Initial Look at my Microsoft Surface RT

Microsoft has finally jumped into the foray of tablet companies with the official release of Windows 8 and their Surface RT tablet. I was one of the early adopters willing to pay $599 for a 32GB version with the black Touch Cover keyboard receiving it on Friday, October 26, 2012. In going back and reading the reviews published about the Surface RT, I will agree with many of their assessments: This is a great piece of hardware but the software (Operating System and Apps) need some improvement.

I placed the order back on October 16, 2012. My original plan was to go to Microsoft's store at Bellevue Square for the "Midnight Madness" of Windows 8 and Surface. Then, the news that only the New York stores, pop-up stores none the less, were going to be open at midnight. Hearing that, I went through the Microsoft Store website and ordered up my very own 32GB Surface RT with a delivery date of October 26, the release date for Windows 8. I was excited to get my order confirmation and felt the online store process was very easy to go through and that Microsoft was finally able to "Take my money now please!"

Fast forward to Monday, October 22. People started tweeting and posting out their Surface RT confirmation mails. My excitement started to increase; I wanted my Surface and I wanted it now. I kept an eye on the e-mail accounts all day but did not receive a mail. Tuesday saw the same thing and reports started flying around about delays in shipping. I was getting upset as my fears were that I was not going to get my Surface on the 26th like I was promised. What a black eye that Microsoft was experiencing around this, including my swings at them via Twitter.

Wednesday brought about a "hack" around checking for shipping records. People could take their order number from their Microsoft Store receipt, remove the starting "MS" and look up shipping records via "Reference Number" on UPS and FedEx websites. Using the hack, I found my Surface was in the FedEx logistics system having been picked up in China. WOOT! It showed delivery by Friday, October 26, 2012 too.

Friday rolls around and I sat at my office waiting for the delivery. Ironically, I got my “Hey your Surface shipped mail” on Friday morning. I originally took the day off but then realized I was having the package shipped to work. I tried go get work done but I was keeping my eye out for the delivery trucks. I even got excited hearing a FedEx truck arrived to be disappointed to see it was a FedEx Ground truck. Once the package arrived, I immediately stopped working and began to look at my new device.

First, the packaging was done with the unboxing experience in mind. This is something very similar to what I have seen from Apple and Amazon both. The box contained and protected the device well, while being sleek and modern like the device it contains. My package contained 2 pieces: the main Surface box and the keyboard box. Inside each, the devices were presented as showcased but protected as well. Inside the main Surface box was the Surface RT itself and its power supply. The second box had the black Touch Cover ready to be connected to my Surface.

Opening the Surface RT PackagingAfter pulling out all three pieces of hardware, I turned on the Surface RT and went through the new PC experience of setup, naming and configuration. This was similar to my Asus EP-121 when I installed Windows 8 so nothing new here. Where the experience deviated for me was the video to show off how the M****, the sleek and fluid modern, user interface worked. I watched it a bit but got distracted during this video as I already knew this information. I never thought about watching it thinking about newbies. Once the video was done, I connected the Surface to my Microsoft Account (formerly Live ID) and watched it start to shine. Instantly, many of my apps and settings were applied including my mail accounts, people hub starting to propagate with information, and my pinned websites from my EP-121. This was a bit of a surprise for me and well received. I did have to put in my passwords for my mail accounts but that was a desired security level for me. A quick trip into the Store and I could install many applications in one large installation giving me a majority of my Windows Store Apps installed for use. My Surface was very ready to be used.

Throughout Friday, Saturday and into Sunday, I have been trying to use my Surface RT as my primary device as I had used my EP-121. This was easily done with some caveats:

  • I do not have credentials to my servers in my home network setup automatically. This is due to the inability to join a domain. While a pain, it is rectified through remembering credentials in the login screens for the resources.
  • My main connection to my house is through my Astaro Security Gateway via SSL VPN. I was able to get L2TP over IPSec working and the Surface can use that. An SSL VPN client for RT would be wonderful however.
  • All application I cannot install on my Surface, I can access on my desktop via RDP. This is what I did with my EP-121 as well. I am looking to make some of those applications RemoteApps to test that technology.
  • I found that I used the "pen" on my EP-121 a lot. Luckily, I received a capacitive touch "pen" from Vision Solutions at MS TechEd this summer and it is coming in handy.
  • Much of the Apps developed and available so far are early versions. Running into bugs is not a fun thing for users, but could blacken the eye for the platform even more. The process of iterating Apps needs to be faster including the Store submission process.
  • The angle of the kickstand and the keyboard works great on higher counter and desktops. It doesn't work as well on lower surfaces or lying in bed. (Yes, I was lazy on Saturday.)
  • The M**** aspects of the OS are well done. You can tell the team spent a lot of time on it. The other non-M**** parts are a bit jarring. I would love to have seen no Desktop and everything done in M****. This will be done in the future.
  • While running the Video, Hulu and Netflix apps, I ran into no problems. However, with other Apps including video, my Surface fell asleep after 2 minutes pausing the video. Thanks to @Ladewig for pointing this one out for me.
    Update: I forgot Scott posted a blog article about this on his blog.
  • While I like the Touch Cover, the way that I type, I have a lot of problems with T,G,H,Y,B,N. This will take some learning.

While I have pointed out some weaknesses and workarounds, let me talk about some of the strengths:

  • Battery life has been incredible including running videos in Xbox Videos, Netflix and games. This was not the case with my EP-121. One thing I have noticed was when using Desktop apps (like OneNote I am using now), the battery life has suffered. I will try and verify this with some empirical data.
  • When running Hulu Plus, I selected to watch "Last Resort" from ABC. This was not available on Hulu Plus but the App gave me a link to their website which opened Metro IE to the watch page for this show. Very amazing integration there.
  • Metro IE has been incredible to use. I did not use it much on my EP-121 and I am wondering why now. Only thing I miss at all is my Lastpass toolbar. On the flipside, Lastpass App works great and uses Metro IE 10 engine for its internal web browser.
  • While Mail is pretty basic and weak, using, Office 365 and Exchange webmail interfaces give very Outlook-like experiences. Yes, users cannot use add-ins, create Lync meetings and setup many types of rules, a majority of the use cases are covered.
  • Skype and Lync both have Apps in the Store and both work great for providing IM and Video chat capabilities. The front and back facing cameras do well and the mic/speakers make for a satisfactory audio experience. I will agree with many reviewers that the speakers are weak but I also understand that better speakers would be larger, draw more power, and not be used as much as good headphones would.

Here is the big question … would I recommend the Surface RT for purchase? To answer this, let me layout some scenarios:

  • You own an iPad or Android tablet: I would not recommend moving if you are on the fence. You have probably invested heavily into the ecosystem for both media and apps. Unless you are willing to change those, waiting might be the best bet for you.
  • If you have a lot of Microsoft media (Zune, Xbox) and no other tablets: I would recommend getting a Surface RT. This is where I was and I am extremely happy with my choice. I listened to music and watched videos I purchased in Zune. The Surface is a good device in this infrastructure.
  • You want a mobile device for business: I would not recommend getting a Surface RT. The licensing of Office on RT is for personal, non-profit making purposes as the default license is Home & Student version. Companies can relicense the Surface RT for business use but I think waiting for the Surface Pro and other enterprise tablets/slates from Microsoft Partners with proper licensing and domain management is better.
  • You are a student looking for a mobile system: Get the Surface RT. Hands down, this is a better mobile system than a laptop for students. If you combine a Surface with a good desktop for the ability to run all Windows software, students will be fully covered. This is the best use case for the current licensing model of the RT.

Did you get a Surface RT? If so, how is it working in your world? If not, what was your factor for not buying? Leave comments as I would love to know.