Saturday, November 10, 2012

Two weeks with the Microsoft Surface

The Microsoft Surface has been out for about two weeks now and I have been working with my for the same timeframe. I wanted to write up my experience with it to date. I have been trying to put it through its paces as much as I could. I will try and cover all the things I have done with it so you get a feel for where my opinion is coming from. For background I have only owned one other tablet in my life and it was the first version of the iPad. After a month or so of the iPad I stopped using it. Maybe that was because I shared it with my kids and wife. I think it was a combination of that and just not enjoying it as a primary device and apple kind of bugs me.

When I went to get the surface I was not sure if I would get it. When I finally got my hands on the hardware I was really impressed and it made it hard to say no. I got the 32GB devices with the type keyboard (writing this review on it now in fact). I have used it in a number of different scenarios the past two weeks and I will try and quickly summarize them each here.

I was not sure what to expect on this front and while the selection is still pretty slim it is actually better then I was expecting. I have found a few quality apps like google reader app, kindle, flight tracker, mindmapper, onenote and some good games. The selection needs to grow quickly though as your options are limited.

Touch Interface
I have really loved the touch interface. There have been a few times when the touch does not seems to register but it is infrequent enough it is not a big deal. It only took me a couple days to get use to the gestures and the ability to dock two apps and work with them as the same time has been great.

I have used the onscreen keyboard and the type keyboard a fair amount. Both have been a pleasant surprise. My typing speed, responsiveness and accuracy of the onscreen keyboard as been really good. While I don't think you want to type a lot with the on screen keyboard, the smaller stuff is pretty easy. With the screen being wider than other tablets typing while holding can't really be done without going one handed. You can switch the keyboard to thumbs mode (not sure if that is what it is really called) and that works but again typing with any speed at all that way would take some practice.

The type keyboard has been great. I have used it for all day meetings to type notes, write emails and word documents. The design is great as is the feel. I do have a few issues with it though and one is not its fault it is just the nature of the beast. The keyboard cover is smartly designed so when you flip it to the back it becomes unresponsive so you don't have to worry about key presses when you flip it to the back. This feature does not always work 100% though. Sometimes I will flip it back and the surface will turn on just in time to get a few key presses registered before it turns off. At that point it is hard to get the onscreen keyboard to come up because it thinks the typepad is active. Also when you flip it to the back and hold the device you can feel the keys being pressed. While it normally works get and the keyboard is shut off while flipped back it just feels odd to me to feel the keys back there. While it has held up great it just feels weird. I know it is the nature of the best so not Microsoft's fault. I have used the touch keyboard a little and it feels better when flipped back and it just feel like a cover. I have not used the touch enough to speak to the typing experience.

I have used it on a couple business trips on the plane, and I have to say I love it. I read a review where he was complaining it did not fit very well. I have to say I did not find that to be the case at all. When I got on the plane I put it in the seatback pocket in front of me and it fit fine. It also fit well on the tray. Granted with the keyboard and kickstand there was not much extra room but it still worked great.

In order to really test this out I made a point to not plug it in. I spend a day (9-5:30pm) in a meeting taking notes, email, doing some internet searching and reading documents, and at the end of the day I still had 50% battery left. I then took the device to dinner with my boss where we spent another hour and a half doing some work (internet search and documents). When I got back to the hotel I still had a good quarter of the battery left. This was way better then I expected.

I have spent time reading my kindle books on the device, PDF files, websites and word documents. While you can read the device while holding it, it is heavy enough you can't do it for very long. Overall it has worked rather well. When you shift the device to portrait instead of landscape it provides an interesting experience. Since the device is a 16:9 widescreen device you get a more longer (think legal paper) reading experience. To tell  you the truth I am still not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. At times I really like it and at others I don't. Most of the time I end up reading in widescreen mode.

I have also spent time watching some movies on it Netflix is great and with an HDMI connector plugged into a TV it is even better. Things like Xbox smartglass is a cool feature, but to be honest I am not sure how much I will ever really use it.

Overall, I am very happy I bought the device. After two weeks I have a hard time being without it.

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