Surface Pro 4 + One Note = About time!

Published by Matt Setchell on

I know, I know, I haven’t blogged for ages. And I do actually have lots of things to blog about – what with launching a whole new school’s network recently, and our new offices and a fair bit more, but, the thing is – none of them compare to this.

I took a plunge the other day, well, work did on my behalf, and I got a Surface Pro 4 for myself. But, whilst the hardware is impressive, its how Microsoft has developed the One Note app which is making it money well spent.

My role has developed now so much into meetings. Meetings about meetings, pre meetings and after meeting meetings. Earlier this year I found myself really struggling to keep afloat, I would be in meetings all day, get home, sleep occasionally and wake up the next day and have forgotten the important bits of meetings. Often I had scraps of paper everywhere, and I would never find them or look at them again.

So I brought myself a notebook, and I stole a pen. This worked well for a while, apart from one thing: I would never had the notebook at home or on the move. And I ran out of paper anyway. And some things were confidential and not really good to put in a note book.

All that, and I am a network manager. I am supposed to get people excited about IT. And I had a notebook and cheap pen.

One Note has been on my radar for some time, our support teams Wiki was replaced by it over the summer, and we trained teachers in it earlier this year. The idea of being able to add a range of content, quickly and easily and share at ease on any device is very powerful. But, how do you get that data on there?

I have an iPad. But, I don’t take it to meetings, I can’t take notes on it – and even if I could they are on my iPad, unless I have another device that can read the note file, or they are just a boring email to myself.

I have a laptop, but that is heavier then my notebook, and the battery wouldn’t last as long as my pen.

I have a windows tablet. But, it doesn’t work that well. Doesn’t have a stylus. It’s a wannabe laptop, that struggles to perform. It’s keyboard is a compromise.

What I needed was some hardware that was a tablet form, but as powerful as a laptop. Something that would let me use the pen and touch features for quick use in a meeting (I type faster then I write, but sometimes writing in a meeting is a lot more polite then sitting there and tapping away)

What I needed was a piece of hardware and software that combined all of these elements, and didn’t have a compromise in sight. I wanted what I had been promised for years, I wanted the future and I wanted it now.

The Surface Pro 4:

Is a mean piece of kit. Not cheap, £700 ex VAT with the KB (not sold with it apart from educational bundles) – but it is quality, the screen is of a quality I haven’t seen before. The right size, the right ratio.

The touch screen element, and the pen – just work. No caveats. The pen is everything you have hoped all the previous pens for tablets could be. It’s not just an after thought, and it’s not just hanging by a piece of string for you to tap the screen, no, your finger is the blunt point device, the pen allows you to write like on paper, to build pages of notes effortlessly on your device, and if you are an artist, to draw some fabulous things I would imagine. As it is, my stick figures are doing well.

The folding keyboard feels as good as a laptop keyboard, which was important for me, because it a) cost £109 and b) is something I will be using a lot. It has taken almost no time to adapt too, and it had large keys for my fat fingers.

So the hardware is pretty good visually and to use, inside I have 4GB and an i5, which is the base model, and it runs well. Not noticed it being slow at all. It is also silent!

The Software

Windows 10 is now well established, I have to say, it’s annoying as hell for me at times, but I believe that is mostly down to intial bugs, and when I have updated the OS it does get better and better, I had to do a few updates to the surface to get it to work well, but 10 is built for tablets, and the suface is built for windows 10. Of particular note is Windows Hello, the fact that I just have to look at the screen for it to know its me and unlock.

However it is One Note that steals the show, and turns this into a nice to have tablet come laptop which is all about the hardware, to hardware that is about the software and the end user.

One note is best described as a … well, I am not sure what category of software it fits into, as there is nothing else like it. My colleague has been raving about it for months. “Look” he will say “that’s on one note!” with his iPad in his hand, and yes, it will be on there, but my notebook wasn’t very good at opening One Note, because it was made out of paper. And the pages made on the iPad, looked not great and were difficult to work on. I needed something I could create on.

With One Note, you make a collection of pages, and each page is like a page in my notebook, I can write and type on it, but I can also draw. I can take a photo with the Surface Camera and import it into it. But I can also take snippets of web pages, build linked pages, I can embed documents and lots more I don’t even know about yet.

For example, today I had a performance Management meeting, I had a collection of reference documents, and I wanted to make notes. I did it all in One Note, and, its already synced to my PC and Laptop, to my phone and my iPad.

I just opened my page, and I could see the documents. I can share those notes with others for collaboration – it just works. It does everything I need it too, without the hassle.

392efec6-1f94-412e-a5aa-526ca39e6881So why am I really excited about the Surface and One Note? Because it just works. Because, its built for content creation on the move. it’s built for collaboration and its built for multi purpose. And it does it in style, with a battery that can last a day. It is not a laptop with a pen, or a tablet with a keyboard. It’s all of those things, and it does them all well.

For someone who spends all day on the computer, and is used to running the very latest spec computers, my bar of interest on hardware is pretty high. I manage something like 2500 devices of various forms. So a new bit of kit is normally functional and boring, it does what it does well.

But the surface is exciting, it is challenging, adaptable and different whilst familiar in that it brings together many different forms into one device. And it does it well, without compromise.

Now here is the bit where I might suggest alternatives, maybe an iPad Pro? It doesn’t come close. And it comes closer then anything else. The iPad Pro is a tablet trying to be a laptop, on iOS which is a tablet OS. The Surface beats it, hands down, as this review ends it:


The iPad Pro is the most capable tablet Apple has ever produced, as a well as a massive canvas for creative types.

But let’s not kid around here – it’s not even in the same category as the Microsoft Surface Pro 4. Whether you gel with Microsoft’s 2-in-1 vision for Windows 10 or not, there’s no denying that it’s a much more capable and flexible device than the iPad Pro.

The Surface Pro 4 is something that you might consider replacing your laptop or even desktop computer with, under certain circumstances. The iPad Pro is something you might consider replacing your iPad Air 2 with.

Both are fine devices, and Apple’s peerless tablet-optimised app ecosystem and peerless hardware design continues to impress on its own terms. But Apple is pitching it as much more than a mere tablet, and it doesn’t quite match up to those laptop-replacement ambitions.

The Surface Pro 4 is simply the more capable, flexible, and downright useful device of the tablets

I am sure there will be niggles. But, right now I do not care. For the first time in years I am excited about the technology I am using, I am taking it to do what I wanted to do with and it is not letting me down or disappointing me somehow like lots of kit has in the past.

This is the real deal. This is how technology should be.

Categories: Blog