Working With The Microsoft Surface RT

There are many people that are out looking to get a ‘tablet’ so they do not have to pull out their 8lb laptop when they want to check email, surf the web, or track their daily calories. I don’t know if very many people actually use a laptop for calorie tracking but I doubt it. For all exstensive purposes I will be talking about the Surface with touch cover. It is, in my opinion the only way to go and should be sold for $499 with the cover. But at $599 with cover it is on par with or cheaper than you will spend on a similar setup with a new iPad.

The Good Things About Working With Surface RT

The form Factor: It is light, thin, and versatile.

Weighing in under 2lbs with the touch cover is a pretty impressive feat with a 10.6″ screen and several usable ports like the USB, HDMI, headphone, and microSD. Oh and there is a built in kick stand that does it’s job elegantly and hides away nicely. This baby can easily slip into my girlfriends purse, a backpack, or just be carried around and the keyboard is a nice protective cover. Granted I haven’t dropped my Surface yet so I don’t know how much protection it will offer in reality. With the touch cover you can easily use the Surface like a full fledged laptop on a flat surface like a desk, table, etc. Also with how solid the kickstand is, it is easy and comfortable to use the Surface in your lap. The lap position isn’t as versatile as a laptop because it is not as rigid as a laptop and only has one angle but it is still very usable. The 16:9 is wonderful in landscape for media and in portrait it is nice for longer websites and Nook or Kindle reading.

File System

Doing web development, I obviously deal with a lot of files. Having Skydrive nicely integrated and having a full featured, easy access file system is a great asset when developing.

The App Ecosystem

Hold on a second and let me explain. The ecosystem isn’t there just yet for everything but, being a Windows machine you can clearly see that the device has developer minded people behind it. There have already been a lot of code editor apps to hit the marketplace and this excites me. I haven’t found one that I like as much as Notepad++ just yet but I know it will be there shortly either with an update to the already impressive list of editor apps or a new one coming along.

Full Screen Browser, Multi-tasking, Charms, Gestures, Snap, and App Switcher

I lumped these together because in my use they are the bread and butter of what makes the device such a joy to use and they all basically go hand in hand. As a web developer I am obviously excited about the future of web apps. I have never been a fan of native apps, even when I was on iOS. Oops started drifting, back on. The full screen browser is just beautiful, it really just puts the web in front of you without any other junk. The multi-tasking is similar, tied in with how you switch apps it is just out of the way and just works fast and fluid. Instead of having a cluttered desktop with various sized windows stacked on top of each other things just get out of the way and are a simple flick from being front and center again. And of course if someone is chatting you up, you need to check emails, or are testing your mobile sized web work then snap is a beautiful answer to that. The gestures and charms really tie everything together. Instead of hunting around for where an app put it’s settings or other core functionality, you know they are a flick from the right away. Also a short swipe from top or bottom will bring you the other options the app brings and they will get out of your way when you are done.

Built in Remote Desktop is Second to None

Lets face it, in its infancy Windows RT does not have everything you could possibly need as far as apps go so you have to get on your desktop. But wait, instead of walking all the way up stairs and pausing your movie you can just RDP. As a bonus if you are remoting into a Windows 8 machine you even still have all of your wonderful gestures. RDP to a Windows 8 machine feels like you have full Windows 8 on your Surface RT with a bit of lag in a few areas.

The Bad Things About Developing on Surface RT

I can sum this all up in one word. Apps. While RDP is a good solution, it isn’t always the desired one. I need some Ruby on my RT for SASS, filezilla, and more browsers to test on. Sure there is browser stack but it isn’t the same.

Honest Review Of The Microsoft Surface RT After A Few Weeks With It

I’ll be the first to admit that I have gotten excited over the work that Microsoft has been doing lately so this is coming from someone with a newly found joy in using MS products. Also of note my device history:

    Mobile

  • Motorola SLVR
  • Palm Treo 680 PalmOS circa 2006 (my first smart device) – bought eBay 2007
  • Blackberry circa 2005 (don’t recall model but it sucked and so far my only downgrade ever) – bought eBay 2009
  • iPhone 3gs circa 2009 – bought AT&T 2009
  • Samsung Focus circa 2010 – bought AT&T 2010 (gave my girlfriend my iPhone)
  • HTC Titan circa 2011 – bought AT&T when the iPhone upgrade was up

    Desktop OS

  • Windows 98 flea market build – bought 2001ish
  • Windows XP custom build – bought 2003ish later to become an Ubuntu dev server in house
  • Windows XP custom build – built 2006
  • Upgraded(downgraded) to Vista on that machine with student discount in 2007 after a month switched to Ubuntu
  • Solely Ubuntu Feisty Fawn and only used Windows when I had to for class
  • Officially swore off MS and was loving Linux and my Palm Treo sometime in 2007
  • 2009 Upgraded that old machine to Windows 7 after using it in my job and actually liking it

I currently use Windows 7 and 8 on a day to day basis. Along with OSX Snow Leopard on a weeklyish basis and my Linux box is in a closet:(. With Windows 7 and WP7 coming around I started to actually become a fan of MS products. Before I used them because it was there. When I realized I had a choice, I switched to Linux. There was also some FreeBSD and CentOS installs in there but they were short lived as I preferred Ubuntu. But enough of that, on to the Surface.

Touch Cover

Enough cannot be said about the touch cover. It keeps my screen protected and provides a surface to lay my Surface on where I definitely don’t have to worry about scratches or anything. And on top of all of that it is a top notch performer when it comes to typing. I compare it to going from my Treo’s physical keyboard to the iPhone’s onscreen, although you don’t have to look at the keys like an onscreen. It is also nice that you get a lot of the typical large keyboard keys like volume, media controls, home, end, delete keys across the top as well as a couple of Windows 8 specifics like search, devices, share, and settings. The track pad works but is nothing new or exciting.

Screen

The screen as you know has a relatively low resolution but I can’t honestly say that it is any sort of hindrance, other than the amount of tiles you can have on the start screen. The picture looks great and fonts are crystal clear even when zoomed all the way in as I am right now while typing. I never thought to do this but it is actually kind of nice as it makes it extremely easy to see while typing and the screen automatically moves with the cursor when I get to the edge of the screen or start a new line. Oh hey I just found a fun feature for when I am writing these blogs. If a word is misspelled with the red squiggly under it, I can tap it and it gives me suggestions on a new spelling and it was correct. I also really like the 16:9 for a few reasons. Having a wider screen is great for when I am coding as I use the split screen but it is also great for movies and shows. When you flip it up into portrait (which I don’t do much) it is nice for Kindle books and long web pages to read.

IE10 Spell Corrector While Blogging
You can see above when a word is misspelled you can tap on it and get choices to correct it or to add it to your dictionary

Front and Rear Facing Camera on The Surface

They exist. There isn’t really anything to write about here other than they are there. They were clearly just made for video chat and they do a good job of it but you won’t want to be taking any pictures with them and not just because you look foolish. The angle on the back one is nice as my boss does fight with that a lot with his iPad and cover when trying to set it up for hands off use. (SIDE NOTE: I also just noticed that when I tap a misspelled word I have the option to ‘add to dictionary’)

Surface Ports, Kickstand, Buttons and General Physical Feel

Despite what people might say it is super nice to have a USB port on hand. You can charge your phone, plug in a mouse you have laying around, or plug in one of the 100 other USB devices you have. The headphone jack does what is expected and playing through headphones is surprisingly loud, luckily it automatically turns the volume down when you plug in. The speakers have good sound quality but are a bit quitter than I would like. I have yet to use my HDMI port but if I ever buy a cord that might change. I love the feel of the VaporMG and the kickstand is solid engineering. One thing that did surprise me is how well you can actually use this in your lap. To do so you have to have your lap fairly flat because at angles it obviously gets a bit dicey.

Software on Surface RT

Most of the software is nice but some of it is still a bit buggy. The Surface as is lacks a lot of great apps which I know is a bashers go to but at this point it can be a real turn off depending on your setup. As a web developer there isn’t a lot for me to work with on here currently but I actually find using the built in Windows RDP to be the best solution for that anyway as I don’t have to deal with file storage decisions or transfers or syncs, none of that because I am remoted into my development machine. However, I know that won’t be the case with everyone, and even I still need to setup my home VPN if I want to remote while away. The people, mail, and messaging hub can be slow and the messaging hub even failed to finish retrieving messages for me just a moment ago. Upon initial setup I even had to uninstall and reinstall these (they are a bundle) because my Facebook and Twitter stuff was stuck in limbo and wouldn’t actually sync.

Gestures, Charms, Menus, and Multitasking on the Surface RT

Like this keyboard I can’t possibly say enough but the Search Charm. One unified search for any app and the OS alike all a simple flick from the right away is brilliant and it works so well. It does take some getting used to though. Realizing that the Charms are for much more than just the OS is something that will grow on you but you will likely feel limited in a lot of apps until you realize that. One Charm that has so far been a love hate is the Device Charm. When I am listening to music and want to throw it up on the Xbox I just flick left | tap device | tap Xbox. And bam it is up on my Xbox in a few seconds. Sometimes it takes like 10-15 or so seconds which is a slight annoyance but the real problem has been with video. I can get video to work just find almost all the time but when it does mess up, like say it stops playing on the Xbox it sometimes won’t list the Xbox in my device list anymore. I have had to restart my Xbox to fix this one time. Flicking from the left to switch apps is ridiculously fast and I personally haven’t been able to force much lag unless I was switching with video and games and had a lot going on and even then we are talk 1-3 second lag.

To Wrap Things Up

I think that the Surface RT is a great product that needs more software for it. For me it has completely replaced a 17″ HP and a 10.1″ Eee PC though it couldn’t fully do this without the RDP so if RDP isn’t an option for you then you might want to look at the Yoga or MacBook Air, or wait for Surface Pro maybe. Obviously, all of those carry a bit higher price tag. Any review that just constantly rips on the Surface RT is either purely just looking for visits or bought a laptop/hybrid when they actually needed a toaster or something else completely unrelated.

Should I Buy Microsoft Surface RT or Surface 8 Pro

Microsoft has just announced it’s own line of Windows 8 tablet/ultrabooks, the Surface RT and Surface 8 Pro. The Surface RT is geared towards competing for tablet money while the Surface 8 Pro is a full fledged, high powered, Windows PC that has a form factor more like a tablet.

Tablets Are Redundant Pieces of Hardware

As I have posted before, I personally have little to no use for a tablet (in their current form) other than as a toy. I currently have a 7″ Android tablet that I play around with once in a while. Continue reading “Should I Buy Microsoft Surface RT or Surface 8 Pro”

Microsoft Smart Glass, Airplay, and DLNA

I like the presented features of Smart Glass. Although, I can’t help but feel that most of these features should have developed nicely through DLNA. DLNA as a group set out to make home media experience a nice seamless cross-platform experience, but so far has not been fruitful. Airplay on the other hand is a successful product but, it completely locks you into the Apple ecosystem so you have to buy a Mac, an AppleTV, and a iPhone/iPad/iPod to really get much out of it.

Microsoft Smart Glass Has The Extra Features

One difference is that Smart Glass is bringing more than simple media sharing across screens. Continue reading “Microsoft Smart Glass, Airplay, and DLNA”