Surface

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?

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 Outlook.com, 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.