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

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.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer
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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