Microsoft SurfaceRT Review 3+ Months Later (Even After Using a SurfacePro)

Sunday, February 10, 2013 11:57 AM

First some context… I preordered a SurfaceRT 64GB model when they were first available with the Touch keyboard. After getting it, my wife liked it so much we got one for her as well. We both also have a Bamboo capacitive stylus… something we both thought we’d use more than we actually do. These have tablets 100% replaced the 1st Generation iPads we both used (related news, the kids think they got brand new iPads this past Christmas). After using it for one month I wrote my first thoughts in a previous blog post. My Surface travels with me on every trip (of which I’ve had a few since I got it). Now after 3+ months of heavy use and after holding a Surface Pro on its launch yesterday, I thought I’d post my comments. If anything, I want something to point people to who ask so many questions about it.

Second… these types of posts are 100% opinion. Sure there’s some fact, but this is my perspective. In short, it’s a perfect tablet for me. I fully acknowledge and expect many to disagree with me. Best part of it: you’ve got your own money and decisions to make.

Sidebar - I started typing the above once I took my seat on a flight from Atlanta to St Louis… people are still boarding. But no lie, three people have now asked about me about it as I’m typing. This is common for me on flights… it’s a striking device that catches the eye.

Comparing SurfaceRT to iPad and Surface Pro.

Comparing the SurfaceRT to my old iPad: I got the 1st generation iPad about 6 months after it came out and had it for 3 years. Personally I was always frustrated with it as a productivity device. I enjoyed the games, watching movies, browsing the internet and interacting on social networks. However what frustrated me was when I wanted to work on it. As great a device as it was for content consumption, it was as brilliantly as bad for content creation such as writing articles, documents, emails, etc. Yes… I could have bought a keyboard with it, but they always added weight and made the device so thick.

Comparing the SurfaceRT to the Surface Pro: Over the past weekend Microsoft released the Surface Pro and it differs from the RT in the following ways (that stand out to me):

  • The Pro is thicker than the RT… I felt like I was holding a brick with the Pro.
  • The Pro is heavier than the RT by a half-pound… doesn’t seem like much but I held it in one hand like a cocktail tray for a while… it’s noticeable you’re holding something heavy.
  • The Pro’s battery life is about 50% of the RT… at only ~4 hours compared to the 7-8hrs on the RT.
  • The Pro does have a better precision pen input capability that the RT does not… the RT does have the capability for capacitive stylus.

Many people I see who want the Pro over the RT want it as a laptop replacement. To me the Surface, or any tablet for that matter, is a tablet first and a laptop second. Some devices coming to market may change that, but today, every single device I’ve seen is either a tablet first or a laptop first. There are a few things that break down the theory that a Pro is a laptop replacement in my eyes. I don’t see how people will want a touch device to interact with native apps that you can’t run on the RT. Those apps were not likely built with touch in mind so you would have to use a mouse with them… but then, it’s not a tablet. Also the Pro 64GB model only has 30GB of usable space. Sure you can have a collection of microXSD cards or USB sticks or USB drives… brings back memories of the parody cartoons of the Vista SuperFetch technology. And what might be the biggest one: a 4hr battery for a laptop? Seriously? That would drive me insane. In short, I just don’t get using the Surface, or any tablet for that matter, as a laptop replacement unless your use case is limited to browsing the internet, working with Office, email and playing games.

Enough comparison… now for my 3+ month review.

My SurfaceRT Likes:

I’m actually quite pleased with the Windows Store at this point. Is it as big as Apple’s App Store? No… but frankly I could care less how big a store is; as long as I can find what I’m looking for in the store I’m happy. I frequently use the following apps (alpha order):

  • Kindle
  • LyncMX
  • MetroTwit
  • MyTrips
  • NextGen Reader (RSS)
  • OneNoteXM
  • Package Tracker
  • SkyDrive
  • Skype
  • {handful of games}

As far as the device, I love the form factor, I love how you can detach the keyboard and I frequently use the kick stand and USB port. About two months ago I did switch from the Touch keyboard to the Type and found my productivity shot up. The Touch is cool, but it just isn’t as effective as the Type… for me at least. Battery life is great… I frequently get 7+ hours out of it of constant use and when you need to charge it, it takes only an hour for a 50% charge. Then again, I’ve only drained it or got close to draining it twice!

My SurfaceRT DisLikes:

Nothing is perfect and there are a few things I don’t care for. One is the speakers… frankly, the volume sucks. They are underpowered and because they are slightly angled away from you, they sound better if you turn the device around which isn’t feasible when you’re watching a movie! Also the Windows 8 Music app is incredibly bad. It doesn’t see my DLNA shares on my network to get music (this is true on my laptop as well). It’s so bad that on my laptop I only use Zune. Thankfully this is resolved by using the Bluetooth support and my the Jambox I got for Christmas (which by the way is crazy… Jawbone should have called it the DAMNbox it’s so amazing).

Another big thing for me is the fact the SkyDrive app just sucks. I can get to and work with my documents when I’m connected, but connectivity isn’t ubiquitous as we are led to believe. Heck, they had internet issues at the SharePoint Conference last November when the big news was about the hosted story and development model in Office 365 + Azure! I wish the SkyDrive app (and a DropBox app for that matter) would let me SYNC my files locally from select folders just like the non-ARM versions do!

I’ve had some issues with my keyboard and the Surface recognizing/not recognizing it. Let’s say the Surface is “off”… if I detach the keyboard before I login, sometimes the Surface doesn’t show me the soft keyboard for the password or pin number. I recently forgot my picture password and all I could do was go find my keyboard to login… bit annoying.

Another issue I have is admittedly a bit odd. If you want to use the Touch/Type keyboard and the kickstand, you best have a tabletop or book to rest it on. Using your lap & legs just doesn’t cut it… mine keeps falling over. So for now, when I take my Surface with me to reply to emails while at my son’s Tuesday evening workouts, I also take one of my kid’s hard-back books that’s thin and has a indentation near the spine for the kickstand to rest in.

My SurfaceRT Wishes:

OK, so aside from fixing my dislikes above (VOLUME / SPEAKERS!!!!) a big thing for me is a better way to wirelessly copy files. If you do Windows 8 app development, there’s a toolkit you can install on your Surface that let’s Visual Studio deploy and attach the debugger to your app. It’s very slick. Well, why not something like this for copying files and have it included in the OS or a free app? Let me launch it and let my laptop have it find it by IP or by searching for devices on the same subnet… then I’ll login using my Microsoft account… JUST like the app development and remote debugging. I don’t want to carry a special USB cable or big USB drive just to copy a file. That feels so 2009!

My other wishes address apps, for instance:

  • SkyDrive: see complaints for sync above.
  • LyncMX & Skype: these need a LOT of work
  • Mail: I’m not going to complain about this one as much as others have. Sure… it could and should be a lot better for instance making it easier to navigate folders (collapse please!), when I click on a link, navigate to it in IE.. Don’t make me select it, copy, open IE & paste it in.
  • OutlookMX: ah screw the Mail app the Windows team built… Office, double time it and ship OutlookMX… mail, calendar, tasks… I want it all and I want it like Outlook.
  • WordMX, ExcelMX, PowerPointMX: no brainers
  • VLC (for watching movies): they got their funding… this is coming.
  • Facebook: the IE experience just isn’t ideal… I want a touchy metro app!
  • Magazines: Apple kicks Microsoft’s rear end here for the iPad. I want to install the magazines I read (Wired, Fortune, Economist, Sports Illustrated, etc) and sync them to my Surface. Right now the only reason I want the print version is for the time they close the door to the plane until I’m 10,000' up.

That’s about it. All in all, I’m very pleased with my SurfaceRT and get as much use out of it as I do my Kindle and phone. I highly recommend it and look forward to see how Microsoft makes the next one better!

Oh, two nice tricks that I have found very useful:

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