My Surface RT Impressions - One Week Later

My Surface RT 32GB with black Touch CoverWell, I have been using my Surface RT for over a week now and been finding it's finer points that work for me and the things that drive me absolutely batty. Overall, I have found the Surface RT to be a complete replacement for my Asus EP-121 slate. However, I will not be selling/giving away my EP-121 just yet.

Let me explain my main uses for computers in my life. Being that I am a Director of IT in my day job, I am surrounded by technology a lot. My current "arsenal" of systems include:

  • Surface RT 32GB with Touch Cover - Windows RT
  • Dell XPS 1530 - Windows 7 Ultimate
  • Self-built Core i5 desktop with 16GB of RAM - Windows 7 Professional
  • Self-built Core i5 server with 32GB of RAM - Windows Server 2012 RC
  • Self-built Quad Core server with 12GB of RAM - Windows Server 2008 R2
  • Self-built Core i5 HTPC - Windows 7 Professional (x86)
  • Self-built Mini-ITX "guest" desktop in Guest Room - Windows 7 Professional
  • Asus EP-121 slate (Came with Windows 7 but I added Windows 8) - Windows 8 Professional
  • HP z600 Workstation with 12GB of RAM at work - Windows Server 2008 R2

That is just my home workstations and servers and my workstation at work. That doesn't include my phones or other mobile tech.

Since Windows 8 CP, I have had Windows 8 installed on my Asus EP-121 and enjoyed the environment immensely. I knew from that experience that touch was going to be a key to the success of Windows 8 in general. The UI felt comfortable with mouse and keyboard but was geared for the touch interaction. The overall experience was good, except for driver management and occasional crashes.

Move the calendar to July and Microsoft's announcement about the Surface line. I was jazzed to hear this foray by Microsoft into the hardware platforms. To date, none of the slate/tablets that the partners put out were the experience. I did like my Asus EP-121 and Samsung had a solid device in their Series 7 slates. Microsoft was going to put a flag in the ground saying this was to be the premier experience of users on the Windows 8 and Windows RT platforms. I spent a lot of time pouring over the specs and restrictions of each system which drove me to an idea.

Starting in July, I restricted my use on the EP-121 to what would be available to me on the Surface RT; I would use M**** apps, Office apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote only) and other built-ins. My mobile digital life revolved around this device and it worked out for me pretty well.

Flash-forward to October 26th and the arrival of my Surface RT; my excitement was immeasurable. I busted it out and started to play with it over the weekend. So far, so good for me with the Surface RT. Now, I have been using the Surface RT all week for both personal and work type activities. Here's what I have found so far:

  • Battery Life - Grade A! - This device is incredible for battery life. I charge it overnight and remove it from the charger in the morning and I can go all day without another charge. When I have tracked my battery usage through the week, I have found that it was at 63% at 3:00 one day to 69% another day at 4:00 depending on how much I used it in meetings. At the end of the day, I was seeing 20-30% battery left when I was finally plugging it in. If I could have an Intel unit that offer that kind of battery life, I would be done with the RT. I will say now, I doubt that will ever be. I would love to eat my words here but doubt it.
  • Portability/Weight - Grade A! - Very light and easy to carry and hold. I have held heavier books that was difficult to hold (looking at you Paul Thurrott and Rafael Rivera with Windows 7 Secrets!). This is a pleasure to hold in either landscape or portrait. Plus, the ability to use the touch cover as a platform for the kickstand makes it even easier to view the device.
  • Storage - Grade B- - 32GB is pretty standard among devices but when I get done installing the normal apps I want to run, I am sitting with 15GB free. I do not know how much space is on the iPad 32GB after apps and OS are set, but would like to. I am concerned for normal Windows "bloat" and hope that Microsoft does better cleanup when patches are installed. This is offset with Skydrive and server storage but if you don't have connectivity all the time, that can be useless.
  • Connectivity - Grade C+ - The Surface RT has Wifi … that's it. The only way to get mobile connectivity is to tether with a phone or MiFi type device. I have heard people trying to use USB modems and the drivers are not available. That should be a no-brainer Microsoft; get with those manufacturers to get the drivers out.
  • The wear spots on my touch coverPrinting - Grade F - I cannot connect my Surface RT to my network printer at home. If I setup one of my servers or computers as a print server, I think the Surface could print to it but I don't want to do that. It did not detect and support the network printer interface natively.
  • Keyboard (Touch Cover) - Grade C - Love this for the portability and protection it offers. However, it has been over a week and I still mistype. When I use the Touch Cover, I notice that I type "G" a lot when I meant to type a "T". I also type "V" when I meant "C" and spaces when I mean "N". If you look at my wear pattern so far, my left pointer finger tends to land between the "T" and "G" a lot. I hear that it will take a bit more adjusting but I don't know if I want to adjust.
  • Keyboard (Type Cover) - Grade B - I got to try the Type Cover at the Bellevue Square Microsoft Store with my Surface RT. I was impressed with it from the usability standpoint. It didn't feel too much heavier to me compared to the Touch Cover. It was very easy to type on much like a small laptop, like a Toshiba m200 (my old computer from my Blue Badge days at Microsoft).
  • My Surface RT with Microsoft Bluetooth 6000 keyboard and Arc Touch mouseKeyboard (Bluetooth) - Grade B - Much like my Asus EP-121, I am using Microsoft Bluetooth Mobile Keyboard 6000 via Bluetooth and Arc Touch Mouse via USB. This configuration does make my Surface RT very laptop-like. Bluetooth connectivity is weird initially. I needed to add my Bluetooth devices twice for some reason. That could be a glitch/bug in the operating system.
  • App Selection - Grade C - I am finding a lot of the applications I want in the Windows App Store. This includes Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Kindle, Lastpass, Wikipedia, and SkyDrive. What is key is what isn't working well and what is missing.
    I am an avid fan boy of MetroTwit for Twitter and the guys have released a version for Windows 8. I have suffered through it but it is getting better. Still saying that, it is tough to recommend it. I will not recommend others as they are worse experiences. To use(abuse) Charlie Kindel's quote about Tweetro and apply it to all Win 8 Twitter clients, "Odd Ux, slow/jerky. Back to twitter in IE for now."
    Another app that is not working so well is the Mail app. Yes, it provides basic access to my mail and it syncs that mail relatively well. However, it previews every mail downloading internet pictures/graphics. Without knowing more about their safeguards, it seems to me a perfect attack vector. Even Exchange OWA does not download the pictures and show them immediately. Without looking at an iPad, I don't know if they just download as well.
    Now the question is what is missing. Currently, there is no app for/from Facebook, the standard Microsoft games on RT (Solitaire, Minesweeper, Mahjong), and Live Writer. While I would like a Facebook app, the website is very responsive on IE 10 and works very well. The standard Microsoft games was a major surprise for me as those are some of my favorite "time fillers". Now Live Writer is something near and dear to me. I publish to my blog via Live Writer and enjoy its capabilities. Microsoft needs to transition this app over to the M**** platform and to RT.
  • VPN Capabilities - Grade D - I am giving Surface RT a lower grade on this because many firewalls and systems are using SSL VPN to connect on a VPN. For security conscious people, VPN is critical. For example, I connect back to my home via VPN when on public Wifi networks. That keeps my traffic secure when on those public connections. For the longest time, I have used the SSL VPN connectivity. Of course when I was setting up my Surface RT, I tried to install the SSL VPN client for my firewall and it popped up the "Need to buy from the store" screen. No SSL VPN client is available yet (I hope someone creates one but I doubt it due to the nature of the app). I was lucky in that my firewall also supports PPTP and L2TP over IPSec and so did the Surface RT. It was not easy to setup but it works. I would prefer to use DirectAccess instead but there is no support for DA in Surface RT that I am aware of.

Microsoft Store in the Bellevue Square Mall - Nov. 3, 2012I go back to my original post on the Surface RT and re-affirm the purchase criteria:

  • 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.

How has your experience with the Surface RT been? Are you a developer and just got yours at BUILD? If you own another tablet, are you considering a Surface RT?