At this year's SharePoint Conference I took the opportunity to put the Surface device to the test. Instead of dragging around my laptop I wanted to see how well the Surface would do to fulfill my computer needs for the week. I was pleasantly surprised.
In this article, I will highlight the highs and the lows of the Surface RT from my perspective. My average day consisted of attending meetings, where I used OneNote to record my thoughts, Twitter to share my notes with the world and SkyDrive to store my files.
Surface Battery Life
The first plus that I noticed with the Surface RT was the incredible battery life. I had heard that I could go the entire day without recharging, but to be honest seeing was believing. On average, I was able to easily go from 9-5 without needing to recharge my device. I was running mostly applications for Twitter and OneNote and I took advantage of the split screen capabilities.
By the mid-afternoon on the first day I still had close to 75% left. To be on the safe side, I decided to go ahead and recharge. What surprised me the most about the recharge was how fast it was to re-charge. So fast in fact, that I hardly had time to write and publish an article before the battery was back at a full charge. Having used multiple tablet devices through the ages, I must say this feature was a huge win! The remainder of the week I carried my charger in my bag, but never used it.
Surface Size & Layout
The next plus is the form factor and the ability to easily work, especially on an airplane. I am quite certain that the Surface might have been designed for use on an airplane. It fits easily into my bag and allows me to work comfortably from the tray table. The size is almost perfect, and I had no concerns about the person in front of me reclining too much -- don't you just hate when that happens -- and not having enough room to type. With the split screen, I could easily multi-task, which in most cases means working in Office while watching my favorite movies. The kickstand was angled at just the right height to make me feel as if I was using a standard laptop.
Working without a Table
One of the downsides I did run into though was when I attempted to use the device on my lap without a table. I am quite certain that short people with small legs were not part of the test group. I just didn't have quite enough length to balance the device and still type at the same time. As I lost balance, the weight of the tablet would win and it would tumble to the floor as I tried to catch it. This was surprising to me as at the launch event they claimed it would be nearly impossible to disconnect the keyboard without trying. I honestly find this feature more hype than reality! I hope that in the future there will be a case that can help distribute the weight more evenly and keep the device from tumbling off my lap and onto the floor. I have seen others comment that they haven't had the same issues, so I must just blame this on being short!
Let me start off by saying I love this keyboard! The form factor is great and it is relatively easy to get used to and type at speeds that are similar to my other devices. The keyboard however does have me concerned for a few reasons. First off, at times the keys can become very slow to respond. You start typing away and then notice that nothing is happening. In some cases I think it is because I am not pressing hard enough, but in other cases it seems like the device is not recognizing the keystrokes.
In addition, it seems like the keyboard is quick to separate from the tablet. This concerns me and makes me wonder if I possibly got a lemon of a keyboard. I am also concerned about the overall quality -- for an extra US$ 119 I expected that it would have a better life expectancy, but it is already starting to show the signs of usage and I have only had it for a few weeks. These issues are minor in my mind, because if multiple people are seeing these issues then I imagine they will be easily resolved in a future version. I still have overall feelings of joy using the keyboard and love that I can easily pick a color that matches my personality. I just hope, that in time, my concerns prove to be early judgment and that my opinion changes.
With Windows 8, logging into a machine using standard settings becomes easier than ever since you can associate a Windows Live ID with your user account. This is a wonderful feature that allows me to manage multiple logins to the device. I personally have one account that I use for work and one that I simply use for play.
Since each login can have a customized home page it becomes very easy to get to the tools I need given the tasks a hand. Since I can easily customize one for home, I really feel as if I have two tablets, one for work and one for home. I imagine this would also be a feature that could be utilized to easily manage multiple logins for different family members.
By far, my favorite applications on the Surface are Word and PowerPoint. The ability to have the same tools on my tablet as my PC makes working without a second thought easy! I simply save things to SkyDrive and open them on whatever device I need to use at the time for updates. At this point I have about 5 devices running Windows 8 and I use them all at different times for various reasons. The setup that I have truly allows for consistent use without much planning or thought.
Even though there are great apps, there are also some that leave a lot to be desired! Mail is the primary example! If you aren't going to at least give me the same rich features of Outlook.com then please don't bother giving me a mail app at all! I have gone through the process of syncing with both my personal and work accounts but after one day of use I simply removed the mail tile from my home page. I found that less frustrating then working with the client!
The Windows 8 RT device also doesn't fully support VPN. This to me is a huge loss! I have all I need from this tool except for the ability to easily connect to my corporate sites. As a big SharePoint user this makes me sad! Because of this unfortunate loss of functionality I will never truly be able to call this my go-to mobile device. It comes so close, yet fails in such a key area. I have hope however that eventually an App will be released that addresses this concern, but only time will tell!
In summary, I think it is safe to say that I was able to use the Surface as my primary device for the conference and not once did I need to carry my laptop with me. This device is a huge productivity tool, while at the same time being a great toy! Using multiple logins I just log in based on what my needs are and because I can easily separate work from fun I have a much greater level of overall satisfaction with the device. I will never be able to replace my laptop with a Surface device, but I will certainly have a greater, more productive set of tools for completing everyday tasks.
So while it isn't a replacement, it is definitely the best compliment to my existing tools that I have found in years! If you are an Office user who is on the go this is simply a must have device. The SharePoint Conference was the first time I got to test the limits of the Surface device and I give it a grade of an A-.
So close, but yet not fully there. But my concerns are minor and I have no thoughts of going back now!
If you are on the fence, I encourage you to take the plunge, I seriously doubt you will have any regrets with your purchase.