Sunday, February 16, 2014

On The Surface

A little over a week ago, I finally took the plunge and bought a Surface 2 tablet PC. I had been debating for some time whether or not to get one, after all I already had a very good laptop and one of the larger smartphones (jokingly referred to as a “phablet”). The debate was not only about whether or not I needed a tablet, but which tablet to get. I had purchased a Nook Tablet a couple of years ago and had even attempted to root it and flash it to be a full Android version instead of the proprietary Nook version of Android. That experiment didn’t last long as the software eventually became unstable and now the Nook won’t even power all the way on. Being quite impressed with my Galaxy Note 2, I had considered the Galaxy Note Tablet, especially since I would still have access to  the Android apps I used quite often on my phone. Finally, after reading enough reviews of the Surface 2 when it was released, and being one of the few that actually likes Windows 8/8.1, that’s what I decided on for my tablet.

I think there are enough technical reviews online about this device and comparisons to other tablets, so I won’t bore you with reiterating specifications about the Surface 2 that are easily found doing a Google search (or should I say Bing?). I’ll simply share my own observations about the good, the bad, and the annoying.

The initial setup was extremely easy. Already having a Windows 8.1 laptop and a Microsoft account, all I really had to do was turn the device on, put in the password for my WiFi  and login with my MS credentials and it automatically pulled my desktop theme and Start screen layout over from my laptop.  This was actually pretty cool to begin with, but I have to admit, it can also be a bit annoying since the laptop Start screen includes desktop apps that won’t run on the Surface since I went with the RT version of Windows. I have since, however, figured out how to synchronize only certain things between the two so I can have basically the same layout on both while at the same time making sure each has it’s own set of apps and programs.


Windows 8.1 - Yeah, I know; many of you will say that this is a Con not a Pro, but I actually like Windows 8/8.1. I don’t think, however, that I fully appreciated the new Metro UI until getting a Surface 2. Now that I have two devices that use Windows 8.x I get what Microsoft was going for with the UI being the same across devices.

Battery Life - Being a tablet instead of a full-blown laptop, the battery life is quite impressive. I recently had it streaming music via the iHeart Radio app and after a solid couple of hours doing so, the battery had only dropped about 20%. Had I tried to do that with my smartphone, I’d have had to plug it in after maybe half that time.

Lightweight and portable - This is the reason I wanted a tablet. While I cannot do as much with a tablet as I can with a laptop, I can still do a good bit and can do so without having to lug around a full size laptop.

Expandable storage - Not only does the Surface 2 have a microSD slot, but it also has a standard USB port to accommodate thumb drives, or even attaching a mouse or keyboard. This is something most other tablets don’t offer - Android tablets may offer the microSD slot, but they don’t have a USB port, and iPads not offer either one, that I’m aware of.

IE Only (?) - Because the Surface 2 has an ARM processor instead of a standard PC processor, it cannot run desktop apps unless they are versions written to work with this processor (such as the version of Office that comes preinstalled).  The result is that I cannot install FireFox or Chrome as neither Mozilla nor Google have been authorized to produce a mobile version of their browsers that will work in the RT version of Windows. Had I gone with the Surface 2 Pro instead, I could have overcome this limitation, but the Pro costs as much as I payed for my laptop and so I could not justify the price, especially since I was not looking to have a second laptop.

Limited Apps/Programs - As with the IE only problem, there are some other things that would be useful to run on my tablet, but I cannot due to the limitations of the RT version of Windows (which is really a limitation of the CPU).  For example, I am unable to install the LastPass plugin because it’s a traditional Windows EXE installer; I still have access to it via the app version, but it’s much more convenient to have the plugin in my browser than having to manually copy and paste from the app.

Proprietary Power Connector - One of the reasons why I did not want an iWhatever device is their proprietary nature, including the connector for charging. Well, this is one place where Surface also fails. While I like the magnetic connector, it is still proprietary, so if I ever find myself needing to charge the Surface and I don’t have the charger with me, I’m out of luck, as where my smartphone can be charged off of any charger that accommodates a micro-USB port.


Touch Screen lag - Sometimes I have to tap things more than once to get the desired action; to be fair though, that happens with my smartphone too.

Limited Apps - The Windows Store still lags behind the Google Play Store for Android and the iPhone App Store. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of apps available for Windows 8, it’s just that many of them are ones I have no use for or are not free.

All-in-all, the Surface 2, even with its limitations, still does what I need a tablet to do plus a bit more. I am quite glad that I paid the extra $130 for the Type Cover. I tried out both it and the Touch Cover in the store, and the extra $10 was worth it. It makes it much easier to type - in fact, I’ve written this entire blog post using it. I also like that it’s  design knows which way it is positioned so that it automatically puts the tablet to sleep when closed (like a laptop lid) and disables the keys if I have it flipped backwards to use the Surface purely as any other tablet.

~ JC