Microsoft Surface – Initial Thoughts

I've been using the new Microsoft Surface running Windows RT this weekend, so I thought I'd post by initial thoughts. This was one borrowed from the office.


I'd installed Windows 8 on my laptop and my first thoughts weren't that good. The 'Metro' interface was vastly different to Windows 7, and having to right-click to get menus to appear seemed counter-intuitive. I couldn't even work out how to copy a hyperlink from the built-in mail client. Having now used Windows 8 on a touch device for the first time, it finally made sense.



Based on ARM, the Surface only runs apps downloaded from the Microsoft App Store. You get Office Home and Student bundled, although these run in desktop mode. The only reason I can assume they run on the desktop is because Microsoft didn't have time to port them to Metro (no simple task, I'm sure). It does however make the surface confusing, since the desktop only shows up as 1 app when you use the Metro task switching functionality, when in reality you could have 3 or 4 apps open on the desktop.


The unique trick that surface has up its sleeve of course is the Touch Cover – a cover similar to the SmartCover for the iPad, that is also a keyboard with a trackpad. The Surface goes from tablet to notebook with ease. (note, I didn't say laptop, you won't want to use this on your lap, it's too unstable). Windows RT can also run two apps side by side, and have multiple user accounts on one device.


So while the hardware is certainly unique and very useful indeed, Windows RT can be confusing. This is compounded by a lack of apps. I am typing this now on an iPad, because there is no software that I could find in the Microsoft App Store that will let me connect and post to WordPress. This lack of software will hopefully be a temporary problem, and once this gets fixed and Office comes to Metro, the desktop can be removed and this tablet can stop being a split personality.


If you forget the desktop, and forget office then you have a promising device for consuming media. Sometimes it feels a bit laggy, like when rotating the screen or launching apps, but only occasionally – most of the time it feels pretty snappy. Whether not people who have invested in content on Android and iOS will want to put that aside and buy content from Microsoft is anther question. In theory if you buy a film on the Surface, you should be able to watch it on your Xbox 360. Browsing the web is frustrating because there seems to be no way to set Google as your search provider – this really would be a deal breaker for me, because Bing just isn't as good, and not having decent search at your fingertips is like forgetting to wear a watch, you really miss it when it's gone. Favourites are also difficult to find (you have to focus the address bar, and then swipe to the right, they cannot be grouped into folders). I prefer the iPad here, but this is an early version of IE for Metro despite the version being 10, I'm sure this will improve with time.


So is the device for? It's not gong to replace a PC for power-users, and the lack of Outlook/Desktop software will probably off business users. That leaves casual home users (would-be iPad buyers) – though I wonder whether the lack of a 7 inch version might sway those users towards the cheaper iPad Mini or the Kindle Fire. One group who this is made for however is students. This device is perfect for taking to lectures, typing up coursework and doing research on.


Overall I'm impressed, though I think I'll stick with. My iPad for now (despite that fact it feels really old now) and wait and see what Surface version 2 looks like.


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