14 Aug.

Traveling with a Surface and a Surface Pro

I’ve gotten into the habit with travelling with both devices again, the Windows 8.1 preview has given a new lease of life to the original Surface, as I’m one of those people who just has to have Outlook to feel productive. Call me old fashioned, argue the benefits of using web based mail clients, or try to preach the benefits of having separate apps for calendar, mail, contacts etc all you want, I will smile, nod, and ignore you.

One of the benefits of travelling with both devices is the shared accessories. One power supply, one type cover for real use, one touch cover mainly as a cover. With increasingly feature rich account synchronisation provided by SkyDrive it’s an easy transition jumping from one device to another – favourites, browsing history, website passwords, and that’s just on the desktop. As my Windows Store app usage increases I’m also starting to appreciate the sychronisation capabilities, especially with Xbox Live Games.

With the constant rumours of new members of the Surface family, what I’d really like to see is either an Atom or ARM device that can charge over USB, which would allow the charging of a current generation Surface or Surface Pro, along with a new generation device, while also charging your phone through the USB port. Until such reports of new devices are confirmed, and capabilities such as USB charging are revealed, we have to relegate these to our wish list, but we will definitely revisit this when or if it happens.

I’m still at the point where I can comfortably synchronise the files I need to access while offline from SkyDrive onto my Surface Pro, so I tend to use that device when I need to work on those files, regardless of whether an internet connection is available or not. More often than not my Surface becomes a consumption device, where I will fill it videos, sadly mostly relate to IT, many of them things like the JumpStart series that don’t get delivered in timeframes that work well for us outside of some select timezones. With free video content available from JumpStart’s other MVA courses, and events like Build and TechEd, there is an ever increasing backlog of content for me to consume.

Getting content onto the Surface isn’t always the most pleasant experience. As there is no official support for a wired ethernet adapter, you are limited to the wireless speed, which is a bit limiting. The other option is to copy to a USB device, and then copy from the USB device onto the Surface but the double copy process is just as time consuming and more of a pain than just copying directly. Even if there was an officially supported USB Ethernet adapter for Surface, it would still be limited by USB 2.0 speeds anyway, so not as big a win as it should be over the wireless copying.

There are still other options though. Copying to the MicroSD card on another machine with a faster connection, or perhaps even containing the original content, can speed things up, and also keeps more space free on the Surface for when you need it. Juggling MicroSD cards isn’t a fun task though, and they are pesky things to find if you ever accidentally drop them on a dark plane. Even though it’s probably a minimal difference, reading from a MicroSD is also potentially going to drain more power than just reading from the internal drive.

Also not to be ignored is just keeping some of this content on USB flash drives. I wouldn’t necessarily spend big money on getting the fastest drive possible, as the mostly playback usage doesn’t require a great deal of speed. I’m not usually a fan of having the flash drive sticking out of the side of the device either, and again it’s something that can be lost a little too easily.

Now, on to a few more hints if you are travelling with a Surface and a Surface Pro. Some airports don’t require you to remove tablets from your carry on luggage, so make sure you have your devices separated in your bag. If you don’t, security will think you have a laptop in your bag, and pull you aside and rescan your bag. It’s a little thing, but I observed this a few times recently while travelling.

I usually travel with a VGA adapter for my Surface and a VGA and HDMI adapter for my Surface Pro, I haven’t found a need yet for a full size DisplayPort adaptor for the Surface Pro. I also travel with a USB 3.0 hub that has integrated Gigabit Ethernet, 2 USB 3.0 ports and 4 USB 2.0 Ports. More than enough to handle the usual range of devices I carry around, including a USB mouse which I’ve been relying on more than more than my Bluetooth one due to some wireless dropout issues.

I’ll cover travel accessories again in a future update, as I’m in conversations with someone who may be sending over some sample units of devices from a certain accessory company’s range.

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