A few weeks ago, I decided to set up a Surface RT tablet at work that had been gathering dust. Most people on my team have the Surface Pro tablets, but I had yet to really work with one. I’ve used a MacBook for over a year and love it, and prior to that device I was an ardent Chromebook fan. But I was curious about the Surface.
For the most part I tend to dismiss Microsoft’s hardware efforts. The Zune was a great product hampered by Microsoft’s half-assed efforts in music sharing and product launch (the second generation Zune hardware and software should have been the launch devices, but I digress). The Xbox 360 is a great combination of hardware and services, but their hubris around the launch of the Xbox One and the used game / DRM debacle once again dropped them off of my radar.
So I met the release of the Surface with skepticism. The device itself contained a certain aesthetic appeal, but the Touch cover/keyboard mutant looked… odd. Kind of cool, but I kept wondering how functional it would really be. Then came the news that the 32GB model only came with roughly 16GB of usable space and I scoffed. Here was Microsoft again making goofy decisions to the detriment of consumers.
I didn’t give the Surface RT a second thought and went about my life. I certainly wasn’t going to spend my money on it. But one just sitting in a drawer at work? Sure, I’ll take a test drive.
Things didn’t start well.
I determined early on that I’d have to wipe the device. Fine. Wiped it and went through the initial setup. The Surface was still running Windows RT 8.0. With the device plugged in, I began the usual IT step of running Windows Update.
And I let it run.
For over 9 hours.
The device got stuck on a “Failed to apply Windows Updates, rolling back” message. After a few hours it was still there. Stopped it, wiped the device again and started over. Updates eventually finished, until I looked again and it needed another round of 70 or so. So I let it run again. Hours and hours later they finished. It was then that I went into the App Store and found that there was a Windows RT 8.1 update available.
I would have run that first if the device (or, crazy I know, Windows Update, had informed me). Shaking my head, I kicked off the upgrade.
Having learned my lesson, I let it sit for a few hours and came back. Eventually, the device finished, and after finishing a final round of updates, I began using the Surface RT in earnest.
I have to admit, I love the device. It’s not perfect (this is the first generation model I’m running. Not that the 3rd Gen is perfect I would imagine). Here are a couple of notes in my first few weeks using it:
- Windows RT appears to be, sadly, a lame duck. It’s the Windows CE of the 2010’s. Microsoft looks to be shifting strategy (again) and Windows RT looks to be the odd man out. Oddly enough, RT may be the most pain-free version of Windows in terms of malware and viruses.
- Tying into the above point, there aren’t as many apps for RT as regular Windows. And there are a few glaring ones such as HBO Go and Amazon Instant Video (thankfully, you can use the web versions, since this is running IE 10). And the apps that are on the platform, such as Kindle reader, are nowhere near as functional as their iOS and Android cousins.
- I ditched the Touch Cover keyboard. It’s an inventive idea, and maybe I’m just too old fashioned but I didn’t care for the feel of the “keys”. I wound up picking up a Type Cover 2 and love it.
- As far as on-screen keyboards, the Surface is the best one I’d used on a tablet. I don’t mind breaking it out for more than just a password now if I’m in bed doing some web surfing and responding to posts.
- Kudos to Microsoft for releasing Windows RT 8.1 for free.
- The snap-to-the-side feature for having two open windows is awesome on the Surface. I never use it on my regular desktop but I use it quite a bit here.
Probably the most important thing the Surface has done is convince me to stick with it and eventually upgrade to a Surface Pro at some point. Having a light device that gives me access to work (via Outlook and Citrix) and personal apps + Skype + full Microsoft Office and OneDrive (to which I’ve migrated all my writing docs from Google Drive) makes it a great device for me.
I’ve since sold my MacBook. Blasphemy, I know.