Microsoft Surface Tablet – First Impressions

Microsoft Surface – First impressions

Photo courtesy of Microsoft

My 32gb Surface turned up today so here are my initial impressions. My hope for the product is that I can use it on a daily basis instead of a laptop, although most people seem to think this is a fanciful wish and I’ll end up lugging both around as I’ve done with my Ipad and laptop for the last couple of years. I’ve been using Windows 8 on a touch enabled laptop for the last couple of months so have grown used to Metro (not allowed to call it that anymore but I will anyway) and have, contrary to my initial impressions, really grown to like it.

I ordered the 32gb device with a cyan touch keyboard, the packaging was very well presented. I really like the way the keyboard snaps to the tablet, no messing around or fiddling to make sure it is lined up just put it together and it snaps into place – very nice.

Usual Windows 8 setup screens which took a couple of minutes to complete without any problems, these included joining my wifi network and setting the login account to my Windows Live (also Office 365) account. So after just a few minutes the new look desktop appears. Skydrive immediately pops up with settings transferred from my Win 8 laptop and touching the email Icon brings up the accounts which I’ve used on the Windows 8 laptop, all I have to do is re-enter my password and I’m up and running with messaging.

Next to the store to find MS Lync so I can start telling my colleagues about my new toy. With Lync installed and configured with no more than ID and password I’m online chatting, this is the first chance to properly use the touch keyboard and it is great, by far the best experience I’ve had of typing on a tablet. I’m pretty sure my speed and accuracy is the same as my laptop keyboard which admittedly isn’t great as I’m a two finger and a thumb typist but I can rattle along at a reasonable pace.

Having played around with IM in Lync I test a video call which works fine, don’t seem to be able to share content so I’ll have to google later to see if that’s possible, will be a shame if not, the button is there but greyed out. With Video on the screen Lync enables me to swipe between shared desktop (the remote party sharing with me works) and IM, this is a great feature as both party video stays on the screen at all times. Audio quality in Lync was good but out of curiosity I plugged my Jabra 410 desktop mic and speaker into the USB port to see what happened on RT, it detected it immediately and the audio swapped to the external device.

Office apps next – I must have missed something in the build up to Surface because I assumed I would have MX versions of Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Onenote but these are all full versions from the look of it, when I fire them up they run on the desktop – this was a surprise as I didn’t think the desktop would be available under RT. On running Onenote I can see my recently opened docs which are notebooks that I last opened on my Win 8 desktop, these are hosted on our Sharepoint site and open immediately once I’ve typed in my user credentials. Word, Excel and Powerpoint are much the same, full versions from the look of it. I’m using the built in touch pad on the keyboard quite a lot in the office apps as my mouse and after some initial confusion about the right and left buttons have discovered they are below the track pad although not immediately obvious. Now I’ve got to grips with it the trackpad is fine, pretty much exactly the same as I’m used to on a laptop.

Whilst the office apps are running I can see the task bar of the Windows 8 desktop, there’s an IE icon along with Explorer and the office apps. Firing up IE again I’m surprised because it’s a full copy of IE 10 rather than the Metro version which I’ve struggled to get used to. Explorer shows me a standard Win 8 view of my devices, the 32gb local storage is presented as the C: drive and shows 16gb free although syncing all my OneNote notebooks must have taken quite a bit of space, it would be interesting to see what is available straight out of the box. Plugging an external drive in shows up immediately as the D: drive and I have access to the files exactly as I would expect on a Win 7/8 PC. Given I have the additional storage available in Skydrive I probably don’t need to worry about adding any more local micro SD memory but a quick google shows I can get 64gb for £39.99 so may be an idea to boost the device with that a little later on.

I’m finding I’ve started using the Windows button on the front of the tablet to get back to Metro and the charm buttons are available on the keyboard so I don’t need to swipe in from the right of the screen. Back on the Metro desktop I’ve installed a few apps from the store, skype, Netflix, Xbox Smartglass, National Rail and Tube maps to get started. Installing Skype was interesting in that it ‘remembered’ my settings from my Win 8 laptop where I also had skype installed so no configuration was needed, I was straight up and working.

Control Panel is available much the same as it is on the my Win 8 laptop, a flick around network settings show I can create a VPN in the normal way so I set that up and VPN to a network where I have Windows 7 VDI deployed on Server 2012, I go to the store to get the Remote Desktop App and connect to my Win 7 desktop exactly as I would from a desktop machine. This is great, if there are Apps I can’t run locally I can still use a VDi desktop and run them on there if necessary.

Two or three hours in and I haven’t found a reason why I can’t use this device as a laptop replacement….. yet. Negatives so far are pretty limited although it might be nice to have more than one USB connector, with my Jabra plugged in I couldn’t connect my external hard drive but I’m just glad to have USB quite honestly. I had a problem with Lync in that I added Video and the remote party couldn’t add theirs, not sure what that would have been but restarting the app at my end seemed to fix it. The limitations in the mail client may be problem, I couldn’t get to my Notes in my mailbox but OWA got me around the problem and I’ve now pinned OWA to Metro so I have a quick way of getting to the features not available natively.

All in all I’m really liking Surface so far, it’s much too early to draw any conclusions about how suitable it is as a laptop replacement but after a few hours I’m still feeling pretty confident and haven’t found a reason to discard the idea.

Next thing to look at is the HDMI and VGA connectors to see how it works with external display screens but these haven’t arrived yet so will post some thoughts when they do.

Update: Found that BBC Iplayer didn’t work when tested, there is no app yet but figured I would be able to simply run from IE. After getting a message saying “This content doesn’t seem to be working” I checked updates on the ‘Store’ and everything was current. Then went into the control panel from the desktop and checked Windows updates, this showed a number of updates including one for Flash which has fixed the problem.