A week on the road with Microsoft's Surface tablet

Posted by Rob Enderle

This is my second week with the Microsoft's flagship Surface tablet and the first week I didn’t have access to a desktop PC and a larger screen.

Typically I start to stress out a bit when I don’t have access to my desktop workstation because I use a lot of screen real estate when I work and this was no exception. But it was also no worse, and in some ways better, than my experiences living on one of the smaller notebooks. Let me walk you through my thoughts on this increasingly amazing device.
A week on the road with Microsoft's Surface tablet

Battery Life to Die For

Everyone I’m with is fighting for plugs to keep their laptops up and running. I’m not. I’ve been charging this at night when I sleep and haven’t had to plug it in once during the day and pretty much had it going for most of the event.

Granted, it goes into suspend aggressively but it is a quick button push and swipe to recover it and this small effort is more than offset by not having to worry about running out of charge, searching for my charger, or crawling under and over tables looking for a plug. I can start up quicker, shut down faster, and not have to look for seats located near plugs that are in awkward or hard to see from areas.

Very Good Wireless

I often have fun watching iPad users trying to connect to a network. I finally had to put an Apple router in the house so my wife could reliably connect her iPad and even she still often has to shut down and restart her iPad to get a connection to take. This tablet’s ability to connect to and then get through passwords and IDs is almost magical. It has more range than many notebooks and far less problems than any iPad I’ve ever tried.

Keyboard

There are two keyboards you can get for this tablet, one that uses a membrane and feels more robust, the other 
is thinner and less expensive. While I have both and found the membrane keyboard better than a screen keyboard, the mechanical keyboard is also wonderful paired with the tablet, as it really offers a notebook feel.

However, with a touch screen Microsoft was able to implement a much smaller touchpad, which means I’m accidentally hitting the pad far less than usual and not chasing the cursor all over the screen. Interestingly, I also found I used the touch screen more than was probably wise, as it was often easier to use the touchpad (for things like creating hyperlinks or deleting a lot of text) but I’d struggle with the screen as if the pad didn’t exist. Switching between the two correctly will admittedly take me a while to get right.

Magnetic Charger

Initially I thought this was cool, then I had some issues getting the plug in right, and now I’m back to thinking it is cool again. Part of my problem was the incorrect belief that the cord only worked one way and it works both ways, part of it was that I was trying to push it in, and part was just some initial socket tightness that eventually worked out. Now it just snaps in and out, and if you don’t try to force the plug, it goes in fast and easy but may take a couple days to wear though any unevenness that was left after manufacturing.

Ports

You don’t know how much you’ve missed ports until you don’t have them. While one USB port and a mini-HDMI port don’t seem like much, they are so much better than not having any or needing to carry a dock. One thing though, if you get one of these tablets, get several mini-HDMI to HDMI adapters or at least one cable. It did me no good to have a cable and the port on this trip because I forgot to bring the adapter and I tend to misplace or lose them. So either buy a couple so you always have one, of the adapters, or one of the cables that has a mini-plug on one end and a full sized one on the other so you can use your tablet with the hotel TV screen.

Software

The only app I missed was Tweetdeck but it took me awhile to learn the differences between Outlook, which you can’t get on this tablet, and the native email client which worked fine with my Exchange server. There is a learning curve here but once you realize that you can swipe from the bottom to find some of the stuff you are missing (like the attachment command) it isn’t bad.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m missing Outlook, just not missing it as badly as I thought I would and having the calendar function separate and having them both work in the new interface are actually improvements. Now I typically run two browsers because I often have trouble with IE on some sites and trouble with Chrome on
others. I can’t load Chrome but I haven’t yet had as many problems with IE 10 as I did with IE 9 so I’m
OK for now here too. But this is a risk I’m watching.

Weight

This thing in my notebook back is almost impossible to detect. Once I’ve dumped out all of the crap I carry to the hotel room on a trip and put this tablet, and my Kindle Paperwhite in the bag it still feels almost empty. This is a danger because if I leave my notebook and pick up the bag I immediately can feel the difference and don’t abandon the notebook but I’ll need to be careful not to do the same with this tablet. On the other hand my back, if it could, would be doing a happy dance for how little weight and strain Surface offers - because even with the charger and all accessories the weight is almost insignificant.

Wrapping Up: Damned Good Tablet

The funny thing is now that I’ve had this for two weeks I can’t understand why anyone would even try to live off of an iPad. There are simply too many things this tablet does like a notebook that the iPad can’t. Don’t get me wrong, the iPad still leads on apps and it has a better display for similar money, but when it comes to leaving your notebook behind you really can’t do that with the iPad, yet this tablet is my new notebook.

I think the thing that is most astounding is that this product was designed from Microsoft. It is almost
unbelievably good given the source. Now I can hardly wait to see the coming Xbox 7” tablet.