One week with Surface: Bigger deal than I expected

posted by Jeff | Friday, November 2, 2012, 4:16 PM | comments: 0

As I mentioned in my very lengthy Surface review, I ordered one right away because it seemed interesting and I knew I'd want to see Windows with the touch experience, so I could experiment with developing something for it. What I didn't really say at the time was that I had a little purchase regret at first. Given my existing indifference to tablets, I felt a little weird about buying another one. And yet, I've spent the last week wanting to do stuff with it.

As it turns out, there are a lot of subtle things about it that make it a bigger deal than I initially expected. I'm still trying to decide if it's because of what Windows 8 is in general, meaning it could apply to the other forthcoming Windows RT tablets, or if it's something about Surface in particular.

If it's about Windows, it's because of the very thing that critics have been so nasty about: The touch interface. I've been among the skeptical from the start, in terms of the blurred line between touch interfaces and mouse-and-keyboard interfaces, but my skepticism was always rooted in environments where you didn't already have both. With most Windows laptops shipping with touch screens, and even some desktops, that already changes the game. Plus, the neat thing about the "Metro" interface (that they want to call the Windows 8 Store interface because they're insane) is that it engages you just as much as you engage it. It wants to be touched, like a naughty college kid who just got drunk for the first time.

Windows RT, the version that runs on Surface (until the "pro" version based on Intel comes out), is pretty much Windows, through and through. While it can run Microsoft Money 97, it still has all of the functionality of the regular operating system. That means you can mess with the file system and run PowerShell and poke around it. It means you can have user accounts, which is huge when it comes to sharing the device with someone else, and customizing it to your liking. It means "real" Internet Explorer, not a crippled mobile version. It means the built-in stuff, like Facebook and Twitter integration, and the surprisingly useful news apps.

Those are all important, of course, but then there are features specific to Suface RT that keep pushing along its usefulness. First is that keyboard cover. Sure, the magnet attachment is neat, but as it turns out, it's surprisingly useful. I've actually pecked out a blog post on it, which is something I couldn't do on the iPad. I've posted news on CoasterBuzz, which involves writing a little bit of HTML usually, and that's definitely not possible on the iPad. Putting a keyboard in the cover was a brilliant move.

The kickstand is also surprisingly useful. Also useful, the USB port. If you want to sneakernet some photos of Word files on to the machine, you can do it. You could import photos from your camera, too, without needing an f'ing dock connector adapter that just got made obsolete by some other port. It also has a mico-SDXC port, so I added another 32 gigs of space (for $20) to store some video files for Simon, useful when traveling.

I'm not much of an app guy, since most of what I do tends to be browser based, but I've got some winners. The radar on Weatherbug is spectacular. We've already watched video on the NBC News and Daily Show apps. Angry Birds Space, got it. Kindle, Skype, Remote Desktop, got it. And of course, there's the mother of all crack-like games, Wordament.

You should buy one. This is the first computing device I've had since the original Windows Phone two years ago that really excites me.


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