If you believe the übergeeks I’ve bought a pup. The worst damned tablet ever. But there again if you believe the übergeeks an iPad with its retina display will enable you to create art like de Vinci, compose music like Mozart, make your toast and fly you to the moon.
Back in the real world I’ve been using my Surface with Windows RT for a couple of weeks and I’m still very impressed. It’s a slick, intuitive operating system running on a decent bit of hardware. My timing for buying it wasn’t great as the Surface 2 is on the way, but I bought it in Kuala Lumpur for just £240 for the 32GB model with touch keyboard – £80 cheaper than I could find in the UK. Even at £319 I’d consider it good value.
Firstly, it looks slick. Both the hardware and colourful live tiles impress casual passers-by who see me using it.
The live tiles are particularly impressive, sitting next to my laptop keeping me up to date on appointments, tasks, emails, news, Twitter and Facebook. It conveniently removes all these distractions from my main screen that I’m working on, but still enables me to keep in touch with what’s happening. A surprisingly good productivity boost.
The touch keyboard cover is fantastic and contrary to negative reviews you might have read is really easy to type on, helped by the fact it’s seamlessly integrated into the operating system. I’m not entirely convinced by its retro-feeling ‘felt’ type back, although I’d imagine it has a practical ‘non-slip’ purpose.
Another great hardware feature is the inclusion of a standard USB port making it simple to plug in all manner of peripherals. Want to see the photos of your digital SLR on a big screen and edit them before sharing. Simple just plug it in. Plug in a mouse and away you go. Want to transfer lots of files fast to your microSD card? Just plug in your external hard drive.
The most surprising positive for me is some of the really good third-party apps, as it is the lack of these that made me reluctant to purchase. Apps like LastPass and FourSquare are far better than the Android alternatives.
The Microsoft apps are just as good as you’d expect making the Surface a real alternative to always taking my laptop when travelling. OneNote is particularly impressive. If you’ve never used OneNote you’re missing a trick as the Windows desktop app is brilliant making Evernote seem crude by comparison. OneNote is Microsoft’s secret crown jewel. The touch interface is very slick and it syncs seamlessly via SkyDrive with you desktop OneNote notebooks.
To take advantage of the free space on each I use several cloud drives – SkyDrive, Dropbox and Google Drive. The implementation of SkyDrive and Dropbox on Windows 8 RT is slick. But there is an even better cloud drive app – Cumolo enables you to see folders from all your cloud services in one place. Very helpful.
For an RSS reader I’m using Readiy, which syncs neatly with the Feedly cloud. Ironically I’m now mainly using Feedly as a syncing service with most of my actually reading done on Readiy on the Surface and gReader on my Samsung Galaxy S4. I do still use Feedly on the desktop. My main gripe with Readiy is that it doesn’t download feeds for offline reading which is my main reason for using gReader on the phone. For anyone that travels a lot this is a must as even in 2013 the idea of seamless internet access is a joke – sporadic on the train, non-existent when flying, sporadic free wifi hotspots when abroad, non-existent on the London tube (wifi at stations provides you with a bizarre world of on/off as you zoom between stations) and sporadic 3G/4G in rural areas.
For Facebook I’ve used MINE and Vibe. MINE has live tiles and lets you play with lots of filters to see just the content you want to. I’m still learning and playing, but hopefully it gives me far more control than I’ve got even on the actual Facebook website. Vibe looks nicer, but potentially isn’t as powerful which is why I’m still experimenting between the two.
However, my main initial negative is still true – a lack of apps. It isn’t as bad as I first thought as if you’re more concerned with quality over quantity then Windows RT is well served. However, there are some notable missing apps.
Flipboard – announced in June, but still not released. Given my experience with other apps on Windows 8 I’m expecting Flipboard to outperform its Android and Apple rivals. It’s a real pain not being able to flip interesting articles into my PR News and Views Flipboard magazine.
Mind mapping – tablets are made for mind maps, but as far as I can see there isn’t a decent one for Windows 8. There are several to choose from, but none appear to have the right file format so I can also work on maps on my desktop Xmind program.
Tasks – there isn’t a really good task app that syncs with my Office 365 tasks in Outlook, which seems a surprising omission, but should hopefully be rectified with the inclusion of Outlook in Windows 8.1. I’m trying Tasks by Telerik, which isn’t bad, but isn’t great either.
I’d naively assumed that the colour-coding on my Outlook tasks would be rendered in beautiful Windows 8 tiles enabling me to visualise what I had to do. No such luck, just a sea of identically coloured pink tiles. I’d also assumed I’d see a nice calendar view and be able to slide tasks around to set new deadline dates. No such luck on that either.
But the big, the really big missing app is Twitter. There are lots of apps to choose from, but none of them are very good. MetroTwit should be good, but unfortunately has a ‘known bug’ that renders it almost unusable. You’re unable to scroll your personal Twitter lists so can’t pin the list to your home view. My other personal gripe with MetroTwit is that everything is displayed rather too big, I’d far prefer to see a smaller font with more columns/tweets on screen as that saves me time. Nirvana would be HootSuite on Windows RT.
I haven’t had a chance to use Windows RT 8.1 yet as Microsoft pulled the preview version before I had chance to install it. But one of the benefits is it fixes a bizarre flaw in version 8 which is the inability for the installed Modern UI apps to see content on your micoSD card. It’s bizzare that the Music, Photo and Video apps can’t automatically see content on your card without you doing a fairly simple ‘geeky’ tweak, which would definitely be beyond most non-techy consumers.
The only real hardware complaint I have is that it doesn’t have a GPS chip. This is another bizarre omission given that Bing maps (which is actually very good) comes pre-installed and Microsoft made such a song and dance about the release of the FourSquare app. It seems such an essential thing to include that it never even occurred to me to check the hardware specifications when I bought it. It makes the FourSquare app rather pointless as I can’t actually check-in anywhere as it always locates me about 30 miles or so (in random directions – north and west so far) from where I actually am.
Do I regret buying it? Absolutely not. It’s fantastic and will become more so when the Windows 8.1 upgrade is released. My one regret of making the plunge and buying one now is that it means I won’t be able to justify buying a Surface 2, which is heart-breaking as I’m sure I’ll be drooling over it!