Microsoft Surface RT

Review of the Microsoft Surface RT Tablet

As Program Manager at myList, part of my job is to evaluate all new devices that may support my application, see how it works, and determine what, if any, changes need to be made to my platform to support the new device.  To that end, I was excited and had high expectations when I walked into the Microsoft Store in Orlando to purchase my Surface RT.  What follows is my experience, thus far, with the Surface RT.  This is not a hardware review; there are plenty of those out there.  Yes, we know it has Bluetooth, USB, etc, etc, etc.  

The Microsoft Store

I was immediately impressed by the Microsoft Store when I walked in.  Sure; they had emulated elegant minimalism from the competition, but they took it to the next level.  I was stunned by the wall-to-wall dynamic displays, the ease of access to everything that mattered, the friendly staff, and the openness of the store itself.

They were really pushing the surface, and it had featured signage and placement in the store, but not so much that the rest of the Windows 8 suite was not easily accessible.  My daughter fell in love with a touchscreen Window 8 laptop and I had to drag her out of the store when I had completed my purchase.

I was helped by a young kid who was hip and more of the “I’m a Mac” than “I’m a PC” type of guy.  I assumed that was by design as Microsoft is in the middle of re-imaging itself.  I definitely felt a bit like a dinosaur in the store; a middle-aged man surrounded by the young so-called “technologists”.  I was at first put out by that; because I knew I would know more than any of these “kids” in the store.  I hate shopping at other electronic chains because of the lack of knowledge on hand by the staff – and their refusal so acknowledge that fact.  I was also grimly anticipating the “nerd pissing match” that was sure to follow as we felt each out.

My fears were unfounded, however.  The young man who helped me was knowledgeable about the product and very polite.  He carried on a light and easy banter with me as I described what I was looking for.  He left me alone to play and experiment in the store, and came back when he noticed my head pop up and look around.  I felt like I was important and respected.  He was attentive and even managed to up-sell me, twice, without ever setting off warning alarms in my head.

It was, by far, one of the  most pleasant electronics purchase experiences I have ever had.

My Purchase

My Bag of GoodiesI ended up purchasing the Windows Surface RT 32-gigabyte, the Type Cover, the extended protection plan (up-sell), and the Nixon case (up-sell).  Total cost, a little over $800.00.

My salesperson tried to check me out with a walk-around tablet he had in hand, but even after 2 reboots he could not get it to acquire a network connection.  I politely refrained from offering help or unsolicited advice.  He quipped that his POS (“point of sale”, people, not “piece of s**t”) table was not running Windows 8 and if it were, none of these issues would be happening.  I had to give him points for recovery.

Eventually, we walked up to the hard-wired registers and completed the purchase there.  He then offered to “set it up for me.”

That, to me, is a concerning policy.  Not that they were willing to set up my Surface for me, but that they felt that they had to.  The competition does not do that.  It immediately made me wonder what was so difficult about setting up a Surface RT compared to, say, and iPad?  I politely declined, saying that the install and setup was part of the fun and discovery.

My First Impressions

It was with great excitement that I rushed home to unpack and play with my new Surface RT tablet.  As I unpacked the tablet, I sat back and told myself the following:  “this is not just a tablet.  This is a computer.  Not a full computer like the Surface Pro will be, but more of a computer than other tablets.  Don’t have all the same expectations  you would have for a tablet.”  I had already been exposed to some mixed reviews of the Surface, so I wanted to enter the experience understanding that there are apples, there are oranges, and there is the Surface RT.  This is key to remember as I continue the review – it is the source of much joy and frustration, as I will explain later.

Setup

In a word – annoying.  It took 10 minutes for the first boot to complete.  The word “Surface” was on the screen then entire time with a spinning wait state underneath it.  I did not know what was going on, there was no indicators, and I was forced to just . . . wait . . .  until it was done.  Whenever that would be.  When it finally came back and I set up my default options, it was fast and responsive.

I don’t know what took so long that first time, but multiple reboots since have never taken more than 30 seconds to get back to the login screen.

Keyboard

Surface Type KeyboardI decided on the type keyboard instead of the touch keyboard shown in all the commercials.  It’s a little pricier, to the tune of ten extra dollars, but worth it in my opinion.  After trying them both out in the Microsoft Store, I just couldn’t get used to the lack of haptic feedback.

You don’t actually have to have a keyboard to use the Surface RT, of course.  The tablet and OS is designed to work sans keyboard, but you’ll need one if you’re going to do any serious work with the tablet.

The back of the type keyboard is a nice dark grey felt and feels nice to the touch.  The keyboard itself snaps into place magnetically and it just works.  My daughter is distraught that the “snap” sound it makes in real life is NOT the same sound it makes in the commercial.  The sound in the commercial is enhanced a bit and sounds “cooler” to her.  This was, believe it or not, a reason why she wanted to get the tablet.  The noises in the commercial.  She was so disappointed that it did not sound the same that she was put off by the device.  Note to advertisers – sometimes it backfires.

The great thing about the keyboard is that it can fold all the way back behind the tablet and it will turn itself off when you do that.  You don’t have to disconnect the keyboard if you want to go full touchscreen.  Just fold it back, and it will turn itself off.  It works every time.

Windows RT

I had intentionally not installed or used a version of Windows 8 prior to getting my Surface.  I wanted no preconceptions based on betas or pre-release builds.  I wanted the official experience.  This is the first Microsoft OS that I have done that with, by the way.

I won’t spend a lot of time here because there are a lot of reviews of the OS out there.  Simply put, I am a big fan.

  • Live tiles are awesome.  Simply awesome.  It’s way better than dead icons on the screen and less concerning than overwhelming widgets all over the place.  When I get an app that does not take advantage of the live tiles, I am disappointed and end up moving the tile to the “back” of the group.
  • Surface gestures are phenomenal.  Swiping from left to right to switch between active programs and swiping from top to bottom to close the active program as so intuitive that I now have a hard time using my iPad and Android tablets.  Microsoft got it right.
  • Pinching and zooming on your desktop is great and allows you to move “groups” of tiles en masses as you re-arrange your desktop.
  • I wish I had a way to “label” groups of programs on my desktop, but I cannot.  There are “tile creator” programs out there that will create tiles that can be used a group headers, but they take up tile space and they are kludgy.
  • I wish there were more options for desktop backgrounds.  You are supplied with a dozen or so, and no ability to change.  You can change your lock screen all you want though.
  • Only Metro apps run on the RT; you can’t install every Windows app out there on your Surface RT, and therein lies my biggest problem with the Surface RT (see below)
  • My BIGGEST shock was my 14 gigs of my 32 gigs were taken up by the Windows OS itself.  Honestly, I felt cheated.  I bought a 32-gig tablet expecting most of the memory to be available to me.  It is not.  This is a SERIOUS issue in my opinion.  I added an extra 64-gigs of expansion (the major advantage of the Surface right there), but it still concerns me because I cannot install applications onto the expansion card.  I can only drop media onto it.  I can run out of space easily if I install applications and if they store too much local data – because they will not use the expansion card.

The Application Ecosphere

In a word; it sucks.  If there is one thing that will drive me away from the RT it is the lack of decent applications.  They are in the same spot Android was in a few years ago when Apple had all the  best apps and only a few developers were creating apps for Android.  It is my hope that Surface apps will soon become more ubiquitous and major developers will embrace the platform.  Here are some of my observations so far:

  1. Office 2013 is Awesome
    The Surface comes with Powerpoint 2013, Excel 2013, OneNote 2013, and Word 2013.  These are great apps and really bridge the gap between tablet and computer and highlights what Surface is all about.  Yes; I have noticed slight performance issues in Word, where I can type ahead of the cursor if I try.
  2. There is no Facebook app
    Facebook access is built into the “people” application.  It’s Microsoft’s way of integrating all things social onto a single app format, because they also support Twitter on the people app.  It just does not work.  I have hundreds of Twitter followers and hundreds of Facebook friends.  All the People app does is simple newsfeed aggregation and both Facebook and Twitter are so much more than that.  It it clumsy and unintuitive.

    Yes, I could use Internet Explorer and go to Facebook directly, and I do.  But I don’t like it.  In this instance, I want my Surface to not be a desktop, but a tablet – and tablets have apps.  I want a Facebook app that looks, smells, and behaves like a Facebook app, but following the design concepts of the Surface ecosystem.

  3. The Barnes and Noble Nook application is one of the best Surface Apps there is
    Now here’s the ironic part; Kindle beat Nook to the Surface with a sub-standard app, even though Microsoft invested hundreds of millions into Nook.  In fact, the printed material that came with my Surface prompted me to claim two free magazines on the Nook app – and the app wasn’t even out yet!  It came out a week later.  Still, once it came out I was completely wowed by it.  Great job fellas.
  4. None of the Apps I Want are There Yet
    Foursquare, Plants vs Zombies, Brighthouse TV, Mint.com, Relax Melodies, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Pandora.  And the list goes on and on.  There are thousands of apps in the Microsoft App store, and some of them provide some level of cool functionality, but the major players are just not present yet.  They need to come to the party or there will be a bunch of lonely people standing around with drinks in their hands not knowing what to do.
  5. It’s not all bad.  There are some cool apps that I have been introduced to, though:
    1. MetroTwit is a great Twitter client, but with Twitter trying to control all clients, they won’t get much support and will quickly get to the point where they can’t take on any new users.  This has already happened to one Twitter client in the RT world.
    2. The ComiXology app is present, but it is a “preview” app and is so buggy that it is almost unusable.  I read a lot of comics, though, and and hoping a stable update gets released soon.
    3. Chess4All is a great chess game that I have come to love.
    4. Radiant Defense is absolutely the MOST addictive tower defense game I have ever played.
    5. Wordament is a great boggle-type game played XBox-style against hundreds of other people.
    6. Evernote and Skitch work like a champ on the RT.  Well done!
    7. iHeartRadio – you gotta love it.
    8. Kayak is an awesome travel app.  Never used it before, but now I see their commercials and they Metro app is great.
    9. News360 is the best news aggregator app I have used.  It allows you to enter topics of interest and really digs into what interests you.  Microsoft is pushing News Bento to all Surface users, but News 360 is way better in my opinion.
    10. The ESPN app is pretty awesome, and the built-in Sports app on the Surface blows me away as well.
    11. Stumble-Upon on Surface is great.
    12. The Google Search app is fantastic.
    13. Star Chart is PHENOMENAL.  It’s like Star Walk on iPad, but better in my opinion.
    14. Fresh Paint is a great drawing and doodling app.
    15. Autodesk SketchBook Express is pretty darned cool as well.
    16. Photo Studio Free is a great basic image editing program.
    17. Metro Commander is a great way to take control of your system right from the Metro Interface

Conclusion

I really like the Surface RT.  I have almost completely replaced my iPad with it for what I do most; read, surf the web, and get the news.  It still lags FAR behind other tablets in support for Social applications, though, and it needs to catch up quickly.   I do not regret my purchase.  I find the Windows RT interface refreshing, I love the live tiles, the gestures are second nature to me now.  The hardware is awesome.  I am upset at my loss of storage space because of the OS size.

If only it had more apps . . . I wouldn’t feel quite so alone.

 

Advertisements

No comments yet... Be the first to leave a reply!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: