Microsoft Surface RT is a great gift for college and high school students

Microsoft Surface RT is a great gift for college and high school students

Summary: My daughter recently discovered the my Microsoft Surface RT is a perfect device for writing papers and conducting research while also having slick hardware design.

Microsoft Surface RT is a great gift for college and high school students

I wrote a post in November on my Microsoft Surface RT experiences and how I like the device because it is NOT my main work PC, but a fantastic companion. I can get things done on the Surface without frustration that I just cannot do on my iPad. Today, you will find my Surface RT, with new blue Touch Cover keyboard I bought, in my daily commuter bag while my iPad sits at home on the shelf. My teenage daughter has also come to appreciate the Surface and I honestly think it is a device to consider this holiday season for your high school or college student.

The Surface gained widespread praise for the hardware design and implementation, but many confuse the issue by saying it is not a real good tablet or real good laptop so it is a failure. When the iPad was released, it was also stated that there is no need for such a device and it would likely not sell very well. The iPad sells very well today and while there is still no absolute need for it, people like the idea of a touchable large screen mobile device. I agree that the Surface is not just a true tablet or a true full laptop, but I do think there is a place for such a device that offers an optimized landscape tablet experience. As I previously wrote, I don't want the Surface RT to run all my Windows apps and there are groups of people out there that have no need to run a plethora of Windows apps. I don't believe people buy iPads primarily for work and that is not why I bought my Surface either.

I am a fan of the kickstand on the Surface because I like to watch video content via Netflix, Hulu, and Xbox Video. Actually, I use a Logitech keyboard case with my iPad primarily to prop up my iPad to watch video content so it is fantastic to see Microsoft provides such a solid design element by default. Propping up a device like this for video is great for long commutes and traveling by airplane. The Surface kickstand is made even better when paired with the Touch Cover since I can now also enter text and control my Surface, check out my gesture and shortcut guide, without consuming any of the viewable display.

A couple of weeks ago, my 16-year old daughter asked to borrow my MacBook Pro for homework. I was working on some ZDNet articles and image galleries and couldn't lend her the laptop so I asked if she wanted to try out my Microsoft Surface. The ONLY instructions I gave her were how to unlock the Surface with my slick visual password. I went and checked on her about 15 minutes later and she was working in a new Word document, jumping around in Internet Explorer conducting research, and streaming music via Xbox Music. Granted, my daughters are a bit more tech savvy than their grandma, but she picked it up right away and figured out how to use several functions with no help from me. I asked how the writing was going and she said everything was just fine and that she loved the keyboard and how well it worked. The version of Office on the Surface RT is perfect for most people who NEVER use the advanced features of Office and for the majority of people there are no limitations in Office on the Surface RT devices.

My daughter ended up "stealing" my Surface for the next several days and never once asked about charging it up. She used it for a couple of hours each night and was very impressed by the long battery life. I next need to have my daughter in college try the Surface since she lugs around her MacBook Pro to class to take notes during lectures. The Surface RT is less than half the weight and has longer battery life so she too may find real value in such a mobile device. A reader alerted me to a post that listed some of the specific uses for students that I recommend you check out as well.

It will be interesting to see how Microsoft's Surface RT does when it hits other brick-and-mortar stores because the current availability just in Microsoft Stores and online seems to limit the buyer to the more tech savvy crowd. I think high school and college students will love the Surface with full Office functionality, cool user interface, colorful keyboard options, weight that doesn't break their backs, long battery life to keep them going, and a price competitive to other large screen tablets. Don't write off the Microsoft Surface as a great holiday gift just yet, give it a try yourself to see if you enjoy the experience.

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Topics: Microsoft Surface, Microsoft, Mobility

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  • Thanks Matthew, I can confirm this is my usage experience too

    "Today, you will find my Surface RT, with new blue Touch Cover keyboard I bought, in my daily commuter bag while my iPad sits at home on the shelf."

    Except my Touch Cover is black.

    My Surface RT, out of the box, is everything I spent more than a year + hundreds of dollars trying (and failing) to turn my iPad into.
  • Matt look at this

    I felt the same and blogged about it on Mobility Digest,

    Surface RT is definitely for the Students. I test ran that with my kids and they like it.
    Ram U
    • Great post, just inserted a link in my article

      Thanks for the link, I added it to this post. Your list of specifics for students is excellent.
      palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
      • Matt, thank you very much.

        Ram U
  • It's missing one thing needed to make it the perfect student PC

    A stylus - one that will make OneNote sing.

    Yes, the Pro version will have a stylus, but that $400 more (and 250 grams heavier and 50% thicker, and most importantly, it is expected to have only 50% the battery life of the RT version).

    The Pro version would be *very* useful for a student who is expected to use specific programs (for example an engineering student who needs to load up MatLab). Otherwise, RT works fine - browsing, email and Office are just about everything most students need.

    However, being able to take handwritten notes into OneNote would make it the ideal student companion.
    • I have an iPad stylus I will have to try out

      Have you tried one of the many iPad stylus accessories? I have one and will give it a try. I don't use OneNote much, but will see if it supports inking with these capacitive stylus accessories.
      palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
      • Will Work...

        Surface uses a typical capacitive screen and there's no reason for it not to work.
        The only issue could be the inking fluidity - and it is partly software dependent.
        • Inking support in WinRT is really good

          I have far preferred using the native inking support in the WinRT OS than OneNote's "Ink to Text" feature. One of the problems with regular capactive screens is that you need some kind of wrist guard feature. I saw some nice designs in the iPad apps I purchased but there doesn't seem to be any wrist guard in OneNote (at least none I've found - if anyone knows of that feature please post).

          Using the WinRT native inking support allows you to ink your text at the bottom of the screen and also allows you to correct the Ink to Text recognition on the fly using what I find to be a very efficient UI. While inking basics are simple to use without reading any help files, some of the more advanced features will really save you time so I do encourage anyone who is going to use WinRT inking read the basic help file. It doesn't take long and learning the advanced correction techniques that are available will save you a lot of time in the long run.
      • Adonit Jot styluses are expensive but well worth it in my opinion

        Please note that I am not affiliated with this company. I used to use one of those rubber tipped styluses and while they were okay, I always found the experience lacking. My Jot stylus is amazing and well worth the price IMO.

        Please note that common complaints are that it is easy to lose the stylus disc but I haven't run into this problem yet.
      • My daughter did 4 years of Eng. school on a Tablet PC (a circa 2007 Lenovo)

        Every note taken in every class was done in OneNote. She loved it (as did her study partners who could get her notes for the day in email if they missed a class).

        Note-taking on a keyboard is *not* the same as it is with a pen, particularly in the sciences, where graphs (and other graphical elements) are so important.
    • Handwritten text entry anywhere is a great feature

      I actually find I use the OS inking feature to input text while in tablet mode, including OneNote (though OneNote is certainly the program I use the most often while inputting text in tablet mode).

      I'm not sure how good the inking support is in Android but iOS has no inking support and while I paid for a few iPad apps that did support inking, it is a joke how poor the support was. When I bought the Surface RT, I hadn't really expected to use it with a stylus, having been so disgusted with inking support on the iPad. When I used it for the first time on my Surface, I was pleasantly surprised.

      It is one of those things where it is easy to say "inking sucks" because you are using it on a platform (iOS) where it is implemented SO poorly. Switching to a platform where it is properly implemented makes all the difference in the world.
  • Same as the Kin you gave to her?

    You were sooo positive about the Kin...
  • Pushing a Dead Horse

    Give up, the Suface is a failure.
    • Just like you?

      What are you so afraid of?
      William Farrel
      • Pushing a Dead Horse

        The fact is the device is a failure. It's sold poorly and therefore no serious entity will develop apps for it. It's also an awful design with no real place in the market.

        It wants to be a ultrabook/laptop, yet it's claimed to be a tablet. It's not that thin. It's not appealing to look at. It's got a damn ugly interface, like who in their right mind would lock down a whole front screen with a childish squares when they could have had the square-thingy as a widget. Bang you head in stupor, Microsoft.

        Then consider its limiting backer, Microsoft. They are heavy into digital-rights-management and other restrictive policies. This shows in the openness of the device for OS developers and applications makers. You are locked into the app-store. I agree Apple does this too, but Microsoft doesn't have the credit to do this. Microsoft is on the nose.

        The Surface is a mess, and you guys are trying to resurrect it, either because your getting cash-for-comments, or you are heavily invested in this flop.
  • The product lifecycle support is another factor in favor of the Surface RT

    With the Surface RT, both Windows RT and Office RT will receive support from Microsoft for 4 to 4.5 years. That includes, for most students, the freshman through senior years.

    With Android and iPad tablets, the support lifecycle is roughly 2 years or less. Unless one has a popular Android-based tablet model and installs an after-market Android ROM from CyanogenMod, etc. However, at the present time, how many after-market Android ROMs are available for 10-inch Android-based tablet models. Answer: none, just the discontinued HP TouchPad. Perhaps, with larger tablets now available from Google (Nexus 10), Amazon and Barnes & Noble, this will change.

    P.S. Matt, I'm surprised you didn't create and write about creating a user account for your daughter on the Surface RT.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Regarding CyanogenMod ROMs for 10-inch Android-based tablets

      Thought I would post that CyanogenMod does have a ROM for the 10-inch Viewsonic G-tablet which was sold with Android 2.2. However, it's currently at CM 7.02 (note that the ROM was released on 2012-06-16) which equates to Android 2.3. Not a particularly good example given that Android is currently at version 4.2.

      Largert tablets are important for students. Why? So that they can read eTextbooks (not just novels).
      Rabid Howler Monkey
      • Jellybean for Viewsonic GTablet

        Actually there are Jelly Bean ROMs for the GTablet available starting a couple months ago. I'm running the one from ePinter and it works very nicely.
        Technical John
        • RE: Jellybean for Viewsonic GTablet

          @Technical John, thanks for opening my eyes to what's happening with Android after-market ROMs. I've pretty much been following CyanogenMod. I found two GTablet ROMs via the XDA-Developers forum. TeamDRH had their hands in both. One was built using CyanogenMod source-code and the other using Android original source-code.

          Also thought I would mention Team Baked. They have ROMs for the following Android tablets (the first 5 listed are 10-inch tablets): Asus Transformer Pad, Asus Transformer Prime, Asus Transformer Infinity, Motorola Xoom wifi, Motorola Xoom 4g, Google Nexus 7, Samsung Galaxy Tab2 7″.
          Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Product Support?

      Hmmm, should we compare WP7 versus the iPhone 3GS for product life support?

      I'd say it's far too early to say how well supported the Surface will be while on the Apple side all the iPads received the latest iOS upgrade.

      On the CyanogenMod side I'm happily running ICS on my old TouchPad thanks to those people.
      Robert Crocker