The Surface RT tablet is the first tablet from Microsoft with the new Windows 8 Operating system. This new version is focused on a much more touch enabled experience, with a new interface called “Metro” that is a replacement for the traditional Windows desktop without a start menu and a taskbar. This new version has not totally moved past the old interface however, as you can always “drop down” to your familiar old desktop interface to complete some task or use some program that is not part of the Metro interface. The new interface is a series of mis-matched dynamic ’tiles’ that can be auto-updating. These tiles link you to apps, programs, information and games. The new interface is responsive, and easily customizable, representing a new way to organize your start menu. A great first tip for using windows 8: when in the Metro interface, simply typing on the keyboard will begin searching for that app, or program, and it is fast!
So, this tablet in a sense is a hybrid between a windows laptop and a app-focused tablet like the iPad and Android. You can use the Metro interface implementing the touch screen while on the couch, but can also drop down to your traditional desktop and open up your browser or word processor, hook up a mouse, and use the built in keyboard cover to work in a more laptop familiar mode. Have I mentioned yet that I really like the kick-stand that holds the tablet up? It also has the full Office 2013 software, which I used extensively in my week, creating MS Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations.
During my week with the surface, I really tried to use the Surface in as many situations, enivornments, and workflows as I could, to really see if it could be a good addition or replacement for my IT toolkit. I’ll describe my experiences shortly, but first its useful to go over the basic specs and features of the tablet for comparison purposes. (you can also read my other reviews of the Ipad 1, Android, and Chromebook for comparisons)
- 32GB of Storage space (64gb option available)
- 1366×768 pixels (16:9 widescreen)
- Quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3
- 2GB RAM
- Wi-Fi / Bluetooth
- Two 720p HD LifeCams, front- and rear-facing
- Full-size USB 2.0, (SUPER USEFUL)
- microSDXC card slot
- HD video out port
I was able to use this tablet at work and at home, for almost a week. I was actually pretty surprised and found I was able to be very productive in my regular workflows, as well as on the weekend, socializing and using more entertainment based features. I shared the tablet with family and friends and they easily picked it up and found it fairly straightforward to use. Even the three year old niece really enjoyed it! The tablet has the ability to allow multiple users share the device each logging in with either a local account, or a MSN supplied email account if you want cloud integration. Since I am still an avid Hotmail user, I easily connected into my Skydrive, and other cloud services.
My setup for crafting this blog post.
While using this Surface RT for the week, I easily hooked up many peripherals to the tablet using the USB 2.0 port. I used both wired, and wireless mice, my 1TB Mypassport hard drive, my android smartphone, and a digital camera. All were detected and installed quickly. This feature alone really alleviated a lot of concerns I had. I was able to prepare, craft and publish this blog review using only this tablet!
Some of the things I was successful in using the Surface in my time were:
- Taking minutes for our Staff Committee meeting in a MS Word Document.
- Responding to my emails and messaging from many accounts. (Hotmail, MS Exchange, Gmail, and my own domain)
- Marking all of my Distance Learning students submitted work in my English classes.
- Managing my social media accounts (twitter, facebook, Skype, Messenger)
- Taking photos and videos
- Playing games
- Streaming Netflix and other media from my local homegroup libraries on my home network
- entertaining my niece with storybooks,music making, and coloring apps
- Multi-tasking, watching a movie, while surfing, by splitting the screen.
- Using flash based websites in Internet Explorer.
Holding and carrying the Surface was comfortable and easy. It has a different shape than most other tablets, a longer bottom edge, which really forced me to keep it side ways, rather than holding it in portrait mode. The device feels sturdy, polished, and was reliable. The kick-stand is a fantastic feature of this device. It works great and feels solid. I wish more tablets had kick-stands built-in, just like the bikes of my youth. The USB port is a huge bonus that the surface brings to the tablet table. It supported anything I plugged in like any other windows device. The battery life was good enough, going for most of the weekend without needing a charge. During the day, at work, I kept it plugged in using the satisfying magnet clip on power coupling. The keyboard cover was another major plus to using the Surface. Having a physical keyboard with a mouse track pad allowed me to be much more productive in my regular tasks than I have been using other tablets. It is such a plus to not have to take up screen space with an on-screen keyboard and have a responsive physical keyboard that doubles as a cover. I was not able to try the HD video output as I did not have an adapter to use. I imagine it would work easily, like adding a second monitor to any windows pc. The microphone and speakers were decent, but not really noteworthy. The two cameras worked great and took good photos.
The App Store:
The App store had more apps and games than I thought, but its not enough, when compared to Apple and Android. I remember writing the same sentence about the Android App store a year and a half ago, but now it is a full and vibrant app ecosystem. I would hope that the Surface gains a lot of Apps and Games over the next months to address a wide gap in the present. I was able to find lots of interesting apps to check out and found searching and discovery of apps to be easy. I did not find a fully featured twitter client, as none of the ones in the store included the ability to browse my pre-set Lists. For the majority of things I wanted to do, I was able to find an App or a Game that would fit my needs. It was easy to browse the different categories, and to create custom searches based on price, rating, and then list them.
I definitely felt that this Surface RT could replace my Win7 home Acer Netbook in my personal life. In the professional space, where I am teaching and doing much more advanced and demanding activities in my regular day I would still like my desktop/laptops. If I had a Surface Pro however, instead of this RT, this might be a different story altogether, as the ability to install anything you want, and a much more powerful CPU, and I could say goodbye to my laptop/netbook!
EXTRA BONUS INTERFACE COMMENTARY
This faux-laptop is the closest I’ve felt to getting rid of my trusty netbook. It runs flash in the browser, can hook into my local network libraries, will hopefully have lots of apps and games sooner rather than later, and with the Pro version, can actually be a total laptop replacement I believe. I feel somewhat similar to when I switched from command line DOS interface to graphical interfaces from Apple and Microsoft, it was a little bewildering at first, but over time its for the best. Touch screen interfaces will help us transition from keyboards and mice, and move towards voice, touch, and eye-tracking interfaces. Computing should not be constraining, as we have evolved from whole-room mainframe early computers to personal computing at home, and in computer labs at schools, to today with newer mobile carts, with tablets, netbooks, chromebooks and other BYOD facilities served through wi-fi. This surface tablet is one step towards a new way to interact with our computers. Gestures will be big. Learning the ‘short-cuts’ of the new interfaces takes a couple of days of dedicated practice. Proficiency in new interfaces does take time, and it is worth it. You will be able to navigate, customize, re-mix, inter-act, and direct all the apps and information at your fingertips with much more ability and confidence. I was just starting to get the hang of most of the interface nuances and gestures by the end of the week, but that’s pretty quick compared to how long it took me to learn to type! (or write cursively as well!)
Overall, the Surface RT is a great tablet that will hopefully keep getting better with updates and growth of the App Store. It has a ton of potential and has really stepped away from our traditional keyboard/mouse interface in a way that no other tablet has, while still maintaining the closest replication of the traditional keyboard/mouse combo. Its a contradicting device, but one I was happy to use and eager to pull out in any situation, to see how I could make it work for me. It may not work for you, but if you give it some time and dedicated practice, you might find something you like as well!