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Microsoft Surface as a Daily Driver

January 9, 2013

I have already written a few articles about the Microsoft Surface. After reading so many other reviews, however, I am struck by the fact most authors spend a very limited time with a device before reviewing. While I am sure the writers are well intentioned and probably paid much more than I am, it does make me wonder about the validity of their feedback. I wanted to avoid this, but the truth is, most reviews barely scratch the surface.

 

The Keyboard

 

As you know, Microsoft makes two types of keyboards that can attach to the Surface. The type cover only comes in black and it features real keys that make it feel like a keyboard on a traditional ultraportable laptop. It’s probably one of the nicest keyboards on any small laptop. The touch cover is essentially a very nice screen protector/cover that doubles as a keyboard, but it comes in a variety of colors. Obviously, you can also use any other Bluetooth keyboard if you prefer to save the $100 and buy a cheaper screen cover instead.

 

Touch Cover

 

For this review, I am laying on the couch and typing on the touch cover. My normal routine is pretty simple. Typically, if I am writing a lot, I use the type cover. However, the more I use the touch cover, the more I get used to the feel. Admittedly, at first, I really did not care for the touch cover as a keyboard, but my perception has definitely changed.

 

It’s not as accurate as the type cover or a regular Bluetooth keyboard, but it’s very solid. The more I use the device my typing has improved to the point where I am at about 90% speed and accuracy of a regular keyboard. With the touch cover I suggest that you prepare to experience some frustration as you break it in and get used to it. Please don’t let this scare you. After using it on and off for the past couple months, I find that often it’s my keyboard of choice. A month ago, if I had written the same review, I would have strongly urged all readers to select the type cover instead. Now, however, I would have no problem recommending the touch cover.

 

The touch cover may legitimately be a better choice for two reasons: First, the splash of color is fun. Next, and more importantly, when the touch cover is attached, you will find that it works great for two other positions. When you fold the keyboard back and at the same time, open the stand, the cover functions as a nice platform. I use the keyboard in this function all the time when using the device on a less flat surface. However, since there are no keys to press, this feels very solid. Maybe it’s just me, but it feels odd to fold the type cover back and have the keys sitting under the device. The same is true when you bend the keyboard back 360 degrees. In this case, the keyboard folds behind the screen. In this position, the touch cover is really a good feel because you don’t “press the keys”. In this case, the touch cover does a nice job because it gives the feel of a regular screen cover.

 

The Type Cover

 

The Type cover is a great keyboard. Really, there won’t be much else to write. I really didn’t anticipate liking the keyboard as much as I do. I still assumed for real writing, I would default to my old faithful Bluetooth keyboard. However, in a short time period, I stopped using my old faithful keyboard and went to the type cover as my go-to writing keyboard.

 

I did discover one thing that is not ideal for the type cover. In fact, I even returned my first keyboard just because I wanted to ensure it wasn’t a defective unit. The scenario is that when using the type cover it really needs to be on a solid surface. If you have the laptop sitting on something soft, like a bed, then the flex in the keyboard seems to cause occasional missed strokes. Admittedly, I tend to type using pretty strong keystrokes, so I am curious if this is something others experience. I can say that if you type with rather authoritative strokes, this problem will present itself.

 

Multi-media

 

The Surface has been great as a multi-media device. Video playback is smooth. Yesterday, I was downloading high-def videos. I moved the download to the side-by-side view as I had another high-def video streaming from my home server. It worked! I really expected that this sort of multi-tasking would have been met with some challenges. I am happy to say, it worked flawlessly. This same type of scenario has played out many times with multi-tasking music or video while writing or working on other office presentations.

 

One disappointing thing about the Surface is related to ISO playback. This was extremely frustrating. On the Surface, you can mount an ISO easily. So, if the DVD contains files, then it works just as you expect. However, if the media contains normal video it won’t play. Instead, just like the iPad, you must convert the video to another format that is compatible with the Surface. With other Windows 8 devices (not RT), this isn’t a problem because once you mount the drive, you can simply open the DVD with Windows Media Player (WMP). Since the RT device doesn’t have WMP there is no way to play DVD media. This isn’t the end of the world. I am trying out some software now to make this conversion easy and I will write more about it in another article.

 

Web Browsing

 

I have been using Windows 8 since early preview versions. At first, I didn’t have a great impression for the modern user interface version of IE. Yes, it was fast, but it seemed there were too many times where I had to switch to the desktop version of IE. Now, I am happy to say going to the desktop has happened less and less.

 

If you are not aware, Microsoft Surface does allow flash out of the box. However, it does not allow “all” flash videos. Instead, there is a white list of websites that Microsoft manages. If the sites are on the list, it works. If they are not on the list, you are out of luck. On my personal device I have opted to try another configuration which has worked very well. You can go into the settings and turn off the automatic updates from Microsoft. Then, by editing the white list file, you can add any site you would like to allow flash video. For most people, I would strongly urge you to keep the standard configuration, but it is possible to override the whitelist in favor of creating your own list.

 

There are times when you will need to use a browser that allows plug-ins and in that situation, it couldn’t be easier. You can simply click on the wrench icon and choose to open on the desktop.

 

Office Products

 

Office 2013 is outstanding. I couldn’t be happier with the office products included with the Surface. Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Onenote work flawlessly on the tablet. There is one notable exception and it is inexcusable. That is Microsoft Outlook is excluded from the Office package. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the mail client included with Surface is simply horrible. It’s a very minimal client, which is ironic, it has very few features and yet it’s slow.

 

App Store

 

The store has been growing very quickly. I will admit, I am not the kind of person that spends a ton of time in the app store and I don’t ever feel like there is an app I absolutely “must have”. There are games, news apps, you name it. In all, the app store grew from a couple thousand apps to 35,000 apps by the middle of December. So, in basically 6 weeks, the store grew to 35,0o0 apps. That’s not bad. It was also interesting because Microsoft admitted app additions through December would be limited because they were going to be running short staffed with people taking off for the holidays. For me, the app count isn’t such a big deal. However, I can completely understand if there are some specific apps you need. If that’s the case, you might be better off selecting an Intel based device where you can run the millions of apps available on the PC platform.

 

Battery Life

 

The battery life on the Surface has been outstanding. I routinely take the device off the charger by 7am and return to the charger sometime around midnight. I am obviously not sitting using the device all day, but it is on and used throughout the day. Everything from Email, note taking using the stylus (https://rghnews.wordpress.com/2013/01/01/best-stylus-for-touch-tablets-adonit-jotpro/), writing documents, listening to music and taking calls on Skype. All day use is not a problem.

 

More to come, but for now, that’s the things that are top of mind. If you have any specific questions, fire away.

 

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From → Technology

2 Comments
  1. Dave Memphis MOJO permalink

    Nice review, thanks.

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  1. To Trade or Not to Trade: Microsoft Surface RT vs. Surface Pro « RGH Post-PC News

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