Friday, January 11, 2013

Apparently obligatory Surface RT post

Everyone seems to be spewing drivel writing spewing drivel about the Microsoft Surface RT again lately, so I think I’ll join the party.  Yes, I bought a Microsoft Surface RT, and have been using it for a couple of months.

The very short, insulting intro: actually read the specs on this thing before you buy, it probably isn’t for you, so don’t complain because you spent your hard-earned (or so you claim) money naively.  Moving on…

First, the cool stuff everyone has covered:

It has a real USB 2.0 port, and while many things don’t work, the stuff you need probably does. In my case that means keyboards, mice, and especially presentation remote clicky things.  Oh, and all of your USB storage devices, reducing the pain of limited on-board storage.

The MicroSD card slot further reduces the storage issue by providing a fast and simple way to expand capacity.  This is especially important because much of the onboard storage is taken up with the OS, apps, and recovery partitions/images.  By the way, they recovery/reimage options are simple and useful.  (My 32Gb unit had 15GB available, but I read the specs before buying, so I wasn’t surprised.  Did I mention you should read the specs?)

It is a real Windows machine (almost).  It has a command prompt, PowerShell, and other stuff like a real computer.

The external keyboards connect via real connectors, not Bluetooth.  This is a huge deal if you don’t or can’t trust the area around you, or if you want to use your keyboard on an airplane or other wireless-comms restricted area (OK, if you want to use the keyboard within the rules, I see plenty of folks using BT keyboards where they shouldn’t).  Turn all the radios off, and the keyboard works- amazing.  I went for the better keyboard, with real keys, and it even has a touchpad- it is also wide enough to be usable (I consider it a mandatory option).

Some folks have observed that the widescreen layout is great for video in native resolution- but few have mentioned how good it is for multitasking or using apps like PowerPoint where some editing panes open on the side.

Which brings us to applications.  Surface RT has three solid and unique (for now) apps in the tablet space (if you believe Surface is actually a tablet).  Microsoft’s Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2013.  That’s it, if those move you, or at least are critical to you, this thing may be worth it.  (It also has OneNote, which rocks, but is not unique in the space).  It is worth noting that if you need macros in your Office apps, RT will not do what you need.

What about the rest of the applications?  Pretty much horrible, poor selection of crappy apps.  The native mail client is pathetic and I haven’t found a less-bad one, Twitter clients suck, the only browser is what can be called “almost IE10”- which claims “limited Flash support”, and it appears limited to “none”.  And the browser puts the address bar at the bottom, and hides tabs from you, just to frustrate you- unless you jump out of “Metro” mode and to the desktop, where it flips to a normal (read usable) layout for IE10.  Speaking of browsers, the vast majority of apps in the store are just websites pretending to be apps.

What else?  The hardware is an interesting mix of good, bad, and ugly.  USB, keyboard and connector, and MicroSD were mentioned above.  The cameras are decent, the screen is no Apple magical thing, but it is very nice.  And that really-wide-screen means the onscreen keyboard takes up half the screen in landscape mode, and let’s just not talk about the uselessness of portrait made with this device.  One negative about the keyboards, they have floppy connectors, they are annoying at best if not on a solid surface.  The battery life is very good, and recharges reasonably well (but the wall wart is a plug-blocking pig).

The “kickstand” is an amazing feat of engineering, it is AWLAYS at the wrong angle.  I have no idea how much research was required to engineer this, but I’m impressed.  I am also very disappointed, because the beveled edge of my iPad Not Three (the model between iPad Two and iPad Four) makes me loathe holding the thing for any length of time, and makes it hard to park anywhere useful without external aids- I had hoped this would solve that problem.  It does help a little, but it is far from solved- and the Surface also has a beveled edge.  It is less painful to hold than an iPad, but “less painful” is not really what I wanted.  Also, that beveled edge means you have to get almost-but-not-quite standard looking video adapters from Microsoft if you want to connect to VGA or HDMI (see, they are learning from Apple, just the wrong things).

So in other words, don’t buy one.  Unless, like me, a lightweight, highly portable, long lasting MS Office tool is of great value to you- then get one if you can justify the expense, but know you’ll probably still carry your Android or iThing for everything the Surface won’t do.  For me, PowerPoint 2013 is a huge deal, and the extra wide screen means that the much improved “presenter view” in PPT ‘13 is fantastic.  That’s my rationale, and it has proven valid and valuable repeatedly already- this is a fantastic presentation tool for me.  I carry the VGA adapter, presentation remote, and I’m in business- with a machine I can really create and edit with if needed.  If Apple didn’t hate me (contrary to popular belief, I don’t hate Apple, I just hate everything they make, which tells me they don’t like me), I would probably be all over a MacBook Air for this need, but that’s significantly more money than a Surface (but is also more machine).