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Old 5th Jan 2013, 22:27   #1
Nexxo
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So I bought a Microsoft Surface RT...

When I told my brother (an Apple convert) that I had bought a Microsoft Surface RT, his first reaction was: "Gutsy". I can see where he is coming from --it is a bit of an early-adopter risk. And had I not just contributed some money to buying my niece an iPad Mini? So what gives?

The reaction is familiar by now. My niece-in-law's boyfriend --the only other geek embraced in my wife's clan, which means that at gatherings we inevitably gravitate towards each other-- had the same raised-eyebrow response mixed with half awe, half worry for my mental state. "Gutsy", he said.

Let me say first off that I'm delighted with the machine and I am in fact typing this (fast) on the touch cover, with the device perched laptop-like on my lap (which yes, you can do, stably and comfortably). As I have been getting acquainted with it over the last week I have been trying to formulate my thoughts on it; why I like it so much more than the in many ways excellent iPad or Nexus (and what I like less about it), why it suits my particular needs and why the inevitable compromises that I had to make feel to me worth it, and why the doomsayers and critics are wrong. Its a great device --if you know what you are looking for in a tablet.

This is not my first foray into tablet computing. I'm not a tablet virgin (there, I've said it). My firs acquaintance with a tablet-like device was the Apple Newton (I could not afford one; I just played with it in a shop). It was pretty awesome for its day although its processing power clearly was insufficient for good handwriting recognition. Then the PalmPilot came out --a simplified compact Newton clone without the handwriting recognition but with a fool proof, easy Graffiti symbol system (basically one-stroke letters) and I had a few successive iterations of these. Of course it was just a PDA --no email, no browser, no network of any kind as the web was only just about to be born.

This was before the iPhone; before any smartphone in fact (unless you count the Blackberry and some esoteric Nokia devices). I was working across four hospitals, with secretarial support in a fifth which I never visited (yeah, that's the NHS for you), with the challenge of keeping three different Outlook calendars in sync and accessible to the secretary who was on a different network altogether; keep track of three email accounts, keep all my documents preferably paperless, and take notes of sessions and meetings. A tablet seemed preferable to sitting across a patient in a counselling room hunched over a laptop keyboard.

My first attempt at finding a proper tablet that could manage email, web, diary and some productivity was a second-hand Siemens SIMpad SL4 with Windows CE 3.0. It was a flop. The size was OK, but the OS was limited and an upgrade to CE 4.0, for reasons best known to Microsoft, excluded a calendar. You had to add a WiFi PCMCIA card which would jut out the side. You could hack a Bluetooth dongle into the USB 1.0 port. All this was manageable, but most problematic was its dismal battery life --even on standby it would last only a day and when the battery ran out it would forget all its data and need syncing again (a problem that the early PalmPilots had, but at least they lasted several months on two AA batteries).

I also still own my next acquisition: a Motion Computing LE1600 tablet from 2003 which features Microsoft's first attempt at tablets in the shape of Windows XP Tablet edition. Most people will be more likely to recall the HP TC1100 device. As an idea it had potential. As a realisation it sucked. The format of the device was great: I could handwrite notes (which it could read and turn into print); I could draw diagrams, all in OneNote. I could run Outlook on it. I could run Word, Powerpoint, Excel; all the usual tools of the trade.

The downside was that it ran hot. Playing a video would cause it to overheat in minutes. The battery drained at an alarming rate (especially when reading handwriting) and lasted no more than three hours. It booted up s l o w l y. The OS was a disaster --not touch friendly at all. The on-screen keyboard was tiny, and because the digitiser screen only responded to pen input, required a hint-and-peck one-finger input (handwriting recognition worked as well, but obviously wouldn't make sense of passwords). It was lighter than the laptops of the time, but still more than a good kilo. I plodded on for a while, but then the iPhone came along and NHS.net email/calendar migrated to a proper exchange server, and I thought: "Sod it". The iPhone was a breath of fresh air.

What nobody knew then is that the iPhone started project life as an iPad. The iPhone was quickly developed from it and released when Steve Jobs saw the potential of the burgeoning mobile phone market. The iPad came out in 2010. So why didn't I jump at it?

I've wondered the same thing. It's not as if I don't like it --it is really rather good. So are the Android offerings. But when I recently fired up my old tablet, I saw this (and yeah, note the tiny keyboard keys):



I realised what I had been trying to recreate back in 2003, using things like Yahoo Widgets Informer for the top bar indicating battery, wifi signsl and HDD space, and Rocketdock for touch-friendly icons and Samurise for a big date and time interface, and some other widget to put calendar activities straight on the desktop... well, what I had been building is an Android-a-like tablet desktop, before Android. But most of all, what I wanted on a tablet was email, web and Office. I wanted was not a media consumption device, but a productivity device. Something like that Windows tablet, but one that was lighter, faster, better, lasted all day, and basically did not suck.

The Surface is that tablet.

I will write more tomorrow (it's late). But if you are curious and have specific questions that you would like me to answer, post them here!
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Last edited by Nexxo; 6th Jan 2013 at 11:16.
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Old 5th Jan 2013, 22:38   #2
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What are the web browsers like on it? I love the Skydrive website and it works really well on an iPad, open a PDF in a new link and then that PDF can be saved to either Skydrive or Dropbox but on my 920 PDFs only open in "Reader" which is a crap PDF viewer.... Can you save PDFs from the net to dropbox and skydrive on the RT?
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Old 5th Jan 2013, 23:16   #3
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What is the app selection like, are all the essential apps and a game or two available on the microsoft app store compared to the app store (lack of apps is the one thing steering me towards apple, but 2nd hand, not at their glorified prices).
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Old 5th Jan 2013, 23:50   #4
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1) what's the aspect ratio like for reading web pages in portrait and landscape? I'm currently using an iPad and have seen many people criticise this aspect of the surface.

2) if your going to be editing your flash white list could you let us know how well the escapist videos work? (escape to the movies and zero punctuation).

3) any browser "anomalies"? I sometimes get soft/burry text when zoomed and pages which constantly reload on the iPad.

4) Is there a reason you went for Rt rather than the pro?

Cheers!
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Old 6th Jan 2013, 00:07   #5
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My first ultra-portable with touchscreen (peninput) and keyboard was a HP 620LX, sometime in 1998. It had a 75MHz Risc-CPU running Windows CE 2.0. It was a fantastic device at this time around... waaaay before smartphones or tablets and it cost a fortune compared to modern smartphones or tablets. Some $1000 if memory serves me right, and I needed to import it from the US.

Coming from back then, I wish that modern devices would be more like that again. A very small mobile pocket PC with an office-suit, browser and eMail. And yes, Windows CE 2.0 had a full office-suit, something that's not integrated these days awkwardly. Back at home you simply synced it with your PC and all was good, as document-compatibility was excellent with Windows CE.

I bought an iPad3 a year ago, as I wanted something smaller and lighter for commuting then my netbook, but I still use my netbook, as the iPad isn't any good for typing long texts and you can't get any professional productivity-apps for it aswell. Nothing from Adobe or Autodesk for example.

So, here I am waiting for the next gen of tablets, that come with an integrated keyboard like the Microsoft touchcover and a full OS where I can use my usual productivity-software.
Basically a 10-11" UltraUltraBook with a touchscreen usable with a pen (a pen like they are used on Wacom-tablets, not necessarily pressure-sensitive) and a keyboard I can fold 180 behind the screen if it's not needed.

The Surface Pro might just be what I'm looking for, but we'll see about the battery-life and the pen-input there first.
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Old 6th Jan 2013, 02:43   #6
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What's doing me jumping into the tablet market is a pen input device as well as form factor. I would love RT to come with pen input and if possible in 7". 10" sports me its a bit too big weight and comfort wise. I'm starting to find while watching TV I'd grab my phone over my laptop to browse often killing it. also I would trends to use the laptop as a portable media player leaving new with nothing to browse comfortably on. The other thing I would life to see is AMDs offerings on an x86 tablet especially since I'd b4 looking at the atom range to get the porn input.
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Old 6th Jan 2013, 09:38   #7
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As what you say seems to me that it has ios and android beat on productivity, I'm curious how it stacks up on the media side of things.
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Old 6th Jan 2013, 09:40   #8
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No VivoTab RT? BOOOO

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Old 6th Jan 2013, 10:09   #9
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No VivoTab RT? BOOOO

trying to meet your monthly sales quota?
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Old 6th Jan 2013, 11:00   #10
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Old 6th Jan 2013, 11:06   #11
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Recently brought one of these each for my kids as they are home educated, we are an 'Apple Family' through and through, but with the problems associated with iPads and Flash we decided to go RT, have to say I am impressed overall. There are a couple of niggles that seem petty but on the whole the RT stands up well. Im just hoping that the Marketplace gets a little attention in the near future as it is seriously lacking in 'quality' apps. Good thing that you are allowed to trial them first as there are a lot that look good, but in reality are shocking!

Kids love them though, we sold their iPads as we didn't want to duplicate and they adjusted very quickly!
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Old 6th Jan 2013, 11:49   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Burnout21 View Post
trying to meet your monthly sales quota?
Just reminding that there's more than 1 RT tablet out there

RT doesnt = Surface, in the same way iPad doesn't = Pad.

I would have gone or the Atom version rather than RT though personally.
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Old 6th Jan 2013, 11:58   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bindibadgi View Post
No VivoTab RT? BOOOO

VivoTAB RT TF600T - 600. TF600TG (with 3G) - 700. Dock - +140 to the previously mentoined prices. TF810C with Windows 8 and pen, but no dock - 800. Sorry, but that is simply too expensive.

Windows RT devices priced above 500 is what i call "pricing yourself out of market", same applies for Atom/2GB RAM/Windows8 devices above the 700 price range and Core i/4GB RAM/Windows 8 devices above 1000.
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Old 6th Jan 2013, 12:13   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by longweight View Post
What are the web browsers like on it? I love the Skydrive website and it works really well on an iPad, open a PDF in a new link and then that PDF can be saved to either Skydrive or Dropbox but on my 920 PDFs only open in "Reader" which is a crap PDF viewer.... Can you save PDFs from the net to dropbox and skydrive on the RT?
The IE10 browser works just fine, and quite fast. You can open .PDF's with the provided .PDF viewer app which is fairly basic but does have Find, Select Text and Copy, Highlight and Add Note (to selected text) functions. Notes appear as floating post-its. You can also save .PDF's to any folder on the tablet or Skydrive. Not Dropbox directly yet, although the impending Dropbox app should solve that. Meanwhile you just upload .PDF's saved on the tablet to Dropbox via the Dropbox web page. This works even in the Metro version of IE10. In the desktop version of IE10 you simply drag a file onto the webpage, and it uploads smoothly, just like on your desktop PC.

By the way, some people have criticised the absence if automatic syncing with Skydrive on the Surface. This was a deliberate choice --if you have 100Gb of cloud data stored it would fill up your tablet pronto. But actually you can just add Skydrive as a networked drive to your File Explorer. It then simply is just another folder to load from and save to as far as your tablet is concerned, and it syncs nicely.

Quote:
Originally Posted by atc95 View Post
What is the app selection like, are all the essential apps and a game or two available on the microsoft app store compared to the app store (lack of apps is the one thing steering me towards apple, but 2nd hand, not at their glorified prices).
App selection is fairly poor (yet) although the important ones are there. National Rail enquiries, Vimeo, YouTube DJ, News Bento, Star Chart, and Microsoft's showcase for games Ilomilo (which is rather cute). Metrotweet is a good Twitter app but costs, due to the 100.000 accounts per app limit imposed by Twitter while it still does not have its own official app. Blame them. But remember that Apps were an invention by necessity: a way to get around the lack of Flash on the iPad browser. Here you just go to the websites and it works.

There are more apps released every day. Many are crap and look crap. Some look slick but are fairly pointless. Some are very good. My impression is that people are only just starting to explore what is visually possible. The Metro style, if done well, is really very nice. I also note that there is much more visual and functional coherence between different apps, because of how Metro works. You can always find the same functions in the same place.

Live Tiles are AWESOME. You have to see it to appreciate it. Weather tile shows the actual weather (not always 23C and sunny ). The app shows week forecast, 24 hour forecast, six different maps (temperature, precipitation and cloud), a history graph for the whole year averages of temperature, rain and snow. National Rail tile shows the arrivals and departures for your chosen station, constantly updated. The app shows the arrivals board, departures board, summaries for nearby stations. When selected each station shows additional info: ticket office opening hours, disability access, facilities, works and replacement services, contact info. Vimeo tile shows latest videos, news tiles show latest news, etc. And several apps allow you to pin multiple tiles to the Start Screen for different news sources (or railway stations, or weather locations...).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jehla View Post
1) what's the aspect ratio like for reading web pages in portrait and landscape? I'm currently using an iPad and have seen many people criticise this aspect of the surface.

2) if your going to be editing your flash white list could you let us know how well the escapist videos work? (escape to the movies and zero punctuation).

3) any browser "anomalies"? I sometimes get soft/burry text when zoomed and pages which constantly reload on the iPad.

4) Is there a reason you went for Rt rather than the pro?
1. Works for me. Video rarely has black bands because of the aspect ratio, which is nice. In portrait the screen is tall and narrow, but since web pages are often much longer than they are wide, that works out nicely. I can see this entire forum without scrolling up or down --and still have room at the bottom for the keyboard.

2. The escapist videos won't work, sorry. Not always the case; I added TVcatchup to the whitelist (even though there is an app) and that works fine.

3. None so far that I am aware of. Pinch zoom works well and I had no site break on me. Very occasionally it announces that a script stopped working but that does not seem to affect it in any way. The keyboard supports all the forum CTRL formatting shortcuts.

4. Battery life. I can go two days between charge with casual use. I learned that lesson from my old tablet: battery life trumps everything. The Pro has legacy program functionality, but given how I use the device I don't really need any legacy programs that much at all. There is the Atom version with better battery life than the Pro, approaching that of RT devices but no device yet that can compete with the Surface in build quality and configuration.

By the way, yes, you CAN side-load programs on the machine.

Quote:
Originally Posted by loftie View Post
As what you say seems to me that it has ios and android beat on productivity, I'm curious how it stacks up on the media side of things.
Video shows very nicely on the screen --resolution really is not a problem. The aspect ratio is ideal. Colour, contrast and brightness are lovely. Sound could be a bit louder but is not bad at all. And you can watch videos in the browser window.

More impressions: the on-screen keyboard is big and responsive. The font on the keys changes with upper case selection. The keys flash when they register your input. There are four options: a big friendly keyboard that toggles between letters and number+symbol pad (numbers arranged in a 3x4 block), a full 101 keyboard with greyed out shift case characters that highlight when you hit shift; a handwriting space with really good longhand writing recognition and the split thumb keyboard. There is also a hide keyboard function, with the keyboard reappearing when you poke a text input field. When you fold out the touch cover the on-screen keyboard disappears, and reappears when you fold the touch cover back behind the machine. Oddly, in desktop mode you have to invoke the on-screen keyboard manually with an icon on the taskbar, although the touch cover still deactivates if you fold it away.

I really cannot stress enough how good handwriting recognition is, in the handwriting space and in OneNote. That's right: you can jot away with a stylus in OneNote, in longhand, and afterwards ask it to convert it to typed print. Which it does. It is a little known fact that Apple iOS and OSX both also have excellent handwriting recognition (called Ink), and I cannot understand why this was never leveraged on the iPad.

Predictive text is good. Like the iPad it replaces most typo's on the fly, or it suggests alternatives in a small window in line with the cursor. When it does that, a highlighted Insert key appears where the arrow keys normally reside; tapping it inserts the suggested word. Else you can tap the small window with the suggested word to do the same. Continue typing and the suggestion is ignored. Misspelt words are underlined red. Tapping them brings up a number of selections from which you can pick the right one. These are usually accurate although occasionally not quite as spot-on as on the iPad. You can add new words to the dictionary.

Placing the cursor in a particular spot in the text is a bit more finicky than on the iPad --there is no neat magnifying glass feature. However the keyboard has cursor arrows and that makes life a lot easier. Select, copy and paste are intuitive, but the little menu does not come up automatically when you select text; you have to select one of the circles that bracket your selection. Works well though.

Anyone who thinks this machine does not have a build quality that can match the iPad has not actually held one. Its design has a very different philosophy. It is not a smooth, aluminium flat lozenge. It is not an Arthur C. Clarkian minimalist vision in white. It is more like the black monolith. It looks dark, angular, like some milspec black-ops sophisticated hacking device, complete with precision machine screws visible under the kickstand panel. It does not look a media consumption device; it looks like a hacker's device.

It could, in fact, be an awesome hacker's device. With its dual WiFi antennas it finds networks everywhere. We just need someone to port Wireshark and Packet Sniffer to ARM.
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https://www.justgiving.com/kidmod

Last edited by Nexxo; 6th Jan 2013 at 15:13.
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Old 6th Jan 2013, 13:12   #15
atc95
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Sounds good then, only thing I need now is money
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Old 6th Jan 2013, 14:57   #16
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Been having a better look at these today, definitely going to wait for the Pro and get the type keyboard.
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Old 6th Jan 2013, 15:04   #17
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Originally Posted by Nexxo View Post
There are more apps released every day. Many are crap and look crap. Some look slick but are fairly pointless. Some are very good.
So no different than any other app store then

Last edited by theshadow2001; 6th Jan 2013 at 15:29.
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Old 6th Jan 2013, 15:19   #18
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Basically. I suspect that there are no more than 20 apps one would really need. There is even Magix Music Maker: a sort of Garage Band for Windows.
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In memory of Kidmod-Southpaw (1997 - 2014)
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https://www.justgiving.com/kidmod
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Old 6th Jan 2013, 15:49   #19
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Did you test one in a high street store Nexxo?
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Old 6th Jan 2013, 16:08   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nexxo View Post

1. Works for me. Video rarely has black bands because of the aspect ratio, which is nice. In portrait the screen is tall and narrow, but since web pages are often much longer than they are wide, that works out nicely. I can see this entire forum without scrolling up or down --and still have room at the bottom for the keyboard.

2. The escapist videos won't work, sorry. Not always the case; I added TVcatchup to the whitelist (even though there is an app) and that works fine.

3. None so far that I am aware of. Pinch zoom works well and I had no site break on me. Very occasionally it announces that a script stopped working but that does not seem to affect it in any way. The keyboard supports all the forum CTRL formatting shortcuts.

4. Battery life. I can go two days between charge with casual use. I learned that lesson from my old tablet: battery life trumps everything. The Pro has legacy program functionality, but given how I use the device I don't really need any legacy programs that much at all. There is the Atom version with better battery life than the Pro, approaching that of RT devices but no device yet that can compete with the Surface in build quality and configuration.

By the way, yes, you CAN side-load programs on the machine.
Thats cool, I do suspect the "problem" the aspect ratio is that it's different from the iPad, and so wrong in some peoples eyes.

I'm rather torn now, I want the Surfaces design, but an atom cpu.
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