The Switcher Diaries: On The Road With The Surface Pro 3

My phone starts to wiggle its way across my desk as the vibration from the call coming in kicks over. It’s Campbell Simpson, the other half of the Gizmodo brain trust on the other end. “Hey man. I’m downstairs in my Tesla Model S, want to come for a ride?” I scoop up my Surface and hit the road: can the push the limits of the future worker by turning a Model S into a mobile office?

I’m Luke Hopewell, and this week I’m switching from a MacBook Air to a Surface Pro 3. All this week, we’re putting the Surface Pro 3 through its paces. From mobile computing, tablet tasks and full on desktop replacement tests: Gizmodo is powered by the Surface all week. Got something you want us to test? Let us know in the comments!

Disclosure: Microsoft is an advertiser on Gizmodo, but has no editorial influence on this series (though Microsoft PR did send over a Surface Pro 3 dock once they saw what we were doing!)

We do some pretty awesome stuff here at Gizmodo, but this is most certainly out of the ordinary.

The world’s most visionary vehicle is sitting downstairs, ready for me to ride, but I have a mountain of work to do.

I heard the words come out of my mouth: “sorry, Cam. I can’t…”. But then I stopped.

Normally when I get to the office, I switch from my phone or tablet to a 27-inch iMac. It’s a brilliant machine, but it has a portability problem, to be sure. You’re not about to stick it in your bag and take it out of the office with you, for example.

I remembered as I looked at my desk that I’m not on the iMac this week: I’m a mobile worker with some of the best hardware on the market right now to get me away from my desk.

“I’ll be right down”.

Cam will bring you a more comprehensive look at what the Tesla Model S is like to drive soon, but what I can tell you is that it’s one of the most comfortable mobile offices imaginable.

We landed at Sydney’s glorious North Head, taking in the glory of the harbour on a beautiful Sunny day. While Cam set about his job, I set about mine: I sat down on a nearby rock, adjusted the kickstand into lap mode and started to write. By the time he was done, I had scheduled a handful of stories and replied to a bunch of different emails: more than I would have been able to do on my phone or tablet, for example, all thanks to the Type Cover and a real operating system in Windows 8.1.

And that got me thinking: where else can I take it? Presumably, as long as I have the internet I can work from anywhere, right?

And that’s when I decided to jump in the frunk (front trunk) of the Model S, and work for the rest of the time out at the Heads. I’d argue it’s the first time someone has run a news website from the frunk of an electric car?

Mobile working means publishing posts from the frunk of a Tesla Model S on a Surface Pro 3.

A photo posted by Luke Hopewell (@lukehopewell) on Nov 11, 2014 at 4:42pm PST

Another first for Gizmodo Australia!

Now, the point of this series is to see if the Surface Pro 3 really can replace my MacBook, and so far it can: and then some.

If I was using my MacBook, I would have struggled to see the lower resolution screen in the broad daylight so that I could post on the run. Plus, I would have likely run into power issues with the battery on my older 11-inch model. Now obviously the Surface is going to beat it in that regard, but in the numbers game we’re playing, it’s still a point in the Win column.

Could I have used my Mac to do these things? Yes. Did I get a better experience doing it on the Surface Pro 3 yesterday? Absolutely.

The Switcher Diaries continues tomorrow…



    I get the premise, but comparing an old (non-Haswell?) MBA to a brand new SP3 seems like a non starter (c.f. comments on battery life).

      It depends how you look at it. I see your point but I also see Luke's - if you are looking for something to replace the laptop you have now, which seems to be the premise here, Luke's points are all valid. OTOH, your points might be valid if the series was about whether or not an SPro 3 is better than a brand new MB Air.

      As for battery life, as long as Luke can get through his whole day, which one actually lasts longer is pretty much irrelevant. If you have to charge it every night it makes little or no difference if the battery level is 5% or 25% when you plug it in. And I think that is true of a lot of specs on gadgets these days - we've gone way past what's practical, sometimes into the realm of the absurd. e.g. Nobody needs a QHD phone screen but that doesn't stop companies obsessed with higher specs from making them.

    Luke how did you find the ride quality on the 21"s? The tyres were a bit loud at first & my drive was over very smooth roads like Anzac Bridge & surrounds. The Tesla forums suggested owners where going down to 19" or 20" wheels because of the ride quality.

    I recently spoke with the Singapore Nanyang Uni researchers. If their battery trial goes commercial this thing will have an a ~2,000k+ range & ~10min recharge.

    Amazing car tho. (Wishing for the 2nd gen (upgrade) Tesla S & Windows 10 end of next year)

    How are you getting network coverage?
    mobile hot spot device?
    usb dongle?
    inbuilt sim card?

    I very much wish to hear "frunk" become the default australian term for front of car trunks, lol!

      Surely froot is the correct term for Australia.
      We call the trunk a boot so a front boot is a froot.

        Thank you, was just going to post that. Froot, front boot.

        Scary ! I don't want to pop the froot and have a spare Luke

        touche`... clearly wasn't thinking right yesterday haha

    If I was using my MacBook, I would have struggled to see the lower resolution screen in the broad daylight so that I could post on the run.

    I've used my Surface Pro 3 for work at a moments notice in a lot of places and it's great, but I've found daylight can be pretty crippling to the screen. I don't expect miracles but that's hands down the biggest weakness when it comes to improvised working environments.
    I can't say if it's better or worse than the MacBook. My friends MacBook is the only one I use regularly (and it just so happens that that's usually in outside conditions), but it's older and the screen is dirty. However even if a MacBook is that terrible out of the box the Surface Pro 3 doesn't quite deliver there either. I can use it in daylight but unless I'm in under a shadow it drags the experience down to the 'I'd rather not do it this way' point.

    Also if you don't have one already go grab a dock for the office and a dock for home. It drives the already high price up, but a big part of the equation is just slapping this thing into the dock where it connects to a real keyboard, mouse and big screen. As great as it is at working outside the office throwing a dock into the mix takes it up a notch by completely removing the line between at your desk and away from your desk.
    The dock makes the transition feel so natural you don't notice it happen. It's like being able to pick up the concept of your desktop as if it were your keys or wallet. You sit down and you're at a full PC setup just the way you like it. You walk away and you've got that all in your hands ready to be accessed on the go. Like removing the Type Cover it's uninterrupted.

      Got to agree, my SP3 doesn't do well in daylight either unless I crank the brightness up to maximum, and even then it's not overly impressive.

    This article is just nonsense. If you are using a SP3 in laptop mode (ie with keyboard), there would be very little difference between it and the mac. Are you proposing that the SP3 screen emits sunshine and rainbows that magically makes it more visible outside? Sorry, but this just sounds like an ad paid by microsoft - much like the videos from DSE that have been appearing lately.

      Have you ever tried to look at the screen of a macbook in anything that sorta resembles sunlight? I find it nearly impossible to clearly see even with the brightness up all the way. My friends Surfaces on the other hand are much better for visibility. No the SP3 doesn't emit sunshine and rainbows. It deflects them.

      No, dummy, he is suggesting that the factors that make something easier to use in bright ambient light are superior on one of these products.

      In this case, measurably brighter - 371 cd/m2 vs 344 cd/m2, with significantly higher contrast ratios, lower reflectance and wider viewing angles with far more accurate color reproduction and a far larger color gamut. As expected when comparing high resolution IPS vs low res TN panels.

      Or, I dunno, rainbows.

        Ok in fairness the mac display I'm comparing to is the retina macbook pro, which is IPS and high-res. Maybe the mac air screen is worse. The rMBP is so thin that I can't see the point of the air.

        I also have a 1920x1080 IPS windows laptop and the the screens aren't much different IMHO.

          "The rMBP is so thin that I can't see the point of the air" Well, I'm guessing the main points would be the reduced purchase price, together with extended battery life and reduced weight.

          If you're happy to pony up the extra dollars for extra ports, extra processing power and extra pixels, and battery life is sufficient for your needs, that's fine. But not everyone is ready for that compromise. If you're constantly travelling and power points are few and far between, an extra 2 or 3 hours runtime are valuable.

    Hi Luke, just wondering, is Microsoft providing any support, financial, technical or otherwise for this week long project? Thanks!

      Hey @blhouston and @matthews. Good question. Microsoft is an advertiser but has no editorial influence on this series. I’ve added a disclosure at the top to clarify this. And yep, their PR did send me over a Surface Pro 3 dock after this all kicked off. Thanks guys!

        Thanks for clarifying, Luke. I am looking forward to the next installment of your adventures!

    This is a very interesting project, Luke, and a lot of readers will be following your posts on this quite closely. Gizmodo has built a strong brand for providing independent reviews and advice, and is well trusted as a source of advice. So, just to set the record straight upfront, and to demonstrate total transparency, could you please clarify whether Microsoft is providing any kind of support (directly or indirectly) toward this project? It is not necessarily an issue if Microsoft is doing so, but I do think Gizmodo need to call this out, because I think this project will be widely shared. Thanks guys.

    Luke hate your guts!!!!!!. No not the tablet, not no job, but the ride in the tesla. Which model S? 60, 85 or 85p? Only thing better 85D!

    i had a SP2 and really wanted to like it but ended up trading it in for a rMBP 13. What I like about the SP3 is that it's thinner, larger screen, perfect Rez, no need for the retina on the rMBP IMHO, It's overkill and sucks for windows use when in boot camp. I am strongly considering getting the SP3 but will hold out till the SP4. The only issue I still might have is the type cover when used in lap, not very stable vs the traditional clamshell design of a laptop.


    Quick words on the SP3* that I've been using for 3 months now.

    I first was impressed with the involved technology, having such a charp and crisp display, a core i7, good amount of ram in such a thin and lighweigh device, I was impressed.

    I now use this computer as my daily driver, and using the Type Cover keyboard everyday gave me the feeling that I was typing with a low plastic keyboard. That's stupid because I really enjoy the device, it's lighthning fast and working very well. I just can't understand why we are stuck with this keyboard. It's giving me the feeling that the product design isn't fisnish. I can't even understand why I bought this keyboard, and why they're charging for it (ok profitability I guess).

    It's not convenient to work in the subway, or at the office, or at home, come on the whole thing is unstable, it's not the same feeling as a laptop (of course it's not a laptop).

    Last but not least, I was not aware that the minidisplay port does only transfert audio and video, I'm "stuck" with usb3 external HD whenever I want to do data intensive manipulation, and by the way, an option for more Ram would have been convenient :)

    I've invested so much into this device, now I kind of asking myself weither or not I'm switching for a regular laptop and buy a tablet next to that (for example a regular surface tablet).

    Now don't get me wrong, the device is great, but the "toy" keyboard is killing the entire experience.

    I'd like to read more SP3 user experiences, maybe someone will tell me to buy the dock in order to enhance my office and home working experiences.

    I'm waiting to hear from you,


    *my config : Core i7 SP3 256Go SSD, 8Go of RAM, 60 go SD, Type Cover, arc touch surface edition, Microsoft Wedge bluetooth keyboard for the home desktop.

    Last edited 20/11/14 5:48 am

      The mini displayport does audio and video.

        Yes you're right, I've updated my comment.

        Thank you.

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