Just after Thanksgiving last year, my Surface RT arrived. I’ve now had the opportunity to use it for over a month and have some thoughts on it. I picked up the Microsoft Surface (32GB) from Microsoft along with a Type Cover.

General Usage

So in my household we have a number of tablet and computer devices. Too many is likely the right answer. So it was questionable how much general use it would get compared to other devices in the house. The primary winner in the house is still the laptop, especially for my wife. She like to watch something on Hulu or Netflix as well as surf the web and chat. While she will use her iPad to do so sometimes, often she doesn’t because she wants to multitask. So the first time I showed my wife she can chat in a side bar and watch Hulu at the same time, she thought it was awesome. For web browsing it works pretty well. Some sites are white listed for flash use which opens up the door to using them since they won’t work on an iPad. I found that I miss tapping links a lot though. The iPad that just doesn’t really happen, maybe it guesses what you really mean if you’re nearby? On my Nexus 7 it will show a zoomed in area and allow you to click the right thing if it doesn’t know. I hope this is something Microsoft can get cleaned up in the future. One my biggest general usage annoyances. Also, for general usage, I rarely went to desktop mode. The Modern mode, with a touch screen, works really well. On my work machine, without a touch screen, Modern mode gets kinda annoying, I just stay in Desktop mode.

Software & Apps

Let’s start off with the “killer” tablet app: Office. So without a touch or type keyboard for the device, office is very hard to use - since you are in Desktop mode instead of the Modern mode. Outside of that, Office works as one might be used to.

Other software can often be a bit laggy. I think most of it was written with a full blown desktop to power it and no one fully tested it on a device like the Surface. MetroTwit is a great example of this, clicking between views can 15-20 seconds at times. I only use MetroTwit on my Surface, but I expect performance is a lot better on a desktop or full blown lappy.

Software like Dropbox is greatly gimped. Without full file system access, using Dropbox is a bit awkward to download, then edit, and then reupload the file is a lot of steps to make it useful to me. That’s kinda disappointing.

Web apps generally work well, but I still see some lag on using Google Docs for a spreadsheet. Not as much as MetroTwit but still noticeable. Web development work is currently almost impossible on the device. As just a dump terminal to something like Cloud9 seems like a great win. Currently, I can’t even seem to log into Cloud9 via IE10 on my Surface. I sent in a note, but the general response was just that IE10 is unsupported. Working on my blog (via blogger) works well enough though. I’ve typed some of this post on it.

The Future

So I am excited by what this device can be in the future. No first round is ever perfect, and this round isn’t for Microsoft. I think it’s a usable machine, a fun platform to develop on, and this can lead towards more people making great apps. I think the Surface Pro will be a cool travel machine, if it works similarly. Hopefully it won’t feel as under powered. Also, some changes to how responsive applications feel (I assume it’s just how they are written, but it could be Window’s issue) can go a long way to making the experience better. This should start to change with time though.

Wrap Up

So generally I’m pretty happy with the device and expect I’ll keep on using it. It’s not perfect; however, it can do a lot in an easy to carry around form fact. It’s a much better device to take notes on in meetings than an iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard. I am starting to miss touching the screen as another input source. Touch often feels faster than finding the cursor when you just want to tap a button.

Travis Smith

Polyglot software craftsman. Knowledge disseminator. Awesome maker.