Microsoft Surface: Review & why I decided to buy one

So by now you are probably aware the Microsoft Surface has become available for purchase in several countries and many have already gotten their hands on one – including myself! There is already a whole heap of content out there reviewing the device itself and showing videos …etc. of how to use and operate it. Rather than tell you much of the same which you can find online I have decided to take a different approach in this post. There are several reviews on Surface out there but you will find extensive coverage about the Surface on Paul Thurrot’s WinSuperSite website. In this post I will cover two things. 1) Why I decided to go out and pre-order a surface in the first place and 2) what my experience has been using the device over the past few days.

So why did I decide to pre-order one?

There are a number of reasons I decided to go ahead and pre-order the Surface device. At the core, the main reason is that I have always been a fan of Microsoft as a company and the idea that they were releasing a tablet device was very exciting for me. In other words I’m a Microsoft fan-boy! The second reason is that up until I bought the Surface I did not actually own any other tablet device so it did feel like it was about time! The real reason though is that to me it is clear that Microsoft are beginning a new era for the company with all the recent changes they have made to the company logo, new software releases and so on. Given the tablet market dominance by Apple and how late Microsoft is making it’s entry, in my view and as many others will agree, Microsoft are making a huge bet on the future with the Surface device. In other words they’re putting their reputation on it and for this reason I decided to give Surface a go by getting my hands on one very early. Microsoft has changed the world in the past and despite the delay in getting into the mobile and tablet markets with offerings worth considering I decided to give them a chance. After all if they are willing to bet their future on a device like this then it’s a fair assumption that they will do whatever it takes not to screw up this time around.

Now that the device is out and has been used by several people you are probably aware that the main observations about the Surface can be summarised in the following points: 1) The hardware is great. 2) The software not so much. I will cover a few aspects of the Surface hardware and software below to provide my thoughts on each of these two points.

The Surface Hardware

I believe one of the things that Microsoft did well with the Surface device is getting out a good piece of hardware out there. It is much easier to refine the software side of things later but with hardware, if you miss then you’re in a mess basically. So here are a few thoughts on the hardware front

1) Form factor & dimensions

In comparison to other tablets already in the market the Surface tablet is slightly heavier than some and also has a slightly wider width/or length depending on how you hold it. From the weight point of view despite being slightly heavier than other tablets I don’t find the Surface uncomfortable to use even for extended periods of time. With the 10.6 inch width the Surface feels a bit awkward to use in portrait mode as the screen feels a little bit narrow in that view. The only application I used which I felt works well in portrait mode was the Kindle reading app. If you need to read any document the portrait mode with the 10.6 inch width gives you some extra room to read more text. I wouldn’t say it’s necessary but it works well.

This still makes you wonder though why would they choose 10.6 when a lot of devices are out already with 10.1. I think there are two reasons for this: the first being using the Surface as a laptop alternative with laptop-screen-like dimensions and second pinning Windows 8 apps! Since getting the Surface tablet the ability to pin apps to one side of the screen and use two applications at the same time has been one of my favourite features of the device. If you try to do that on a 10.1 inch tablet – if it were actually possible – you wont have much space to do much on the screen. Try doing that on an iPad!

2) The touch cover

Having a keyboard/keypad in the cover of the device is an interesting concept and a great idea. The Surface I bought came with a touch cover and whilst it took a little while to get used to it actually works very well. The only downside I found with the touch cover is that if you put it over a soft, uneven,surface – like you’re lap – it’s a little hard to touch the keys and type properly other than that, once you can position your fingers on it properly it’s easy to use. I really like the magnetic connector too!

3) The Kick-Stand

I* LOVE *the kickstand! This feature was very well thought of I think and it’s very nice that it exists as part of the device. It makes it easy to put your Surface on any –um– surface and do stuff without having to hold the device. You’ll probably use the kickstand most if you’re using the classic windows desktop view and using Office or if you just want to type some emails or documents with the touch/type keyboards. However, one additional use I’ve found the kickstand very useful for is not holding the device! I’ve found that whenever I want to watch a video or play games or just read some material I can use the kick-stand and just sit the Surface on my lap. There you go, despite the extra weight I don’t even have to hold the device most of the time!

4) HDMI output

Not much to say here other than it’s nice to be able to easily get output from the Surface to an external monitor.

5) Lack of 3G/4G support and only having Wi-Fi

To be honest, I really don’t see why many have noted that this feature is a downside of the Surface tablet. Nowadays you can use Wi-Fi over mobile phones or 3G/4G modems so you can very easily work around the lack of built in support for 3G/4G. So to me this is not an issue at all.

I think the above points cover most of the obvious hardware features of the Surface other than internal hardware specs. On the latter, I guess this can be summarised by saying that the internal H/W specs are good but could be better, some of the missing features are going to be available in the Pro version though like USB 3.0 and Full-HD resolution. Would be nice if the next Surface – Surface 2 ? – has a combination of what is currently in the RT version such as HDMI out and the Pro version such as USB 3.0

The Surface Software

On the software front I must admit I* LOVE *the touch features of Windows 8. I’ve been using Windows 8 on my desktop for a while now with no touch and a lot of the features didn’t make much sense. Once you use them on touch they all start making sense. I’ve even discovered a few gestures I wasn’t aware of just by touching around the device! So from a usability point of view Microsoft have certainly done a great job with Windows 8’s touch features.

The main issue Windows 8 has as you may have heard is the lackof noteworthy applications in the Windows App Store. I agree that this is currently an issue. However, as I noted earlier in this post, it is much easier to fix software issues than hardware issues and it’s only a matter of time until the Windows 8 App store matures enough to have better app selection that’s comparable to other app stores such as Apple’s. I don’t know why a lot of people argue about the* number* of apps in the Windows Store at the moment. Like they say, it’s not quantity it’s quality. I’m not trying to suggest that all existing Windows Store apps offer the quality required but rather that the focus shouldn’t be how many apps the store has!

One problem with the Windows Store in my view is that the Surface tablet and other Windows 8 RT or Pro with touch tablets work very well as *content consumption devices. *In many cases content owners do not have their content publicly available in a usable manner for others to build an app for and until all of these come on board and build their own Windows 8 apps or make their content accessible through APIs …etc the Windows App store will still lack noteworthy apps. Outside that that you’re mostly suck with games and who needs more than Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds to play? Winking smile