I decided to give the Microsoft Surface RT running Windows 8 RT a test drive. Be warned: I'm not your typical tablet consumer. My company, Yapmo, creates enterprise software applications that are social media mobile/tablet apps designed to solve specific business needs. So if you are looking for a review of the Microsoft Surface on how great it is to read a book or play on Facebook, I suggest you read something else. If you are interested in hearing how the Microsoft Surface stacks up against business use from a very critical business user, then read on.
I really didn't think I would like the Surface RT, but I thought it would be great for presentations of Yapmo's software product. What better way to present brand new enterprise software than on a brand new Windows 8 tablet? I have owned iPads, iPhones, and all sorts of laptops in between which means my expectations are high.
Initially, a few things turned me off about the Surface RT. Before I bought it, I read the specifications and I thought how can I live without certain features? Now I have come to realize why Microsoft made the design decisions that they did.
- No GPS sensor. At first I thought, "How could they possibly not include a GPS sensor? How am I going to use this for navigation?" Then I remembered, I already have a GPS and Google Maps on my phone, how many things do I need tracking my location?
- No Gmail or Google Calendar Apps. My company uses Google Apps -- what a nightmare it would be if I couldn't get email on the device. Thankfully Surface can be set up with Google Mail, Calendar and Contacts using Microsoft's pre-installed Mail, Calendar, and People apps. Sweet!
- No 4G connectivity. Being forced to tether the Surface to my phone or a 4G hotspot is a problem. I'm hoping this will be addressed in the future. Adding 4G will of course affect battery life.
- Camera quality is lower than most mobile devices. This problem is minimal. Having an 8 MP shooter on my phone means I always have a great camera on me. Also, anyone who pulls a tablet out to take a picture looks ridiculous. The cameras are great for video conferencing and standard work needs.
Of those issues, the only big negative is the lack of 4G connectivity. If you're thinking about getting a tablet for business, you should strongly consider the Microsoft Surface. I have been using the product now daily and here are the features I love:1. Microsoft Office
- You would think this is an obvious one, but just the addition of Microsoft office has made this a device that can actually stop me from pulling out a laptop. All other tablets I have owned in the past were strictly devices for consuming, not producing content. To give you an example, I am using the Surface right now to write this blog post in Word. On any other tablet I would have given up after the first two sentences.
- Microsoft Surface offers two cover options, a touch keyboard and type cover. The type cover is a keyboard that has tactile buttons that go up and down. The touch cover is like typing on glass. My typing accuracy was atrocious with the touch cover, but the second I used the type cover, I fell in love with it. It adds only two millimeters of thickness, and with it I can type as fast as on my laptop.
- A couple of days ago, a vendor came into my office to give a PowerPoint presentation from a USB thumb drive. I connected my Surface tablet to the conference room projector, insert the thumb drive and immediately we are off and running with the presentation. Surface handles USB native file browsing beautifully.
- I have read a ton of critical reviews about not calling the Surface a tablet but to call it a laptop. These are just flat out wrong. Does it feel like an iPad in my hand? Yes. Can I lie down on the couch and read a book or website with the feel of a book? Yes. Does it have a touch screen with a touch optimized OS? Yes. Can I carry it around with one hand all day and feel like I'm carrying a small notepad? Yes.
- This form factor might be the perfect blend of leisure and work device. If I am just lying around and reading through documents, PowerPoint, websites, books I just tear off the keyboard and throw it next to me and enjoy reading. If I am working on a creating a document, I snap on the keyboard and kick out the kickstand and it instantly feels like my laptop.
- This might be one of the most important features. iPad's inability to share files between apps is frustrating and ridiculous. With Surface if someone sends me a word document and I want to download it to a folder and access it with 10 other programs I can do it with ease! This is another place the Surface wins hands down!
- I have become numb to mobile device browsers failing on all sorts of websites. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Surface will load every web page, no matter what (content?) it's running. A good example of this was sitting on my couch the other day watching TV. I wanted to order a pizza from Dominos (yes, I know I live in Chicago and this is a sin to like Dominos over other pizza restaurants). In the past, this site never worked on any mobile or tablet browser I have used. While I waited for my pizza I opened up Amazon EC2 and also checked the status of our server infrastructure. Finally, something that doesn't show me half the page or fails to load key functionality.
- Initially, I thought that the lack of apps was where the Surface would really struggle. My assumption here was only half true. When you have a tablet that has a full web browser that can load anything, the need for apps greatly diminishes. Instead I just went to my favorite "Apps" on the web and pinned them to my start page. Now I get the full experience of everything, and not some slimmed down version to make it an app.
- At Yapmo, we use both Google instant messenger and Microsoft Lync internally. Lync is really a telepresence application that allows us to quickly chat, video chat, white board, and share desktops. The application created for Surface seems to work extremely well for us so far.
- I have no complaints on the battery. I have been using the tablet constantly throughout the day and it will usually last 10 hours before recharging.
- While I love having a file system on my tablet, I also know the importance of saving and sharing files in the cloud. Microsoft Skydrive does this seamlessly with the Surface. Even saving this document to my Skydrive was a breeze.
The Microsoft Surface RT is a step in the right direction for tablets for business use. I finally have a tablet that doesn't cause me to reach for my laptop every time I need to do work. But there are still places where the Surface struggles.1. VPN Support
- The Surface RT appears to support standard VPN protocols, but to set them up seems to require some work. We do some fancy routing with our VPN, so the standard Microsoft Surface VPN tool just won't cut it for us.
- There are multiple things like Webex or other Java based applications that we use daily that we can't get to work with the Surface. This might change in the near future, but for now I have not found a solution for this.
These two reasons keep me waiting for the Surface Pro, even though I don't like the added thickness for the Pro version. Microsoft has done a fantastic job trying to pull together consumer needs and business needs. If they continue to go in this direction, they will turn the entire tablet world on its head.