If you had to be a tragic mythological figure, which would you choose?
a) Cassandra. Saddled with the gift of perfect prophecy, and the curse of never being believed.
b) Sisyphus. Condemned to rolling a huge boulder up a hill, and then watching it roll back down again, over and over forever.
c) Microsoft. Endowed, after decades of failure, with the ability to make phones and tablets that are genuinely beautiful, elegant, and powerful — but cursed by a total lack of interest from the buying public.
Yes, here is Microsoft again, with a third version of its Surface Pro; versions 1 and 2 flopped. Trying to make the public care about the Surface kind of makes boulder-rolling look like fun.
The Surface concept is either brilliant or doomed: It’s a tablet and a laptop in one. A hybrid. A convertible.
When it’s a tablet, it’s something like an iPad. It has a beautiful touchscreen (now enlarged to 12 inches, a full laptop-screen size), nine-hour battery life, a finger-friendly interface, and an app store full of simple, full-screen apps. It’s fantastic for tablet-y things like reading ebooks, watching movies, surfing the Web, and skimming through Twitter and email.
When it’s a laptop, though, it runs full-blown Windows. You know: the desktop, the taskbar, the Recycle Bin, overlapping windows, the works. It can run the 4 million Windows programs — full-blown software like Photoshop, Quicken, iTunes — that the iPad can only look at and drool.
The Surface works as a laptop thanks to two ingenious features, both of which have been vastly improved in version 3.
First, the screen has a kickstand — a hinged, supportive panel that’s invisible when closed but sturdy and nifty when open. Previous versions could click open to your choice of two predefined angles. But in version 3, the kickstand’s friction hinge lets you prop up the Surface at any angle, all the way down to nearly flat. It’s a superb engineering feat.
The second feature that contributes to the Surface’s success as a laptop is its screen cover. This wafer-thin, felt-lined cover has a full keyboard and trackpad on the inside. And, no, it’s not like the Bluetooth add-on keyboard covers you can buy for the iPad. This one attaches magnetically to the Surface and turns on instantly. There’s no messing around with Bluetooth, pairing, and all that stuff. This one is also thinner, lighter, and better designed than anything you can get for the iPad.