Travel lighter: tablet performs like a laptop, mobile app

July 9, 2014
Surface Pro 3, a sleek, high performing tablet that Microsoft positions as a laptop replacement could be a tablet of choice for contractors who want full computing power on the go. 

Given all its capabilities, Surface Pro 3, a sleek, high performing tablet that Microsoft positions as a laptop replacement,, could be a tablet of choice for contractors who want full computing power on the go.

The 12-in. diagonal screen features a very sharp and clear 2160 x 1440 pixels in a 3:2 ratio, which is a lot more laptop-like than the 16:9 ratio of earlier Surfaces and looks good in portrait as well as landscape mode.

The Surface Pro 3 uses a fourth generation Intel Core processor, is just 0.36” thin and 1.76-lb. light. The multi-touch tablet (supporting swipe, pinch and drag), has 5 MP front and rear facing cameras, a USB 3 jack, a video output jack, and a microSD card reader. It comes with a pressure sensitive digital pen for taking notes, drawing or marking up presentations, PDFs and documents in a similar way as on paper.  

Running the Windows 8.1 operating system, Surface Pro 3 runs all the Windows Office programs and desktop and tablet apps. The screen – large for a tablet and adequate for a laptop – provides ample room for opening two windows side by side or opening the onscreen keyboard below the workspace. A high friction hinge on the integrated kickstand provides a continuous range of angles of the screen anywhere between 22 degrees and 150 degrees. At a low tilt, it fits neatly between a desktop keyboard and desktop monitor as another open window or two, which could be very convenient when working with multiple documents, drawings or websites.

The optional Type Cover keyboard with backlit keys, which attaches by strong magnets on the bottom edge of the tablet, has a large touchpad that supports all Windows 8 gestures.  

The Surface Pro 3 is a very nice computer with which to make a client presentation in horizontal or vertical orientation, show project photos or review documents. You can control the screen with a finger or the pen, open a spec or architectural drawing, zoom in or out, and make notations or changes on the document, with a client sharing the ample view.

The Surface Pro 3 also takes smart advantage of OneNote, which facilitates on the go note-taking with organized storage in the cloud. Clicking on the purple tip at the top of the pen launches OneNote automatically, even when the screen is off, launching the program directly.

The tablet comes in five different, increasingly expensive and more powerful configurations from an Intel Core i3 processor with 64 GB of storage and 4 GB of RAM up to i7 processor with 512 GB of storage and 8 GB of RAM.

A couple of caveats: When using the Type Cover on a lap, most people will not have enough upper leg length to open the kickstand wide enough to look at the screen at a comfortable viewing angle. Also, the two tabs on the bottom of the stand are uncomfortably sharp when resting on legs. And the tablet doesn’t accept a more convenient SD card, the common size in most cameras and laptops.

That said, for contractors who want the versatility of a laptop and a tablet in one device, the Surface Pro 3 (2.4 lbs. with keyboard) holds its own in both categories.

An app for show & tell

Here’s a visualizing app that a contractor out on sales calls could find expedient. HVAC Showroom app for Windows, Apple and Android devices by Opportunity Interactive,, is a visualizing tool that contractors can use to educate consumers on the benefit of various HVAC equipment and accessories. Nine different animations offer show and tell information that helps explain a technology or system to homeowners and other potential customers/clients.

Topics include function, how-it-works, and/or common examples of air filtration systems; air handlers, displaying the functionality and an in-depth look at the Variable Speed blower; air conditioners, demonstrating the operating principles of AC systems and the benefits of 2-stage units; duct smoke detector; furnace, including a demonstration of variable speed fans and multi-stage burners; straight heat pump, hybrid heat pump, and geothermal heat pump, demonstrating the functions of geothermal split systems along with hot water assists.

The animations for the straight heat pump and hybrid heat pump each include a Balance Point calculator that will show ARI performance data for selected specific manufacturers’ models. The animations for all three types of pumps include a weather bin data chart for the U.S. and Canada that will show how many hours of runtime are derivable from a heat pump versus a furnace with AC and energy cost comparisons that enable users who input local utility rates and unit efficiencies to compare the cost of operation across the different fuel types.

The app also includes animations that show the safety benefits of installing a natural gas shut-off valve, explain why electrical surge protection is important to any HVAC, and how a geothermal system works, including both heating and cooling functions.    

Bill and Patti Feldman write articles and web content for trade magazines and manufacturers of building products. They can be reached at [email protected].  

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