I’ve touched surfaces, viewed surfaces, had sensitive surfaces but I’ve never really used a serious touch sensitive surface. If you look anywhere these days, it’s difficult to not notice tablets becoming more and more popular. I owned a Sony CLIÉ (palm device), used a Nintendo DS and I have a non-smart touch screen phone. They barely prepared me for my new Microsoft Surface.
I first heard about the Surface in June 2012. I was hooked the moment I saw it. Even the name is very catchy. A Surface seemed like it might be exactly the right size for me. I hadn’t been too interested in the smaller 6, 7 and 8 inch tablets. I just imagined they were too tiny to be productive or useful for me. Surface’s 10 inch screen appeared to be a good compromise between comfortably small, easy to see and efficient to type on. USA marketing pushed the base 32GB model as being very competitively priced. They also expounded the virtues of a very functional cover keyboard. Many people, including me imagined the base unit with keyboard would debut around $499. Yay, Christmas present for me! My wife wasn’t shaking her head either, so things were looking good.
Four months later the world waited for Microsoft to announce the retail price. $499, yay ….? What’s this, no cover keyboard? Dammit to hell and back! Wifey’s head started to shake. My lip was dragging a bit too. My infinite curiosity took me back to the Microsoft Store. $519 Cdn! What the flying …! Our dollar is above par. No keyboard and I am getting robbed! Long story short and after giving up on the idea, my wife read about how the Surface is a tablet and should be used like a tablet. Why else have it? Interest rekindled (chuckle). Another week of researching reviews and then it was ordered. A week later on Nov. 7, I turned it on.
It didn’t come with a manual? I guess the paradigm MS is pushing is meant to prove anyone could figure out how to use a Surface. I’m older, but not pre-computer. I’ve been using them continuously since 1980. Still, all this touchy feely stuff was fairly foreign to me. I think I have reasonably figured this thing out.
I’m using it to create this review. It’s a solid, shiny and black slab of goodness. I have trouble putting it down. It goes almost everywhere I go in the house. It’s proving to be useful for keeping my Wife and I in the same place more often. I can easily watch TV next to her, look up stuff either of us wants to know or even go full out surfing. I frequently check into the 2old2play Halo forum to see what is going on there, which is a bad idea some days.
The initial boot and setup was essentially painless. Microsoft wants you to setup your account using one of their accounts so have a Live account ready and waiting. This is all tied into your Apps knowing it’s you and prepping the whole Metro Apps UI. Apparently you can do the account setup offline but I did not do it. I recommend the whole online account method.
It’s bright, clear and very responsive to touch operations. It is plenty bright enough to use in direct morning sunlight. The screen is very reflective but clarity does not suffer. Finger prints pose the only issue in direct sunlight. Ew, the mess my grubby paws leave behind. Normally you don’t notice them but if they are getting to you, it’s very easy to clean. A couple of swipes with a cloth, lightly dampened with cleaner and it’s back to new. It certainly helps that it’s edge to edge Gorilla Glass 2. Clean that filthy disease vector before handing it off to others. Oh Hell, tell them to get their own.
Windows RT/8 Metro style touch UI just works. It has me sold to the point my next phone will be a Windows 8 Smart phone. I am going to take another chance. Not much of a chance really because that is still likely a year out and I have plenty of time to watch what is happening in the mobile scene.
Battery and Power Connection
I use this thing for hours on end and have only charged it daily. It simply isn’t much of a concern when you are at home. Charges quickly too. Many media reviewers have commented on the finicky magnetic power connection. I can confirm the truth of it. Always make sure of the connection before walking away. The connector has a very tiny and difficult to see white LED. It’s so tiny I didn’t even know it had one before close inspection for this review. You may feel more comfortable leaving the unit on and seeing the charge icon appear on the screen.
I don’t know much about apps. I understand Windows Store doesn’t have as many as their competitors but it seems like a ton to me. People are starting to add reviews and ratings now and that really helps. Let me tell you one app story. Recipe apps. Surely you’ve heard about putting your recipes on your computer? Great idea but you usually need to print them off to use them. Aside from print quality issues, it’s a waste of paper and then you wind up with a portfolio of paper which used to be called a cook book. Huh? The Surface seems to nicely defeat the paper, computer, paper cycle. It’s larger, bright and clear screen along with sharp text and bold colourful pictures makes readability a breeze. The built in kickstand is just the correct icing. Now that’s how a recipe and a computer should work.
I have installed the Kobo eBook app and it lets me read the books I’ve bought. Books look great on the Surface.
Surface RT is bundled with the full Home and Student Edition of Office (downloadable update depending on when you buy yours). It works quite well without a mouse and keyboard though my experience is limited to this review document.
I see no normal need for a dedicated keyboard with the Surface. There are four screen options for keyboards and the largest QWERTY version is quite easy to type with. Switching between them is a breeze. In fact, I recommend against getting a dedicated keyboard. Put your money into Micro SD memory instead. One of the input options is hand writing on the screen. Using just your finger and a variety of cursive plus printing styles, you can be quite successful at it. I was amazed. Capacitive pen is another input method but haven’t tried it yet. Microsoft is yet to talk much about this feature or recommend what pen to get. Forum dwellers have experimented with a variety and some seemed to like the pen from a Bamboo digitizer.
Music, Video and Photos
There are some limitations in this area. I listen to music, watch videos and look at photos successfully. I use the built in Bluetooth feature for my fancy Sony headphones. Works like a dream. The annoying feature is that the included apps want to find music, video and pictures in the available 16GB on-board memory. Should you simply want to access another computer, removable memory or network drive, you will have to press a few extra buttons. Photos present an extra problem in that you first have to bring up the Desktop to navigate to your networked or removable device, select the desired photos and then choose a method to view them. I need something better than that because the Surface could be the best digital picture frame going. Do not even talk to me about Skydrive. I am not an advocate of putting your private stuff out on the Web. The on-board cameras are more for web use than pictures. While these 1 mega pixel cameras are quite clear, you will want to use something more dedicated to photography.
One and a half pounds. Barely a good paper weight? Not a significant issue? Yeah, it poses a small issue. Two handed this device is a beautiful window to the world. Cantilevered in one hand, it gets heavy after awhile. Microsoft coincidentally advocates the two handed method. Marketing, what can you say? Surface is easily used flat on your lap, one handed centred platter style, one handed gripping the opened kickstand, one handed reach around behind with a finger hooked around the top or bottom while supported by your forearm and one handed cantilevered for short periods. If you are eating breakfast, open the kickstand and go to it. The screen accepts even the lightest touch, so you won’t knock it over.
Surface uses magnets for its power supply and keyboard. They are strong! Do not let your Surface get near any metal particles attracted by magnets! I do not know what could go wrong but it likely isn’t good. Probably should be kept out of the workshop. Coincidentally, I kickstand’ my Surface on a toaster (not recommended) and there was serious magnetic attraction.
Elapsed time from pressing the On button to swiping for the Login Prompt was 28 seconds. There is no wait time after logging in. It seems fully booted already. This a very reasonable boot time and actually encourages a full shutdown between uses.
No doubt you will encounter your own issues. Whether they are deal breaker is for you to determine. I can only tell you my story and that I like it so far. It’s mine and you can’t have it but my Wife likes to grab it from time to time and I let her use it whenever she wants.
When links are tiny you may need to two finger zoom the content before selecting a link. Zooming is painless and quick.
Selecting a link to open in a new tab is a bit tricky. A long touch brings up a selection window. Sometimes this window does not want to appear or may appear after you give up on the long press. It definitely seemed to be site dependant.
When it comes to power PC use, I fall back to my laptop, keyboard and mouse for multi-window cut and paste operations. Eh, 2old2play.com isn’t exactly tablet friendly. ;)
I feel Microsoft should give all Canadian Surface owners a $20 Windows Store coupon.
If you are looking for a web surfing convenience device, get the $499 32GB base model. If you are thinking of replacing a laptop and need a very portable option, wait for the $999 Intel version with keyboard due out in the New Year. Be prepared for adding a mouse, monitor and a hard drive.
There are plenty of Media reviews out there but this one seems to cover the Surface from stem to stern.