezel looks a little too shiny, but that is hopefully just the angle of the flash in the photo.  I love the classic watchface on the Seiko.

The Citizen has a more contemporary look to it, and I am not a fan of the more exposed stem.  On the other hand, it’s the only watch with large numbers for the hours and small numbers for the minutes/seconds, making it easier to use the watch as a timer/stopwatch.  The Seiko almost looks too busy by comparison.

I would say that both watches are beautiful, elegant examples of what they set out to be.  The Citizen looks like the ideal contemporary solar field watch, and the Seiko looks like the ideal vintage-style one.  Again, a very tough call, but – by a narrow margin – I prefer the aesthetic of the Seiko.

So now…mechanical or solar.  Here they are side-by-side:

Seiko SNZG15 and SNE095P2

Seiko SNZG15 and SNE095P2

Seen side-by side (and ignoring the bands – I can always swap those at my leisure) it’s a no-brainer.  I really like the aesthetic of the SNE095P2.  In fact, the SNE095P2 has everything I like about the SNZG, only better.  Seeing them side-by-side makes me like the SNE even more, and it also gives me more appreciation for the SNK809 I previously rejected.

Ultimately, the winner based purely on online  aesthetics was – for me – the SNE095P2.  The vintage military styling sold me.  I’d love to have it as a purely mechanical watch (or to have any of the mechanical Seikos because I think they’re beautiful machines), but – if I’m only going to buy one watch – this one made the most sense.

Then it arrived…and I was greatly disappointed.  The clock face looked great, but the bezel looked cheap and far too shiny.  I sent it back, and went with the ultimate winner, the Citizen BM8180:

Citizen BM8180

Citizen BM8180

UPDATE:  I swapped out the band for a synthetic, olive band and have now had the watch for over a year.  It looks great, holds up very well, and keeps great time.  I highly recommend it!


Now, if only I could find an Astron for 95% off…

Also, a couple of honorable mentions that are out of my price range:

The Cabot Watch Company Automatic (available here)

The Hamilton Field Watch (needs a canvas band)

Here’s the vast majority of the watches I considered.

Share This:Print this pageEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on TumblrShare on Google+Share on LinkedIn

The Perfect Gadget Bag

Like most technology nerds, I have been on a lifelong quest to find the perfect messenger/gadget bag.  For me, it needs the following features:

  • large enough for everything I want to carry, but no larger
  • high durability
  • lots of pockets and organizers
  • convenient access to everything I use often
  • no Velcro (it’s loud, and it wears out)
  • a large water bottle holder
  • an aesthetic that doesn’t look like a purse (even if I use it as one)

I’ve tried bags from Maxpedition, Tom Binh, REI, and several other manufacturers.  Many of them have come close – but none of them have checked off every single box, until now.  After some research I found the Tablet Messenger V.3 by Skooba Design.  Combined with my Surface Pro (reviewed here) as my primary mobile computer, it is the perfect bag!

Here’s the photo from the Skooba website that persuaded me to by the bag:

Skooba Tablet Messenger v.3 - Stock Photo



I like the classic, messenger look of the bag, and the one that arrived look exactly like the picture on the Skooba website.  At 14″L x 11″H x 3″D (manufacturer’s measurements), it’s smaller than it appears in the photos, but that’s exactly what I wanted.

I liked the bag from the moment I opened the box.  It’s surprisingly light (25 oz according to the website), yet the ballistic nylon feels extremely durable.  The stitching feels strong, and the build quality is excellent.  The strap is replaceable, but I can’t think of a reason why I would.  It’s durable, no-slip, and very comfortable.   Overall the Tablet Messenger V.3 has the feel of solid, reliable craftsmanship that I expect from a bag I will carry – and abuse – on a daily basis.

I liked the bag so much that I immediately glued on my favorite Firefly patches so that I’d be able to spot it as mine from a distance and, well, because I’m a nerd and I think they look cool.  My map bag that I carried in the Army had unit and rank patches on it, but I don’t think they would have looked right on the Skooba bag.  The patches from Wash’s jacket seemed just right.

I then crammed all of my everyday stuff into the bag, pleasantly surprised to find that there really were enough pouches and organizational pockets for everything I wanted to carry.  I was even more pleasantly surprised to see that – even with everything I could think of in the bag – its slim profile did not change.  One of my chief complaints with small messengers is that they get distended and bulky when I put all my gadgets in them.

Here’s my bag completely full.   Note that I still haven’t removed the excess glue from the patches.  If only Skooba provided “patch application” as a service!

Skooba Tablet Messenger v.3 - with Firefly Patches

My Bag, Firefly Patches Optional

The water bottle in the photo above is a 500 mL / .5 L Camelbak.  I think a 750 would fit equally well, but my 1000 mL / 1L was just a bit too large.  I wouldn’t mind if they made this pocket just a hair larger, but I think it will already accommodate a more narrow 1L bottle.

One quick note about the closure.  As I mentioned above, I don’t like Velcro.  It’s noisy and inconvenient, and often hard to line up properly.  The Skooba bag uses an innovative magnetic closure that automatically locks when the flap drops down.  To open it, simply give it a twist.

Skooba Tablet Messenger v.3 - Magnetic Closure

Magnetic Closure – closed

Skooba Tablet Messenger v.3 - Closure

Magnetic Closure – open

If you’re in a hurry, there’s also a partially-hidden zipper across the top that will give you quick access to your ultrabook or tablet.

Here are some more views of the fully-loaded bag.  In keeping with the theme of the patches, I put the Firefly: A Celebration coffee table book next to it.  The book is 8.5″ x 10.8″ x 1.6″.  Here’s what the full bag looks like:

Skooba Tablet Messenger v.3 - Full and Closed

Fully Packed

Skooba Tablet Messenger v.3 - Full, Side View

Full – from the side (no water bottle)

Skooba Tablet Messenger v.3 - Full, from the Top

Full – from the top (no water bottle)

I can’t reiterate enough how much I love the profile of this bag.  It’s full of everything I need on a daily basis, but it’s not over-stuffed.  Nor is it too large and cavernous.  It’s just right.

One of the reasons for the slim profile is how well-organized everything is.  Here’s the computer compartment:

Bag Open - Top

The Main Compartment

The Surface Pro is on the left, inserted vertically.  To its side is the power supply (a small but laptop-sized power brick), which stays perfectly contained in its net pouch.  The netbook/tablet compartment fits the Surface Pro quite well.  It has plenty of padding, and holds the computer snugly.  The only Velcro in the bag is the small tab over the top that secures the slate in place.  That suits me just fine.

The interior of the bag is a bright blue that provides plenty of contrast if you’re looking for small items you may have dropped in there.  In the picture above I have a large, hardbound book and a 7″ Kindle Fire HD.

The gadget compartment on the front shows the same level of clean design and attention to detail as the main section:

Skooba Tablet Messenger v.3 - Organizer Compartment

Organizer Compartment

I’m not sure how to describe this, other than to simply say “it’s perfect!”  Too often, the pouches and pockets in the organizer section of a bag are just randomly sewn, with no attention to the actual purposes they might serve.  This bag, however, was either made by fellow nerds or in consultation with a focus group full of my tribe.  There are three mesh pockets – small, medium, and large – each of which perfectly accommodates gizmos of varying sizes.  Likewise the nylon pouches are large enough to actually hold things in a usable fashion.  The thumb drive compartment is a bit tight, but that’s my only quibble.

Here’s a zoomed-out view of the entire bag, fully loaded:

Skooba Tablet Messenger v.3 - Open view (full)

Everything in its place

So just how much stuff did I cram into this slim, highly portable, 14″-wide messenger bag?  Here’s the full inventory:

Skooba Tablet Messenger v.3 - Contents

Here’s what I mean by “full”

The bag contains:

  • Microsoft Surface Pro with Type Cover
  • 7″ Kindle Fire HD in a Verso case (that looks like a composition book)
  • An over-sized (10.1 x 6.9 x 1) hardcover book
  • An iPhone 4 (a Samsung S4 should fit here as well)
  • A 1TB external drive
  • Two USB thumb drives
  • A Surface Pro digitizer pen
  • Two writing pens
  • A Flatlight (probably to be replaced with a Larrylight)
  • A micro multi-tool
  • Earbuds
  • An Advil bottle (thanks Achilles tendonitis)
  • An iPhone charger (I’ll be glad to get rid of this – when does the S4 ship?)
  • A micro-USB charger
  • An HDMI connector
  • A Microsoft Wedge mouse
  • A Surface Pro power brick
  • A micro-fiber cleaning cloth

There was also a forty-page document in the file-folder sized compartment in the back of the bag (you can see it in some of the earlier shots – I forgot to put it on the pile for the picture).  Also, I sometimes put keys or business cards or other incidentals in the pocket on the front flap.  Keep in mind, what you see here is not with the bag stuffed – you could cram a lot more in if you needed to.  This is with a well-organized, easily-accessible working load in the bag.



I don’t say this lightly:  I think the Skooba Tablet Messenger V.3 is the perfect everyday use bag for someone who wants to travel light and is using a Surface Pro, Ultrabook, or similar device as there commuting computer.  It has room for everything you’re likely to need on a day-to-day basis, and it keeps everything exceptionally well-organized.  The materials and build quality are outstanding, and it’s a bag I plan to use for years to come.


Here’s a gallery of all of the photos included in this article:




Share This:Print this pageEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on TumblrShare on Google+Share on LinkedIn

Why You Want a Surface Pro

Surface Pro Image

Image Courtesy

I was an early adopter of the TabletPC platform.  I was using a slate made by Motion Computing over seven years ago when I taught undergraduate classes.  I used it for my lecture notes, my PowerPoint presentations, and for grading.  The digitizer pen meant I could grade and comment on student papers without ever printing them out – I was able to go completely paperless.  I proclaimed it the “future of computing” – but the rest of the market never caught on.

When the iPad came out, I was thrilled that slate computing might actually come into its own, but that obviously wasn’t going to happen on the iOS platform – the device has far too many limitations.  But Apple did their part, convincing people that they might want real computers they could hold in their hands – even if Apple wasn’t going to be the one to provide them.

Which takes us to Spring, 2013 – a wonderful time when multiple Windows 8 tablets and hybrids are on the market.  I chose the Surface Pro because of the build quality, form factor, gorgeous screen, and digitizer pen.  I would have liked a larger hard drive, more battery life, and a discrete GPU – but I wasn’t going to not get the device that did everything I needed because I was pouting over it not doing everything I wanted.

I’ve used it nearly constantly for three weeks (including one travel week), and had a series of epiphanies as I did so:

I Can Expand the Storage?

The first thing I did when I bought the Surface Pro was put a 64GB SD card in it ($55 at Amazon).  It’s ridiculous to me that this seemed like an amazing luxury, but several generations of iPads had conditioned me to expect to pay an obscene premium for extra storage – and then be stuck with what I had until I bought entirely new hardware.  But the Surface Pro is a real computer.  You need more storage?  Put in a larger SD card.

It’s a Real Operating System?

When I booted it up, I logged on using my Microsoft Windows 8 account (I already used Windows 8 on my home computer), and was pleased to see that a significant number of my settings and preferences were already stored by Microsoft in the cloud.  I then immediately went into Control Panel and tweaked the additional settings specific to the Surface Pro to make them run just the way I like.  After years of dealing with the locked-down architecture of iOS, it felt like coming home to my favorite furniture, after staying in a long series of generic hotels.

I was also able to organize my thousands of files in my familiar folder/directory hierarchy.  I installed Dropbox, pulled everything down (actually, I cheated – I moved them over using the USB 3.0 port (!!!!!) and an external drive, then let Dropbox verify the download), and Voila! – there was everything I had ever written, created, or archived since I was fifteen.  And it was all organized logically and readily accessible.  I could move it, rename it, or drag-and-drop it onto external media connected by – let me say it again – a real, honest-to-goodness, USB 3.0 port.

I could also listen to my music, without having to route it through iTunes.  I have thousands of DRM-free songs purchased legitimately through Amazon.  Moving them, and then listening to them, was as simple as dragging-and-dropping.  I then had my choice of media players (I still use WinAmp), since the Surface Pro runs the full version of Windows 8.

I Can Run Office and Adobe?

Consequently, WinAmp isn’t the only thing the Surface Pro will run.  I immediately installed Office 2013, Adobe CS6, and GIMP (it’s faster than PhotoShop for basic tasks, in my experience).  I use all these programs daily, and there’s nothing on iOS that comes close to their functionality.  They all run BEAUTIFULLY on the Surface, although I highly recommend using the digitizer pen (which is wicked fun, by-the-way) or an external mouse if you want to create images.

The first thing I tried was to bring up one of the standard Excel spreadsheets that I use constantly.  It makes over 50,000 computations and makes extensive use of conditional formatting.  It has never opened correctly (or even in a usable fashion) in any iOS product I have ever used.  Not only did it open more quickly on my Surface Pro than on my laptop, the spreadsheet looked gorgeous and worked perfectly More importantly, I wasn’t just viewing it.  I could edit it just like I could on any other PC.

I Can Run Anything?

Ultimately, that’s the amazing thing about the Surface Pro.  All tablets are excellent for media consumption – and when using the Metro-style, “Windows Store” apps the Surface Pro is every bit as slick as the iPad for this purpose.  But with a single tap, the Surface Pro gives you the option of having all of the functionality of a full computer at your disposal.  The small screen and touch/pen input can sometimes make using the older, legacy PC programs feel a little kludgy – but the fact that you can do it at all on a device the size of a legal pad is a miracle.  Attach a keyboard cover and connect a bluetooth mouse, and the experience becomes just like using any other touch-enabled, fast PC.  The difference is that when you’re done it becomes a slate again.

I put all of my old, familiar utilities and applications on the Surface Pro, and they all run brilliantly.  To give it a fair shake, though, I also purchased a few of the Metro equivalents and did my best to get proficient with the Metro UI.  It took a couple of days, but for many tasks I eventually concluded that the Metro interface is superior, although I still spend nearly all my time on the Desktop view.

“Anything” Includes Games?

I don’t expect a slate to be a gaming powerhouse – yet (but it better be in the next few years or I will be very disappointed), but the integrated Intel HD 4000 chip is actually surprisingly nimble, even on the 1920×1080 Surface Pro screen.  Civilization V (which is now touch-enabled) is unquestionably the killer app for making all of your gamer friends want to go out and buy a Surface Pro yesterday.  It’s one of the greatest games ever made, and playing it – the full version, not “Revolution” (a great game in its own right) – on a slate feels like stepping into an episode of Star Trek.  Minecraft also played brilliantly, albeit with the mouse and keyboard attached.

But, just to reiterate, that is the beauty of the Surface Pro.  Attach the mouse and keyboard, and it becomes a full computer.  Yes, it has a smaller hard drive and a weaker GPU than I would want in an ideal world, but those are small prices to pay considering all of the amazing utility it provides.

I Can Write On It?

No discussion of that utility is complete without mentioning the digitizer pen.  Combined with One Note, the digitizer pen means I can finally stop carrying a legal pad to meetings.  Digital paper is much better than the real thing – it’s automatically backed up, and you can change it to unlined or graph paper with a touch.  Plus, when I played around with it, Windows 8 has surprisingly good and intuitive handwriting recognition.  I would love to see Microsoft replace every textbook and sheet of paper in a high school somewhere with Surface Pros (and train the teachers and students in the full range of their capabilities), just so everyone can see how versatile and convenient the technology is.

In addition, not only can you “write” on the tablet with the digitizer pen, you can also comfortably compose on it with the type cover.  While travelling, I wrote over eight thousand words – using the familiar, comfortable Word interface – in three days.  I was not even a tiny bit slower than I would have been on my computer at home, and I think the touch interface may have meant that I worked perhaps a little bit more quickly.

When I was done working, I closed up the tablet and slid it into its tiny Skooba Tablet Messenger v.3 bag (which I review here – it’s the perfect to go with the Surface Pro), and carted the Surface Pro to my next meeting.  It took up less space and only slightly more weight than the legal pad I would normally have brought – and had nothing approaching the footprint of the laptop I would have needed to create 8,000 words.

In Conclusion

Throughout my trip I just kept staring at my Surface Pro, in awe that something so tiny could do so much.  Most of the reviews I had read prior to my purchase had complained about the things that the Surface Pro can’t do (run for 10 hours on the battery, play Crysis 3 at max settings, float in your hand like a feather, etc.); but I don’t buy technology for what it can’t do.  I buy technology for what it can – and the Surface Pro’s list of things it can do is astonishing.  It runs every Windows productivity app I could throw at it, along with a number of very good games, all in a solid, beautifully engineered, slate form-factor that can be used as a laptop as necessary.  Oh, and you can add any USB-enabled peripheral without any headaches whatsoever, and the HDMI port is in no way proprietary.  That’s enough of a technology miracle for me, at least until next year.

Share This:Print this pageEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on TumblrShare on Google+Share on LinkedIn