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Why I bought a Microsoft Surface Book for teaching

Education

Why I bought a Microsoft Surface Book for teaching

I’ve been in the market for a new computer for a while. I was looking at five different computers but it boiled down to the 13″ Apple MacBook Pro with Touchbar (yeah-I like to adopt early) or a Microsoft Surface Book. By the title you clearly know what I chose but I thought I would go through my thinking and my thoughts after a few weeks of every day use…

What I wanted

I was looking for a computer that could be actively involved in my teaching, so the ability to draw and write equations on the screen was important to me. Also this is will be very helpful when making tutorial videos for my students or colleagues. I also wanted a computer a little bit quicker than my MacBook Air but all of my choices met that criteria. The Air has been great-the best computer I’ve ever owned – period, but it is starting to show its age being nearly four years old. Finally, I wanted a computer that I felt would still be good to use 4-5 years from now and again and again, I felt that all five of my choices probably would meet that criteria.

Why the Surface Book?

The touchscreen and the built in stylus made the Surface Book a natural choice. Have you ever written on a smart board? It sucks. Your back is usually to the students, if the pen isn’t callibrated correctly you can get some weird results and if you don’t have a short throw projector – then you are blinded by the projector shining write in your eyes or your shadow may block what you’re writing. It’s a bad experience.

However, connecting my Surface Book (SB) to the proejctor allows me to write and accurately, keep my eyes on the kids and not be blinded or have to get Writing with the pen is quite accurate. It certainly isn’t as a good as pen/pencil and paper, but it is really good. I have dabbled with the Apple pencil while that is a truly great stylus, the iPad isn’t a full laptop and cannot be used for what I need it to do.

Also, detaching the screen and using it as a tablet is something I use everyday. I was surprised about how often I did this. While it’s on my desk, I use a wireless mouse and keyboard and flip my screen around to maximize the space on the front of my desk. Again, something I didn’t plan for but has been a pleasant surprise.

Why not Mac?

This is a good question. The new MacBooks are great computers – they are. They are fast, light, have a great screen and have good battery life (I am convinced they will fix that problem  that some people have).

The first is the price. $1500 for a computer with only 2 USB-C ports? I don’t have anything on USB-C yet. I carry my computer to and from work and would hate to be have realized I forgot my dongle(s) and couldn’t connect my computer to a project. With my SB – that is not a case. I do need a dongle to connect it to my projector, but this is the only place I need it, so the dongle stays here locked up every day.

Next, there is no SD card slot. You may be aware, we have a podcast on IT Babble – you should listen to it [Ed: You should!] I record the podcast on a Zoom H6 and then take the SD card out of that device and plug it into my computer and transfer the files then and edit, publish and upload.

With the new MacBook I would have to buy a dongle. I would even need a dongle or new cable to connect the Zoom H6 to my new computer! It just didn’t fit into my life. I do prefer the Mac operating system and I like their computers, but this was not the best option for me right now.

Plus – I really like technology and wanted to learn (not just experience) Windows 10.

It’s not perfect

There are things about the SB that aren’t perfect, so please don’t get in your head that it’s all rainbows and sunflowers. I do not find Windows to be as stable or as easy to navigate through and the amount of updates I had to go through the first couple of days was bonkers (like 2 hours worth).

There are other oddities that show up, sometimes the keyboard stopped working, but after closing some programs it came back. The pen is very good, but not great. There is a little bit of lag but for some fine detailed writing it’s not great and if you have bad handwriting (like I do) I find I have to take it slower.

Some of the programs I used on my Mac, I can’t find something as good for Windows. Screen capture programs and image editors are a good example. There are more options for Mac and the options for Windows are usually more expensive and in some cases not as good.

Wrapping it up

I am excited about this computer. Not only did I get a good deal with the computer, but I also was able to pick up their wireless keyboard and mouse and the Surface Dock (brick more like it) for an extra $50, which lets me easily connect to the projector and charge my SB at school. I love the versatility and I don’t mind students coming up and using it to demonstrate how to do some math for their classmates. I find myself detaching the screen more often and I can say, for me, it’s not a gimmick or novelty. It enhances my work and it is easy and fast to detach the screen and keep working.

Also I can effortlessly annotate PDFs which is great for me.

 

Read more from Tony on his blog and listen to the IT Babble podcast too.

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Educational Technology Specialist in Dubai.

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