From opening the box containing my 32GB Surface and Touch Cover the experience has been exactly as I expected, the hardware is superb and I don’t just mean the build quality but the whole design between tablet and notebook, the software, however, is where the issues lie.
The hardware is superb, I can’t stress this enough, for me the size and weight is great. The build quality is fantastic. The battery has never got close to running out at a bad time. In fact my only concern is that the camera could be better but I am not likely to be taking too many photos with my Surface. The way the Touch Cover and Surface snap together is very reassuring and the fact that I can hold the surface upside down, just holding the keyboard, is comforting. As we know a lot of thought and time went into surface (3 years) and it really does show.
Whilst the hardware is great I feel that there are a few issues with Windows 8 that have affected my experience with surface. Over the last week I have been using my surface as much as I can. I have been using it to take notes and minutes during meetings, triage emails, browse the internet, watch iPlayer, play games, etc. I have used it so much that I have barely used my proper notebook in my flat. This sustained usage has allowed me to come to conclusions, more about windows RT and 8 rather than surface.
The size and weight of Surface has been excellent, it’s small enough and light enough to fit in my bag and carry around with me with getting an achy shoulder, the same cannot be said for my notebook. The battery easily lasts on a single charge from when I first wake at 7 to when I go to bed with constant and prolonged use throughout the day. As many have already pointed out the connector to charge Surface could be better, it can be a fiddly process and one that should have received more attention.
Obviously though with Surface the most interesting and perhaps exciting feature is its cover which doubles as a keyboard. I have only use the Touch Cover and have found it to be excellent, it took a few days to really get used to typing on a keyboard with no travel but now it feels perfectly normal. I can type on this keyboard just about as fast as I can on a normal keyboard, which is fantastic to be able to do on a device that is designed to be so mobile and on an operating system that is designed to be touch first.
One minor thing that I really like about the Touch Cover is the texture on the outside of it, it’s very nice to hold and offers a lot of grip when everything I folded away and the Surface is being carried around.
The 22° angle of the kickstand provides an excellent angle to view the screen whether in a space constrained area such as a fold out table on a train or in a spacious area such as at a work desk. I would have liked to have seen a depression on the right hand side to be able to get the kickstand out, having it only on the left can be a little annoying at times.
In terms of the hardware there is not a lot else for me to say really, it really is a premium device. If you get a chance to hold a Surface I would encourage you to do so to understand how it feels.
I think I might be being picky with some of my concerns about the latest version of windows, in fact I think many of my concerns don’t really come from limitations within Windows but more the inconsistencies between Windows and Windows Phone. Using Surface has been the first time that I have actually been able to use Windows 8/RT on a touch screen device and so I have come to a few conclusions about the experience.
Windows 8 on a touchscreen device works. Windows 8 with a mouse and keyboard works. Surface, through offering both a touchscreen and a keyboard and track pad, works. Much has already been said about Windows 8 and Windows RT and how the two might cause confusion in the market. I agree with most of the sentiments so rather than repeat what others have said I shall instead share with you my chief issues with Windows 8 and even some suggestions for how they could be resolved. Don’t get me wrong though I really like my Surface and so far haven’t rally found it lacking, sure it doesn’t have a proper desktop but then I am not actually missing it.
I think my biggest complaint with Surface running Windows RT comes from the keyboard, this is mainly about the on screen keyboard. The on screen keyboard, in my eyes, should work the same as the Window Phone keyboard. These two OSes are meant to complement each other but in fact I keep going to do something on surface only to find the keyboard shows something different from what I was expecting.
For example, the smilies keyboard is massively different and I don’t understand why it is, surely on windows 8/RT the smilies keyboard should work just like it does on Windows Phone. I know that the keyboard on Windows is meant to work just like a physical keyboard would but I don’t think that really makes sense. For example with a new sentence the shift but is “pressed” by default to capitalise the first letter of the sentence, however, it’s not just the letters that change but also the symbol keys, this is confusing. Also, it’s not actually how a physical keyboard or the Windows Phone keyboard works.
Another inconsistency between Windows and Windows Phone is the way users can position the cursor on the screen. On Windows Phone it is easy to hold your finger on the screen and move the cursor to where it needs to be, however, on Windows this type of functionality isn’t possible, all holding a finger on the screen does is bring up the context menu. Instead users on Windows have to place the cursor near their target and then press arrows to move to the right place, seems a rubbish way to do it to me.
One thing that can be a bit confusing on Windows 8/RT is where to find the settings, obviously each app has setting through the Windows Charms but some of the OS settings can be tricky to find. For example users can view Wireless settings in PC Settings but they can’t view all wireless networks, that is done in the wireless section of the Settings Charm. In addition to any confusion about where settings are there is also duplication which I hope isn’t a sign of inconsistencies already working their way into this new version of Windows. For example a user can turn WiFi on or off from the PC Settings and the Settings Charm.
Moving on from my picky nature finding small things with Windows 8 I wanted to talk briefly about the apps available for it. Nowadays an ecosystem is made or broken on the apps available for it and this is obviously true for Windows 8. Whilst there aren’t 750,000 apps there are now well over 10,000, not bad for a two week old OS and whilst I would like to see some specific apps in the Store (BBC iPlayer) the apps that are available are so far meeting my needs. Some apps could do with some work but I believe that the reason they aren’t at their best is because the developers hadn’t had a chance to test the app on Windows RT before so it shouldn’t be too long until their performance is excellent.
One other area that deserves more attention is the contracts that developers can use, the file picker contract between apps makes life so much easier than the Windows 7 implementation. I can see a lot of potentially for apps using contracts so that the more apps a user has the more useful their Surface (or other Windows 8/RT device) becomes.
I am sure that over the coming weeks and months I will elaborate more on my experience of using Surface but for now these are man thoughts about Surface. It really is a great device but wanted to be sure of that before I wrote this article which is why it has taken me two weeks to write it. The article has been written entirely on the Surface and started off on a long train journey and I have now just finished it.
I look forward to using Surface and being able to use Windows 8 on a touchscreen, I especially look forward to playing with all the new apps that are no doubt being built. I am pretty sure that Surface will be going everywhere with me, it has done for the past two weeks and I see no reason why I wouldn’t continue bring it with me. If you get a chance I would urge you to play with a Surface and if you want a very mobile productivity device then I think Surface is probably for you.
Do you own a Surface? What are your thoughts about it?