(This post was originally written for TechSuplex.com)
It has been a little over a month since the Microsoft Surface, the purported iPad killer by some, was released to eager consumers in all its clicking glory. The Microsoft Surface is Microsoft’s maiden entrance into the computing business. A company known for it’s software and peripherals, Microsoft has found it imperative to make it’s own computing devices and I have had the pleasure of owning one since it launched on Oct 26th.
The Microsoft surface’s specifications include:
- 1366×768 (16:9 aspect ratio) 10.6″ Cleartype display (148 PPI) and built in kickstand
- 274.6 x 172 x 9.4 mm (10.81 x 6.77 x 0.37 in); 680.4 g (1.50 lb)
- Windows RT including Microsoft Office home and student 2013.
- Nvidia Tegra 3 quad core processor clocked at 1.3Ghz (WindowsRT does not make use of the 5th companion core on the Tegra 3 architecture)
- 32 or 64GB memory with expandable SD card storage up to 64gb
- Dual Stereo speakers, 720P front and rear facing cameras, dual Mics and dual band WiFi.
- Full size USB 2.0 and a micro HDMI out.
- Magnetic dock for one of Microsoft’s touch & type keyboard covers and MagSafe style proprietary charger.
- Starting Price; $499 without the touch cover (32gb), $599 with the touch cover. $699 with touch cover (64gb)
- You can visit here, here or here for more extensive reviews of the surface.
Why did I purchase the surface? I find it important to make it known that my primary reason for this purchase was emotional. The excitement that Microsoft is releasing its own computing device using the Windows Phone DNA (I’ve been a Windows Phone user for two years) was enough for me to rush down to my Microsoft kiosk in Denver Colorado to grab one with a touch cover. With that out of the way, Let us get into this pseudo review of the surface.
Living With The Microsoft Surface
Living with the surface has been interesting. It has had its hits and misses and for the most part has greatly altered my computing habits. I consider myself a power user when computing is concerned and as such, I still hold on to the view that a tablet has no noteworthy place between my laptop, desktop and my mobile phone. Putting this into perspective, my daily drivers includes a Mid 2011 2.7 Ghz quad core 27″ iMac attached to a secondary 24″ monitor. My mobile device of choice is a 13″ VAIO SA and my trusty Dell Venue Pro Windows Phone. You’d have to wonder how I have been able to fit the Surface into my ecosystem of devices. These are my noteworthy scenarios.
Surface for Photography
Almost immediately I picked up my surface, I began to see its potential. One of such moments was when I started working on taking pictures and videos of the device for this write up. Leveraging the full size USB port made transferring pictures from my camera into the device relatively easy and this gave me an epiphany as a photographer. Having to haul much less during a photo-shoot could make all the difference. With its great battery life, kickstand and touch cover, taking this little device for all day shoots and taking much needed notes gives it tremendous potential.Nonetheless, this epiphany revealed its faults; lack of capable applications for organizing pictures to be later moved to a more capable device for editing. The version of windows 8, known as WindowsRT, on the surface does not support legacy applications. In other words, you will not be able to install Photoshop or whatever other image editing or organization software you already own until they are made available on the Windows Store. The Windows Store is closing in on 30,000 applications and we expect that such apps will be made available soon.
Additionally, having much less storage space seemed like a hindrance initially. The base surface model ships with 32GB storage but about half of that is taken up by windows and default apps. Fortunately, the 64gb max expandable SD card storage is a welcome addition to the surface. A 64GB SD card can be purchased for as low as $30 online.
Surface for Students/Journalists
Having to take this device to a conference, I was enamored by the overall capabilities of snapping applications. Snapping is a premiere feature of Windows 8 that allows you run two applications on the same screen. One takes up 75% of your screen real estate and the other, the remaining 25%. The scenario, shown in the picture below involved note taking with OneNote and twitter simultaneously. That added ease which could be applied to numerous other scenarios speaks volume about how well thought out windows RT is for true productivity.I would not be doing this write up justice if I fail to mention how much of an impact this Kickstand – Keyboard combo has had with making the Surface a true contender as a laptop replacement. The relative ease of propping and opening the surface to start work and not worrying about bulk or connectivity (Bluetooth keyboard etc) is one of the little things that make the Surface a joy to use. The nifty positioning of the touch cover that allows you to easily prop the tablet on your lap is also a must try experience. The featured image in this write up shows the exact position of the touch cover underneath the kickstand.
Yes, it is very basic but having to be able to do this, again, without the added inconvenience of increased bulk or weight is a win on all accounts. (Note that it seems like this prop approach does come with its fault. Nowadays, when I prop the device, I take my time to locate the fault area and push the bulge back in in order to prevent an outright break. Microsoft will be giving out replacement covers should yours experience this issue.)
A wonderful summary of the surface’s capabilities as a dedicated high school or college student Laptop can be found here.
Xbox Music and my Kitchen
I am in the kitchen most of the time to wash plates and it has become routine to have the surface present thanks to Xbox music service and the above average speakers. The surface’s stereo speakers are rich and clear but are not particularly loud when compared to the iPad or even the PlayBook. Nonetheless, they are more than sufficient for kitchen duties. Walk into the kitchen, prop the device on the kitchen counter with the touch cove, access Xbox music and immerse myself in scores from my favorite composers. Should a friend tell me they like the song playing, sending it over to the Xbox 360 in my living room is a breeze with Smartglass.
It is not all roses in this application either as Xbox Smartglass is rather clunky and slow. It does do what is expected of it when it is called up. Be aware that Smartglass is also available on iOS and Android devices.
Stellar battery life and USB as a charging solution
I went on a trip that involved 2 flights and the total time in transit was about 10hrs. During this time, I was able to use the surface to type up reports and draft blog posts for this site. Music playing and a few games were run all through the flight and then came the eureka moment. On landing at my destination, I still had over 70% battery life left but my mobile phone battery was dead. I’m sure you are thinking; you can just stop somewhere in the airport to charge it. Yes, but I had a train to catch. Recognizing that the surface has a full USB port, charging my device while walking to the train was a breeze and like they say; all was well in the world.
It is a subtle addition but I am sure many individuals would’ve found themselves in such predicaments and wished they didn’t have to wait by an outlet to charge their device. I must add that if you are going to be walking around in a dangerous city, it might not be a good idea to have a surface in your hand wired to your phone while you chat away distracted. Just a heads up.
In addition to charging your mobile device, the Surface USB supports the vast majority of peripherals available on the windows platform out of the box. Just plug in and you are on your way. Should your device need drivers installed, you are out of luck. As was noted earlier, WindowsRT will not permit regular windows installs. All apps must be gotten via that Windows Store.
The surface is not all praise. It does come with its flaws which are primarily software related. WindowsRT is clearly going through the growing pains of being a nascent OS. A good number of apps shutdown on their own for no specific reason. These are usually third party applications. One app I would have to call out for being a pain is Skype. Skype is in desperate need of a major speed fix in addition to bug fixes from making to receiving calls.
It is understandable that windows phone 7 is old technology but one would expect that since we are only limited to metro apps on the surface, Microsoft would offer windows phone 7 phones support in the new windows phone metro app. It only makes logical sense not to disenfranchise individuals that took the plunge and with their feedback, help facilitate the stellar OS that is windows phone 8.
I do wish the surface had a lot more phone capabilities. I am thinking blackberry bridge type features. For one, it would clearly be an incentive for one to embrace Microsoft devices at all tiers. I am hoping with future updates to smartglass, we will see Microsoft add more features across the board to all its devices.
Much Ado over Portrait mode
Quite a handful of blogs have had complaints regarding the weird aspect ratio of the surface and it is something worth addressing. In my opinion, these complaints are only due to familiarity with the iPad 4:3 aspect ratio and not necessarily a concern to the average consumer. I tend to use my surface in portrait when I’m browsing the web or reading since the amount of scrolling is reduced. As a new full size tablet owner, this orientation is hardly weird or problematic. I took my time to observe friends when I shared information to them on websites. Most of my friends instinctively changed the orientation to portrait mode to read. My friends who own iPads found themselves sticking to landscape mode.
Finding relevance in my life
As a power user that is still highly skeptical about the need for a tablet, the surface truly has affected my computing habits. For one, it has made me lazy like any tablet would. One graduates from a couch potato to a bed potato. The surface has become my go to device on my bed or on the couch, replacing my laptop outright. On the productivity front, from my scenarios above, one might miss the ubiquity of the full version of windows 8 or MacOS on a PC, but the heated lap or weight that comes with a conventional laptop has made accessing basic information and executing basic tasks via the surface more appealing to me. It is clear that my Surface is here to stay and as Microsoft continues to improve the device (They are supporting it for at least 4 years) one can only expect it to continue to usurp more usage scenarios that are currently exclusive to my venerable machines.