There's an awful lot of noise about Windows 8 and RT around right now, and this of course includes the Surface RT. I have been trying to think of a more polarising Windows release, and although a few come close, I think it's out in front. It's not for me to say whether "polarising" is a good thing or not, but one could suspect that Microsoft has aimed for this as a desirable outcome – love it or hate it, almost everyone has an opinion. That can make or break a product – in the "break" department, I could mention Windows Vista. In the "make" side of the equation, perhaps the iPhone or iPad is appropriate – not that I intend to draw comparisons!
Opinions are an important part of selling products. Microsoft certainly want to catch your eye … but is it your initial opinion that matters? Perhaps not. For my money, they want to attract opinion - so people will talk about their products - and change your mind, if needed, by showing you what they can do.
So, for example, we get the Surface RT - a tablet, but more than a tablet. Does it compete with Apple and Google? Of course it does, but they want you to see how their idea of a tablet is so much better - especially when tied in with your phone and PC (running, of course, Windows software). There are those who will tell you that Microsoft have nailed it, and those predicting their imminent demise. I certainly see a lot of noise from both camps in my Twitter feed.
When I first saw the Surface, I was excited by the hardware, and I felt that this was the tablet I had been waiting for. Having purchased one, I can say that this is indeed the case. For me, it's exactly the device I wanted. I work a lot in the MS ecosystem, so it fits well there. Even though I'm an MVP, I don't by any means blindly follow Microsoft's lead - plenty of Android, Linux, and yes, Apple software and gadgets in this household - but this was a device that really met what I was looking for.
That's not to say it's perfect. I was annoyed that the Office 2013 update wasn't selected until I went into the "classic" Control Panel interface to check it. Minor performance lags proved to stem from classic Windows constraints - I'd have expected more attention to tuning and optimisation, but I appreciate that I was able to do my normal tinkering, and my Surface now runs very nicely indeed. Boosting sound levels was trivial, although I can't see a regular user digging that deeply into sound settings.
It would be nice if Australian Surfaces came with their region and language set to Australia, rather than United Kingdom… but I suppose this is a minor niggle overall. At least it's not my HTC HD7 (Windows Phone 7), where the currency symbol was permanently set to pounds by default.
This is all software- based stuff, though. The hardware is great, and solid. I love both the touch and type keyboards. The magnetic connector for the keyboard works well, and very rarely fails to connect properly, the charger is a little more finicky, but it doesn't take long to get the hang of it. VGA and HDMI output works well. The Surface display itself is crisp, bright, and extremely readable. Battery life is great, and even better with a minor tweak or two. Cameras work great, and even at my 6'3" height, I have no troubles in seeing or being seen. And yes, the speakers are plenty loud - the software settings can be corrected to take advantage of this.
There are improvements that I would like to see. I don't see a point in having online-only SkyDrive access. At the very least, there should be a sync feature that allows selection of files and folders to keep available offline. Equally, although the class drivers work well, it irritates me that Microsoft wouldn't provide a truly universal driver for network printing. I could live without a driver for our HP F4200 series printer - even though the Microsoft compatibility site indicates that it should be compatible - if only I could print via our Homegroup to the PC sharing that printer … but no, it still prompts for the driver. There are simple workarounds .. but a universal print driver in this case would have made it seamless.
Similarly, I think that Microsoft could miss an opportunity with support for devices like iPhone and Windows Phone 7. Handling iPhone natively - or encouraging a Store app for iTunes - and support for their own previous generation of phone would make some sense.
Backward compatibility in general doesn't worry me too greatly, but I would like to see some limited support for third party desktop apps. For example, an ARM compiled Snagit, Camtasia, and a Lastpass plugin for desktop IE would make my life much nicer. I do like the Lastpass store app, but there's something to be said for the convenience of the plugin approach. Perhaps whitelisting of certain apps and plugins for this purpose could be introduced. Equally, I wouldn't mind an ability to add sites to the Flash whitelist … even though Flash is hardly my favourite app by any means.
I can niggle away at these things, but the truth is that these are all things that can be changed, fixed, or improved as time goes by (and let's hope the inbuilt Mail app at least reaches feature parity with Windows Phone's one). No, it's not perfect - but I love my Surface, and my wife made me buy one for her as well. She loves it even more!
Going forward, the Surface will get a lot of use. There's still plenty for my M17X notebook to do, but there were always times when it was overkill. Surface meets what I need, and then some! And for many others, I suspect it will too.
Browse more posts:
Enjoyed this post?
Help us spread the word by sharing with friends and colleagues!