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With SP4 a'comin', please give us a clamshell keyboard dock

In the wake of recent MS conferences like Build 2015 and Ignite, the pundits and prognosticators seem surprisingly unanimous with two short-term predictions. First, Windows 10 seems bound for general availability (GA release) by the end of July; and second, a new, improved and fanless Surface Pro 4 (SP4) model seems destined to hit markets at around the same time. Sean Cameron at WinBeta, Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet, and Brian P. Rubin at readwrite, among many others — including yours truly — have all recently opined about what it’s gonna take to turn the already formidable Surface Pro 3 into a market-leading monster upon its impending release.

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What’s missing from the Surface Pro accessory collection is a plug-in keyboard with hinge like this one, to turn it into a clamshell PC.

I think I’ve got the answer (with which Sean Cameron concurs, as his afore-linked WinBeta story will attest): a clamshell style keyboard dock. The Type cover is fine, but I am continually frustrated by the kickstand with floppy keyboard whenever I try to work away from a desk or tabletop. Though MS delights in proclaiming the kickstand-plus-Type-cover as “lappable” ( or is that “lapable?”) I do not find the device to be such, nor terribly workable away from a hard, flat surface upon which to park it.

So far, I’ve owned two tablets that included clamshell keyboard plug-ins, both with added batteries to improve the runtime of the devices that plug into them. One, I got rid of — the Fujitsu Stylistic Q704 — primarily because its Haswell-era i7 processor produced enough heat to overwhelm the tiny unit’s built-in cooling capacity, and kept having to be throttled back to keep it from overheating. Its clamshell keyboard dock was great, if a bit heavy, and really made the unit much more useful (and thus also, likely to be used) over time. The other is my Dell Venue 11 Pro 7130, which includes a Broadwell M i5-4210Y CPU, and doesn’t need active cooling to operate. It too, has a nifty clamshell keyboard dock (which appears in the preceding photo), and I use it all the time both as a light-duty traveling machine and as a book reader/media player. Even with the keyboard attached, it’s light enough that I have recently traveled with a Lenovo T520 for work, an iPad to read on the plane with, and the Venue 11 Pro for personal use and entertainment, all in the same old beat-up but still serviceable Targus computer briefcase I’ve carried for over a decade now.

If MS doesn’t already have something like this in the pipeline, we won’t see such an accessory when the newest Surface Pro model ships in the next few months. But I sincerely hope MS decides to build something like this for the Surface Pro models, because it would make the difference between me watching my wife and son use the Surface as our household’s go-to mobile PC at home, and me turning that unit into my road machine and primary desktop replacement at home. Are you listening, Microsoft? I sure hope so…

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