I had very high hopes for the Surface RT and completed my pre-order of a 64GB unit with black touch cover 13 minutes before pre-orders were supposed to go live. Upon receipt of the unit, I was amazed by the hardware and am still mostly happy with the design though ultimately I should have known that I would not fall in love with it when I set it down after playing with it for 20 minutes on launch day.
See that picture at the beginning of this post? That is what my Surface looks like 99% of the time; the screen is dark because I haven’t had a need to even touch it in the last four hours.
I’ve tried really, really hard to make this relationship work. I’ve schlepped it ~5,000 miles a week, back and forth from Seattle to Louisville, and set it up on my desk every day. I’ve gone out of my way to show it to largely uninterested customers, colleagues, family and single-serving-friends. Unfortunately, I just don’t have a use for the Surface in my life.
The only two times I’ve found a use for it so far were when I needed to take notes with OneNote. I might have been happy with an $800 note taking device if this had worked as hoped, but the first time I needed it OneNote wouldn’t pull up a recent copy of my notes from SkyDrive and the second time the touch cover had a worse than normal accuracy rate, rendering my notes useless.
I can’t even find a use for what I originally purchased it for: Showing it to customers and explaining how Exchange and Lync work with it. That could be because the Exchange integration is embarrassing but I’m getting ahead of myself there.
All that said, the Surface does have some redeeming values:
- The hardware is absolutely gorgeous. The VaporMg case is smooth to the touch and seems to resist the abuse I heap upon my laptop and tablets quite well. This seems like the design you’d get if you handed a blank check to a Finnish designer with a shaved head, a goatee and rimless glasses and said “Make me a tablet unlike any the world has ever seen.” The hardware is, by far, my absolute favorite feature of the Surface.
- The battery life is fantastic. I haven’t had to plug it in since last week actually. Bear in mind that I’ve used it probably around 5 hours since I last plugged it in though.
- My daughter really loves the Fresh Paint app. Luckily I travel a lot so she’ll likely forget about it.
- A full sized USB port! This is a tremendously useful feature that I’ve used many times to charge my iPhone in the airport.
- The MicroSD slot is handy as a way of transferring files to it. Yes, I could use WiFi but hotels have a habit of blocking WiFi traffic between devices and – silly me – I don’t carry an access point on my travels with me.
- Lync is pretty nice. Not an amazing implementation – and missing some key usability features the desktop client has – but it’s decent and has proven to do everything I needed it to do.
Unfortunately there are many more downsides to it. I’m only listing the big ones here as they’re the ones that are pushing me to sell this absolutely gorgeous device.
Before I go into the downsides I feel the need to point out a few things. First, these are my opinions and mine alone. I know a few people who seem to really love their Surface. Second, I make my living from Microsoft technologies and I really, really wanted them to knock this out of the park. Third, I did not even bother trying the type cover because I don’t see how it can improve upon the experiences I’ve had.
- While the hardware is gorgeous, it also seems ‘cheap’ at times. The kickstand that I heard so much about? It feels plastic. I’ve had two people pick it up and ask why it has a plastic kickstand even. While two is a small percentage of the dozen or so that have picked it up I at least know I’m not the only one that thinks this.
- WiFi occasionally malfunctions after going to sleep. When waking the Surface from sleep it sometimes just doesn’t see any wireless networks without a reboot. I have no idea why and it’s quite aggravating even though it doesn’t happen frequently.
- The touch cover randomly disconnects when simply closing the device. I first encountered this on day one, then went and actually read the manual to make sure I was attaching the cover right. Yep, I was. It’s happened a few times since then, including once where it almost ended in a fall to a hard floor. It is NOT as strong of a connection as the demo videos show it to be.
- The glossy screen seems to attract fingerprints and smudges much quicker than my iPad or iPhone. This is obvious even in the picture above. I use it much, much less than either of my iOS devices that also have glossy screens but it just gets dirtier, faster. The screen also appears more reflective in my opinion.
- It has already crashed and rebooted once in a total of ~20 hours of usage. I have no idea why. I was installing an app from the store and it just… rebooted.
- Outlook is missing and the built-in mail client is nigh unusable. Yes, some people might find it to work just fine and dandy. I’m not one of those people. The interface is non-intuitive to me, the editor is a joke and the ActiveSync implementation is slow enough to be noticeable. I can have this on the desk with my iPhone and iPad and laptop and I’ll hear three dings almost simultaneously, followed up 2 to 3 seconds later by the Surface. This doesn’t impact me directly but it shows a distinct lack of ‘polish’ to the device in my opinion.
- Outlook is missing and I can only setup three push accounts on the mail client. To move past this I’ve setup my three main email accounts as push accounts and the rest as pull accounts but I’d be really, really curious to hear the reasoning behind this.
- The Windows Store is anemic. Not only does it have less selection than either Apple’s App Store or Google Play – which is something I could have lived with – but it also has a distinct lack of core apps I use, including Dropbox, Box, Facebook, Twitter and TripIt. Those are apps I live with all day long, every day and while Microsoft isn’t completely to blame there, it is just a simple fact that I need them to function.
- Did I mention Outlook is missing? Even if everything else had been perfect this could have been a deal killer all by it’s lonesome. I live and breathe in Outlook and can’t think of a single reason not to include it.
In the end, I really can’t recommend it for most people. This isn’t even a device I would gift to my parents when I consider that I would be doing tech support for it. Kids? Yeah, maybe. The games on it are quite cool. An Xbox and PS3 combined are cheaper and less likely to be dropped though. I might give it to my wife as she is reasonably tech savvy but I think the learning curve moving from Windows 7 and and iPhone to Windows RT would be huge, and I’d still be doing tech support for it, just not as much.
The ultimate verdict? I’ll likely sell this Surface RT. I’ve purchased an iPad Mini to replace it, which has already gotten a large amount of usage in the few days of I’ve had it. I’m willing to give the Surface Pro a shot whenever it comes out but I’m fearful they’ll price it close to a laptop, in which case I might pass.
TL; DR – Pass on the Surface RT. Surface Pro? Maybe but likely not. Tablet for business use? I think for Windows 8 tablets the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 might be the best option and I am really looking forward to trying it out.