Some Looks at the Surface Pro

Microsoft Surface Pro We purchased Microsoft Surface Pro tablets at work to replace our clunky, aging Dell laptops. Along with the tablets, we got Type Cover keyboards, display-port-to-VGA adapters, and Office 2013. To mine, I'll add a few of the Windows8-native applications I installed on my little Acer AspireOne netbook. From time to time, I'll give reports on how the Surfaces are working out for us here in actual day-to-day use.

As you know from my previous posts, I do like Windows8, and aside from the aesthetics, Office 2013 in general is a bit more friendly than the previous versions I had gotten [sort of] used to. My initial impressions of the hardware are, so far, positive. The touch screen is responsive, and aside from my fat fingers, touching things generally delivers the expected result. The Type Cover keyboard requires some getting used to -- the keys feel a little smaller and more closely spaced than my Acer laptop -- but is a much more comfortable option than the Touch Cover for people used to touch-typing on standard keyboards.

As I mentioned, there will be more as I use the new machine more.

The image here shows my Surface with Outlook running. I took the snapshot with my iPhone and edited it slightly using Adobe Photoshop Touch. I then published it to my Adobe Cloud storage which nearly immediately synced the image to my personal laptop (just visible in the background of the picture) for inclusion in this post.



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Content is King

As you may know, I've been looking at a couple of options for tablet computing, specifically Windows8-based systems (the Microsoft Surface caught my eye) and Apple's iPad. I discussed some of the hardware differences in the first installment in this series, so I won't spend much time on them here. The gist of it is that most, if not all, of the Windows8 tablets offer various expansion and connectivity options, where the iPad does not.

I've also briefly discussed some of the applications available for the Windows8 and RT platforms, and even had some serious fun with some of them, and touched on Microsoft's latest iteration of Office.

I think that from an application standpoint, I would be perfectly happy with either an iPad or a Windows8 tablet. While Windows8 has the advantage that my existing home inspection software would run, my current home inspection workflow -- hand-written notes and photographs on site, and then building the report later at the office -- is acceptable.

So, what's left?

In a word, content. There are a number of electronic publications that I'm interested in that are only available on the iPad. Most photographers content apps are written for iPad, as are many excellent photography magazines. Additionally, some of my favorite model railroad "magazines" is on the iPad (and also on Windows), and there are one or two music magazines that I would be able to read electronically. Like the photographic content, the music magazines are not available on the Windows platform.

The content availability is great, but would quickly eat at the fixed storage capacity. Fortunately, Apple figured that problem out long ago, allowing easy management through iTunes. As with a book reader like the Nook, purchased content can be moved on and off the device as desired.

Note: It is possible to attach an SD card to an iPad using the Camera Connection Kit. There's also a device that can add 750GB to an iPad using a similar connection arrangement. The drawback is that it's only possible to move iPhoto compatible files (images and videos) from an external device onto the iPad. There's no way to move anything from the iPad to an external device, except by connecting it to a computer.

So, is there a verdict? Years ago, when I was involved in computer sales and support, we told our clients to choose their applications, and let that choice drive the decision about the hardware. Since the software playing field is pretty level, it mostly comes down to the content. Were I selecting a table for that reason alone, I think that the iPad wins out -- at least for me. But, I'm not.

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I'm Suffering From an Identity Crisis

We ventured out to The Mall in Columbia this afternoon (and into the evening). As we always do when we visit the Mall, we stopped into the Apple store to look (drool) on the iPads and new iPhones and other lovely products they sell. We do, after all, love Apple. From there, we carried on with the actual mission -- Donna needed some makeup and a purse and some other ... things. She didn't find a purse she liked. She did find a large quantity of makeup and the other ... things.

Now, here's where the whole identity crisis comes into play. No, it has nothing to do with the large quantity of makeup and the other ... things, although I suppose I will enjoy them in my own way.

No, this is what has shaken me to my hyperbolic core:

surfaceThis is a Windows Surface RT tablet device (with optional tactile keyboard). And the user experience is mighty good. Better than all of the Android devices I've looked at. Better in some ways even than Apple's iPad.

Although different from the iOS and Android devices I've become accustomed to, I found it to be largely intuitive and responsive. And, adding the keyboard (it's snaps into place, held firmly by magnets like Apple's MagSafe power supply cables) turns the surface into a full-fledged notebook of sorts. Damn, that's sexy.

Unlike the iPad, the Surface allows the user to add storage by either a microSD card or a USB device. The Surface has a full-sized USB port, as well as a micro HDMI port, allowing the surface to connect to an HDTV or projector for viewing presentations or video, or playing some variant of Xbox games or content (I'm not clear on how the Xbox functionality works, but I have seen that you can even use an Xbox controller with with Surface). And, of course, WiFi and Bluetooth are in there, too. Also included are a full version of Microsoft Office Home and Student edition, so the device is actually ready to do real work when it comes out of the box.

Starting price for a Surface is the same as the base price for a current-model iPad: $499.

Of course, like the iPad, the Surface has its drawbacks, largest being that it can't run regular Windows apps. That's not significantly different than the iPad, which can't run MacOS apps, I suppose. So, perhaps it's not really a drawback.

There are some real questions:

  • What apps are or will be available for the Surface. It's a little hard to tell, because you need a Windows8 or WindowsRT device to access the Windows Store. That's a little bit of a pain in the ass. Apple allow access to their App Store through iTunes, which runs on Windows, so you don't need a Mac to load apps onto an iPad or iPhone.
  • How long will Microsoft support RT? Will it grow like iOS does alongside MacOS? Or will it be treated like Microsoft's previous attempts at an OS for portable devices, WindowsCE and Windows Mobile?
  • What happens when Intel is finally able to offer a processor that can compete with the ARM processors currently favored by tablet and phone manufactures? Will Microsoft abandon the ARM architecture in favor of an Intel chip, obsoleting WindowsRT?
  • Can Windows8 be made to run apps compiled for WindowsRT?
  • How will Microsoft's cloud, which promises to seamlessly link desktops, tablets and phones, fare against competition from Apple and Google?

Despite these drawbacks, I just plain like the Surface -- in some ways more than the coveted iPad I'm surprised to say, and definitely more than the Androids I've encountered.

Microsoft are set to release a "pro" version, which will be running the full Windows8. It will, of course, cost a good bit more (about a $900 starting price), and it appears it will not include Office.


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