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Microsoft Surface as a Daily Driver

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.

 

Netbooks Destroyed the PC Market

The Theory

Reading some commentary this week, I saw an interesting idea. Namely, the idea that netbooks destroyed the computer market. The argument goes like this, people started buying cheap, plastic, crap computers and as a result they are reluctant to spend $1,000 on a more powerful ultrabook. In fact, another writer jumped on this idea and suggested this is exactly why Apple is such a superior situation. After all, Apple has no problem selling laptop computers for $1500.

They are WRONG

Here’s the thing, this line of thinking is absurd! It’s absurd for a few reasons. First, people buy computer devices based on what they need to do with the device. At one time, yes, people would buy a very powerful desktop computer because it could do everything. As a result, buying the biggest and fastest just makes sense. But, if you are going to surf the web then does it make sense to pay $1000 or more for that device? Of course not. This isn’t because of netbooks, rather, it’s due to changing dynamics in the market.

Illogical Analysis

As for the line of thinking about Apple, let’s be honest, Apple doesn’t sell many computers. Do they sell high-end devices? Sure. But all of the Apple laptops and desktops combined, amount to about 5% of the PC market. In other words, they don’t really sell anything of substance as they are a niche player in the PC market. Certainly, they sell many fewer high-end laptops than the combination of Microsoft laptops by: Samsung, Dell, HP, Acer, Fujitsu and Lenovo. The truth of the matter is this. Apple sells more and makes more money off the IOS devices than they do off of their PC business. In fact, this coming year, Apple will sell many more iPads than traditional computers. As I have written before, there is a convergence occurring as part of the post-pc era and there really is no difference between a tablet and computer. In other words, Apple doesn’t sell computers for $1500, instead, their most popular computing device, the iPad computer is about $500. That is right on track with the lower end PC computers and that is what they are selling in some quantity, low end computers.

Changes in the Market (low-end computers/tablets)

To say that selling low-end computers/tablets has wrecked the market, well, that is just ignoring the fact that compute power has increased to the point where lower end computers/tablets get the job done. Just because you can make a computer faster doesn’t mean people NEED the computer to go faster.

Certainly, they may not be willing to spend money to make it happen when the faster computer may have no impact to their experience. Consider this, a new computer may boot faster than an old computer. But, when we are talking about a desktop computer, who turns it off? If you leave it running all the time, is there any difference between the old computer and the new computer? Sure, for the 10 times per year you actually reboot it.

Here’s the reality, the bottleneck for computer use is often unrelated to the compute capacity of the device. In other words, the speed of the connection to the Internet (the network) is often a bottleneck far more than the speed of the computer. Buying a faster connection from your ISP would demonstrate a much better experience than buying a faster computer. As such, getting a faster computer doesn’t even speed up the experience. Let’s face it. Most people check email, surf the web, maybe run some videos, play a few games (not talking gamers here) and likely dabble in some sort of office productivity. For these users, it’s not a case that the cheaper computers “ruined” the market, it’s that the demand for compute power is better matched by cheaper computers/tablets.

New Era

Enter the new era of computing. People need a device that is capable of doing what they need to get done. News flash, the economy sucks right now too. As a result, demand for higher end devices will be reduced. Additionally, computer capacity has simply outpaced the requirements for what normal people do on a computer. For this very reason, we are seeing that households have several different devices instead of a single home PC. Now, a household may have a couple Kindle Fire devices, an iPad, a laptop or two and an old desktop that is never used. People use the specialized devices in place of the single PC.

This is why the Microsoft gamble is so important. Recognizing that we are in a new era of computing, they have to adapt. The new reality is that a real marketing campaign should still push a family PC for every home as the hub (likely to be an Xbox, not a traditional PC). The Hub device can be used as the central access for music,  movies, TV, web surfing on the living room TV and it can connect seamlessly to the other PC’s/tablet computers.

If Best Buy really wanted to sell Windows RT, it would be the easiest way to do it. Bundle a cheap home PC, a Surface (or two) and an Xbox. Guess what, you could buy all of that for about the same price as a high end laptop.

The beauty of this configuration is that they all work together. Also, by having the low end-desktop, you enable a lower price Windows RT device to run the full power of a desktop through remote control if desired. If a family already has an existing desktop, enable remote access and buy two Surface tablets instead. Are you kidding me? That’s awesome for consumers!

I See and I Laugh

When I am out and I see someone with a high-end Mac, or a high-end PC (laptop, desktop, it doesn’t matter), I can’t help it. I laugh a little on the inside. Why? Times have changed. There is no need for the high-end device 99% of the time. Forgive me, I know I am laughing at someone undeservedly 1% of the time. Regardless, for almost everyone, in every household, the netbook didn’t “wreck the market”, the netbook just filled a niche as times were changing. The same niche is being filled by mid-range and low-end tablets now. This isn’t because Microsoft’s “high-end” was being destroyed. Consider the only real sales of Apple, or Google products are also the low-to-mid price range tablets.

Microsoft is in a great position if they can tell the story. Neither Apple, or Google has anywhere near the same ecosystem. Here’s the deal, buy a substantially cheaper Microsoft Surface (or two if you have an old desktop), buy and Xbox and if you need the family hub, buy a desktop (cheap). At the end of the day, you will have far more capability. You will be more mobile. You will have all day battery life while on the go. You can play games, surf the web, read email, write documents or build presentations, you can share files, pictures, movies or music seamlessly across each device. Embrace the changes because computing improvements have enabled us to do more with less. For the same spend, you can do so much more and have more fun making it happen.

Microsoft Leads Into Post-PC Era

The Post-PC era is upon us. It’s not something that is coming. It’s not something that may happen. It’s here! Guess what? Microsoft is leading the way. I know, I know. If you have been reading other blogs, you might say, “What are you talking about? Microsoft is getting killed! Windows Phone is a failure and Windows 8 is doing worse than Vista”.

To get things started, let’s look at the install base for PC’s, tablets and mobile phones. In the post-pc era we are saying that the PC market which has been running between 400-450M sales per year will be dwindling and the tablet market which is expected to be around 100M will grow significantly. At the same time, smartphone sales will also continue exponential growth in coming years. Over the past three years the recent Garner report shows the trends clearly.

If we look at the numbers for Apple devices, we see that the install base, over the past 3 years, has increased from 123M devices to 535M devices. There has been an increase of 400 million devices. What you might not have expected is that over the same 3 year period, Microsoft has seen similar growth to Apple. The install base has increased by a nearly identical 400M devices. The juggernaut of the group has clearly been Android powered phones and tablets which has seen a growth of the install base nearing 1B devices.

With that analysis, you might say, Russell, doesn’t the data clearly show Android is the wave of the future? After all, if the trend holds true next year, Android will have a larger install base than Microsoft. To that point I wouldn’t entirely disagree. However, as we talk about the post PC era and what it looks like, we said there is a convergence of technologies. While some might be tempted to suggest that a smart phone is a PC replacement, I will just say that I don’t agree with that assessment. Is it true that a phone may replace a PC for some tasks? Sure. A smartphone is a fantastic device. If you want to quickly see what is playing at the movie theater, or if you want to quickly find a nearby restaurant, or perhaps if you want to go online and check the trending news, a smartphone is a great device and potentially, in some cases a smartphone does replace a PC. However, for most people in the world, the smaller form factor is conducive to a particular type of usage which is much different than a PC or a tablet. The line is going to continue blurring as even tablets are going to come with cellular capabilities. Further, tablets running technologies like Skype mean that you can have unlimited nationwide calling for about $50 per year (I will definitely write more about this experience soon).

Microsoft has recognized the change in the industry and as a result, pretty much all future PC’s will be touchscreen devices. Luckily for Microsoft, they recognized the industry shift while they are still the market leader. Microsoft is now changing the PC industry to aggressively join the tablet market. In other words, the PC market with annual sales of about 450M PC’s will merge with the tablet market of about 100M tablets. This is a brilliant move from Microsoft, albeit one that had to happen. In this convergence, as PC’s and tablets become indistinguishable, Microsoft is likely to be the leader in touchscreen computer devices by the time 2014 roles around (assuming somewhere between 30-60% PC’s will be touchscreen devices). Even if Windows 8 is a total bomb in the market, twice as bad as Vista, Microsoft will still be the leader in the combined PC/tablet marketplace.

In this world, neither Apple, nor Android are prepared for this convergence from the PC front. Instead, they are stuck in the old style PC’s. This difference really makes the idea of using the Mac OSX flavor painful. The Chromebook experience is equally archaic. Luckily for both Apple and Google, their desktop/PC offerings are pretty insignificant in terms of market share, so their situation isn’t nearly as tenuous as the predicament Microsoft is in.

I know there are a bunch of people cheerleading for Google to take over. When it comes to smartphones, it’s done. They are the dominant force and it will be that way for the foreseeable future. However, when it comes to the Post-PC era, Microsoft is sitting in a particularly strong position, along with Apple. The annual sales of PC’s and tablets are the future of computing. It’s a future Bill Gates saw coming nearly 20 years ago and it’s a future that Microsoft is now leading.

Windows 8 is the starting point. Touch based computing which is every bit as finger friendly as the best “tablet” experience on the market (the market leader – iPad). For people that need to run some legacy apps, you can select a device running the Intel based processor. If you don’t need legacy apps, you can choose either ARM or Intel. For the most part, Intel provides more processing power and ARM offers better battery life. The true future of computing is that legacy applications that needed the old “desktop” will largely disappear. In this way, there is a complete convergence between tablets/computers running on ARM processors and tablets/computers running on Intel. Regardless, there is only one software company that is positioned to move in either direction. There is only one company that has a real Post-PC era play. There is only one company that is leading the convergence of the tablet and the PC market. The company that is best positioned for the Post-PC era is the leader in the PC era, Microsoft.

There will be continued convergence between the Smartphone and the PC also, but that is for another conversation and that convergence isn’t happening today.

Best Stylus for Touch Tablets – Adonit JotPro

Years ago Steve Jobs suggested that if a tablet device needed a stylus, it was a failed device. It was this thinking that really led to a change in how people perceived and used tablets. It’s why the IOS devices propelled the market for tablets even though Bill Gates correctly recognized the pending change to the PC market 10 years earlier.

I agree with Job’s suggestion 99% of the time. If a tablet requires a stylus then the tablet is really a failure. However, when the form factor of a tablet so closely resembles the same pad of paper you would have normally used to take notes in a meeting, jot down your shopping list, or potentially to sit in a classroom lecture and take notes, it is undeniable that there are times when a tablet really does fail when it can’t be used with a stylus.

Microsoft has been the leader in this space for years. There is no doubt that Microsoft technology combined with the Wacom digitizer is the best inking on the planet. Active digitizers are in a different class for ease of use. This is an area where we will continue to see improvements in the coming year, I am sure. We already see that Samsung has the sPen technology and it works pretty well. This technology is available for both Windows and Android tablets. This past week, Apple just filed a patent so they could bring some sort of smart pen technology to the capacitive touch screen on the iPad. There is no doubt that Nokia and the “super sensitive” touch in their Lumia line of phones will also allow inking when they endeavor into the tablet market.

But, what about the capacitive touch tablets on the market today? For the Apple iPad or the Microsoft Surface for example, there are a number of devices that are available. In the AT&T store, for example, they have no problem using the cheap nub tip (crayon) type stylus. They work for signatures (not well, but they work). There are times when a fat tip stylus will work with no questions.

1. If you have an app that allows you to write with a “crayon” and then it converts it into text or into smaller handwriting. Apps like Upad on the iPad, or the native keyboard on a Microsoft Surface (handwriting conversion) work fine for this sort of thing. If you are making bullet lists, then this sort of handwriting is completely reasonable. Additionally, there are software programs that will let you block the screen so that “palm blocking” can be accommodated by software. None of these are they type of writing experience that makes note taking reasonable.

2. A new type of stylus by Adonit is simply a brilliant invention. The stylus looks like a regular pen, but on the end of the pen there is a flat piece of plastic that sits flush to the screen when you write. With the clear plastic on the screen, as you write, you can see the screen and it appears that the ink is flowing smoothly from the tip of the pointy tip on the stylus. Compared to the fat tip stylus by Bamboo (the best of the fat tip options) the experience with the Adonit is awesome.

Using the Adonit JotPro is a very reasonable writing experience. It is not the same as a digitizer pen as used on the old Windows devices, but it is absolutely passable. Also, given the premise at the start of this article that 99% of the time a tablet should be operated by finger, it certainly will bridge the gap where you won’t see others with their fancy stylus writing while you struggle with a crayon to take notes. The Adonit is the answer. It works for writing in smaller places and it provides a precision for writing, drawing that I highly recommend.

That is the conclusion. If you don’t have one, go buy an Adonit stylus. There are several models available from about $15-30. Buy one. Now, I want to give you a few tips for using the stylus that will help you enjoy the experience even more.

When you first get the Adonit stylus it will work flawlessly. In fact, I was so shocked by the ability to take notes clearly that I couldn’t believe it. However, my joy turned into disgust after a little bit of time when my beautiful stylus started “skipping”. I joked because at first, if I just scribbled on the side, the inking would start flowing and it would write smoothly after. At the beginning, I was unsure if the skipping was being caused by the stylus, an unclean screen, or maybe my new tablet was not processing fast enough.

However, after a bit more time, it started skipping more frequently (over the first month). I really cleaned the screen regularly and I also experimented with the writing position to the point where I was confused because one time a particular angle would work and the next time, not so much. However, the answer was so shockingly easy to fixand it returned my amazement in the stylus. I will describe the situation and then I will go ahead and add some pictures later.

The flat plastic piece has a little cup and the stylus tip fits into the cup. It clicks in. However, between the stylus tip and the cup on the flat plastic piece there must be a contact to conduct the signal. Sometimes there appears to be a problem where the contact disappears. I am sure you could use any material, or gel, to address this problem; however, by a mile there is an easier way. Not to get too technical, but it appears that adding some sort of conductive material between the tip of the pen and the flat plastic plate, the beauty of handwriting is returned. You can think of this as the process to refill the ink cartridge in the old ball point pen.

1. Grab a little square of aluminum foil. Fold it over 3-4 times into a little square.

2. Disconnect the plastic tip from the Adonit Stylus.

3. Place the foil between the flat plastic piece (the cup receiver) and the tip, and press the tip back into the plate. (The tip will tear through the foil and it will add enough material to the tip that the contact is restored.

After following this procedure, handwriting with the Adonit stylus was returned to the quality of being brand new. I was so impressed by the ease of making this work that I just tore off another little 4 inch square and tossed it into the hidden pouch on my tablet carrying case. I figured I would never be without my refill again. It really takes 30 seconds to go through the procedure. I am telling you this because the skipping started happening pretty shortly after I bought the stylus. I am confident that this procedure will save many of you frustration and it will really make your device a note taking machine.

Note: I spoke with the folks at Adonit and they ensured me that the steps I outlined above should not be necessary. They said it is possible for the ball at the end of the stylus to need cleaning so that it continues to conduct the signal correctly. I will let you know what I find. For now, the quick fix for the aluminum foil works.

Here’s a quick link to three videos using Office Onenote on the Surface RT, converting handwriting to text and using the handwriting keyboard to write in text: http://sdrv.ms/XNv2ZI

 

Fujitsu – Windows 8 Complaint – Seriously?

Looking through some articles, I saw the comments made by the Fujitsu CEO and basically, they have agreed there is no bump for Windows 8. On the surface, this report could seem concerning. However, as I read the comments, I realized that recently I have done some shopping at Best Buy along with a few other major IT retailers. Off the top of my head, I couldn’t recall a single Fujitsu device. In fairness, I may have seen them, I just didn’t remember any of them.

As I was thinking about it, I went out to the Best Buy website and what did I see? Well, for starters, Fujitsu had 10 Windows based laptops and only two devices were touch enabled. The two devices:

 

I am not going to say that these devices are not good. But, I am going to say, when you come to market with this as your “bet on Windows 8”, you are getting what you deserve.

Folks, the reality is we are in the post-pc era. What does that mean? It means we will have a convergence of mobile devices and PC’s. The line between a tablet, a desktop computer and a phone really are becoming blurred. It also means that manufacturers like Fujitsu need to have a clue what they are doing because their nearly $2k tablet computer is competing with a bunch of devices that can do more, with a longer battery life all while being significantly lighter and smaller. Oh, by the way, realize that both of the Fujitsu devices at Best Buy are still advertised with Windows 7! Let me get this straight, Fujitsu isn’t seeing  bump in sales when they are actively selling 0 Windows 8 touchscreen devices available through Best Buy? (Sarcasm) I am shocked! How about you?

When you think about it, this is exactly why Microsoft had to jump into the hardware business. You have a new OS that is completely capable of touch friendliness surpassing many of the top IOS/Android tablets on the market and Fujitsu’s answer, don’t change a thing. I guess if you don’t look at the devices they are making, you could take the analysis review as a knock on Windows 8. But seriously, even with Windows 7, the best selling OS the planet has ever seen, anyone think the two devices above would have seen tremendous success? Ridiculous! 

 

Nokia Lumia 920

I have been using the 920 now for about a month. Recently, I had the iPhone 4S, the HTC EVO and the Lumia 900. Compared to these phones, the Lumia 920 really is an incredible phone. It’s faster, more customizable and it takes fantastic pictures and videos.

It would be simple to walk through and through side-by-side comparisons show someone why the Lumia 920 is a better phone than, well, pretty much everything else on the market; however, again, I would prefer to stay out of the comparison contest. Instead, I would prefer to focus on the 920.

Display

I selected the black 920. From an aesthetic perspective, I like the way the screen curves into the side and just kind of blends from screen into phone body. The curved gorilla glass makes the device seem so incredibly smooth when swiping across the screen. Simply put, the 920 has a beautiful clear black display that really does put it at the top of the list. Not that this matters to me, but the pixel density is better than the new iPhone 5. For me, getting into the technical nuance kind of makes no sense. Just as I feel the difference between the Surface and the Ipad is irrelevant, I also feel that the improvement the 920 has over the iPhone 5 is irrelevant. Still, you can know this, there isn’t another phone on the market that has a nicer screen than the 920.

Body

You will definitely read reviews where people talk about the weight of the 920. Of course, those are the same individuals that will run out and get the iPhone, but stick it in a big gaudy case that makes it bigger and less appealing. Here’s the thing, the 920 is bigger, but the body is also so sturdy that you will not need to run out and get a case for it.

Admittedly, when I went to pick up a new Windows phone, I did compare the 920 to the HTC 8X. The 8X has a smaller screen, but it just feels so small compared to the 920. For myself, I actually preferred the feel of the 920 because it felt solid in my hand. That being said, I wouldn’t disagree with anyone if they thought the feel and look of the 8X was nicer than the 920. I will provide more on that in my 8X review.

Overall, the body of the 920 is very attractive. It’s not as beautiful as the original Lumia 800 purely because the screen size when from 3.8 inches to 4.5 inches. However, the curved gorilla glass and the solid unibody design make for a great choice.

Software

Windows phone 8 is, like it’s predecessor, very smooth. When it comes to the software everything just works. If you can recall the days of Windows mobile, it’s safe to say those days are gone. If you really need to have a device that responds to swipes by stuttering or potentially, if you need the install apps that don’t work, well, you will need to use an Android phone. When it comes to the new Windows Phone software the experience very much similar to the smoothness of an iPhone. However, the interface begs you to do more than simply loading page after page of apps.

The Windows Phone interface is very similar to the new Windows 8 and the new Xbox interface. The live tiles allow you to really customize your home screen by pinning the things you care about. Because the tiles bring forward current news, it is a great interface that allows apps to share important information all the time. Instead of randomly clicking on a news app, as an example, instead by scanning the live tiles, you already have a good sense of what’s happening since pictures or headlines from breaking news are present. The same benefit of live tiles are experienced across people/friends, email, calendar, weather, music, you name it. the live tiles provide an interface which makes the phone uniquely yours.

Unlike the predecessor, Windows Phone 7, the new Windows Phone 8 allows you to customize each tile into different sizes. While this may not seem like a big deal, when it comes to personalization, it makes a huge difference. Overall, the Windows Phone software is unique and truthfully, like many other parts of the new OS, it just works. It’s faster than the old way of using a phone because it brings information to you from the home screen. Consider the efficiency in that process. How would you normally decide which app to open? Do you surf news sites? If so, which news sites? Do you go through a Facebook app to look for info there? How about Twitter, or Linked IN? The beauty of the live tiles is that it provides you with a glimpse of what is happening so that you can better get into the things you care about. The entire phone experience has this sort of efficiency built in.

Consider text messaging. Today, if you are on Facebook, your friends might try to send you an instant message via FB chat. How about if you are using Linked IN and your contacts message you? With a Windows phone, you go to the messaging hub and right there, you have it all in one thread. How beautiful, you see all of the communication in a single thread. In fact, if you want to communicate with someone, you can even click on a little button to see their online status across the social sites. This allows you to ping the person where they are. Further, in the same place, with the contact card, you can see all communication, text, chat, calls, and email in one spot.

App Store

The app store conversation is a bit like getting into pixel density. Here’s the deal, there are over 150k apps in the Windows Phone store. The truth is, most people install something less than 50 apps. In nearly every review, you will see someone regurgitate the line that many apps are missing. What they won’t do is actually identify the apps. You see, the truth is, you will have all the apps you need plus some. It is true that the app might have a different name. It is also true that some apps may be better or worse than their iPhone or Android equivalent, but the apps are there. If you are like me, you will even quit going out and looking for new apps, instead waiting for writers to review and app and if it sounds like a good idea, you may check it out.

One other interesting point, the method for counting apps is different between app stores. Consider that in the Apple or Android store, you cannot try an app before buying. That means that the trial version of the app is a different version than the paid version. This is not the case with the Windows Phone. In the Windows Phone app store apps can be “tried” and simply upgraded through the buy process.

Camera

All I can say here is wow. This phone is really great for a pocket camera. On the phone itself, pictures look great; however, what happens when you send the pictures to a larger screen? By default, pictures are synchronized to the SkyDrive. The SkyDrive app on the Xbox means that you can see your pictures on the big screen with no effort. The pictures were just as good. They were amazingly clear. The bottom line is the Lumia has the best camera of any smartphone on the market today.

Recommendation

If you use your phone as a communication device first, then the Windows Phone is a great choice. Simply put, it’s quicker, smoother and easier to use than any other phone on the market. If you like the feel of a solid phone that looks great and won’t require the crazy case to cover the phone, then the 920 is a great choice.

Microsoft Surface – Turn it the other way

I was going through and reading some reviews yesterday. It was interesting that some reviewers made comments that the Surface was uncomfortable to use in portrait mode. In particular, they suggested that they always hit the home button when doing so. Now, I realize that most of the reviewers have about 1 week’s worth of experience with a device and thus let’s just say many of their complaints are, well, silly. However, this one kind of got me fired up because if a person experiences that problem and can’t figure out the solution then seriously, I suggest you take their article discard it quickly. The truth is, you run the risk of losing IQ points for reading the article.

Here you go ready? Turn the device the other way. That’s right. When you hold the device and turn it to landscape mode, you can turn the Windows button to the opposite side of where you would like to hold the device. Please note the same can be said for portrait mode. If you are holding the device, it is incredibly easy to adjust the device by moving the home/Windows button to the opposite side. The screen will automatically adjust and all will be right with the world.

I also realize for most people, this particular issue is not a problem because if you happen to hit the button on accident, a simple swipe from the left brings your app right back to the front of the screen. However, if you happen to be an individual with banana fingers and you can’t seem to avoid hitting the button, turn it the other way.

Note: If you happen to be one of the intellectually challenged reviewers of the product, don’t feel bad. I get it if you want to delete your review out of shame or embarrassment. Instead, in the future just come here and see if I already have something written, you can copy at no additional charge.