Like most business users, the killer application for me has always been Microsoft Office, and if I want a tablet for work, ideally I would want Outlook for my emails and PowerPoint for presentations. With Microsoft recently dropping the pricing of their entry level Surface RT tablet, and announcing that Windows 8.1 will include Outlook, I thought it was time I got hold of one of these and see how it stacks up against its competitors.
Case: the metal feels sturdy, yet it is still light in weight. This is great considering you will be lugging the thing around. The metal kickstand is also a nice feature.Screen: bright and clear. The resolution may not be quite as high as the iPad, but it certainly does the job.User Interface: I already run Windows 8 on my laptop, so I was already familiar with how to find my way around the UI (User Interface). I still question some of Microsoft’s design decisions though, like hiding the search functions within an application in the side menus (which they call ‘charms’).Responsiveness: the UI responds quickly, and there is no lagging when you scroll (which is noticeable on many android tablets). Some applications do take a few seconds to start, but being a tablet I’m not expecting it to be as fast as a regular PC.Keyboard: This is cool. I opted for the upgraded keyboard, which has a much more tactile feel. It snaps in place with magnets and can be added and removed at will. This is really useful for people who can type faster than they can write. I still found myself using the touchscreen for much of the navigation though, even though the keyboard has an integrated mouse touchpad. Microsoft Office: Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote are all there with full functionality. Outlook is coming in October (along with version 8.1). The apps don’t run overly fast but they still have full functionality. It would be nice if they were more integrated into the metro interface, rather than relying on the desktop, which almost seems like an afterthought.App Store: The number of apps currently on the Windows Store is very limited; I’d guess maybe 1,000 which is a long way from the 375,000 available for the iPad. However since I only want this for business use, I don’t need a lot of apps for the time being.Price: For $500 I got the 32GB tablet, enhanced keyboard and a cover. A base iPad 4 with 32GB retails for around $650, so the Surface is certainly good value.
Like all good IT Pro’s, the first thing I did was try to update the software to patch any security vulnerabilities. Updating an iPad or Android tablet requires a single update and reboot. Not so with Windows.I had to go through the update process 6 times, each update involved downloading 20 to 40 minor updates, each with a reboot or two in between. It literally took 6 hours to get the operating system patched to the latest version. If I had let the system patch itself over a number of days I may have not noticed, but I think this is an area that Microsoft needs to address.After updating the OS, my next task was to update the pre-installed apps and maybe add a few new ones. Here’s where things went wrong.A few apps installed okay, but others gave me an undecipherable error (It literally said 0x80070002 error). A quick Google search was to no avail. Out of frustration, I chose to reset back to system defaults which fixed the problem, and fortunately didn’t wipe all the things I’d already set up.Lastly, email. I mentioned that the new version 8.1 will include Outlook, but is not out yet. While there is a preview version available, I have not installed this as yet, leaving me with the default 'Mail' app. Interestingly, Mail detected that I already had an Exchange account, and tried to pre-configure itself, but it did get some of the credentials wrong and required a little manual intervention. The default Mail app is as good as the one on the iPad, but I am still looking forward to using Outlook with all its bells and whistles.
The $500 question. Would I recommend one? Microsoft still has a lot of catching up to do, as this is their first attempt at a tablet OS and form factor. For the most part, they are on the right track.However, I would not buy one for your kids, as the app store is way too limited for now. For business use, it’s not too bad, and will only get better. Just be prepared to learn all the nuances of operating Windows 8 from a touch screen.