Windows Surface RT: Potential but not quite there

This summer, when Microsoft announced it was going to make its own tablet, I was pretty excited. I had a chance to play with Windows 8 at TechEd the week before the announcement, and felt it would do well as a tablet OS. When pre-orders opened, I got my boss to get me one so I can test it for deployment in our company. After having it almost a week, I can tell you, this is a product that definitely has the 1st generation problems.

I felt like a kid in a candy store that had free samples all over the place. Opening the boxes that contained my Microsoft Surface and starting it up for the first time, that sense of anticipation for something you just can’t wait for was bursting. Then the testing began. Simple enough at first, connect to a wireless network, and go through all the setup routines. Simple enough, and easy enough, but then it hit me. The Surface came with 2 small books. The warranty book in 20 different languages, and a pamphlet book that had some crappy diagrams in it. No instruction manual, no real quick start guide, nothing. this over faith in the simplicity and easy of use is the first problem I have.

No information on how to close apps on the unit. No information about swipe gestures at all, let alone things such as how to switch between apps, how to bring up a settings menu, the things one should know. The tiles are nice, and pretty, but the constant (and I mean constant) update speed on them gets annoying. When I finally found the setting (swipe in from the right side) area to adjust it, I was disappointed that the slowest refresh rate was 90 seconds.I personally believe this helps shorten the battery life of the Surface itself. As I played with opening apps, and setting up a connection to my office’s Exchange server, I found I could not pinch and zoom. I also had to do a search on the web to find how to close apps, and then the motion (swipe down) had to be performed very specifically with regards to speed, otherwise the app would stay open. Not very intuitive in my estimation, and the slower speed of swipe to close items, will drive some people crazy.

The office apps were next for me to dig into, along with switching to the desktop mode and going to a share on a server to grab some Docs. This worked fantastically. Going into explorer, pulling up a server, logging in with my domain credentials, and then opening and working in office was nice and easy. Office itself was pretty decent to work with, especially with the tablet mode turned on so items were spaced a bit apart. I also tried to find the built in Cisco VPN system that I had been told about at training in Chicago’s Microsoft Tech Center the day before, but as of this writing, I still cannot find it.

Speaking of Apps, and the App store, I have found it to be frustrating. Not because of the lack of Apps, but because of the problems I have getting the store to open up and recognize that I am online. In fact the whole, am I online issue happens in most of the Metro, oops sorry, Modern Style Apps, including mail. Yet when any one of these shows that I am offline, I can open up IE in desktop mode and show that I am online. Heck I can go to a command prompt through the desktop and ping the internet at large. This to me was very surprising, as it is not a factor of the hardware, but of the Modern UI and Apps that have the issues.

Hardware wise, everything seems pretty solid. The disappointments to me is more with responsiveness (which could be an OS thing) and with the Touch Type Keyboard cover. I have found that the responsiveness to be sluggish half the time. Switching from portrait to landscape modes is slow. Response to touch even gets slow and sluggish. The Touch Type Keyboard Cover, is a different creature. When used as a keyboard (provided the tablet sees it which occasionally it doesn’t) it is great. Where I find it lacks is when you close it. It does not have a magnet to keep it closed, nor does it put the unit into a sleep or standby mode. It makes me feel like I should have another cover that will be more protective to the Surface itself. The next issue I have is that there is no way to keep the wireless on that I have found (I have this same issue with my Asus T300 Android tablet). This means no new mails when it shuts off. The iPad seems to be the only tablet not to have this problem so I can keep it nearby and know when I get new mail as long as I am in a place where I have wireless. This also affects the Windows Automatic Updates, which are supposed to happen at 3am (when the wireless is offline). I also have found that if I store my Surface in my bag next to my iPad, the Surface turns on.

I will not go into the Apps so much except on one surprise front. Microsoft bought int Barns and Noble’s Nook spinoff. Yet the only App is Amazon’s Kindle app, which I don’t use (I own a Nook Color). the lack of a Nook app at launch is extremely surprising, and I have yet to hear when a Nook app will come out. The rest of the App story all depends on what one is looking for. There are fewer Apps than Android or iOS, right now, but that should change, and is not a worry point for me as I don’t use 500,00 to a million apps. My Android tablet has the most downloaded apps on it and that is maybe 30, out of which I use many 10-15 apps regularly. The Nook app though is a big one for me, as I have all my tech manuals in my Nook system, and do not wish to repurchase them.

All of the problems and issues I have found can be fixed. It just make sit obvious that this is a first generation device, and a first serious attempt. From the screw up with the word Metro, to the issues outlined above, everything is fixable. The question is, will Microsoft fix these problems quickly and let the platform live up to the potential it has?

Microsoft finally “Surface”s a tablet

The Big announcement was yesterday. Microsoft is jumping into the tablet game. Everyone has a take on this move, but there are too many unanswered questions to really be concise on an opinion.

Microsoft decided to pull an Apple or Google and do a special, red carpet, invite only reveal yesterday. The item, which was speculated on for over a week, was the new Surface Tablet offerings. The announcement itself is and is not a big deal. Anyone who looks closely at the way the tablet/smartphone ecosystem is could have seen this coming. Microsoft has had an issue with getting Windows Phone out there, even though it is a good OS. They have certain pledges from their normal PC distribution chain, but will any of those actually come out, and if so when? Microsoft had to make this move, they had to pull an Apple or Google and put out their own device.They made some mistakes with the reveal though. Then there are all the questions about how much success will it have?

Microsoft’s special announcement system, while generating buzz, had some really poor timing. First off, there was WWDC last week where Apple made its announcements and Buzz. Last Monday everything was Apple, especially the new MacBook. Yes, pushing the announcement to this week avoided that, but there was other news going on. The coverage of the Surface has not matched the frenzy generate by any Apple announcement. Microsoft could have done this announcement last week on Tuesday and stolen the show. Last week was Microsoft’s TechEd, and that could have been a huge place to reveal the Surface. First you have all the IT pros and Developers there, plus you can invite in all the press. Having the IT Pros and Devs there, along with having the Surface on display to be played with could have generated a much larger amount of publicity than just having the press there. The IT folks and Devs are usually your first adopters, and the ones who will be trusted to make knowledgeable recommendations that are followed.

Issue number two has been touched on by a number of well known tech writers. They had nothing as far as apps and the app store. Not completely true as Office will come preloaded and activated on the Windows RT Surface. The lack of other apps initially for the RT version could hurt it. The real interesting item is the full Windows 8 version on an Ivy Bridge core i5 processor.

The biggest reason the x64 version of the Surface is so interesting is the Application possibilities. Think about it, most machines out there are x64 or amd64 processors in the PC world. As long as the x64 Surface can run PC software, and I see no technical reason it should not be able to, you are talking a true laptop replacement. Think of it, being able to play WoW, Diablo, Civilization or any other PC game on a lightweight tablet. Then there are all the productivity, media and other software out there. The only limit is your resources and storage, and that only should affect the amount of items one can install.

If Microsoft can put a price point not at an Ultrabook price for the x64 Surface, but below the iPad pricing, Microsoft could do the job that Android has not been able to, and kill the iPad. Windows 8 I did get to see on tablets, and it is slick and very friendly for the tablet environment. What Microsoft needs to make sure not to do is price its own device out of the running, which on an ARM processor is not possible. the ARM environment is pretty locked down, unless something revolutionary comes along that is a must have. The x64 tablets are where Microsoft can make that must have. The ball is in their court, and time will tell if this was a revolutionary announcement or the announcement of the beginning of the end of Microsoft.

iPad: One Tech’s view

I’ve had an iPad for a few weeks now. Been trying to see how usable it is, and at what level. Here is my opinion on it.

The iPad, a revolution in computing. The true coming of tablet computing. I’m still trying to figure out why we need tablet computing. I have nothing against new ideas, or new technology. I just don’t see why someone would want to carry around a tablet, when they can have a netbook which can honestly do more than a tablet.

All that being said, the iPad is a neat consumer toy. It can do quite a bit, but overall it is meant for consumers, or average users, not for techs. The best app I’ve found for what I do, which is consulting and engineering, has been Penultimate, which allows me to create hand written notebooks, which I used to use pads of paper or notebooks for (I have about 10 of them from the past 3 years, each one 200+ pages).

Outside of that, I don’t have much use for it. The amount of free useful apps is minimal. The App Store is awful. Searching the App Store doesn’t give me what I’m looking for the majority of the time, and browsing by category is painful at best. I have found very few of the network tools that I have on my Droid phone (Ping, WiFi Analyzer, NetTools, etc…) available for the iPad, (and that includes similar type programs).

I also have a netbook, which cost about half of the iPad, has way more available for it (even if you leave it with Windows O/S), has more storage space, and a reliable keyboard. The netbook screen, size and weight do make it equivalent of the iPad’s specs there also.

I see the iPad for what it is, a consumer grade bridge, that is refining touchscreen technology. Eventually all of it will be obsolete as we will get a chip planet in us to really give us Augmented Reality. The are working on it.