3. Software

One of the first things you’ll definitely notice between the Surface 3 and Surface 2 is that the Surface 3 runs a full normal operating system rather than an RT version. When it first launched the Surface 3 included Windows 8.1 but that has now been upgraded to Windows 10. So does Windows 10 work with tablets? We found out previously that Windows 8 did well with phones with the Lumia series so it’s good news as Windows 10 does bring up more features and improvements. The interface is very familiar and intuitive to those who already use Windows on PC so it’s always a good choice no matter which mobile platform background you come from.

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So first of all, note that the Action Center (or notification bar as we’re used to) appears by swiping from the right-hand side of the screen, as compared to clicking on the right-hand side of the date on Windows PC, handy indeed. This action center shows notifications from apps and lets you change your settings conveniently. So what settings are available? Well the very first we should mention is the Continuum experience or Tablet Mode. The Surface 3 can detect whether you are attaching your type cover to it or not and prompt to enable Tablet Mode. You can set it to automatically do so. Folding the type cover backward also has the same effect. With the keyboard effectively disabled, you can grip the Surface 3 properly without worrying about accidentally typing anything. Most likely it senses the amount of bending that your type cover experiences and disables your type cover. It’s a very well thought out feature and neat engineering feat.

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Tablet Mode opens everything up in full screen and is able to give a side-by-side split screen view which you can configure. Rotation works here too. Notice that the items on the taskbar also space out a little to give you more room for an easier touch experience, how thoughtful. In tablet mode, swipe the title bar downwards (top part) in any program to reassign it to a certain space. You’ll see a shrink-sized preview that can be snapped either to the left (left half), right (right half) or bottom (to close it). Once you’ve chosen a side, an app-selection view called Task View will be shown to fill up the gap on the other side or it will be empty if you have no other running apps. Tapping on the empty space will show up the tablet mode Start Menu which I will get to in a minute. The tablet mode Start Menu reuses the Windows 8 Metro Style or now known as the Windows 10 Start Screen. Note that even if you’re not in tablet mode, Task View appears as well so there’s no loss if you prefer Tablet Mode or not. Notice too that the apps on the taskbar are no longer viewable, it did not make too much difference to me as you can access the Task View button beside Cortana.

tabletmode choices

The split screen bar can be resized to a certain minimum length. The Surface 3 actively renders how the app will look as you resize it which does take some power. I have experienced slight lag from quickly trying to resize certain windows but that is forgivable given the preview functionality it gives. Interestingly, Microsoft has programmed its own apps to give different views depending on the amount of space available regardless of it being Tablet Mode or not. The calendar app switches its view if you narrow it down which is pretty neat. However, the amount of apps that put this much attention to details might be very low.

The only complaint that I might have about tablet mode is that if you’re working with split screen mode, opening a new application switches the view back to single full-screen mode and the split screen view you have previously is lost even when you close the newly opened app.

Moving back to the settings, the Rotation Lock is disabled when the type cover is attached, which makes sense since you aren’t going to use it in portrait mode with the type cover attached anyway. Note launches OneNote, whichever version you have as the default which is useful if you do not have the Surface Pen. The Surface Pen also launches OneNote when you press the purple button on the back of the pen. All settings bring up the Settings windows for more customization, but it does not bring up the control panel as one would think. The settings feel more app based and simple to use as compared to the control panel. But what’s wrong with merging them together Microsoft? It is unusual to have to poke at two kinds of settings, but it’s not that big of an issue as you’ll probably manage device settings from the action panel and more under the hood stuff in control panel.

Next we have connect, which works as a manager for devices that you want to connect to your Surface 3 but not Printers, Faxes or Bluetooth devices, those have their own category. Android phones, iPhones, wireless displays and so on can be added in. Connecting your phone will also bring up the Phone Companion, a nifty tool for transferring files or you can do it manually in the file explorer.

Battery saver is only highlighted when you’re on battery (obviously). It usually only starts activating when your battery goes under 20%, and the battery saver mode reduces your brightness, limits the processor speed and other power saving actions.

If you have the Surface Pen, most likely you’ll leave the Bluetooth option turned on as the Surface Pen’s One Note button works via Bluetooth. It’s very convenient to press the button on the Pen and just start taking notes whenever you feel like it. There is a catch though, if your tablet is locked, you still need to input your password to continue to One Note. Now that extra protection just feels like a hindrance.  However, this seems to be an issue with some people only, maybe an update will do the trick? For the most part, I just left my screen on to work around the problem but that kind of takes the fun out of using the One Note button on the Surface Pen.

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Ok then, enough with the settings, now I’ll talk about some other aspects of software in the Surface 3. First up is Cortana. To get Cortana to work, the US locale has to be set, which explains why my date seems wrong all the time. Anyway, after enabling Cortana, I am able to do simple tasks such as open applications or set my alarm. Anything that Cortana doesn’t understand will be defaulted to a search with Microsoft Edge instead, which it does rather regularly. It could be Cortana doesn’t work very well in Asia or my accent is not understandable, but either way, I ended up not using Cortana very much unless I wanted a search on a particular topic.

For office productivity, One Note is definitely one of the best apps available on the Surface 3, especially with the integration to the Surface Pen. Its greatest appeal to me lies in the fact that almost anything can be included in a note, media, screenshots, a photo of that cat you just took, audio recording of a boring meeting or my bad handwriting. I really liked the folder type of view you can have with the One Note as well, making it easier to organize your notes.

Since this is a PC, most people would recommend using an antivirus and Microsoft has got you covered as well with Windows Defender, Microsoft’s own antivirus program. But is that enough? It is really up to you to decide, since most antiviruses today do not drain a significant amount of processing power, and the Surface 3 certainly is well equipped to handle an antivirus software. So if you feel that you want extra protection from your favourite antivirus program, go ahead and install it.

One mobile feature that the Surface 3 uses is the InstantGo feature, a state that allows you to turn off your device screen but keep running processes in the background. It is not quite how Sleep works for Windows but it is very similar to how standby on your phone or tablet works. The Surface 3 does have another ace up its sleeve, it can hibernate after a few hours if you don’t use it making it a massive power saver. It makes sense as the Surface isn’t used for calls and doesn’t need to be on standby all the time. However, it does come at a cost of a fast but not instant restore session where the words Surface will show up. Hibernation might not be what everyone likes, but that’s ok though, just change the power options of your Surface 3.

Interested in the news other than Facebook’s news feed? The Microsoft News App is very nice to use as it automatically collects regional news (most likely via MSN) and shows it to me. There is a small drawback though, if I am reading a certain article and need to leave it idle, the Surface automatically locks it screen after awhile. The problem is after I unlock it, the news app sometimes resets to the homepage, which is mildly annoying if I can’t remember what i was reading previously.

The Windows Store has most of the basic apps we use daily but unfortunately the Windows Store has a limited amount of choice in terms of popular games, so I used the BlueStacks Android emulator instead for some of the games that I’ve played often. That being said, the Windows Store is still developing and with the launch of better products this will hopefully attract more developers to support it and help it grow. So for now, every Clash of Clans or Tower of Saviors player would have to use BlueStacks if they want to enjoy some Android exclusive games on the Surface 3. Maybe one day Microsoft would support Android or iOS based apps, then that would truly be great.

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