Sunday, June 23, 2013

Devices, Gadgets and Gear, Oh My: The Microsoft Surface Pro Tablet

As I work my way through this series about all the devices I carry with me I have been unconsciously posting them in the order of which I feel they are beneficial to me. Once I realized I was doing that I made a decision to stop and list the least used device I have next. I had really high hopes for the Surface Pro, it should have been the best device ever but to me it fell short in many ways.

I know a few people who have the surface who love it and think that nothing compares to it. And I agree it should be that good, maybe in the near future it will be. Right now, this version needs work.

Let me start with the obvious, Windows 8 is not ready for prime time. It feels like half an operating system or more accurately two halves of separate operating systems shoved together to not quite make one whole operating system. I will be honest, I don't care for the colorful boxes interface native to Windows 8. To me it looks like something that should be on the latest Fisher Price toddler tablet and not on the flagship PC operating system. While I understand what they are going for and in fact the operation of it works reasonably well on the Surface; using it on a desktop computer or standard laptop is really horrible. You see, it's designed with a touchscreen interface in mind and when you don't have a touchscreen as your primary interface it just seems clunky. It reminds me of trying to use Windows 95 without a physical mouse and trying to make the cursor keys do the work. You can accomplish what you need to but it takes too long and doesn't feel feel right.

If that were the only issue then things wouldn't be so bad, but sadly even if you love the colorful boxes interface you will still have problems because you can't stay in that interface. There is no excuse for there to be two different UI's forced on you in one operating system. I don't mean just available to you, because I think choices are a good thing. I mean that just using Windows 8 for some time you will have to use both UI's at one time or another. There are too many applications that still do not have a native Windows 8 interface and when you use those you are dumped rather jarringly into what is a very close replication of the Windows 7 interface. If this only happened with 3rd party applications that hadn't updated to Windows 8 yet then I could overlook it. Unfortunately Microsoft let a number of their applications including control panel applets and settings stay in the old interface and to me this is inexcusable in a shipping product. This feels like a Alpha or Beta release every time it happens to me. I can only hope in future updates that Microsoft finds a way to wrap the old interface into something that more closely resembles the new interface so that it isn't so jarring when you switch interfaces, or if I had my way a simple check box letting you decide which interface you want to use all of the time. When I am not using the Surface I would rather use the older Windows 7 styled interface and when on the Surface I would love to stay in the Windows 8 interface for exactly the opposite reason, using the Windows 7 interface on a tablet with a stylus just feels wrong.

To move this post back to the Surface Pro where it was before I let myself run roughshod over the Windows 8 issues, I love the hardware. Honestly except for battery life there isn't anything I would change about the Surface Pro tablet. The size is perfect, the weight while not iPad light is not overly heavy, the screen is beautiful, and it's fast enough to do all the work I need it to.

The Surface has a lot of really useful features that make using the tablet everyday a very easy thing to do. I especially like the snap-on keyboard covers. I happen to have the felt feeling touch keyboard cover, but the more laptop like cover is even better. The Surface Pro has a stand built into the back of the tablet which if you have ever seen a Surface commercial you are well aware of. I really think this is a nice feature though, it saves you having to buy a case based on needing a stand rather than protecting the tablet. I wish this much thought had gone into the stylus holder because I have sent my stylus flying across the room more times than I can count. Most tablets that include a stylus have a slot where it can be stored when not in use. Microsoft decided to use the magnetic power port as a dock for the stylus with only that 3/4 inch connection holding it on. This works great when the tablet is on a desk, the stylus is handy and easy to grab. When using it as a tablet however the stylus trends to catch on clothes or your other hand and *poof* flying stylus time.

Speaking of the stylus, it is an active stylus and has erase and right click functions. I think that considering how smooth and glossy the screen is writing on the Surface is very nice. it isn't as nice as say the Bamboo pen on a Bamboo tablet, but much nicer than the S-Pen on my Samsung Note  II. This is where things get interesting though because I think the killer application for the surface would be Evernote and being able to take handwritten notes on it. I can't get Evernote to do that though, I can type into it and using the built in handwriting recognition interface you can sort-of write. Neither the Desktop version or Evernote Touch seem to have just a page you can write on. The Handwritten Notes app from Microsoft will let you write on a lined paper, but it seems more like a demo than a full app.

I really want to like the Surface, I do. Who wouldn't want an iPad running Windows. I have tried every portable windows device there was, someday maybe I will write about them. The Surface though just seems like a product released too early. The OS isn't quite ready, the aftermarket isn't quite ready, and the killer application for a tablet of this quality just isn't there yet. I plan on holding onto the Surface, maybe even picking up an RT since in education we are supposed to be able to pick up an RT for $200.00. I will keep updating it and check the app store from time to time. If it becomes everything it can be I will update this post.

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