Hey Lifehacker, I am keen on the idea of grabbing a Surface Pro (either the original or the new model), but I have a few questions that I can’t seem to find answers to anywhere on the internet. If I can install software just as I would on my PC from a network or USB location, wouldn’t that make the Windows Store useless? If the Surface comes with Windows 8, can it be upgraded to Windows 8.1? And can I hook up an external Bluetooth keyboard and mouse? Thanks, Rising To The Surface
Picture: Getty Images
Your last two questions are very straightforward, so we’ll deal with them first. Yes, you can upgrade either model of Surface Pro from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1. It’s a free upgrade that you install via the Windows Store. And yes, you can use external Bluetooth devices — this support page details the pairing process.
Your first question is a little more complex. The ability to install any Windows app, not just those designed for the ‘Modern’ interface, is the key software feature which distinguishes the Surface Pro from the more basic Surface (which was known as the Surface RT in the first generation).
The fundamental argument is that this gives you more flexibility. When you’re using the device with a keyboard, you can run the full range of Windows apps, regardless of their interface. If you decide to move into ‘tablet only’ mode, chances are you’ll find the ‘Modern’ apps more useful, since those are designed with touch as the primary interface.
On a Surface/Surface RT, you don’t have this choice. The only ‘desktop’ apps you can run are supplied by Microsoft: the Office suite, Internet Explorer, Explorer and a handful of utilities (such as Paint and Calculator). Everything else has to be sourced via the Windows Store. That means no alternative browsers, to cite one obvious limitation. It has some upsides, especially in Windows 8.1, which offers automatic updating of apps.
I don’t think it’s logical to argue that the ability to install any kind of app makes the Windows Store “useless” for Surface Pro owners. I do think it means that many people using the Surface Pro will end up running far more apps in desktop mode. From a productivity point of view, that’s not unreasonable — while Microsoft constantly talks up how apps look “beautiful” in the new interface (a meme I personally find highly annoying), those apps don’t offer the range of features found in conventional desktop apps. From this point of view, it’s telling that the Office suite remains firmly in desktop mode — Microsoft has experimented
Tablet-centric apps having a limited range of features isn’t a Surface-only problem — the same applies to iPad and Android tablet apps. Touch apps are easy to use, but don’t replicate the depth of features we’ve learned to incorporate into desktop software over two decades.
The Surface Pro does a decent job of incorporating both modes, and as such represents a good choice if you imagine yourself using both work approaches. If all you ever want to use is desktop apps, then a laptop is probably a better choice. And if what you primarily want to use is tablet apps, then the basic Surface may be a better choice — it’s cheaper and offers much better battery life. Just don’t complain because you can’t run Chrome on it.
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