Surface Pro 3 - The front button placement saga

Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 changed up many attributes about the device including its size and also the location of the 'Windows' key. Previously, the Windows key was located along the bottom of the device but thanks to the new dual-hinged Type cover 3 design, the location of the button had to be moved. 

So where did Microsoft move the key too? Of course, they put it on the right side of the device, conveniently located next to your right thumb. Logically, this seems like a perfect place for the button, but in practicality, it is raising some concern. By looking at the placement of the key, you can begin to see why it could be an issue: accidental engagement seems highly likely.

Now, for us, it hasn't been a big deal. Yes, we have had a few mis-hits that have caused unwanted actions but we thought it might be a good idea to bring this issue to your attention as we know for some users, like graphics artists, this could be a deal-breaker. 

Here's the deal, any time you are writing on the device, the palm of your right hand comes close to resting on the button which can cause it to engage and initiate an unwanted action. So, if you are thinking, "why not turn the device around" so the button is on the other side, well, then the kickstand does not work properly. When you use the Type cover, the button location is not an issue and even when holding the device in your hand, for the most part, accidental engagement is rare. But, it's when taking notes that it becomes an issue and one we feel that Microsoft will likely address in several ways with software updates.

The issue has a simple remedy. For one, if the pen is within proximity of the display, Microsoft could disable the button entirely and require the user to use the Charms bar to access the Windows key. Or, allow the user to turn off the button entirely via Windows 8.1. Fortunately, both of these are remedies are software based and should be easy options for Microsoft to push down to Pro 3 users, if they so choose to do so. 

We'd like to think that Microsoft was already aware of this issue, seeing that the device didn't come off the assembly-line last week and was thoroughly vetted inside the walls of Redmond before given the green-light. But, seeing that a fix, or at least a sensible set of options are not present for the user at this time, we can only speculate that maybe it was not thought to be a design consideration. Keep in mind that the devices are only in the hands of a few at this time so it's hardly a 'consumer' product until June 20th. This means any software update before it reaches consumers is still certainly a viable option.

If you are looking for an achilles-heel for the Pro 3, this isn't it. In fact, it's a relatively small, but still baffling issue, that some may experience while using the device. Is it deal-breaking? Hardly not, but in the interest of wanting to make sure our readers know of something that could affect your Pro 3 use habits, it is a point of interest.

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59 Comments

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This is a huge f-up for Microsoft, not being able to write as intended because a button gets in the way, the Pen, One Note and artists is a target market. Disabling the Windows button under certain circumstances is a hack of a workaround that ruins what should be a consistent experience with the use of the windows button.

"Logically, this seems like a perfect place for the button"

No. No it really doesnt.

Most users are right-handed. A huge selling point for the device is using a pen. The button is redundant to the slide-out charms Start button. The button has always been on the long side of the devices prior to this. Also why would I want to side grip this and hit that button with my thumb to only have to release my grip to tap on something else on the screen to begin with?

It's not very easy to disable the button. The MS suggested fix is to disable it in device manager but that also disables the other hardware buttons.

As a note taking device, with the majority of people being right handed, it can get in the way. It's a nit pick and OCD issue since it does require a tap and seems to turn off with palm rejection (see video)... but it can accidentally activate from time to time.

I suspect Microsoft expected most people to use it flat and in portrait mode when writing. The Surface Pro does have a huge following of artists who use it with programs like Photoshop and Manga Studio. The high degree kickstand is a great option for those people but then you have the button there.

It was stupid to move it because the new keyboard can cover it up... because when you have the new keyboard attached, there's a Windows key on the keyboard.

As the article suggests them disable the button when pen is being used, why can't they also disable it when keyboard (with it's own windows key) is attached and left it at the bottom?

For all the people talking about rotating the tablet. Did you not read the article?

"So, if you are thinking, "why not turn the device around" so the button is on the other side, well, then the kickstand does not work properly."

Yes, if you're not planning on using the kickstand that works fine, but the answer is still there.

Ironman273 said,
For all the people talking about rotating the tablet. Did you not read the article?

"So, if you are thinking, "why not turn the device around" so the button is on the other side, well, then the kickstand does not work properly."

Yes, if you're not planning on using the kickstand that works fine, but the answer is still there.

Yes, while that is true, would you really be resting your hand on the screen as shown in the video with the kick stand up? It seems like a really awkward way of using the tablet.

sagum said,

Yes, while that is true, would you really be resting your hand on the screen as shown in the video with the kick stand up? It seems like a really awkward way of using the tablet.


Oh, I completely agree. It's just that the replies don't seem to reference the original comment as if they didn't read the full article. I know, shocking.. :p

sagum said,
Yes, while that is true, would you really be resting your hand on the screen as shown in the video with the kick stand up? It seems like a really awkward way of using the tablet.

Not really, it's just like using a drawing board and they've been around since before the computer.

Can anybody tell me if Surface can rotate full 180 degrees vertically? And if it can, then this issue can be tackled a bit by rotating the device upside down, isn't? At least a bit I would guess. Although attaching the keyboard would be a deal breaker here.

Not sure, but it is windows and windows has had the option to change the desktop display settings for the orientation from landscape to portrait, with options for both flipped. I don't see why they can't just set that to landscape (flipped) and use the tablet 'up side down' with the start button on the left.

Mohitster said,
Can anybody tell me if Surface can rotate full 180 degrees vertically? And if it can, then this issue can be tackled a bit by rotating the device upside down, isn't? At least a bit I would guess. Although attaching the keyboard would be a deal breaker here.

It does auto-rotate, but then the kickstand and keyboard attachment area is on the top and totally ineffective.

Did they actually state why it was removed from the bottom? This is an odd choice IMO; I don't think there was any issue with it being on the bottom.

este said,
Did they actually state why it was removed from the bottom? This is an odd choice IMO; I don't think there was any issue with it being on the bottom.

I room of PhDs and masters and they still cannot get it right.

este said,
Did they actually state why it was removed from the bottom? This is an odd choice IMO; I don't think there was any issue with it being on the bottom.

The bottom has a large magnet now to anchor the keyboard cover.

I'm a lefty, it would be positioned fine for me. Here's a question to all you righties out there: Why not just flip the tablet upside down, so that the button is on the left?

Don't forget about the bigger issue! The Windows key doesn't line up with the Windows image that appears from the Charms bar! Now where did I leave that pitchfork...

Ironman273 said,
Don't forget about the bigger issue! The Windows key doesn't line up with the Windows image that appears from the Charms bar! Now where did I leave that pitchfork...

Check your backside...lol.

It is even easier than everyone is making it out to be. A left-handed person must have designed it. ;) I'm actually happy to be left-handed now!

scorp508 said,
It is even easier than everyone is making it out to be. A left-handed person must have designed it. ;) I'm actually happy to be left-handed now!

No, actually a right handed person designed it. Think about it, if a left-handed person holds this table in landscape mode their right hand -- thumb specifically -- would constantly press the Windows key.

gullygod said,

No, actually a right handed person designed it. Think about it, if a left-handed person holds this table in landscape mode their right hand -- thumb specifically -- would constantly press the Windows key.

If you're holding it, the Windows button can be on the left or right. The only time this comes into play is when you're using the kickstand.

WTF ! This is the only bad thing detractors found to despite users from Surface Pro 3 ? Great, that means thos device is the greatest ever made.
So this button problem is not a problem : simply 360 turn the tablet, the screen will flip and the Button will be on the left side, far away from your palm. There is not anymore problem. So this device is actually the better PC (including Macs) you can buy.

agtsmith said,

There are still people who don't know what 360-degree angle is?

I know right, why would anyone want to be looking at the back of the tablet...

Well, 180 degrees more likely. ;) Still, if you're using the kickstand that's not feasible as the device is then facing away from you.

MS just need to make it an option in the Settings app and in Control Panel and it'll be fine.

I would have though that the only use case that would be affected by this would be when your not using the kickstand, in that situation you could turn the device upside down (rotate 180°) and voila button is on the opposite side :)

Maybe Microsoft should just get rid of the Windows button. When Surface Pro 3 is in landscape mode, the Windows button doesn't line up with the Windows charm (Yes, I know this was covered tongue-in-cheek before, but I don't like it) and when SP3 is in portrait mode, the Windows button is upside down.

Or at least give an option turning off the Windows button -- no logo on the bezel.

Microsoft needs to release an app (like the trackpad cover settings app, and pen pressure calibration app) that allows the user to disable this button.

jordanspringer said,
Microsoft needs to release an app (like the trackpad cover settings app, and pen pressure calibration app) that allows the user to disable this button.

I keep seeing people asking for a software fix, but how is this going to fix the location of the oddly placed button?

Software fix could disable this button completely, so nothing happens when it is pressed. You would then use the start button on the charms bar, keyboard, or taskbar instead.

I really think they should have made it an actual button. Other Windows tablets (and the iPad) have a button; no accidental presses and you know, with absolute certainty, that you pressed it. I hate the Windows button my gen 1 Surface. It's imprecise and rarely works on the 'first' try. Sometimes it will wake the table from standby, usually I have to press it several times. The button at the top is what I use. And the placement at the bottom is bad, given how the table is held. I really like it on the right on the Surface Pro 3.

deck said,
.........I hate the Windows button my gen 1 Surface. It's imprecise and rarely works on the 'first' try. Sometimes it will wake the table from standby, usually I have to press it several times. The button at the top is what I use...

I use power button at the top to wake the screen too.
I'll have to wait until I get my surface pro 3 to find out if this is any better placement tho.

As most people use the tablet in landscape mode, why wouldn't they just put the button on the top? It may be awkward, but at least it's out of the way. Or get rid of it completely as it's pretty redundant.

TheBrockman said,
As most people use the tablet in landscape mode, why wouldn't they just put the button on the top? It may be awkward, but at least it's out of the way. Or get rid of it completely as it's pretty redundant.

This is what kills me about this company, too many chiefs and not enough Indians. I've always said that education without common sense is uselessly. That button is not needed if they implement double tap to wake up.

gullygod said,

That button is not needed if they implement double tap to wake up.

And then you have a million people whining about how the feature is "undiscoverable" as with Windows 8 and the hidden start button.

Holding the Windows key and power button is the equivalent of CTRL+ALT+DEL on a tablet. Microsoft could always change that if it wanted, however.

Even though it's not necessary that they keep it, I think it's a nice option. It's less movements (simply press the button instead of swipe and press), and it's simply more convenient, IMO.

gullygod said,

This is what kills me about this company, too many chiefs and not enough Indians. I've always said that education without common sense is uselessly. That button is not needed if they implement double tap to wake up.


Thanks for the update CHIEF!!!

Well, theres only quite a few concerns with your solution, it would mean that the digitalizier would have to always be active, which kills battery. Also Windows key on a tablet also acts as part of Control + Alt + Delte (alongside with power button), so you cant remove it either, in case the explorer should crash and you cannot access the charms, what then? I think its on a side, because when you are holding the device in landscape, you are always near the button with one hand so you can easily access it without moving one hand to the bottom of the device. Now the only considereable solution is that proximity thing, however, it would be annoying and confusing that you would have to take your pen away from the screen for the button to work. What a bummer on a Microsoft side.

I think they should have kept it at the bottom. The only thing to cover it would be the flip up keyboard but when you have a keyboard you have a windows button on it anyways. Plus, not that hard to remove it.

ka-la said,
.... in case the explorer should crash and you cannot access the charms, what then?

Wait 3 seconds until the timer fires to restart explorer.exe when the system detects an instance isn't running in shell mode.

If the display locks up entirely, you'd likely have to hard boot anyway by pressing and holding power for 5 seconds like every windows PC for ages.

Alternatively, since most seem to think that they need a type cover, CTRL+Alt+Del can be initiated there. Heck some may even have bluetooth / usb peripherals.

I agree. Get rid of the button or make it small, like the power button, and put it on the side of the thing... The logo button is not needed...

Fixed it!
http://i3.minus.com/ibzISkqBK7RmoK.png

I'm probably going to make this Plastic/transparent rubberish snap on thing, call it Surface Grip Cover

It'll also help holding the device while sitting as it rests on your forearm as a canvas.. Fingers won't trigger any start button

Edited by dingl_, May 27 2014, 1:46pm :