How productive can you really be with a tablet instead of a full laptop? Can you get real work done? Or will the tablet limit you to second rate or less productive work? I decided to put those questions to the test during a recent day trip to Chicago.

The experiment was to see if I could be productive with only my Microsoft Surface 2. As this was only a day trip, I wasn’t going to lose that much if it didn’t work out. If nothing else, I could always open the Kindle app and get some of my business reading accomplished.

My Travel Setup

The tablet I used is my personal Surface 2, so you could call this a case of bring your own device, or BYOD, in action. I also want to note that this is not a Surface 2 Pro which runs full Windows 8 Pro. The Surface 2 runs Windows RT 8.1 and is a true tablet.

As expected, it was nice to travel with so little weight. The Surface 2 itself is less than a pound and a half. With my Surface Type Cover 2 keyboard attached, it was barely over two pounds. I went into the day knowing that I would have a lot of airport time where I would use the 4G on my phone to provide Wi-Fi for the Surface. As a result, I took the Surface 2 power adapter and a USB cable for my phone to keep the phone charged via the USB port on the Surface. Very small. Very light. Very nice.


The Experiment

I got my first inkling that this was going to go well right after boarding the plane. This was my first flight after the airlines changed their policy on electronic devices. Some electronic devices (such as tablets) can now be used during the entire flight – from gate to gate – including the flight time under 10,000 feet when laptops must be stowed. This was huge from a productivity standpoint. De-icing, other delays and the 10,000 foot rule, would have resulted in over three hours of dead time with my laptop. With the Surface, I was able to use the entirety of that time getting work done.

But you may ask, what kind of work can you actually do on a tablet? Well, not to sound too much like a Microsoft spokesman, but there is a ton of truth to their recent commercials that highlight the inclusion of Microsoft Office RT on the Surface. I had numerous documents (on Microsoft OneDrive) to review and give feedback on that day. I spent the majority of the day in Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint which are included and installed by default. They work very well using both the touchscreen and the touchpad on the keyboard.

The only limitation that I ran into was that one of the docs I was reviewing had macros, and Office RT does not support macro enabled documents. I was still able to review and modify the document, I just couldn’t do anything with the macros. This was an acceptable tradeoff in my opinion.

Windows 8.1 also includes Outlook which was huge for connecting to my Office 365 based work email throughout the day. From a BYOD perspective, this is my personal tablet connected to my company email. When I connected the first time, my company pushed down security policies (with my permission) to secure the company data. Everybody wins. I get to use my personal device. The company has the data secured.

The keyboard does warrant a comment. I was using my Surface 2 with the Type keyboard cover (the one with mechanical keys). I also own the original Surface with the Touch cover. In all honesty, if you want to get real work done, you need the Type keyboard. I’ve used both and there is no comparison.

The Touch keyboard is useful for protecting the screen and occasional typing, but not for being productive. The fold back nature of the keyboard is very convenient for flipping between the tablet form factor and the pseudo-laptop mode with the built in kickstand on the Surface. I could have used the on-screen keyboard (which is quite good). But I know that I get more done with the Type keyboard cover.

On my flight back home that night, I finished up the document reviews, so I switched to using the Kindle app where I had full access to all of my eBooks. I got to tackle that business reading after all. It’s also worth noting that while I didn’t use the native Box, Lync or Skype apps on this trip, I have used them all on subsequent trips.


Overall I would rate my experiment as a resounding success. The Surface 2 actually helped me to be more productive than I would have been with my laptop, due to gaining the extra work time while on the tarmac and in the air. This was possibly the most productive day I have ever had while traveling. I will have no hesitation to travel with the Surface again. If you see me at Microsoft TechEd in Houston, that is likely all I will have with me.