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A review of the Surface Pro (ARM, OLED 11) after realizing in minutes the one thing I want it can’t do: Adobe apps

Also, a deeply frustrating rant about iPads, Macs, and corporate overlords

Update, next morning, June 19: Using the device on WiFi, screen brightness at 76%, doing some Edge browsing with 3-5 tabs and my email is draining at about 10% per hour. All the updates, syncing, etc. finished through the night last night. I feel pretty sure at this rate the battery life is around 10 hours, which is in iPad Pro territory. My iPad doesn’t normally drain quite at 10%/hour in this similar workload, but this is definitely in that arena.

Update, 11am EST, June 19: I’ve been using this since 7am at a coffee shop. Battery saver just kicked on at 20%. I’ve posted my battery saver graph here:

A screenshot showing the rapidly declining power and battery settings of the Surface Pro OLED (11th Generation).

I don’t think any of that counts as “heavy” usage, but some moderate. Lots of tabs in Edge moving around through various WordPress sites. Screen was at 70-75% brightness. Connected to the Flex Keyboard. Pretty sure the battery has about 60-90 minutes left in the tank, so about 5.5 hours of use.

Original post follows


I continue to be deeply frustrated with my computing life. It does not feel hard to me that there ought to exist a device that can:

  • Run on a battery for more than 4 hours
  • Access cellular networks
  • Run the apps I and zillions of others rely on, like Adobe’s Creative Suite
  • Be nice

I want ONE device. Apple’s “Just buy a Mac and an iPad” model is irritating. While I am a defender of some parts of the iPadOS experience, I am beyond frustrated that at WWDC they announced nothing more than a calculator and ways to make the home screen look crappy.

The new Surface Pro with Qualcomm’s ARM chips was supposed to fix this. I ordered one from BestBuy, picked it up, came home, and the first thing I did was install 1Password. Which it can’t do from the Microsoft Store. It’s not labeled as ARM-friendly, so you have to know to go download it from the 1Password website, then install it for emulation. This, by the way, appears to make the 1Password extension behave less than reliably (if that’s even possible) in Edge.

Then I went to install the Creative Cloud app and it only lets me install Fresco, Photoshop, Adobe Acrobat, and some fonts. Illustrator and InDesign, which are very important to me, do not even offer to install. Neither do Premiere or Audition, for what it’s worth. Some cursory Googling suggests that you can copy an x86 version of Illustrator and other apps from another PC and it will run, but I have no way to do this.

Look. The Surface Pro rollout has been a bit of a disaster with the Recall thing. No one trusts Microsoft, and for good reason. Adobe’s “eat the world” AI model and Terms of Service brouhaha is another instance of, “I don’t trust you.” They say they’ll have ARM-friendly apps “soon,” but who knows when that is. My hunch would be “this fall.”

The Surface Pro got really hot during setup. Something my iPad doesn’t do and my MacBooks have rarely done.

My old Surface Pro 9 I trialed had a battery life that melted at about 15-20% an hour. This new ARM device which, before doing much except perhaps some light indexing on files that do not exist on the device yet, has melted at 10% an hour. 2x the battery life, sure, but a MacBook can plow through sipping 5-8% an hour doing the same thing.

I get that computers are hard, but why is this so hard? Am I asking for too much?

My options are:

  • Get rid of Adobe apps, which I’d like to, but that’s not going to happen today.
  • Stick with Apple’s expensive and environmentally frustrating “Buy both!” model, which I do not want to do.
  • Do next to nothing with the Surface Pro, I guess.

It’s also worth noting that cellular Surface Pros aren’t due until the fall, because for some reason this magical technology just can’t work on launch day.

This ARM Surface Pro was supposed to fix the fans, the heat, the battery life, and the app situation by just brute-forcing the emulation. Apple did it four years ago, why can’t Microsoft? And the answer is, “Who knows?” It didn’t seem unreasonable to me that if you’re going to have emulation, you’d just brute force your way in this transition like Apple.

Speaking of Apple, I am still deeply frustrated by the iPad, which has the hardware and terrible software. I want to be able to use a Pen or some kind of stylus because my work can benefit from that. But I do not want to “move between” apps an devices anymore than most people want to switch from a car to another car on their way to work. Using an external monitor is hugely frustrating no matter how long I try to learn and Shift+click apps to get them to open in the same “stage.” At least the Surface Pro can run more than 4 apps on the screen at a time. Too bad there aren’t even four apps to run at the same time.

I am anger-typing at this point and mostly venting, but this feels like a real problem, and no one seems to notice or care.

  • Adobe has me and other designers by the neck because no one makes a good InDesign alternative (sorry, Affinity Publisher ain’t it).
  • Adobe has gobbled up all the useful services, like TypeKit (now Adobe Fonts).
  • Canva bought the closest competitor in the Affinity Suite. And I do not like the Canva-ificiation of so much of what they do and have no trust they won’t go to a subscription, too.
  • I have no trust in Microsoft to do anything right, ever.
  • Apple has become “just another big corporation,” doing what sounds good and is best for their shareholders. Which I do not care at all about. I want what’s best for me!

The Surface Pro was supposed to fix at least a little of this. At least I could have one good-enough device. The iPad isn’t even “good enough” when you do something as simple as, “Download a photo and crop it.” The iPad’s shortcomings are legion, but this one pisses me off every time I do it, and I do it a million times a day:

  1. Download a stock photo
  2. Open it
  3. Draw a selection at 16:9
  4. Crop, save, done

The iPad can’t do this in this inherently elegant way. And, it’s worth noting, the Surface Pro doesn’t do it well, either. Because neither supports showing you the DPI of the image. If you want a 1280x630px image at 72 DPI and the image you have is 3000×2600 at 300 DPI, the only apps that do this are Preview.app on the Mac, Pixelmator on iPad, or Photoshop on anything. But opening Photoshop is a big ask and on iPad it’s messier because it wants to save all sorts of native app files in the native app or Creative Cloud. I don’t want that! Just open the damn JPG! Don’t make me make a .PSD or a .PXM or some other app-centric file! Or, on Windows, just let me see the DPI in the Photo Previewer app.

So, I have a Surface Pro that eats battery and gets just as hot as its predecessor and runs an operating system with no apps.

The iPad sips battery and has cellular, but runs an operating system that runs a zillion stupid apps but almost no great ones. (Photoshop can’t even do half the layer effects from the desktop version and just says, “Photoshop can’t do that!” God help you if you need to move a file from Photoshop to Illustrator. This computationally taxing mechanism of “copying” is too much, too.)

And the Mac, which sips battery but can’t connect to a cell tower on its own without melting the iPhone battery in my bag, won’t let me reach out and erase the intricate pixels I see on the screen that every other device could if only it could run the goddamn apps.


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About JUSTIN HARTER

Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

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