I thought I’d take the time to post a review of my digital toolkit. Most readers are probably coming here from the recent guest blog post at Microsoft’s Surface Blog. That was a fantastic experience and I’ll write a little more about that in the near future. For now, I think it’s a great time to review what I use, what I tried and how I got to this point!
The Work Horse
Obviously, the principal device in my workflow is the Surface Pro 3 that my office provided as part of the pilot program we detailed in the video. It is the i5, 256 GB, 8 GB RAM model, and I couldn’t be happier with it. It is the culmination of a long search for the perfect blend of power, and portability. My office doesn’t have a BYOD policy so this machine is for work only and is locked down under our enterprise controls. That does make things a little difficult if I find new add-ons or small tweaks I want to make, but our very understanding and fantastic IT staff has been very accommodating with my odd-ball requests. (See Onetastic Macros – more on this in a later post!)
The Surface Pro 3 dock and keyboard cover round out the office supplied hardware. It has been almost a full year now without a traditional desktop at work, nearly 2 years at home, and things are running even better than before. With our newly installed office WiFi I can take my workstation with me, from meetings to court, to chats with my colleagues, I have my Surface Pro 3 in tow. I have very much come to rely upon it. I used to take notes on any paper surface I could find, now it’s all in OneNote. I remember several “spring cleanings” where I had stacks of used sticky notes stuck together in a wad under my monitor, those days are over.
In the office I use a few other things as well, it will probably come as no surprise that I don’t use the type cover at my desk. I use the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop. I got two on sale and use one in the office and one at home, I really like this setup, and it’s really comfortable!
The Bag of Tricks
You might be shaking your head and screaming fan boy! And you’d probably be right, to a point, I have gone through a lot of devices and I am constantly on the lookout for the next device that really makes sense. (Really intrigued by the return of VAIO to the North American market this year!) The last Microsoft item in my arsenal is the Wireless Adapter which I use during my presentations in court and at continuing legal education seminars (CLE). I have found it to be reliably consistent with my use of the Surface Pro 3 in presentations, the bottleneck has been older presentation hardware in courtrooms, so I carry the basic adapters to convert HDMI into VGA.
I turned to Lenovo for my first foray into the digital pen equipped hybrid, but I stuck with Lenovo for their compact travel mouse / presentation clicker combo the N700. I am a huge fan of efficiency and I wanted to get as much functionality out of as few devices as possible. This little mouse checked all the boxes. Folds flat for transport; swipe gesture controls; presentation control mode; and laser pointer! Bonus points for connecting via Bluetooth or WiFi dongle so it doesn’t have to take up a USB port. The only thing that could make this better is a highly visible green laser as opposed to the standard red.
The Home Body
After several forays into smaller Win 8.1 pen equipped tablets and getting seriously discouraged by poor build quality I finally found a 10 inch pen enabled tablet for my personal device at home. The Toshiba Encore2 Write has proven so valuable that we own two. (My wife uses the 8 inch version as her personal OneNote organizer). This one uses Wacom’s new digital pen technology, very similar to the Surface Pro 3 pen, it is powered by a AAAA battery, and has an arguably smoother writing experience. The one thing I’ll say is the pen has to be very close to the digitizer under the screen before it will pick it up, closer than the N-Trig pen in the Surface Pro 3. Despite that, it is a wonderful little tablet, and has become my iPad killer at home. It is a perfect complement to my work machine, and has become a mainstay computing device for our family at home. I frequently use it to test new add-ons and the upgrade to Windows 10 has been pretty smooth. (Tablet functionality losses aside).
The Old Timer
I cannot believe I am even calling the Lenovo Helix first gen an old timer but it is sitting in front of me here, and hasn’t been used in a few weeks. For a while there it was my primary device for work and at home. I got this 2-in-1 rip it and flip it hybrid shortly after it was released and it was a dream to use. Its draw backs were in form factor, and battery length. It got me through trial, provided I brought my power cable, and its traditional Wacom digitizer was seriously smooth. It just proved too heavy and too much like a laptop for it to make perfect sense in a courtroom. I had to carry it in a sleeve type case because no one could figure out how to make a nice case for this device type. The constant unzipping of the case and using it in “super tablet” mode which weighed in north of 2 pounds was too heavy to take to court every single day. I stopped taking it on days I didn’t have hearings, and when the Asus VivoTab Note 8 came out I switched to that for my day to day use until the digitizer died on me.
I really think the Lenovo build quality was top notch, this was an early edition and while I’ve hoped they would make a device in the vein of the ThinkPad Tablet 10 but with better specs, that device hasn’t appeared yet and the Surface Pro 3 did.
If you’ve made it this far you may have noticed one thing tying all these devices in common, and that is the digital pen. I am a huge believer in the pen as one of the most flexible, efficient, and intuitive devices for human learning, creativity and planning. Lawyers have long used pen and paper to take notes, often furiously in trial, I never wanted to change that, I just wanted to make that experience a little better. Of the three major eco-systems, iOS, Android, and Windows, only Microsoft fully embraced digital ink as a first class data citizen in their OS. OneNote, and other Office apps support digital ink on pen enabled devices. The digital handwritten notes are searchable, convertible to text and as natural to create as if I still used a legal pad. That was why I felt so strongly about the Surface Pro 3, it really brought all the key factors together, size, battery, weight, aspect ratio and most importantly to legal professionals, a first class digital pen and ink experience.