Sunday, February 3, 2013

Microsoft Surface RT initial impressions Update: Get the Type Cover

I recently acquired a Microsoft Surface RT with Touch Cover for me to review and here are my thoughts on having the device for a few days.

I was going to do an unboxing of this tablet but there are so many videos on Youtube already that my video being posted almost 4 months after release wouldn’t have mattered much.  My initial impressions of the device are that it feels great and looks amazing.  I’m not a fan of 10” tablets as some may know from my affinity to 7” tablets but my initial impressions of the RT is that it’s a good device that is on par with the iPad and slightly better than most Android tablets when comparing fit and finish.  Considering how this device is intended to be used (on a desk or table), the 10.6” size is perfectly ok.  The RT is not meant to be a tablet that is taken everywhere and used in every situations like 7” tablets are.  This device is meant to be used while sitting down in front of a desk or at a coffee shop where you can have a table to set up the RT with keyboard.  Yes the RT can be used as a tablet but the large size of the tablet is not ideal for this kind of use. (Think about how SUVs are built to go off-road but rarely ever do.  The Surface is designed as a tablet first but will be used with the Touch Cover on a desk more often.)  The Surface has good specs and the screen resolution is a readable 1366x768 (16:9) pixels but it’s not up to iPad retina quality.  The fit and finish of the RT is great and I haven’t noticed any major defects in the tablet or the touch type cover.  There is some roughness on the top left corner that I can feel with my fingers but I can’t see it.  I’m sure once I use the device for a while, the rough corner will smooth itself out and I won’t feel it at all.  The touch cover has a nice feel to it.  The best way I can describe it is by saying that if feels like a hard foam.  Imagine taking insole out of your shoe and that type foam density is exactly how the Touch Cover feels.

Typing on the Touch Cover can be done at a reasonable rate but you WILL make a lot of spelling errors.  I’m not the strongest typist (about 50 wpm) but I can type reasonably fast.  On the RT with Touch Cover, I make so many errors that I can say that my typing speed is easily cut in half.  If you plan on typing out long emails or term papers, I would seriously consider the Type Cover which costs $129.  Surfing the internet, Facebook posts, sending tweets and those small 100 word or less type usage situations are perfectly doable on the Surface RT.  I’m using RT to type out this post and its frustrating and I find myself correcting grammar or spelling at the least every other sentence.

My next gripe about the surface are apps or lack of.  Yeah, I know apps which everyone already knows there is a lack of for Windows 8 for phones and Windows RT for the Surface.  I have found more apps than I thought I would when I first started browsing the Windows store but not what I would consider a lot of apps.  There’s no official Facebook or Twitter apps but you can easily go to the websites to accomplish those tasks.  Since Internet Explorer on the Surface RT is a full web browser, you get the same experience you would as if you were on a real computer.  I was able to find Evernote, ESPN, Zino, iHeart Radio, and a few other apps that I have used on other platforms plus many 3rd party apps that deliver social content.  Some of these apps are ok to use but all of them seem to launch a lot slower on RT than I have seen on other platforms.  You can tell that some of these apps are not ready for mainstream and a good example is Zinio.  The 10” tablet size is great for reading magazines because you don’t have zoom in and out to read content which you have to do on 7” tablets.  The Zinio app however doesn’t work very well.  When I am trying to view a magazine I often have trouble swiping to the next page.  It seems like it takes 3 or 4 swipes just get the page to change.  The first 2 or 3 swipes results in the page turning then turning right back to the previous page.  Common problems like this seem to occur in other apps that I have used on the RT but hopefully will be fixed with updates.  The simple quick answer to these problems is to use the web versions like you would on a real computer.

The RT has a real web browser in Internet Explorer that surfs the net like a real computer should.  The problem is that Microsoft chose to limit the browser on RT to only allow Flash only on certain websites.  So if your favorite website isn’t “green lit” for flash, you will see the “download the latest Adobe Flash here” message instead of the video you were trying to watch.  Just so you know, you can’t download Adobe flash on the RT.  The web is moving to HTML 5 but the truth is that more than half of the internet is still using Flash.  Because of this, websites are kinda hit or miss whether it will play videos.  This kinda sucks because you’re supposed to use the RT almost as if it was a real computer but yet on a real computer videos will play regardless whether the website is using Flash or HTML 5.  

So who is Windows Surface RT for?  
I’d say that Windows Surface RT is for the user who is used to running Windows and doesn’t own an iOS or Android tablet.  If you ask me the Surface directly competes with an iPad with some sort of Bluetooth (BT) keyboard.  Since the Windows OS is so large, a 32GB Surface will only grant you about 15GB of user available space which is comparable to a 16GB iPad.  The 32GB Surface RT costs $499 which is the same as a 16GB iPad 4 but you can usually find an iPad 4 online for a slight ($10-$20) discount.  For $599 you can get a 32GB Surface RT with Touch Keyboard and you can find a quality  BT keyboard for your iPad for around $100 while there are cheaper, bulkier options for much less.  Which one is better?  Well that’s up to the user.  The iPad has a lot better apps but you’re using a 3rd party keyboard that will only connect via BT.  Will it work?  Yes, it will work but the overall size is now bigger and bulkier than the Surface RT with Touch Cover is.  The only other disadvantages is that now you have another device to charge and the keyboard won’t be made by Apple so don’t expect the same build quality.  The Surface on the other hand will have an OEM keyboard that will feel like an iPad with it’s Smart Cover except the Touch Cover does not fold up like the iPad Smart Cover does.  With the Surface’s Type Cover which isn’t all that much thicker than Apple’s Smart Cover, you can have a real keyboard for the Surface all within the same basic size and thickness of an iPad with Smart Cover. I haven’t seen any iPad keyboard options that are small and minimalist like the Touch Cover and Type Cover like the Surface has.

o   Great fit and finish
o   Touch Cover works great
o   Functions almost like a real computer
o   Touch and Type covers are very thin
o   85% of a real computer
o   Mini HDMI port doesn’t require adapters
o   Full USB port
o   Micro  SD card support
o   Apps, there simply aren’t that many
o   You have the same limitations of many other tablets despite thinking you have a real computer.
o   Some apps aren’t as polished as they are on Android and iOS
o   Typing sucks on the Touch Cover
o   I have the wavy screen defect as seen by others
o   The power adapter seems impossibly hard to plug in.  Imagine plugging in your micro USB power adapter for your phone in the dark while you are intoxicated.  Yes it can be done but your success rate on the first time has be around 20%.  It’s two laser cut metal surfaces cut to exact specifications and you need to line them up perfectly in order for them to connect.  If the angle is off by more than about 5% you might as well pull it off and try again because it’s not going to fit.

Why would you buy the Surface RT?  
Because you are used to Windows 8 OS and you want to use your tablet as a pseudo computer and don’t care about apps.  This will be a great device for your child going to college who wants to take notes during class although most of the other kids will have an iPad or Android tablet for sure.  I haven’t officially tested battery life but I have had my RT unplugged for hours without worrying about how much battery life I have left.  A student could go to 2 or 3 classes in a day and not worry about charging.  It wouldn’t matter if the student uses Office, Evernote, Google Docs or any other note syncing application because all of them are going to be supported either by apps or by a website on the Surface RT.

Why wouldn’t you buy the Surface RT?  Because you’re more familiar with iOS or Android and prefer the iPad and its millions of accessories and apps that are available.  The Surface RT has all of the productivity abilities of the iPad and probably is better at creating content.  However, if you prefer gaming on your tablet over anything else, the iPad and any Android tablet will be way better.   

If you have a Windows 8 computer at home or haven’t jumped into the Apple and Android tablet world yet or simply want a better integrated all in one option, the Windows Surface RT is a great device to own.  The Surface RT will provide you most of what Apple and Android can offer and if you’re already more comfortable with Windows 8, it is worth waiting for the rest of the world to jump onto Windows “Modern UI” interface which will happen in the near future.  After Windows 8 has been out for 6-12 months, the Surface RT will truly shine because people will have had experience with Windows 8.

Note:  This whole post was over 1700 words and I typed it all on the Surface RT.  I will however make final edits and links inserts on a MacBook Pro.  

Update:  I purchase a Type cover to see how much better it would be to type with a real keyboard.  Lets just say the improvement is 200% better.  It's better to get the Surface RT for $500 and then pay $129 for the Type Cover.  The extra $30 is well spent.  Instead of hunting and pecking on the Touch Cover, I can type as I normally do with the Type Cover.  The Surface Pro doesn't come with a keyboard so you will be spending $119 for the Touch Cover or $129 for the Type Cover. 

You can see the wavy reflection


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