Obligatory Blog


Surface RT review update 14 months in

I've had my Surface RT now for 14 months, and wanted to update my earlier review so that I can provide a clearer look at my experience so far.

I will say that I flip flopped many times between using my iPad more and the Surface more in the last 14 months.  I find that it can replace most of what I was using my laptop  for (light word document editing, email, remoting into my work network, etc.) but I still find I prefer the iPad for casual web browsing, Facebook, Twitter,  and games.  I even bought the iPad Air to replace my aging iPad 2.

One thing that is great about the Surface RT vs the iPad is the presence of Flash.  This was the one thing that always sent me back to my laptop / desktop with the iPad, now I can rely on IE in Windows RT to use websites that rely on flash.  IE in Windows RT makes a lot more of the web accessible than with mobile Safari on the iPad.  Having a keyboard attached makes any task requiring typing more than a few words much better.

Many software updates that came out from Microsoft over the last 7 months have improved the usability of Windows RT, but the biggest is the release of Windows RT 8.1 last fall.  The user interaction changes shared with the main build of Windows 8 have made many things easier to accomplish.  I especially like the inclusion of Outlook 2013 in this release.  That makes interfacing with my office Exchange server much more pleasant.

There have also been a lot of updates on the App front as well, including a native first party app for Twitter, an app for my Bank (RBC), the new Skydrive app for RT 8.1 now supports syncing files locally, etc.

On the hardware front, this thing seems very durable, the only issue I had was the felt backing of the type cover keyboard separating at the connection to the tablet.  I happened to be near a Microsoft store while on vacation and they swapped it out for me no problem.  I've had excellent dealings with both the online support and the in person support.  6 months later and the same thing is happening again.  Maybe they've fixed this in the Type Cover 2.

As for my initial complaint about finger prints, they are still hard to fight, but I bought a screen protector that boasted finger print resistance as a feature and this seems to be an improvement over the raw screen.

I do have one warning to folks on data usage, Windows RT and IE 10/11 are for all intents and purposes Desktop browsers, and Windows store apps are not mobile apps, this means that websites and services don't seem to concern themselves with being cautious regarding data usage.  Therefore when tethering to your mobile phone you need to watch your data consumption closely. I was travelling last summer and watched a fair bit of Netflix while tethered to my iPhone, and I burned through my 6GB data plan in the first few days.

I question the long term validity of Windows RT on ARM given the amazing power performance of Intel's newest Haswell processors (9 hours on the 11 inch MacBook Air) I think the Surface Pro 2 is an amazing device, and it makes the Surface RT and Surface 2 a questionable proposition aside from the consideration of cost.

All in all, I do still use my Surface, but more of a laptop replacement than a iPad replacement.


Microsoft Surface RT Tablet Review

Note: This review was written on December 18th, 2012 but not published till July 2nd, 2013... not sure why 🙂

Full disclosure, I received my Microsoft Surface RT as a registration bonus at the DevIntersection conference last week.

I've had the tablet for a week now and I'm trying to use it instead of my iPad 2 as my go to mobile device.  I've had the iPad 2 nearly 2 years now, and I'm still loving it and using it everyday for those 2 years. I'll highlight some of the things that I like about the Surface and the things I miss from my iPad.

One thing to note right off the bat about the Surface is that it has more in common with a full windows 8 laptop than the iPad.

Things I really like about the Surface:

  • The keyboard: I purchased the Touch Cover initially, but after 2 days decided on swapping it for the Type cover.  With the type cover I can type just as fast and accurately as I can on my regular laptop keyboard or Apple Bluetooth keyboard.  There is a reason that these keyboard covers feature predominantly in all Microsoft marketing materials.  It really begs the question as to why it is an add on purchase and not included by default with the device.  To buy a Surface RT without one of the covers wouldn't make sense to me.
  • Full Microsoft Office 2013: While it shipped with a preview version (I suppose the RTM version wasn't available during manufacture) there was an update immediately after initial setup (available on day one for the first purchasers) that upgraded to the full edition.  When I say full Office I mean it, all the capabilities of the desktop edition on a tablet.  There are some drawbacks to it:  it's the Home and Student license by default so no commercial use, it runs in Desktop mode, and not in the same Modern UI that other windows store apps use, the interface while having some touch optimizations isn't particularly finger friendly (luckily the type and touch covers have a touchpad built in for fine control)
  • Kickstand: This is another awesome hardware inclusion in the device, it props the tablet up at just the right angle for typing or watching movies, etc.  The only drawback is lack of adjustment, so for cases when that angle is not perfect, you have no options.
  • Full USB Support: With a full size USB port and software support for many types of USB devices it beats the iPad hands down.  I've tried mice, speakers, thunbdrives, hard drives, and never had a hitch getting any of them to work as expected.
  • Software Development Tools: I've been using Microsoft development tools for years in my current job, and I can apply all my experience, even my web development experience into writing applications for Windows 8 and RT.  This is in contrast to the iPad where I attempted to learn development, but got bogged down in learning new tools and languages.
  • Full Windows Experience: While Windows RT has some differences from regular Windows 8, they are surprisingly few and far between.  Of course the biggest difference is the ARM Processor instead of the x86 processor that windows has relied on for the last 25 years.  This windows is a recompile for ARM and includes everything from Notepad to Regedit, Command Prompt to Windows Explorer, but you won't be able to download and run any software that doesn't either come pre installed, or available for download from the Windows Store.  This is one restriction that I hope Microsoft allows advanced users to bypass.  I would gladly accept the risks and put non store software on my device.
  • MicroSD Expansion: this is big, especially since the Surface's advertised size (32 GB or 64GB) includes the space reserved for the OS, recovery partition as well as the pre installed applications.  This means that out of the box a 32 GB Surface RT has roughly 16GB free space.  Adding a 128GB MicroSDXC card will greatly help that.  There are some limitations such as you can't add media from the card in your libraries by default, with a little command line foo and some poking around you can get Windows to index the card into your libraries.


Things I really don't like about the Surface:

  • Fingerprints: Oh the fingerprints: on the glass, on the back, on the keys of the touch cover, even the power brick is prone to it.
  • Restriction to adding software only from the Store:  I understand Microsofts motives here, one altruistic: Prevent malicious software from running , and one greedy: Force software purchases through the App store model so they get a cut of the sale. As a software developer I can already deploy any code I can compile into a Windows Store app directly to the Surface tablet using the Remote Debugger.  Why not let me go one step further and deploy non Windows Store Apps.  This could be an explicit agreement that I need to agree to.
  • The necessity of using the Desktop mode so often: While I count the full windows experience as a big plus, the need to switch from the Modern Windows Store UI model of all full screen touch friendly applications back to the tried and true windowed desktop application mode is jarring at times. It is almost like having two Operating Systems running at the same time.
  • Speakers: While I pluralized that word (the Surface has stereo speakers, where my iPad has a single Mono speaker) and it should be a plus over the iPad, the sound is lackluster at best.  The max volume is low, and fidelity not so great.
  • Touch sensitive Windows Key on bottom bezel: In a move that cements the fact that the Surface is a landscape centric product where iPad is portrait centric there is a Windows Key (the Surface equivalent to the iPad home button) in the central part of the bottom bezel on one of the long sides of the tablet.  Most unfortunately is how sensitive this button is.  When holding it in your hands it is very easy to strike that button and end up out of your current app and back to the start page.  Luckily a second press brings you right back to where you started.

Things I miss from my iPad:

  • Native Twitter Client: There are third party Twitter clients in the Windows store, but I haven't found one that I would say approaches the Twitter app for iPad.
  • Native Facebook Client: The same goes for Facebook, the best experience on RT so far is the Web version, which is not exactly touch friendly.
  • Mail Client: Windows Mail is preinstalled app on Windows 8 / RT and it's not a bad client for a first effort, I do not feel it has the support and capabilities of the built in Mail App on the iPad
  • iSSH: this app is great, it combines a full ssh terminal client (including tunneling) with a VNC client.  I hope that the developers will port to Windows 8/RT
  • Full Cisco VPN Client: While Windows RT has the same VPN support as Windows 7 / 8, supporting IPsec and PPTP it doesn't support the Cisco specific features that my office uses such as Group Name and shared secret.
  • Citrix Receiver support for older versions: The Windows Store version of Citrix Receiver on Windows 8 / RT does not support older versions of the Citrix server software.  Because you can't install desktop software on RT there is no way to connect.
  • LogMeIn: I use LogMeIn every day for remote access to my various machines. I had hopes that even though there was no native application for LogMeIn on the Surface as there is on the iPad that the web version would just work like it does on Windows 8.  However I was disappointed to find out that another difference between Windows 8 and RT is plugin support for Internet Explorer (and additionally a lack of competing browsers.)


At this point I like the Surface RT very much, and look forward to updating my review as the software situation improves, my usage goes up (or down) etc.