Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Microsoft Surface Tablet

The Surface tablet is Microsoft's contender in the tablet market. It runs Windows 8. Right now the RT version is out, which means it still uses apps and is not a full computer, although it has a desktop view that looks like a regular computer. It does have Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. The Pro version that is an actual computer and can run computer software is in the works, but there is no release date yet. It will be a little bigger and more expensive.

Last weekend I was able to use the tester Surface tablet and spent probably five hours playing with it throughout the weekend. I don't watch commercials ever, so I really knew very little about it. I took the same approach I do with movies: I don't read reviews until after I've seen it because I don't want to be swayed. So here is my unbiased viewpoint, for what it's worth!

The Good (Great, Actually):

I found that when you are browsing the Internet, it automatically goes into a very visually appealing full screen mode, and you swipe up from the bottom to get the address bar and then swipe down from the top to see your windows. Normally, you just see the content on the page without things like the address bar cluttering your space. To go back, you just swipe instead of clicking a back button (like on a Mac trackpad). I liked these gestures a lot - so much that when I went to use other touch devices later, I tried to do the same things! Swiping from the right brings up what they call "charms" which are functions "they" think people will want to use a lot like searching. I kept forgetting about them but I assume that with longer use they'd become valuable.

The most important thing about the Surface to me is the fact that you can use a track pad or mouse to control a cursor. I have shoulder problems, so reducing movement is important. Using a keyboard with an iPad but still having to touch the screen has always seemed awkward to me.

Hulu! I am always frustrated with the lack of Flash on the iPad, so I was happy that I could watch things like Hulu. However, Vimeo didn't work - it just showed an image rather than the video. I did some Googling and found that Flash only works from "trusted sites." Hmmm.

The first thing that struck me about the Surface is that it is so much wider than the iPad. For watching videos in 16:9, it is excellent because it takes up the whole area - no black bars.

Word! PowerPoint! I have just been wanting to use Office on the iPad for years now. Although this RT version cannot run legacy software, just being able to use Word, PowerPoint, and Excel will meet many peoples' needs.

I like how it is possible to customize the tiles and Start area. Live tiles are just cool. I'm excited for Windows 8. XBox music was great - you can stream Microsoft's music library for free. They had my current favorite songs.

Areas Needing Improvement:

I occasionally found the touch screen to be unresponsive or slow. Every now and then I'd have to tap again, or tap differently to do something. For instance, getting out of Facebook photos was particularly difficult. For some reason, I got stuck in Photo apps and couldn't get out. I tried all sorts of weird ways of tapping and even had someone else try, but we could not get out. So we made it restart and then it was fine. I also kept clicking the X to close a window instead of clicking on it to go there. I'd probably get used to that though.

I had an issue with staff.uwec.edu, which is how UWEC staff can access our drives in a browser. When I just tapped on a document, nothing happened and when I double tapped it zoomed in. I eventually figured out that you have to touch and hold to get the options to open the file. It behaved better when I used the track pad. I don't see these touch issues as being major, but they just weren't as flawless as the iPad.

As I mentioned, the super wide screen is excellent for videos, but for reading and normal internet browsing, I found it strange. I mostly used it in the orientation of the pink one above, but occasionally felt I should try it the other way, then changed it back. I often felt like I was wasting space. I'm sure I'd eventually get used to it but it takes longer than the time I spent.

The aspect I think I'd struggle with is reading e-books on the Surface. On the left is how I set up my Kindle iPad app - with two columns. For some reason, it is not possible to use columns on the Windows Kindle app. Maybe that's coming? I also added a typical book in the photo as a comparison; maybe I like the two columns because it is a smaller version of paper book, which is what I'm used to? I also found the Kindle Surface app didn't swipe like I wanted it to. It just didn't feel right.

The one I tried had the touch cover keyboard, which is kind of like the iPad smart cover, except it has a keyboard and mouse track pad in it. I found it difficult to type on and ended up making the ends of my fingers hurt because I felt like I had to push hard. It was like typing on cardboard. My typing was pretty inaccurate; I could not use it to type a password or I'd never get in. I found it to only be slightly more effective than the on-screen keyboard. Since it is wider than an iPad, I was able to type with both hands more easily on the on-screen keyboard. I heard that the touch covers do not hold up and I'm not surprised. They do have a slightly more expensive type cover keyboard with depressible keys that I would definitely get instead but the reviews I read (after I developed my own opinions!) indicated this wasn't great either. 


Because I had not seen any commercials, I didn't realize it had a kickstand for a while! I do like that it has a built in kickstand, but I wish it had more options. It's kind of an awkward angle.

I had no idea what level the battery was at until it just died. No warning. Isn't that weird? The time and battery are viewed by swiping in from the right side (with the charms), which I didn't figure out for a while. Also, the power connector was slightly difficult to get into place; I had to futz with it for a while.

Just Internet Explorer and Bing??? Honestly it wasn't that bad, but I typically do not use either. When I notice people's default is Bing I ask them if it is intentional and it never is, so I show them how to change it.

Of course, apps are lacking. There was a Kindle app, but no Evernote. Do I need apps though? Or am I just used to them? I made a shortcut on the start area to Evernote, but it just didn't feel right.

Conclusions: 

I'm kind of sad to see that my "needing improvement" area is so much longer than the good area, because overall I was pretty excited about it and I think it has a ton of potential. At one point, I said "look, my Surface fits in here" and the response was "YOUR surface?!" (Note: It fits in both the front pouch area of a hooded sweatshirt [barely] as well as my purse!).

On Sunday morning when I went to drink some coffee and mess around on the internet, I thought about which device I actually wanted to use out of all the options I had (iPad, Surface, Droid Razr Maxx, MacBook) and the answer was my MacBook. It has a 15 inch screen, normal keyboard, the best track pad ever now that I finally have Lion, and no limitations on where I can go and what I can do. It just works. I forced myself to continue using the Surface anyway, but I thought that was an interesting thing to note. I also found I was still using my phone a lot, just because it was small and I had it with me all the time.

For work travel, I would love the Surface because it is more of a mini computer than the iPad. One time I only took my iPad and phone on a work trip (no laptop) and I regretted it. The thing is, I don't really travel a lot. I am the type of person who will continue to use a laptop as my main stationary productivity device because it does everything, but I really like a tablet for browsing on the couch, reading e-books, playing games, and anything that requires ultra portability. There is a place in my life for a laptop, tablet, and smartphone, but if I could live without anything, it would definitely be the tablet.

So for me this is not the perfect device (yet!), but I can see how people who want to bridge the gap between a tablet and computer would like it, especially if portability is a main concern. I'm curious to see how the Pro version stacks up.

Image from http://www.microsoft.com/Surface/en-US

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