As a project manager whose customers rely on MS Office, I am a heavy user of those programs. I lug my Windows 7 laptop between work and home quite often, and I am not a fan of dealing with that when I’m buying my morning coffee or anything that requires two hands. When I learned that I can have a lightweight Windows 8 device I was very receptive to trying it out. Unfortunately, it would be Surface RT and not Surface Pro.
The Surface Pro is $799 and allows you to install programs that run on Windows 8. The Surface RT goes for $349 and runs MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Even without running other programs, I thought the Surface RT might be enough for a test drive to check what it can deliver compared with a clunky laptop or a simple iPad.
The first impression, of course, is what is on the outside. The device is a meticulous piece of hardware, with the exception of hard edges, which make the surface somewhat hard to hold. The iPad looks more modern, but on the Surface screen my fingerprints seem less visible. The power cord looks strange at first, but very soon it is not noticeable.
I like the kickstand which is the built-in support. But soon enough I wish it offered a few angle options, perhaps like the beach chairs have. Three settings would do.
The Touch Cover keyboard has to be purchased separately for about $80. It also serves as a protective cover. After typing a few rows using the pressure sensitive keys, I realized that I like it typing on it better than on my favorite keyboard at work. The touchpad disappoints, it seems that is has a lag time and is too small. After plugging in a mouse I can work on Surface for hours from a desk. Yet I don’t think it is suitable for working on it the whole workday.
The Surface sits comfortably on my lap with the keyboard and the kickstand and I will definitely be more productive than if I worked with the iPad. However, I will be even more productive if using a laptop.
Now that we said hello, let’s examine the out-of -the-box productivity tools.
Windows 8.1 will be released in October, but apparently the Preview is ready for downloads. Microsoft warns that it is for experienced users and that a recovery image is needed first. After checking several posts on the Internet, I decided to give it a try. However, since then Microsoft removed Windows 8.1 Preview for Surface RT.
Setting up is a breeze. I like the familiar interface and the fact that I can customize it, unlike the icons on the iPad. I quickly noticed that tapping the Mail icon on the welcome screen does not do anything, and this is the first thing I check after I log into an iPad. It would be nice to get this feature working on the Surface. After installing the latest updates the interface definitely has a few bugs and the response is slow.
Working with documents in Surface is a big winner over the SkyDrive app on the iPad or any other free app I tried. It also beats using a Web App in a browser on the laptop. It is fast and contains tabs to Review, Design, References etc . The web app for Excel does not provide the ability to insert pivot table. I can do it on the Surface.
Files can be saved in SkyDrive or on a local drive or on a USB drive. MicroSDXC cards allows for 64 G additional storage. The ability to insert a USB drive is a big advantage over the iPad. From the Surface I can also access network resources and have the remote connection, which are also very important for my daily operations.
Unlike on the iPad, one can snap multiple applications. However, I found this feature either buggy or not intuitive. Seeing an indication of all running apps would be helpful.
Strangely enough, viewing my pictures on SkyDrive was a big disapointment. One time I could not see the images, the second time the sequence of the images was not correct, which spoiled the whole experience of viewing images from a 2-week trip. Viewing these pictures from my laptop worked.
Another disappointment is related to the email system. I cannot attach any files. Even “Share from SkyDrive” is not available. I also read that POP email is not supported.
I like working with the Surface and I bet my experience would be even better with Surface Pro running Windows 8.1 Preview. I can do much more work on Surface than on the iPad. However, after playing with the Surface for a few days, the only advantage that it has over a laptop is its size and weight. For field staff who need to run only MS Office, print, copy files to a network or a USB, the Surface might be useful at the price tag of the Surface RT. If I had to choose between the very expensive Surface Pro and a laptop, I would get a laptop on Windows 8 and continue carrying it between work and home.