Microsoft Surface RT: Desirable because it's not my work PC, but better than a tablet

Microsoft Surface RT: Desirable because it's not my work PC, but better than a tablet

Summary: I love the Microsoft Surface RT hardware, but was thinking a return was imminent. I then took a two day trip without a laptop and am convinced there is a real place in my mobile arsenal for the Surface RT.

Microsoft Surface RT: Desirable because it's not my work PC, but better than a tablet

I purchased my 64GB Microsoft Surface RT and have been using it since launch day. I am personally attracted to the Surface RT because it is NOT my work PC. When I am home or on the road I want to get AWAY from work, not take it with me all the time. I think this is why people like iPads, they get a different, friendly user experience for surfing on the couch, checking personal email, browsing Facebook photos, and more. I find I can do these same things with the Surface, but I am also not limited in many respects when I do need to do some work where I find I am limited at times with my iPad.

Office is needed at times

I bought the Surface more as a test device to see what Microsoft did with Windows RT and see how it worked with my Windows Phone devices, but have since discovered I am using it more than my iPad and it may eventually replace the iPad. One of the main things people write about the Surface is that it has a full Office suite and I agree that is a benefit. I have written articles about iPad Office apps and some are excellent, however they all compromise the Office experience where I haven't found I have had to compromise with Office on RT. I don't use the Surface as a laptop replacement, but at times I do need to open spreadsheets and documents and have found I am not limited by the Surface.

I am a professional engineer by day and a mobile tech writer by night, thus I do use Excel spreadsheets and Word documents and am not just writing in a text editor for this site. Then again, I discovered on a recent trip to D.C. (where I left my laptop behind) that I was able to upload, edit, and then include photos in my blog posts on the Surface where my iPad fails because it doesn't have an accessible file system. I wrote the blog posts in Notepad, edited the photos using the excellent Pixlr website editor, and posted in Internet Explorer.

Keyboard and hardware rocks

The hardware of the Microsoft Surface is fantastic. I was very impressed with my Microsoft made Zune HD and was pleased to see them take this high end design philosophy to the Surface. It feels like an expensive device with the solid materials, extremely useful integrated kickstand, flexibility to support microSD storage, HDMI out with no adapter required, a high end display, and integrated USB port.

Mine came with the black Touch Cover and I wanted to try it before buying a Type Cover and have to say after a couple of weeks that I have no desire for the Type Cover, but am thinking of buying a blue Touch Cover. I can type very fast and accurately with the Touch Cover and love the way it protects the display without adding much bulk. There are fantatic keyboards for the Apple iPad, but Microsoft does a better job of integrating it into the entire expereince as I wrote about in my keyboard shortcuts and gesture guide. I am also a huge fan of the trackpad and mouse buttons that let me use the Surface all from the keyboard if I like rather than having a dual touch and keyboard experience that the iPad requires.

Windows Phone connects directly to my Surface

My main computer at home has been a MacBook Pro, but when I wanted to update or sync my Windows Phones I had to bring my work Windows 7 laptop home. Microsoft has now released more advanced Mac clients, but it still doesn't give you access to Xbox Music and other Microsoft services. Unlike the iPad that doesn't connect to anything, I love that I can connect my new Windows Phone 8 devices right to the Surface RT and manage content, sync the device, and treat the Surface just as I would my Windows PC. The Surface RT is a great companion to Windows Phone.

Tablet mode grows on you

At first I hated using the Surface without the keyboard and holding it in portrait orientation. Microsoft still has work to do here since many apps, even native ones like the Windows Store, only work in landscape and that can be annoying when you are sitting on the couch in portrait orientation. However, I am now enjoying the tablet mode for surfing, checking my calendar, and other tasks and I think the solid feel of the hardware goes a long way towards making that experience better.

Apps that I need are there

I wrote about the available apps for the Surface RT and how all the ones I want are already there and Microsoft has more available now on the Surface RT than others had when they launched new mobile platforms. It is unfortunate that Windows Phone purchases don't translate to RT and I wish we could at least get a 50% discount or something. I can't think of an app missing that I need right now on RT as the current selection meets me needs. I would be interested in hearing what apps you are missing on RT. I don't see an official Facebook app, but the website works just fine and the People hub gives you Facebook status updates and lets you make new posts as well. Like Windows Phone, Surface RT has social and other services (gotta love the Skype integration) built right into the OS so stand alone apps are necessary either.

Performance can still be improved

At times, the Surface does seem to take a few seconds to open apps, but I haven't seen it lock up or become unusable at all. I did discover that you can swipe down within an app and then continue to drag it all the way down and off the screen to close it and find that seems to help if you have a few processor intensive applications running at the same time. I have seen complaints of lag in rotation, but all I see is the screen animate like it is backing away from the panel, rotation, and then stepping forward to take up the screen. It's not enough to bother me and seems designed that way.

I don't want a Surface Pro for personal use

I am on the upgrade cycle at work for a new Windows PC next year and will likely be issued a Windows 8/Surface Pro device. However, I have no desire for one of these for my personal mobile device. As I mentioned earlier, I like my Surface RT because it is NOT my work PC and offers me a fun and enjoyable experience. I know that with Windows 8, the Surface Pro may offer me this same experience. However, the device will be larger, may need a fan, may not have as long of battery life, and is a full PC that I do not need for time away from work.

I am not trying to convince people to buy the Microsoft Surface RT, but wanted to share my experiences and how it works well for my usage needs. I thought I may return it and if you listened to the last MobileTechRoundup podcast you will hear that Kevin almost had me convinced to return it. After my last trip with the Surface I am sold on its usefulness to me and think it is the portable device I have wanted for quite some time.

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Topics: Mobility, Microsoft, Tablets

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  • .

    I never understand why some people label you a MS lover. I always find that your pieces are very well written and you never seem biased! Nothing you can do about some people on this site though! I'm 100% sure if SJVN wrote a pro MS article even some would label him a MS fanboy!

    I like the look of surface, but the PC world (UK) near me hasnt got them in yet so i cant see one in the flesh before i make my mind up, although i think i will be waiting until the pro comes out as i cant justify getting both!
    • Matt is not biased

      yes, like you said lot of us here label him as MS Fanboy, but in fact he is not. He is a gadget geek like some of us.
      Ram U
  • I've had a similar experience as you

    I bought a Surface RT because I wanted a tablet upon which to test metro apps (my dev system is an Inspiron One upgrade to Windows 8, which has a touch screen, but not as sensitive as a surface, and I'm not going to carry that beast around). I also, though, wanted something like an iPad with a bit more "oomph." Something I can do a small bit of work on in a pinch without wanting to throw the bloody thing against a wall (which is my experience with my iPad)

    I absolutely love that it has a USB port. It has allowed me to grab photos and upload them during vacation in ways that an iPad simply wouldn't let me do. I use it to plug in my Logitech headset (which is USB).

    Access to the desktop and a proper file system is quite useful. And I found while sitting at the dining room table following election results and commenting on Facebook that having access to a keyboard is pretty useful. Granted, a laptop has a keyboard, but on my Surface, it is optional, so I can rip it off when just check email, checking news, or browsing the web.

    Can other tablets not manufactured by Microsoft do the same? Most assuredly. But the surface can stop bullets (it at least feels that way; it's solid as a block of metal, though light in the hands). And, I wanted something made by Microsoft to see where Microsoft takes its device story.

    One odd thing to note: The windows logo on the back is painted on, and is already showing signs of wear. Just as a future note to Microsoft: branding is important, and you don't want your brand mark rubbed off after a few weeks. That's probably why Apple has an apple-shaped insert on the back.
    John Carroll
    • Where is the value

      For a user who gets this basic functionality via Android?
      Surface Pro I will likely buy.
      Surface RT, still not seeing what it gives me that my Transformer setup does not.

      Note: when I work in MSOffice, it is usually a mix of Word, Excel, PP, and Visio.
      • The value?

        @rhonin: I guess it's a little difficult to explain until you've used one. I've used the android hybrid setup for some time. There are a number of compromises that you make to do so. Funny thing is that I was so used to that experience that I didn't really notice those compromises until I got my RT tablet.

        The one thing I'll say, is that using an OS + device that was made with mouse & keyboard as part of it's consideration maters. The history of windows device compatibility for USB and bluetooth matters. The ability to do real multitasking matters. By that I mean having two windows open at the same; watching a movie and my email/twitter/etc feed at the same time matters. The touch/type cover is brilliant.

        As far as office goes. It has everything on your list except visio.

        You may prefer to stay with android, and that's perfectly fine. However, for me, I've found that RT is much more of a complete package.
      • I find the Win8 interface preferable I'm a Windows developer, and developing to XAML / C# is my thing. But, anecdotally, everyone who I've lent it to prefers it to iPad / Android tablets. Maybe I just have weird family and friends.
        John Carroll
    • John, you are testing my patience!

      I want to see exactly what the differences between a Surface Pro and a Surface RT are before jumping in. My wife would kill me if I got an RT and then a Pro six months later. Or worse, she might retaliate and go shopping for boots. I kind of want a Surface right now and you made it worse!

      Deep breath, Dan, you can do it....

      At least there are people here who understand gadget-envy.

      I've been looking at the 365 licensing with interest.

      The RT having Office preloaded is an advantage, but having five copies across an iPad, MacBook, Thinkpad, Tab Plus, and a Surface inexpensively is starting to win me over.... I gotta keep thinking like this to stall getting that RT
      • Easiest explanation

        Surface Pro is what you would get if you took a full copy of Windows 8 and slapped it onto the surface hardware. There's nothing missing, full 32-bit support.
        Michael Alan Goff
      • You should give in

        And buy a Surface RT. The unit I have is just incredible. Can I run x86 apps on it? Not really, even though the remote destop experience is top notch - it's hard to get heavy lifting done that way. The device itself is pushing maximum density, this means that the Surface should only get lighter and slimmer. A few iterations from now, once the Haswell (tock) hits the market - it should look more attractive.

        My impression is that x86 compatibility aside, you can do a lot with the Surface RT without feeling like you're performing work-arounds all day. The battery life is awesome and the UI experience is compelling. Split-screen apps, easy copy/pasting, quick app switching, and integrated Windows file/networking support (just like you're used to) are all good reasons to give in and buy one now. Plus, your wife will probably be less upset if you spend 500 bucks and not 1000 (at leas you can tell her that now).

        My son had an iPad and laptop on his Christmas list until about 5 minutes after he saw my Surface. Now I have a hard time getting him back to his own computers. He was switching between IE10 (really good experience), word and the travel app to do a huge project for school.

        Yesterday, my wife (a UI/UX manager and programmer) stood behind me and said, "I want one of those." Basically what I'm saying is that, if you buy one. You probably won't have to worry too much about her wroth, and you might change your mind about wanting a Surface Pro... That is... if you have a Windows 8 workstation already.
    • Re: I absolutely love that it has a USB port.

      But it's not USB 3.0.
  • Wait.. App purchases do not translate between phone/pc?

    Can you clarify how the app purchasing works?

    It sounds like apps for a windows phone is a different purchase than those for tablet/pc. So buying an app for a phone doesn't grant access to that app for a windows tablet/pc. Assuming the same is true for apps purchased from tablet/pcs are not available for windows phone?

    I was considering getting a windows phone, but I just can't understand why Microsoft would push their integrated operating system only to have fragmented app purchases. This is a deal breaker for me.
    • You should give it a try

      I got so sick of icons that I jumped on the WP7 bandwagon with a nokia 900 and it's the best phone I've ever used. So much so that I'm going to get my wife a 920 just so I can play with it until I'm up for a new device. It's not as free or as open as android but the experience more than makes up for it.

      As for app purchasing, here's how it works now (in my experience). If you buy a phone app, it does not translate to your desktop. If you buy a desktop or tablet app, it will be present as soon as you log on to any other desktop or tablet running Windows 8 or Windows RT. More than that... My Surface picked up, what color scheme I was using on my desktop, all the apps I had installed, the background on my desktop, all my personal settings, and my full home network complete with television, media center, xbox and all my computers.

      Smartglass, while available and android (and iOS soon) works well with XBox and the WP devices, Surface and Win8 computers all know the score and keep track of it together. A very exciting time in computing for me. I get disapointed every day I sit down to do heavy compositing at my Win 7 desktop. The nokia 920 is going to be 100 bucks from att I think. Might want to give it a second look.
  • Windows Phone apps don't work on Windows RT (or Windows 8)

    Makes some sense, as they are different form factors, but many have complained about that.
    John Carroll
    • Re: Windows Phone apps don't work on Windows RT

      No, that doesn't make any sense. Weren't they supposed to share the same kernel?
  • Fan on Surface Pro

    Did you read about the cooling with the opening along the periphery of the device? I don't know whether there's a fan inside that you will be able to hear, but it is evident they thought about the cooling needs and have worked to make it as good as possible.
  • Thanks for sharing RT experience

    Im just sitting on the fence to decide what I'll buy in the next year. Your article gave me hope that the Surface RT could satisfy my moderate but essential needs for Excel, PP, and WD. Also glad it supports MS file management.

    The last desire is a photo editor. I use and love Photoshop, but could be satisfied with just the adjustment and resize functions. Is there such an app for Surface RT? It doesn't have to be blazingly fast or support a lot of file types. JPEG, GIF, and BMP are just fine. also drivers for my Canon LIDE 35 scanner and Epson Workforce 30 printer.

    I like the light weight and compactness of the Surface RT. The cost is reasonable for good hardware with a usable MS Office installation.

    Your article answered some important questions. Thanks for sharing your hands on experience.
  • USB Port

    Here are my thoughts on the USB port on the surface:

    In short, it's a great addition, that along with the Touch keyboard make the Surface really a great device.
  • Surface RT is a crippled device.

    Better to wait and spend a few extra dollars for the Surface Pro if if you're going to buy one.

    Arm A. Geddon
    • Tradeoffs

      It's only crippled if you think of it as a laptop. As a tablet, it's got wings - and that's pretty much exactly what this article is about.

      Incidentally, the "going on vacation" scenario is exactly what convinced me to get a Surface. I recently took an iPad with me as my only computing device on a week long trip, and was constantly frustrated with dumb things like not being able to print maps/boarding passes or transfer photos from my camera. The Surface handles all these basic tasks while keeping the form factor and UI of a tablet.
    • I could see this being really good for a certain group

      Everything has a market, after all.
      Michael Alan Goff