Gadget of the Year 2014

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Winner: Surface Pro 3
Runner up: iPhone 6 Plus

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I’ve invested in a tonne of new kit this year including cameras, laptops, tablets, phones, games consoles and the many accessories that go along with all of those however the device that has surprised and delighted me the most is the Surface Pro 3.

It was an almost hesitant purchase for me as I had concerns about how well it would work as a laptop (the word “lapability” seems to have been invented for Surface reviews – never a good sign when you need a new word) and as an environment for running fairly demanding apps such as Visual Studio, Lightroom and PhotoShop. Coupled to that I’ve never had a Windows device that had decent battery life though admittedly since my first PowerBook my main experience of Windows devices has been cheap corporate supplied crapware (happily these days also a decent bit of kit – MacBook Pro Retina). However I’ve been really intrigued by the Surface concept and Microsoft’s approach since the first version and the Pro 3 is the first time it seemed they were starting to hit their vision so I made a purchase thinking if I didn’t get on I could sell it on.

However my concerns quickly abated after a few days use. The 8Gb i7 model I purchased is well up to running those applications and makes for a great mobile development environment and photo lab and I can fit the odd game of Civilization V in too. The only issue I’ve had with “lapability” is my early morning lay on the sofa drinking coffee posture where I tend to have my laptop almost vertical while I snooze (err, work) and ease into my day. Because it doesn’t have any top of display to bottom of keyboard rigidity it just doesn’t work in that position.

The build quality is excellent, on a par with my MacBook Pro Retina, and I find the pen a useful addition for quick diagrams (though I’ve yet to come across a great tool for converting scrawls into shapes). For the most part it stays quite cool and silent only really warming up and ramping up fan noise if I do intensive work on large image files (24Mb RAW files) or play a game.

As a tablet it’s insanely fast and I quite like Windows 8.1 as I make frequent use of the side by side snap views that just aren’t there on iOS. It’s battery life isn’t as good as my iPad Air (go figure, it’s running an i7) but I easily get a few hours out of it and I’ve never had to worry about it running out. It’s also heavy compared to an iPad Air – again no surprise given what it’s packing.

Ultimately I love it. It’s become my carry everywhere gadget as I can fit it in my camera bag with ease and in my main laptop bag alongside my corporate device. Whether I want to read, do some coding or photography, play a game, get online, or watch a movie it can do it. It doesn’t have the same horsepower or sandbox restrictions of an iOS device (or Microsoft’s RT variant).

I also think there are some real takeaways for Apple here (a year or two back the MacBook Air would have been my first choice for something so mobile). On the laptop front they really, really, need to sort out the display on the MacBook Air. At the top spec pricepoint it utterly sucks and, for me, simply makes it a no purchase at this point in time. On the tablet side they really need to sort out a keyboard solution for the iPad that is as elegant and slender as the Surfaces. Sure there are third party options (I have a couple) but none of them come close to the Surface’s simply because they are afterthoughts designed to fit around a tablet that wasn’t designed for a keyboard to be attached.

Finally a couple of brief notes on my runner up – the iPhone 6 Plus. This is the first “big screen” phone I’ve owned and like the Surface I really bought it to see how I got on particularly as I mostly use my phone as a computer and reading device rather than as a phone. The extra screen space has massively improved my smartphone experience, it’s still light, and it fits in my pocket (no bending yet!).

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GiottoPress by Enrique Chavez