Microsoft Surface: My First Month

During the first week, I wanted to throw Microsoft's Surface tablet out the window. Now, my opinion has changed.

Mike Feibus, Analyst, TechKnowledge Strategies

November 26, 2012

5 Min Read

8 Cool Windows 8 Tablets For Home And Office

8 Cool Windows 8 Tablets For Home And Office

8 Cool Windows 8 Tablets For Home And Office (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

When my pre-ordered Surface tablet arrived, as promised, on October 26th, my editor suggested I journal my first week with the new device.

Great idea. Unfortunately for her, it was me she chose to run with it.

I told myself that if she liked the idea of one week with Microsoft's new tablet, then she'd love a column about my first two weeks with Surface. Right?

Then I saw Eric Zeman's Apple iPad Mini: One Week In post. Ah, the "one week in" thing was supposed to be a theme. Oops.

So now I've spent a month on the Surface. My editor may not be too thrilled that I deviated from the "one week in" concept -- but Microsoft should be. Because during the first week, I wanted to throw the tablet out the window. And now I kind of like it.

[ Is Microsoft taking a page from Apple's book? And if so, will the strategy work? See The Apple-ization Of Microsoft. ]

Why the huge swing in perception? Two reasons: The machine is getting more capable by the day. And I've become more tolerant of what it can't do.

While I slept, Microsoft has been busy fixing things on my Surface. The company's been repairing bugs in the Windows RT OS, improving the built-in apps and adding to the store some of the apps that I couldn't believe weren't there to begin with -- like Evernote, the this-and-that clipper/organizer, and Pulse, the news reader.

The app store is still kind of bare, though. And I'm not talking about the raw number of apps. I don't care if there are 5,000 apps or 500,000. I only need one version of Solitaire.

There are a lot of go-to apps that still aren't there. Microsoft's SkyDrive was the only cloud storage service available on day one, though DropBox was added shortly after. Others, like Google Drive and Carbonite, still aren't available. There's still no dedicated YouTube app. Social media staples like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are absent, though they're covered by a built-in app called "People," which blends feeds from all the networks to compile sort of a friend-by-friend dossier. It's an interesting concept -- and it works, from a contact management point of view. But when you want to browse what's happening on your Facebook network, a dedicated app would be less cumbersome.

The 16:9 display is great for watching video. I've been frustrated, though, with spotty support for video file formats. I've had the best luck, ironically, with the .mp4 file format favored by Apple -- and the most trouble with .wmv files. (Yes, the 'w' in .wmv does, in fact, stand for Windows.) The built-in player did not recognize a pile of .wmv files, all of which I was able to view on Android and Windows devices around the house. I tried downloading a few third-party video players from the store, but with the same result.

The tablet itself is a sturdy, handsome piece of hardware. Mine came with the optional touch cover, which features a lean Windows PC keyboard and touchpad. I'm a touch typist, and a fast one at that. I've found that the keys don't have enough definition to keep my fingers from roaming out of position. But I've watched and talked to other touch-typists who had no trouble adapting to the keyboard. So maybe it's just me.

The cover pairs well with the tablet, folding neatly over the display. Unfold it, flip out the kickstand on the rear of the tablet, and you can use it like a clamshell-style laptop. It quickly became the most natural way to interact with the wide-screen tablet. And that irked me. I paid for a tablet, dammit, and it wants me to use it like a PC. Sometimes I yank off the cover just to force myself to use the Surface like a tablet.

Really, it's the device's quirky half-tablet, half-PC persona that, after a full month, keeps me from fully embracing the Surface. The built-in Office apps are a great asset. (I've run into a few issues while transferring heavily formatted files between my PC and the Surface. But the incompatibilities seem to be of the Office upgrade variety rather than due to any Windows RT or Surface failure.)

When you tap on the tile for an Office app, you get whisked over to the desktop, and the sudden scene change is unsettling. It's a very different sensation than the feeling you get when you switch UI's on a Windows 8 PC, where most of your time is spent on the desktop.

When the desktop shows up on the Surface, it seems out of place. The elements are far too small for a smooth touch experience. Right-clicking without the touchpad on the cover is hit and miss. Literally.

The presence of the desktop also sets expectations higher than Windows RT is prepared to deliver. If it looks like a PC, shouldn't it act like one too? It's why I got so annoyed when the system let me download a driver for my HP OfficeJet, only to tell me that it was incompatible when I tried to install it. I don't have that same set of demands from Android devices, because they present themselves as the companion devices that they are.

With the benefit of a month, I've been able to re-set those expectations. There is a lot to like about this tablet, and it's going to keep getting better. I'd even be ready to embrace it as my companion device -- if only it would stop trying to be my PC.

Upgrading isn't the easy decision that Win 7 was. We take a close look at Server 2012, changes to mobility and security, and more in the new Here Comes Windows 8 issue of InformationWeek. Also in this issue: Why you should have the difficult conversations about the value of OS and PC upgrades before discussing Windows 8. (Free registration required.)

About the Author(s)

Mike Feibus

Analyst, TechKnowledge Strategies

Mike Feibus is principal analyst at TechKnowledge Strategies, a Scottsdale, Ariz., market strategy and analysis firm focusing on mobile ecosystems and client technologies. You can reach him at [email protected].

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