A Different Perspective

A week ago, I sat in an auditorium and listened to Steve Sinofsky talk about the tablet market. He talked about how the iPad was a great device, and a logical extension of the iPhone. Give iOS a bigger screen and all of the sudden you could do some things better on this new device. He talked about Android tablets, and Google’s learning process there, going from a phone OS on a tablet to eventually building Holo and creating a tablet-specific experience. He had nothing but good things to say about both competitors. I couldn’t tell just how sincere he was being, I don’t know Mr. Sinofsky all that well, but his thoughts were genuine, his analysis spot-on. Both Apple and Google tablets were good, in their own ways. What Steve said next didn’t really resonate with me until I had spent a few days with Surface. He called Surface and Windows RT Microsoft’s “perspective” on tablets. I don’t know if he even specifically called it a tablet, what stuck out was his emphasis on perspective.

I then listened to Panos Panay, GM of Microsoft’s Surface division, talk about wanting to control the messaging around Surface. He talked about how Microsoft’s June 18th event was scheduled because Surface was about to hit a point in its production where he could no longer guarantee there wouldn’t be substantial leaks about what the product actually was. He talked about the strict usage and testing guidelines everyone at Microsoft was forced to adhere to, again to avoid major leaks. He didn’t want Surface to be judged immediately and cast aside on someone else’s terms, because of some leak. Panos Panay wanted Microsoft to be the ones to bring Surface to market. Sure some rumors leaked about it before the June 18th event. A couple of weeks earlier, while I was in Taiwan, I even heard the local OEMs complaining about it (a lot of the “surprised” public outrage by Taiwanese OEMs was mostly politics). But for the most part, we didn’t know what Surface looked like and we had no concept of its design goals. Touch and Type Cover were both well guarded secrets.

I started off by recounting both of these stories for a reason. After using Microsoft’s Surface for the past week I can say that I honestly get it. This isn’t an iPad competitor, nor is it an Android tablet competitor. It truly is something different. A unique perspective, not necessarily the right one, but a different one that will definitely resonate well with some (not all) users. After the past week I also understand Panos Panay’s desire for secrecy. From a distance, without using one, Surface is easy to judge. It’s a Windows tablet that doesn’t run most Windows applications, that doesn’t have most of the same new mobile apps that iOS and Android have, and it’s not priced aggressively enough to make those facts disappear. After living with Surface however, I understand the appeal. It’s worth a discussion, perhaps even consideration as it does some things better than any tablet on the market, and it does others worse. Like all tablets (or smartphones even), there is no perfect platform, there are simply combinations of features and tradeoffs that resonate better with some users more than others. There are different perspectives.

Surface is Microsoft’s perspective. With the exception of some technical display discussion, Microsoft hardly mentioned the iPad in our Surface briefing. And when it did, it did so in a positive light. Microsoft isn’t delusional, the iPad is clearly a very well executed tablet. At the same time it believes there’s room for something else.

Surface: Simply Put
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  • bogieworf - Thursday, November 29, 2012 - link

    While I cannot disagree that it would be better to wait and see how these windows tablet/PCs shake out, this is still an exceptionally well sorted out product for a first try. If you need a tablet with the qualities this tablet has, there is no reason to wait. The next gen will be better (aren't they all, pretty much???), but I doubt that it will be dramatically better. The only competition on the horizon right now is the Lenovo Yoga 11 which will be more expensive, probably heavier, and definitely thicker. I don't think this will be much competition (But I do like the Yoga 13 which is a different device aimed at a different market).

    The next gen will be better, but this is a solid device and it is good enough today to buy IF this tablet meets your needs
    Reply
  • bogieworf - Wednesday, December 12, 2012 - link

    After using the Surface for several weeks and talking with co-workers who are in the market for a tablet/laptop, I have to reluctantly give the Surface a failing grade. MS has positioned the Surface as the productivity tablet. The catch is that you have to offer enough productivity for people to care about your device and buy it over an comparably priced iPad.

    The problem is NOT RT or anything taken out out Office to make it work on the Surface. For the vast majority of people, this is a secondary device and those compromises are fine. Heavy word processing or other productivity will be done on a bigger, more capable device.

    Rather the problem is that many, if not most offices, have some SW which has to be downloaded onto your computer in order to access their network and Surface won't let you do that. That is a MAJOR omission. The Office suite covers close to 100% of what most people would do with a tablet like this, but I HAVE to be able to connect to my office!!!

    A second and basically related issue is that there is no cellular option. This is a highly portable device and I need the option to connect to my Office on the go. That is not possible with the Surface.

    With these two options, the Surface would work for most people as a media tablet with secondary, but meaningful productivity capabilities. Without them, the Surface RT just does not offer enough productivity for most people to prefer this device over an iPad.
    Reply
  • bogieworf - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    Sent my comments to MS regarding the need for the Surface RT to connect to offices. Their response: the Pro will be available in January. While I do not think the Surface is a direct competitor with the iPad, the iPad does set the top price that people expect to pay for a tablet. If you are gong to price your product at the top of the market, you need to make sure the value proposition is there. Just not convinced that the productivity offered by the RT is sufficient to justify the price if you cannot connect the device to your office (or college). Reply
  • Kit Karamak - Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - link

    when paying for iPad, you're also paying for a device that has lots of apps, a vast bevvy of choices, etc.

    The MS Store stinks, let's face it. Some people would rather get a 16GB ipad2 referb with all the apps they know and like, than to get a surface 32GB that has expandable microSD space, because the apps stink. :(

    I have both. I use both for what I intend them for. But not everyone has that option. Then again, having all these gadgets also means I don't own a TV or pay for cable as my trade off. It is what it is. But both devices are great for what they do best. :)

    Of course, I waited until the surface came down to $199 on eBay, and yet I bought the iPad Mini 2 /Retina at full price. Ironically, I'm an Android fanboy lol
    Reply
  • Kit Karamak - Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - link

    Now that you can find the Surface RT on eBay, refurbished by Microsoft with 8.1, for a low price of $199 in mint condition, I've decided to take the plunge.
    I'm glad I did. I'm an aspiring novelist. I type a lot, and 8.1 seems to be quite smooth. It runs great. Typing doesn't slow things down one little bit.

    The first gen RT runs Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas very well, and I can use my xbox 360 controller to play it. In desktop mode, I can have twitter open in the desktop browser, I can have outlook polling for email, I can type a document and have Facebook up all at the same time. Or more if I want. People often say to get rid of Metro UI for desktop w8, and get rid of desktop for Surface RT/2, but I disagree. Having the desktop mode is fantastic for having ten different windows open (or more if you can squish everything down lol), and the RT, for me, keeps up fairly well.

    W8.1 seems to have fixed things people have complained about. I cannot say much more on the subject because I've only owned the tablet for two days, now.

    Touch cover is good, two finger scrolling works fine. Type cover is NOT very good. It doesn't let you use the mouse and keys at the same time, meaning you cannot game; these covers do not handle several key strokes at the same time either. Just two or three. In other words, don't expect to use it as a piano replacement for a piano app, or something like that. (I can't really think of a better example at the moment).

    Battery is good. Brightness and darkness is good. I hate having things bright when I'm reading at night. And while it's kind of weird to read on this monster-length screen, it can get darker than my iPad 4, which is great when you're in a ridiculously dark room (or re-reading /revising in the dark with a Migraine - yeah I've done it).

    moving on, I have to say the microSD card moves fairly quick. As fast as you'd expect from a desktop version of the same thing plugged into a USB2 header on the mobo. It's not searing fast, and it's no slouch either.

    The Microsoft store, for gaming, sucks horribly. If San Andreas wasn't on there, I wouldn't even have anything nice to say at all. But I'll take what I can get. Netflix app is good. Always appreciated, y'know? I wish YouTube had one as well, so that you could watch high def videos for long periods of time in an optimized state but... that's okay. Google only has one app for the MS Store - "Search". And that's it.

    Speakers are horrible. They're loud enough for watching Netflix, sure. but if you play music or crank them for something other than TV show compressed dialogue sound... then they will distort when you've got the volume up. Not badly. But if you listen to dynamically compressed music (any modern rock or rap or pop group), which is dynamically boosted in the mastering process... then you can be SURE it will distort a little. As an example, the first Foo Fighters album (at full volume) does not distort. But the new Falling in Reverse album distorts horribly. The Chronic (Dr Dre) no distortion. New Eminem? ...Crazy distortion.

    RT is supposed to get only 5 points of touch at one time. I have no idea if this is hardware or software based. PRO gets 10, so I've read.

    Also, plugging in a 24" Dell 1920x1080 to the first gen RT works fine. At least for me on 8.1 ... but don't expect to game on it. Use it for writing, or having a website open off to the side, or keeping Facebook open while you watch Netflix on your smaller monitor... or just use it for Netflix on your TV and do nothing on the touch screen.

    I have NOT tried to see if sound is sent out through the HDMI port. I suspect it should, but I haven't yet tried it, as there are no speakers in my 24" Dell. Sorry, gang.

    Finally, battery has been great. It's onpar with my iPad1 and son's iPad mini (1st gen) which have been the best for iPad battery life that I've seen so far (I own the 1, used to own the 2, owned the 4, and an ipad mini2 with retina. The 1 and my kid's Mini1 have the best iPad battery life of the group).

    The surface holds its own easily with the 4 I used to own and the mini/retina I currently use.

    Finally, as a closing comment, I can plug in my Apple keyboard, which has a USB hub, and it will still power a mouse, connected through the keyboard. It powers two devices. I'm quite happy with that. It makes things a lot easier, to be able to bypass the need for a powered hub is huge for me.

    When I'm on the go, I use a Microsoft Bluetooth Entertainment 7000 keyboard. Most of the extra keys work - Volume rocker, dedicated back key, etc. But a lot either doesn't, or isn't marked properly. Fn-F4 has a "home" picture (and when paired to an iPad DOES take you 'home'), but on the surface, it opens the mobile metro version of Internet Explorer.
    Also, the other buttons do nothing (magnifying, favorites, music app, camera button, calling button, gadgets obviously, etc). However, the built in mouse it has on the side works great. So that's awesome. I use that most of all. It pairs instantly. As soon as I turn on the keyboard, it starts working right away with Surface. There's no lag time in re-pairing.

    If you've read this far... well, thanks for reading! I hope it helped!

    I don't know why these websites don't re-review products that have been out for a while. Obviously iPad1 with iOS5.1 and iPad2 with iOS7, and Surface1 with W8.1 are going to work very differently than when they were reviewed. Some things will be better, some will be worse (like battery life on the iPad 4, LOL. Got it became awful later on).

    I'd like to suggest to these tech sites to do a "Where are they now" kind of segment to show people interested in buying older tech (IE from ebay) how these devices stack up.
    Reply

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