In the growing anticipation of the local launch of the Surface Pro, I’ve put together a list of items you may want to add to the your accessory arsenal to maximise your productivity. One of the downsides of downsized devices is that it can compromise some of the things that help you get the most from your new purchase.
As I’ve previously mentioned in my article on the Surface, moving from a Touch Cover to a Type Cover dramatically improves the typing experience. The colourful Touch Covers do attract attention while you are in public, so be prepared for questions if you want to go down this path. My recommendation is to skip the Touch Cover, and spend a few extra dollars on the Type Cover. If you already have a Touch Cover, give it to somebody as a gift, you won’t use it again after buying a Type Cover.
USB 3.0 Hub
I’m not going to call out specific brands or models, instead I’ll focus on what you need when your device has a single USB 3.0 port – a USB 3.0 hub. There are plenty of choices out there in terms of cost and number of ports, your usage requirements will be what determines the right choice. Another important factor is the size if you are going to be throwing it in your travel kit.
USB 3.0 To Gigabit Ethernet Adapter
A previous encounter with an Acer S7 left me disappoint with the included choice of an ASIX AX88772B based USB 2.0 to 100Mb/s Ethernet adapter. 100Mb/s Ethernet only uses about a third of the real world throughput that USB 2.0 is capable of, which is still much lower than the throughput of Gigabit Ethernet. That kicked off an investigation into USB 3.0 to Gigabit Ethernet adapters. There didn’t seem to be too many choices, most of them based on ASIX’s latest AX88179, so I settled for the following item from Startech.
While it only gets about half of the throughput that GbE is capable of, that’s still 5-6 faster than 100Mb/s Ethernet, and much faster than most WiFi offerings that are available today. For casual usage you won’t really notice a difference between the built in wireless capabilities of the Surface Pro and GbE, but as soon as you need to copy down some ISOs, application installs or media files, the performance improvements will make it worthwhile.
I had to go to the SIIG website to grab the latest drivers in hopes of addressing an issue where some websites could not get resolved. I had read about this issue when researching what to buy, so it didn’t involve a great deal of trial and error, just a small driver to download and install.
USB 3.0 Hub With Gigabit Ethernet
I’ve ordered a SIIG unit, and can’t report back on it’s throughput yet, but this could turn out to be a winner. While multifunction devices do have benefits from a device consolidation perspective, I’m always wary of where the compromises are being made. One of the obvious ones in this case is that all data is being pushed over one USB 3.0 port, which could be a disadvantage on a PC with two or more USB 3.0 ports, but it’s a non-issue with the single port on the Surface Pro.
The other thing to be wary of is that you have put two eggs in one basket, so if something goes wrong, all connected devices will suffer along with network connectivity. If the device works as expected, and doesn’t have any major shortcomings, I’ll consider getting a second because I don’t see the need for a device like this diminishing any time soon.
USB 3.0 Docking Station
Again, there are a few choices in this area, but due to the success I and others have had with Targus devices I have to give them the nod. Some of the factors that should influence your choice are as follows…
1. Has it passed Windows 8 logo testing? While this is not an absolute guarantee that everything will work perfectly 100% of the time. However, I place more faith in hardware vendors who do testing as it provides long term advantages to the PC ecosystem due to several years of working with OEM vendors that had to get their PCs through Vista and Windows 7 logo testing to meet certain technical requirements.
2. Do the video outputs meet your requirements? The world used to be simple when it came to video out, but now displays have a variety of physical connectors which they may possess – HDMI, VGA, DVI, DisplayPort, as well as the different sized variations of some of these.
3. Is it Fast Ethernet or Gigabit Ethernet? Copying substantial amounts of content from your network can be frustrating, Gigabit makes it less so.
Full Sized Mouse And Keyboard
This is where personal preference is going to play the biggest role, and many people already have their favorites. The inbuilt kick stand of the Surface Pro means that you have flexibility with where you can place the device, but the fixed angle means that you might need to place it somewhere that gives the best result from a comfort and light reflection consideration. This means that in some environments you may need to move the display further away than is comfortable in order to see what is on screen.
Microsoft has included a tablet stand with their Wedge Mobile Keyboard which doubles as a keyboard cover to give you more flexibility with stand angles, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as your permanent keyboard if you have space for a full sized keyboard. Full sized keys and a number pad are far from luxuries in my book, but if you are fine with a smaller keyboard, take a look at the Wedge.
Wedge Mobile Keyboard and the included stand/cover.
Microsoft’s Wedge Touch Mouse and Sculpt Touch Mouse have both been in my test environment for a few months now, and for my usage the nod has to go to the Sculpt. It’s larger and more comfortable in my hand, and the tactile feedback while scrolling is a nice touch for those of us who mourn the loss of clicking scroll wheels.
Sculpt Touch Mouse
The Wedge Touch Mouse is a completely different beast altogether. If you use it in public, it will get attention due to design. The four way touch scrolling is very useful in some applications, and it’s size means that it can be carried around with adding too much extra bulk at all.
Wedge Touch Mouse
USB 3.0 Extension Cable
This may seem like an odd recommendation, but the angled sides of the Surface Pro can be problematic with some USB devices, I’ve experienced this first hand with a Windows To Go drive from Kingston. In this scenario Microsoft does not recommend using a USB 3.0 Hub, instead the extension cable is preferred option.
Yes, the Surface Pro already includes two webcams, but in your home or office environment you probably want something isn’t dependent on the angle and location of the Surface Pro. This also gives you the ability to upgrade to something with better video quality and better handling of things such as low light conditions.
LifeCam Cinema – supports up to 720p, but hamstrung by Office 365 Wave 14
I’ve been using the Microsoft LifeCam Cinema for a while now, and haven’t had the need to upgrade to the LifeCam Studio due to some of the video restrictions placed on Lync in Office 365 Wave 14. Wave 15 removes these limits, so stepping up a level is something I will do sooner rather than later.
LifeCam Studio – supports up to 1080p, more than ready for Office 365 Wave 15