Microsoft Surface 2 Pro

Introduction

I always take a portable with me on vacations, trips, visits, etc. One time I did not take anything with me turned to be one of the worst-vacation-ever, so I decided that I’d better take something with me and not use it than spoil another vacation in desperate search for something to work on :). Anyway, I already went through an old BSD-powered subnotebook, a black MacBook (ancient by modern standards, but still serving happily as a Skype station for my wife :)), an iPad (well, not really working machine lacking command line and any sign of development environment, but at least I was able to read/take notes/make kids happy with cartoons :)), Nexus 7 (when iPad went broken) and finally the last-of-the-breed Acer Aspire One D270 Ubuntu-powered netbook. I deliberately spared my MacBook Pro from travel for several reasons, but netbook proved to be a less versatile option, prompting to get a tablet along. Spoiled me. On one of the last business trips I had a business notebook (owned by client), my own one for other projects (I do not mix businesses) and a tablet for on the way. Well. That proved to be an overkill even for a week. So it was time to look for something different. But what?..
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Microsoft Wired Keyboard 600 review

If you’re just like me looking for a reasonably priced space-saver keyboard and not in love with the aluminum creations of Apple this may be something for you. But make sure you know what you get.

If you’re just like me looking for a reasonably priced space-saver keyboard and not in love with the aluminum creations of Apple this may be something for you. But make sure you know what you get.

In fact I  went shopping for the cheapo from Logitech (Classic 200). I was already prepared for the different positioning of the Ins/Del/PgUp/PhDown/etc block by the earlier Microsoft ergonomic keyboard (well, buyng a PS/2 version was not the very smart choice from me), but to my great disappointment unlike the version pictured on the shop’s website it appeared to have a different version of the ‘enter’ key (I like a plan one, not the tall ‘rotated-L’ shape). Well, I do accept it on my MacBook, but only because I cannot easily fix that one.

Micorosft wired keyboard 600 with dimensionsAnyway, quickly looking around I have laid my eyes on (yet another) the Microsoft product. Well, gunny enough I seem to stick to their input devices with pretty good experience so far (ok-ok, Wacom being a very good exception :)). So why this one? It is smaller than a regular keyboard (with some sacrifices, see below), and yes, it has a ‘properly-shaped’ straight horizontal enter key. It is black (matches the rest of the hardware) and it is promised to be quiet (important when you have kid sleeping next room and you type with the speed of an average machine-gun :)). Moreover it has semi-flat keys (not really notebook style, but still lower than the regular ones where I loose my finders between the keys).

So what you get?  A minimalistic keyboard (without a mouse) for about 16 units of the either US or EU money (depending on the country you’re in). It consumes little space, has adjustable height and regular placement of the arrow/numeric key blocks. It has minimal (useful) multimedia keys for play/pause/volume and (I wonder why Microsoft does this, but it is indeed convenient) a Calculator button :).

All is normal… except the top functional keys. These are half-sized (vertically), which makes them use less space, but also rather non-intuitive to find. I still have to get used to them but considering how often I am using them I am fine. Moreover, they ARE put into several distinguishable blocks which is way better than a continuous row of keys on a MacBook which makes me continuously press F12 instead of F11 (I am pretending to be a blind-typist).

Any other things? Well, for a quick typer this one is rather stiff one especially when you look at the flat keys which are normally tend to be soft. I didn’t expect this and since they didn’t have a demo keyboard or an opened one I haven’t tried it (well, do I have to try something under 20$/EUR? It is all in price… :)). Moreover, the keys seem to be placed rather dense. May be it is after I have used Microsoft desktop 4000 for years (well, at home it was using way too much space and I am spending considerably more hours in the office, so the choice was clear).

Finally, you don’t need any software, that’s true, but because ‘Mac is different’ you may want to download Microsoft Desktop software and e.g. remap the Alt/Windows (yuk) keys and make those multimedia keys do what they were supposed to do. BTW, I did have a version on my Mac for 4000 keyboard, but apparently I needed to upgrade to get this one working.

Conclusions: it does save space, but I would expect a bit softer one. It does match the black MacBook + Bamboo pen&touch, so aesthetically I am pleased, and while typing this review I would say it is OK to use (although not perfect, alas).

Do I need an iPad?

I would never think I’d ever put something like this into my agenda. And yet I did mark January 27 and even started checking news that day. OK, it was a bit exciting, but not really shocking. Now, when the mystery is unveiled and numerous reviews are available I join the crowd of people asking the same question: “Do I need one?”.

Let me start answering that with the picture from the “The Economist” which I liked so much that I teared off the front page (for the first time in years I am subscribed to this nice magazine). The Economist: The Book of JobsThe front page has a headline “The Book of Jobs” and I consider it the best one I saw so far on describing the perception of the Steve and Apple in general (even my 2 years old daughter knows that my MacBook is an ‘appel’ (Dutch for ‘apple’)).

Anyway, back to the subject. Is this a holy grail everybody ‘must have’ or just another hype to hype waporized by the rivals? Well, it is A hype, and since it is one from Apple it is a sticky one. So it will stay around for a while. But looking at the specs and the added value my geeky side starts to doubt if it is indeed ‘one for all’ (avoid looking at slightly different models promised from the beginning). Let’s see.

First. I wouldn’t go for the first version. Simply because they will add camera and fix the inevitable bugs. At least I wouldn’t go for the top specs. The lowest model may be just enough to play with (and eventually give it to my daughter for watching kids stuff which she will do anyway), but it cannot even do videoconferencing. What’s the point of carrying around the dumb thing? Except perhaps for the showing off part. But this will tear off rather quickly I presume.

Second. It is a ‘closed brick’. Heck, put a (slightly downgraded) MacOSX on it and I am in a row. But having a ‘phone OS’ on a tablet. Well, it is definitely not targeted on a techies market (nothing wrong, btw), so I am afraid it is not going to work for the people like me who want to decide themselves what do they want to see running. The first app I am starting on my MacBook is the command line. Double. They it nicely covers the rest. Ok, this is perhaps not normal, but that was THE final reason for me to choose for the Mac, not because of the Aqua interface (which still sucks in keyboard support to my opinion). I am not asking for a terminal support in iPad, don’t get me wrong, but having such a thing opens the whole world of possibilities. I do want to automate things, write simple tools which do not require XCode (never got to it anyway), Perl or Python would do. But no close ecosystem for me.

Third. It does not have a single port except for the damned proprietary connector. What? No USB? Yes, it is not a computer, but there are so many things you can connect via USB that are just dumb practical that I cannot accept a ‘brick without input holes’ (a card-reader, anyone? Am I supposed to show off with my pictures only when I have connected it to a PC? And What if I am travelling???). A bluetooth is indeed a partial answer, but knowing Apple you would be limited to a list consisting of a [‘keyboard’] and guess what is the place to buy it… Of course… An Apple store!No outputs. Hey, the iPad screen is not the only thing people are watching. Heck, I can connect my iPod classic to my TV and not the latest-greatest? Oh, I see, this is for individuals, not for family/friends entertainment perhaps. Ah, stupid me, no friends, enjoy the show yourself. Hmm…

Anyway, the last drop is that I hate ‘slight curves’ in the design and the back of the iPad is exactly what I mean. I think the best thing what iPad can do for techies is dropping prices of the existing tablets or (even better perhaps) spawn a whole new idea of what a tablet can be. I am very surprised how lousy Microsoft does with their own idea of the tablet (announcement, and then what?), I think more agile guys like Asus will catch up soon and they can take into account wishes from the tech crowd much better (cheaper, anyone? :)).

So the answer is NO. I don’t need one. I need either an improved one (but no, I am not willing to pay more), or simply something else (which sadly does not exist yet). But it is OK, I am not in a hurry. Buying something which is has obvious flaws tend to be left for dust rather quickly. And this may turn to be rather expensive dust to be…