I evaluated a Microsoft Surface from the Digital Union over Thanksgiving Break. I own a couple of other tablets and quasi-tablets (Acer, Vizio, Nook) and I recently bought four iPads for the CSTW Writing Center, so I wasn’t expecting this to be much different.
I was wrong.
Using the Surface was a very different, and I’m pleased to report, far better experience than any of the tablets I’ve used before. I logged a fair amount of time with the Surface writing email and this article, reading submissions for the CSTW Writers Talk/Barnes and Noble Year End Writing Competition, and watching educational programs on NetFlix. My conclusion? Apple designers could learn quite a bit from Microsoft on this one. And yes, I meant it that way; read on.
1. I’m evaluating this for academic (i.e., writing) purposes for the 15% of students who have iPads.
2. iPad bias:
a. I’m a language guy, so finding out that there’s no native or even decent word processing software for iPads make them expensive toys to me. I want students to be producers, not simply consumers.
b. I’m still a bit stung over paying $2500 for four OSU-approved iPads for the writing center and having students not use them.
Now, since I’m known as a positive, optimistic person, I’ll start with…
What I liked about the MS Surface
• USB! Three magic letters that mean you aren’t obliged to buy propriety adapters (I’m looking at you, Apple) for common peripherals and you can use the most common way that people transfer files at OSU. Yes, I know we have iCloud and SkyDrive, but in my experience, these are rarely used by OSU students for academic work. Carmen fares slightly better but not much as a transfer solution. Writing center clients who bring flash drives are undone by Apple’s self-interest in propriety ports.
• Bundled Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. What more can I say? This is what I want students to do. The academic downfall of the iPad is the lousy or nonexistent word software. Documents To Go is a sad substitute. Although I produce a lot of media and absolutely think students should be doing this as well (and do at CSTW), I don’t expect this from a tablet and didn’t investigate it.
• Size/weight. The strength of all tablets
• Screen resolution. I don’t know if it’s as good as a retina display (what’s that supposed to mean anyway? ALL displays are intended for retinas), but it was crisp and very readable.
• Build quality. The Surface felt sturdy, but I couldn’t really test this, because the director of the DU had forbidden me to make a skateboard out of it. (What a killjoy!)
What left me divided with the MS Surface
• Touch keyboard. I’m just barely neutral and not positive on this one. It is excellent for work at a desk but less so for in an easy chair or on a sofa after too much turkey. Still, I was able to write most of this review on it. It was less the flexible form factor as the lack of tactile response (read: moving keys) that caused me trouble. It was certainly better than a virtual keyboard, and even this skinflint would pay $100 for it. I’m even more intrigued by the Type Cover.
What I didn’t like about the MS Surface
• Breakaway power cord. The magnetic power attachment has a finicky fit and I was unable to attach it without bringing it close to my face and very carefully positioning it. Love the idea, not crazy about the execution. Still it will keep the device from ending its lifespan like my wife’s laptop did: a swan dive from a counter with the cord wrapped around a racing dog.
• Touch keyboard track pad. Too many missed clicks. Not sure how to make it right, but the rest of the touch keyboard was much better than this.
• The Store. Obviously Microsoft is way, way behind the curve here, but I was pleasantly surprised by most of what I saw, although I missed Pandora. As I mentioned before, having Office bundled with it more than makes up for the limited selection. I haven’t seen numbers, but my guess is that 15-20 apps make up the great majority of those that actually get used. Not just downloaded, used. Another disclosure: I don’t play computer games. No Angry Birds, no Words with Friends, nothing. My apps are limited to music, online buying, social media, reading, and maps. I have an older Android phone with limited on-board memory and I’ve been able to keep it running by using memory for only those apps I actually use. Increased memory enhances clutter. I can’t recall deleting an app that I missed later.
So that’s my take on the MS Surface. For what I’d use it for, it’s a solid hit. Others may have a different take. Let the vituperative responses commence.
For another view much like mine, see this LinkedIn article.