Business Technology

Thursday 17 October 2019

Ask Adrian: Our technology editor tackles your trickiest tech problems


Update: The Surface Go is a good budget choice
Update: The Surface Go is a good budget choice
Apple Mac Pro
Fuji SQ20
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Question: I have been using a Microsoft Surface tablet for the last four or five years. I have generally been happy with it, particularly since it came with Microsoft Excel and Word installed, which I use quite a lot. However, I find it is not very good at interfacing with Facebook, which I frequently use now as the PRO for a local sports club.

Also, I notice that it has recently slowed down a lot and sometimes does not synchronise well or update with my Gmail account. Emails sometimes hang in the outbox and can take minutes to hours to appear in the 'sent' items folder. Increasingly I have been using my mobile phone, a Huawei P20 for Facebook, email and looking things up. I quite like the tablet format as I can easily write and update documents with the virtual keyboard. My wife has had an Apple iPad for the last six years which does not appear to have slowed in quite the same way. However, I quite like using Excel and Word. Ideally I would like a database programme like Access if such was available. My Surface currently does not have Access. What suggestions or recommendations do you have for replacing my Surface tablet? John Hayes, via email

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Some of the problems you describe - such as emails hanging for a minute or two in the outbox - could be the result of a variety of potential issues. The most likely culprit is that your computer is just old and creaking. However, it's sometimes the case that such a computer is still capable of the tasks you say you want, but just needs a software update. For the purposes of this column, I'll assume that you've been doing that and that you have no other malware or clutter issues. (If not, you should really make sure your Surface is updated to the latest Windows version and isn't infected with anything.)

That said, it's no surprise that your Microsoft Surface is slowing down. A Surface (or Surface Pro) is a laptop rather than a tablet. As such, its effective life cycle is shorter than an actual tablet (especially an iPad). Four to five years is the longest you'd expect from one before it starts showing significant signs of battery degradation or system slowdown.

Nor does it surprise me that your wife's iPad is still going after six years. Ironically, this has been one of Apple's biggest challenges with its iPads - they're too long lasting. So one that you bought in 2013 should still work pretty flawlessly for most ordinary purposes today.

If you find it easier to use your phone for Facebook, the same will be true with almost any tablet, which basically uses a stretched out version of a phone's operating system. This gives you two choices: an iPad or an Android tablet.

If you're used to an Huawei P20, an Android tablet might feel familiar. There are some decent ones, though few are as well put together (and as easy to use) as Apple's iPad. I'd look at Samsung's Tablet S4 (€609 with a stylus pen). It's relatively fast and powerful and has some nice software. If you want to save a few euro, Logitech and Zagg do decent keyboards that cost a little less than Samsung's custom-made one (€140).

I would definitely recommend a keyboard, incidentally. Typing on the screen is a poor substitute after a while.

There's also the iPad. If this is what you're thinking of, the golden standard is the iPad Pro (from €909 for the 11-inch model plus an extra €199 for the keyboard). This is simply a brilliant machine. If this seems too pricey, the new iPad Air (€579 plus €179 for the Smart Keyboard) is also a very impressive setup. Both devices have just been given an extra boost by Apple's just-announced new iPad OS, which will make it easier to organise files in a more PC-replicating way.

As for getting Word and Excel, both of these are available (as separate app downloads, €9.99 each) for the iPad. I use Word on the iPad Pro and it's pretty good. Access isn't available in the same way, mostly because the iPad has some limitations in terms of file database structures. There are alternatives, though, in the App Store.

But before you plump for a tablet, go back to first principles: do you like working with a Windows-based laptop device?

If so, (if you prefer yours to your wife's iPad, for example), then you should probably stick with that format and just update your existing Surface. The current ones are great: I'd recommend the Surface Pro 6 even if, at well over €1,000, it may be a bit pricier than you were thinking.

However, the previous-generation Surface Pro 5 (currently €699 with keyboard from Microsoft Ireland store) is a snip if you can nab one before they sell out. If not, the budget Surface Go (€700 for 8GB model with keyboard from Microsoft Ireland store) is also very good.

So of it were me, it would be a toss up between an iPad Air and a Surface Go or Surface Pro 5.

Recommendation: Surface Go (€700 with keyboard from Microsoft) or iPad Air (€758 including Smart Keyboard from Apple Store)

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Tech Two

Apple Mac Pro

Price to be announced

Apple Mac Pro

While this doesn't yet have a euro price, Apple's new top-of-the-range PC costs $5,000 with another $1,000 for the (required) stand. It is a beast of unimaginable proportions: it can take up to 1,500GB of Ram memory (a normal new PC has 8GB). This is for hardcore computer heads and graphics professionals.

Fujifilm SQ20

€200 from Conns Cameras

Fuji SQ20

Fujifilm's SQ20 does the same job as the Polaroid cameras of yore. But it also gives a preview of the photo, in case you don't like it or want to edit before printing the 2.1 by 3.5 inch photo. It even lets you shoot a 15-second video and print one of the frames from it. Replacement photos cost €12 for a pack of 10.

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