Surface Pro and the iPad

photo of a man holding a tablet in front of his face, one in his raised left hand, in front of a sky background. A laptop is in the right corner.
Photo by Stokpic on

Microsoft has lately stepped up it’s software game. Even when using MacOS, programs like OneNote are among my favorite. My favorite app for iOS is Seeing AI by Microsoft. So, I was excited to play around with a Microsoft Surface for the first time in a long time. Unfortunately, that’s when I realized why I am so invested into the Apple ecosystem and why I think Apple makes the best software.  Out of the box, the Surface Pro ran through a nice setup process and I was able to sign in with my school Microsoft account.  And then, problems galore. Typical for Windows, I had about 200 updates (yes, I am slightly exaggerating) waiting for me. After sitting around for a couple of hours waiting for updates to install it finally popped up with an error during the last update. It was a feature update and it threw up a typically meaningless error. After researching around on the internet and spending a couple of other frustrating hours trying all kinds of recommendations, I was ready to throw the Surface out a window. I realized that I couldn’t come up with anything else to try to get the annoying update to install so I stumbled upon How to Reset Your Windows 10 PC. So, I proceeded to reset the brand new Surface that after half a day of mucking around I still hadn’t used for anything rather than to run try to run Windows updates. Of course, resetting took another couple of hours after which I was yet again at ground 0: waiting for my 200 updates to install. This time, the feature update worked (why it didn’t the first time is still a mystery), and after a couple of days of really doing nothing productive with the Surface I was ready to use it.

I installed a few apps and used the stylus.  I liked the handwriting recognition training even though I had to write 50 sentences, which again seemed like it took forever, but which improved my handwriting recognition significantly. The Surface itself was fine. It flaked out a few times deciding between tablet mode and computer mode, I couldn’t figure out how to access the desktop in tablet mode, but overall it was an ok experience. The handwriting recognition in OneNote was my favorite aspect.

The jarring realization came when I went back to use my iPad. The experience is so much more polished, the device so much more intuitive and responsive that I’m not sure I can find a reason to use a Surface over the iPad.

What has been your experience? If you’re a Surface person, what do you like about it? Have you tried an iPad? What don’t you like about the iPad?

My Favorite App

Even though I am a Mac user, and heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem, my favorite app is one designed by Microsoft: OneNote. I have been using it for a few years now, and it’s the one app that I recommend to everyone: students, faculty, and staff in academia, as well as those in the business world. It has shaped the way that I study, organize and keep track of my professional life.

As a student, I’ve used OneNote to organize and take notes for all my classes. Every time I sign up for a class, I create a notebook with the name of the class. In that notebook, I then create multiple sections. I have a section called “Class Notes” where, because I prefer to type, I type all my notes. Within that section, I have pages titled with the date of each class (e.g., February 1, 2018). If you prefer to handwrite your notes, you have two options. One, you can use an iPad or a Surface Pro and write with the Apple Pencil or the Microsoft Stylus. Two, even if you write notes in a notebook, it’s a good idea to review those notes within 48 hours; otherwise, it becomes re-learning rather than review. What better way to review notes than to type them up in OneNote and fill in what you need to fill in? When in class, if the professor writes something on the board that I want to capture (say a diagram), I take a picture with my phone and with a couple of clicks that picture is inserted into my notes.

Partial screenshot of a OneNote notebook

My second section in the class notebook is for notes that I take from the book. Within that section, I have pages for each of the chapters. In those pages I take the notes I want to take for the book. If it’s a digital book, I can also take screenshots of tables and other diagrams and, with a couple of clicks, insert them into my notes.

screenshot of OneNote notebook

Some professors also provide me with their own notes in PDF. For those classes, I have created a section called “Professor Notes” where I have pages titled for each of the notes I was provided (e.g., Bivariate Regression).

screenshot of OneNote notebook

If it happens to be a class that has quizzes or tests, like my statistics class, I also create a section called “Quiz Study Guides.” There, I take all my notes as I study for the quiz or test.

Lastly, depending on the class, I might have articles or other assignments that I need to work on, so I have sections for those as well. If it’s an article that I have the PDF for, I can easily insert it as a “printout” and then take my accompanying notes.

I also use OneNote as a professional to keep track of meetings and committees. If they are one-off meetings, I have a notebook for meetings, and each section is dedicated to a meeting. For standing committees, I create a notebook just for that committee. Within that notebook, I have three sections: Meetings, Documents, and Minutes.

screenshot of partial of OneNote Notebook

In the Meetings section, just like for the class notebook, I have pages titled with the date of the meeting (e.g., February 1, 2018). There, I take my notes during meetings. In the Documents section, I have pages for whatever documents I collected for that committee. If they are in Word, I just copy and paste the text. If they are PDFs, I insert them as printouts.

In the last section, Minutes, I again have pages titled with the date of the meeting, but there I copy and paste whatever minutes were taken for that meeting.

What is the benefit of all that? First, It keeps me organized. I don’t like having papers because they end up all over the place and I have a hard time keeping track of them. The worst, are the documents handed out in class or during meetings. I generally lose them somewhere in my bag, at home or in my office. Now, I take a picture of whatever it is with my phone and, with a couple of clicks, I insert it into my notebook. The second benefit is that I can find things easily. OneNote allows me to search within a page, a section, a notebook or all my notebooks. I can’t remember what bivariate is I need to know it for a class? A quick search of my notebook brings up all the locations where the word “bivariate” appears. I can also quickly locate all the documents I need to locate during a meeting, look at any of the past notes or meetings without having to dig around my bag/home/office to find what I’m looking for.

Another advantage of OneNote is that it can be accessed anywhere on any device. I can log in online in any web browser and have instant access to all my notebooks. I can use an iPad, a Surface Pro, a laptop (Mac/PC), a desktop or even my phone. If you’ve never used OneNote, take a look at it. It may, as it did for me, change your life for the better.

What do you use to keep your notes organized? Any other programs out there that you recommend? Any strategies that you recommend?