Returning the Surface

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At first glance, the Surface RT has a lot to recommend it.

First, because whether any of us wants to admit it, cool is a consideration. The keyboard that attaches by magnets is pretty cool, and the charger works the same way. I don’t know if anyone remembers the initial advertising campaign, but it was smooth, clever, and cool.

Still, cool is only one item in the list, and it doesn’t trump functionality.

Other things I like:

  • The Surface is, so far, the only tablet to possess a full USB port instead of a micro. Most of the androids have a micro USB jack and a micro SD port (the Surface has the SD port available). The iPad has neither.
  • The touch screen works well, even up to iPad standards in my brief experience, and the Windows 8 interface actually works pretty well away from a non-touch machine, of course that’s not surprising since it was obviously designed for touch.
  • The Windows App store is slowly coming up to snuff. There’s a lot more available than when the Surface launched last fall, even if there are still some gaps.
  • And the embedded Office RT suite was actually a nice touch, keeping pretty much all of the functionality I’d need for any writing or tracking tasks that I typically have going on.

I’m a writer, and if all I wanted to do was a little writing, the RT would actually be fine. Not great, but fine.

But there’s a lot more to my life than writing, and the connectivity the 21st century is bringing to us all is here to stay, so I can’t help but compare it to other devices in my possession, thinking about the laptop functionality I wanted to replace even as I struggled to find things that my two year old iPhone couldn’t do faster and better. I didn’t come up with much.

  • I’m about to become an honest to goodness podcaster, so the idea of being able to work anywhere on some audio processing and editing, is appealing. There are some apps to manage this, but they’re limited and clunky so far.
  • Voice recognition is weak, but I don’t know if my expectations are reasonable or if I’m just used to Siri and Dragon.
  • Both cameras are merely 1 MP each. My phone’s primary camera is 8 MP. While the secondary is merely a VGA for Facetime, I don’t know that you can get a new phone with much less than 1.2 on the secondary. Not looking for super photography here, but for the price tag on the surface, I’m looking for better than crappy web cam level. They take grainy, noisy pictures, even when the tablet is resting still on a solid surface.
  • It suffers from the age old mandatory Windows update problems. I’d had the device for three days before it downloaded an update without telling me, and I didn’t even know it had things to install until I tried to power down. That installation then took 20 minutes. This is one of the main things that has so irritated me about Microsoft for years.
  • It’s under-powered. I suspected this from reviews, but it’s a tablet not a full-fledged computer. The reviews and comparisons were, if anything, generous. I spent far too much time looking at splash pages waiting for the apps to load. Simple things were 3-5 seconds. Stuff that needed processing power ran 8-12. On average, with one or two exceptions, equivalent apps on my phone loaded twice as fast. But those are mobile versions! Yes, but so are most of the apps on the Surface. Don’t be fooled.

I bought the 64 GB version in a keyboard package, and paid $500. This is after a recent price reduction of $100 by Microsoft, as well as an extra $100 on sale at Best Buy. For what I got, it was too much. Had I paid the original $700, “disappointed” would be far too weak a word. At $350, I could have lived with it. At $300, I think I would have been satisfied. Even still, I did my best to test out everything I’d want to do with it for almost a week before making that decision. I really wanted to like the RT, I just couldn’t.

I keep saying I’m done with Microsoft, but I keep trying. I don’t know why. I might have had enough this time.

But what other options do I have?

As far as the iPad goes, the lack of external connectivity has always been a deal breaker for me. It probably has the best functionality but it’s over-reliant on “the cloud” and doesn’t want me to be able to plug anything in on my own or have any extra storage without paying hundreds of dollars extra for it. I love how the iPad works, but I don’t like the closed nature of the system.

So taking the Surface out of the equation, unless I’m willing to shell out even larger dollars for the Pro version, which is actually a PC and actually running the full Windows 8 so can actually manage full programs instead of apps, I think I must now be leaning toward an Android tablet, even if it’s only for expandable storage reasons. Well, and I think the app store is approaching Apple quality.

The Surface is cool, but it’s made of unequal parts awesome and suck. There’s too much suck.

Be well, everyone.

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