So you have gotten used to having a nice digital camera or even just a better camera on your smart phone. AWESOME! But when you want to try to find that great picture you took that one weekend when you were out a year or 2 years ago you have to search through thousands or maybe tens-hundreds of thousands of pictures.
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
As it stands I have owned a Microsoft Surface RT with black touch cover for a little over 24 hours. This blog is going to be my first extensive typing with the touch cover. To boot I am typing this on my lap because one of the initial reviews that I read said it was unusable like this. I have to say that is simply wrong and laptop use is much much better than I had expected. This is going to be a pretty quick and overall review instead of being super in depth. I hope to write a more in depth review after more use.
The Good Software
The Microsoft Surface is super easy to setup and beautiful to see all of your data instantly synced up on your first login. This is of course assuming that you take advantage of the services offered by live.com, which if you do not then you should check them out. The built in apps are pretty basic but beautifully done and very fast. The app store also has a decent amount of useful free or cheap apps already which was a nice surprise. Angry Birds space, I have to say is quite fun and got me hooked unlike the others in the series. The gestures take a little bit of practice but when you get them down they become quite natural. The task switching swipe from the left is just unparalleled. Having a full on Windows machine is a small and sleek package is pretty cool. You still have the full on familiar control panel, desktop, task manager (actually improved), and of course a file manager. The new task manager is awesome on Windows 8 with a much better breakdown of what exactly is going on and where. The software keyboard is nice with the multiple configurations which work nearly perfectly for the different ways you might interact with your Surface.
The Good Hardware
I had a live account for about 6 years before I looked at what it actually had to offer. And it gets better by the day. The touch cover is super thin, comfortable, sleek, and actually a joy to type on. I use a clunky Logitech wave which has pretty hard keys so I was worried that I would not like the touch cover at all, I was wrong. I equate it to the switch from Palm Treo and Blackberry to my iPhone 3gs. The magnet on the keyboard and on the power cord are nice but the keyboard one is much better. It has already come in handy to have a usb port to charge my phone in a pinch. Surface’s lowish resolution screen still looks beautiful. I did have my doubts on that and I have yet to hold it next to a New Ipad but I think it is much less of a deterrent than I thought that it would be.
Software Fails So Far
For whatever reason the people and message hub will not sync my facebook and twitter accounts fully with my live account but it works fine with my girlfriends live account, TweetTRO doesn’t load at all, and Xbox Music has had problems on some songs. I feel like the switch to portrait/landscape is a little too sensitive sometimes. Lastly, moving tiles around on the homescreen with touch took a little bit to figure out and can feel a bit bulky when trying to move a tile from one end to the other.
The camera quality is pretty low, which I knew and didn’t really care too much about, but it could turn some people off. Also the speakers are not really all that loud but of course can be taken care of with speakers or headphones.
Overall Take Away After One Day With Surface
The hardware is extremely nice with only the camera quality being something that I could see being a deal breaker to some. The software is nice but the apps will certainly benefit from some more development. The touch cover is insanely good for typing on lap or on a solid surface.
If you are wondering, I did one type test with the 10 fingers fast test on this touch cove and got 57 words per minute with 6 errors and 55 correct words. I am not a super fast typist but I have hit as high as 89 or so on that test in the past.
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.
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.
UPDATE: I did not go through with the install last night because I was on my work laptop and the only option in the upgrade was to keep NOTHING. My IT department would likely be angry if I wiped everything off of there and I am not 100% positive I would be able to get back up and running with my work VPN setup. At any rate, I plan to install Windows 8400 on my netbook which currently has 8250 build also.
I was excited about all of the rumors of Windows 8 Release Preview being rumored to come out early. When I checked for updates on my Windows 8 8250 machine I saw that I had 23 updates. Excited, I thought that maybe the 8400 update would come like service packs usually do just in big updates.
Ok so I personally have never been excited about a Windows operating system. I like Windows 7 a lot more than Mac OSX and Windows XP (Ubuntu holds a special place in my heart though). However good Windows 7 is, it could use improvements and with my lovely Windows Phone 7 user interface being in my face everyday it really shows.
Windows8 at Mobile World Congress 2012
Not sure about you but, I am extremely jealous of the folks that get to attend MWC 2012. And sadly I haven’t found any videos of the Windows 8 demo at MWC. If any of you know where I could find that please please shoot me a link in the comments.
Gaming has come a long way since I was a kid with a Super Nintendo. In those days you mostly just played 2 player games with your friend or sibling sitting no more than 3 feet away from you. Then the Nintendo 64 brings in a couple more controller ports to add to the fun. But when internet connectivity came to gamin systems everything changed. When you buy a gaming platform what you see is not the only thing you get. We now have massive online multi-player games connecting us to anyone in the world. Also your system is no longer limited by cartridges and memory cards. One thing we have yet to really get into much at this point is cross platform gaming. Sure there are some games that you can play turn based on iOS and Android but that just isn’t enough.
Windows 8, Xbox Console, and Windows Phone All on Xbox Live