I read a lot of reviews of the Microsoft Surface before I got my own device. The reviews were somewhat varied with majority giving high scores on the hardware, opinions across the spectrum on Windows RTand everyone agrees that the apps aren’t all there yet. Anyway, here is my take on it…

Basically, the Surface with Windows RT is awesome. It is not perfect, but it is awesome. I’ve got the 32GB version with a touch cover (keyboard). I chose the touch keyboard over the type coverfor a few reasons. One reason is that I like the way keyboard lays flat on the device when used as a cover. I also like it because it won’t get dirt inside it and it is spill proof. Also, when flipped behind the surface, I don’t have to worry about the keys getting caught on stuff and popping off (keep in mind I have not ever heard of this happening yet). The touch cover works great and took less time to get used to then I expected, having read many reviews. I’ll admit that typing on the type cover was easier and more natural. If they were cheap, I’d have gotten both. But they are actually quite expensive. However, having a keyboard/cover is the way to get the most from the Surface.

So what is a Surface and why is it different? We have an iPad in the house, I bought it for my wife. She loves it. The kids love it. I’ll admit that a I like it – but I don’t love it. From reading below, you should understand why I don’t love the iPad. The Surface suites me much better and solves most of my issues with he iPad. The iPad is a content consumption device. It is a very good one, I should add. However, the Surface is designed for people who both consume and create content. This is a big plus for me.

Ecosystem

I run Windows 8 on my laptop, my phone runs Windows Phone 8, I have and Xbox and now I have my Surfaces with Windows RT. I have a desktop PC at home running windows 7 but it will be upgraded any day now (sorry, I am lazy). It is incredible how well these devices work together. I sync a lot of data with SkyDrive, it has been working very well for me. I have access to a lot of files across all my devices. This works especially well for photos taken with my phone. I’ve also been making a very strong push to use OneNote a lot over the past months. I have easy access to my OneNote notebooks on whichever device I use. OneNote is even pretty good on the phone too! I am actually writing this blog post on my Surface in OneNote.

Apps and Games

I think every review of the Surface and Windows RT agree on one point – there aren’t enough apps. Although that isn’t such a big problem if you are like me, I really don’t have time for all of that. I use a few apps and I play a few games. Here is what I use my tablet for, I’ll discuss apps along the way. By explaining how I use my Surface, you will see how I come to my conclusion about the device.

  • Email – reading and writing. OK, the Mail app on Windows RT sucks. It is easy to use but it is too simple and missing many of the features that users of Outlook are used to. I can’t say enough how much I think this is a major mistake by Microsoft. One of the biggest strengths of the Microsoft ecosystem is that it is a natural for professionals. As I mentioned above, the synchronization features of the Microsoft ecosystem are excellent and I can use my new tablet for almost everything (short of software development until the Surface Pro comes out). However the Mail app is one of the biggest stumbling blocks because it really is too basic. I am really hoping that Microsoft fixes this quickly. If Microsoft wants business professionals to use a Windows RT tablet vs. an iPad, Outlook would have been a great feature to offer!
  • General Web usage The new, touch friendly, version of Internet Explorer is working just fine for me. I’ve quickly gotten used to it and I am quite happy.
  • Watching Movies (especially during travel) I watched a full length movie the other night and the experience was excellent. The picture was very sharp and the sound was great too.
  • Taking notes and staying organized I mentioned above that I am using OneNote a lot these days. I love the RT version of OneNote! I only wish they used the same text formatting tools into the Mail app.
  • Social Networking Where the heck are the native apps for Facebook and Twitter? I can only assume they are coming soon. And yes, I know there are a few Twitter apps out there but as of this writing, I haven’t found one that works well. For now I am using the web version of TweetDeck . It’s quite nice and could be I’ll find I don’t need to replace it with a native app at all.
  • Viewing photos and home movies So far, my experience in this area has been excellent. Images look great on the Surface.
  • Research/Learning. For work purposes, I read a lot of blogs. I also watch a lot of videos, especially on sites like PluralSight. All of this can be done through the browser but I would much rather use native apps for this.
  • Word/Excel These apps aren’t touch friendly but they are the full-blown versions. That is very powerful software to have on a tablet. They work adequately well in “touch” mode, good enough to get by. For instance, if I’m on the couch of in bed reviewing or making simple edits to documents everything is fine. But if I am doing serious editing or creating documents, I use my keyboard, seated at a desk or table. In that mode, the experience is so good, I seems as if I am using a full blown laptop!
  • Writing Blog Posts As stated earlier, I am actually writing this post in OneNote. That is because I’m sitting comfortably without the keyboard attached, so OneNote is better than Word in this mode(I think). Admittedly, this post would be written faster if I were using the keyboard but this is sort of an experiment. In any case, I’d be much happier using Live Writer, a very popular blog post editor (made by Microsoft, by the way). A good Windows RT blog editing app would make my life easier!
  • Games Yeah, I play a few games here and there. Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, etc. I’ve never paid for one though. My kids, on the other hand, play a lot of games (free ones). For them, the selection is a little light but getting better daily and there are plenty of good games to waste spend your time on Smile.

I’ll sum it up like this. I need the following apps and I’ll be all set: Facebook, Twitter, Live Writer, Google Reader, PluralSight, and Outlook. My guess is that a few of them will be coming around pretty quickly. This post is not meant to be a review of all apps in the Store and I do want to add that there are MANY great apps and games in the Windows Store.

Portrait vs. Landscape

One of the biggest differences between the iPad and the Surface is that the iPad is meant predominantly for portrait mode and the Surface is meant to be used in landscape mode (both can be rotated). A lot of reviewers took issue with this. Not me. I quite like the wide screen and I think it is big plus for Surface. Plus the kickstand is a real bonus. It puts the device at a perfect angle for typing, reading, or watching movies.

User accounts

This is one of my favorite features of the Windows RT tablets. I can’t believe that Apple hasn’t implemented this feature yet. One of the biggest use cases for this is obvious if you have kids. My son loves to play games on tablets (and phones too) but I am always worried that he’ll delete something important by mistake. With full access to a tablet, he could even send messages to any of my contacts, just by making a few random clicks. Not with Windows RT! I’ve created an account just for my son on my Surface and I’ll probably do the same for my wife. My son even has a picture password for his account (just for fun).

Picture Password

I like this feature a lot. Picture Password lets you log in by executing a series of gestures over a picture on the lock screen. This is very convenient when you are in tablet mode (without a keyboard). More important than how good it is (quite good, actually) is the fact that Microsoft is thinking outside of the box. Just because we’ve been using PINs or passwords for years doesn’t mean we always have too. Keep being creative.

Family Safety

Family Safety is really cool. I wish I knew about it sooner. I’ve got it set up for my son’s account. Family Safety blocks his access to websites that are not appropriate from him. It sends me reports of everything he does on the computer or tablet so I know what games or apps he uses and for how long. I can even set up time limits and curfews for him. This is the kind of thing I will get a lot of use out of as my kids grow older.

I don’t think Windows RT is without it’s flaws

  • I don’t find switching between desktop and tablet mode as troubling as many other people do. But I agree that it doesn’t quite make sense, things should be more seamless. But I can deal with it.
  • You can’t join the Surface to a Domain. This won’t be the case with the Surface Pro but still, why not? This seems like a stupid thing, Microsoft.
  • No Outlook. Again, the Pro will have Outlook. But again, this is just stupid.

Non Issue

Camera I want to point out that I agree with many reviewers who say that the camera on the Surface stinks. It does… but who cares? I’ll use it for Skyping and little else, I imagine. My phone has an 8+ megapixel camera in it. Why would I want to hold up a bulky tablet to take pictures?

Summary

I could go on about pros and cons of this device and Windows RT. But having used this device for a while, I can easily say that I really enjoy it. Surface with Windows RT is a great tablet. You just have to get used to people calling it an iPad. If you are already using Windows on your other devices, you’ll find that this tablet will fit into your life really well.

And now I’ll wait to get my hands on a Surface with Windows Pro, due out in a few weeks!

One thought on “Review: Surface with Windows RT

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