Over the next several weeks we will be running a series of blogs and videos regarding the utility of the Microsoft Surface Pro for the AEC industry. Over the last several years we have done demos and shown people how tablets in general can be utilized in the field, meeting room and design studio. The main point of contention up until now is that mobile devices require software to be specifically written for them, not just for the interface, but also for the amount of computing power available. Tools like the Surface (I say “tools” because there are and will be more to come in this arena) allow you to run your full desktop applications on them. While my upcoming posts will focus more on specific usages and benefits, from the cloud based tools to specific desktop type programs such as Revit and Navisworks to some of the more creative or design based tools, this one is more about the basics.
As I started out exploring the Surface Pro, I looked at some of the reviews that are already out there and found that most of them labeled it as a “laptop replacement.” I can understand why that might be suggested; it’s not as light as many other tablets and it’s also not as powerful as a brand new laptop. Don’t let that sway you though; just because it doesn’t fit in perfectly, doesn’t mean that there aren’t great uses for it. After all, f you were to buy a hammer, you wouldn’t lament on how it’s doesn’t replace your sledge hammer in the basement or the crowbar in the garage. You would look at each tool for what it can do and how you can use it. I feel that this device fits into the space between these kinds of devices, and is much better than the alternatives in the netbook segment.
I approached the Surface as a new tool (or a shiny toy) and was pleased to find that I was able to use it in ways I had expected to, as well as some I didn’t. After a few days, I found that I was using it a lot in my day-to-day work and that my laptop came out only when I needed the horsepower or when I had specific files that already resided on it. This is something I’ll address more in the next post but is part of a larger topic on changing up our workflow.
While it’s heavier than an iPad, it was never so heavy that I felt uncomfortable using it on a couch or in a train or holding it while walking around to test its wifi and battery life. I also found the battery life to be a little better than expected. Since it’s running on Windows I have control of power settings. When I decide to work on a large model or do something resource intensive I may boost up the setting, but overall I’m getting over 5 hours while actually using it. I should add that this is a LOT more than can be said for my phone. If battery life is a big issue for you, keep in mind that Microsoft said it’s possible to have a keyboard that can feed battery power to the Surface through a keyboard attachment, ala the Asus Transformer.
As I said, with this being Windows, you can control your device and make it do what you want. In fact there are many modifications already out there, so as long as you have the permissions (for those using company equipment) it’s likely you can make it look and behave like you want. For me the only modifications I had to make involved running installers for Autodesk products. Mind you, some of the ones I have installed and tested were programs that are not officially supported for Windows 8, but they still worked well from my experience. I found that once I installed .net 3.5 and Direct X it was pretty smooth sailing. In fact the only program I couldn’t get to work was Autodesk’s Mudbox because of the video card.
Hopefully this post has gotten you curious as to what this new market of Windows tablets and microcomputers can do for you in our field. My next post will focus more on its connectivity to the cloud and how it differs from other tablets usage of tools such as BIM 360 Glue, 360 and Buzzsaw. If you have any questions or specific things you’d like me to test out, let me know and I’ll address them in my upcoming posts.