A few years back I was invited to Microsoft for a day with a small group of other bloggers to be briefed on what MS had going on and to speak with Bill Gates himself for a full hour. One of the things they showed us was the early prototype of the Microsoft Surface. At the time, it was basically a touch screen table. And it was amazing. This was before anyone had seen an iPhone or an iPad, so seeing and touching a real time interactive multitouch device left us all in awe. They also said that the future of the Surface probably included a more portable device – something you could carry from room to room, and maybe hang on the wall to watch movies,s play games, etc.
Well, time went by, people started creating other touch screen devices, the iPad came out and blew everyone away and the Surface became a rumored, yeti-like creature.
Then, some time last year, this video was released:
This video definitely captured my attention. And as more and more info on the Surface came out, I kept getting more interested. My weapon of choice has been a Lenovo T520 laptop. I love it to death, but it’s rather large. I’ve been eyeing various ultra-book type devices for a while now, but nothing out there really did it for me. And that upcoming Surface was still in the back of my mind.
Last fall, the Surface RT was released. This, unfortunately, did not interest me at all. RT only runs RT apps. It wouldn’t work for what I wanted it for. I wanted something I could use to do actual work, a full featured pc. So I’ve been holding out to see what the Surface Pro looked like.
So last week I ventured into the Microsoft Store at the Prudential Center Mall in Boston and checked out the prerelease demo models. I liked it. You couldn’t buy them or preorder them, but they would let you reserve one. I didn’t really expect they’d sell out early on release day (Saturday, February 9), but I figured it couldn’t hurt to put in a reservation.
Well, the day before release, New England had a massive blizzard, which shut down the area. In fact, a state of emergency was declared, the subway system was shut down and a travel ban on public roads was enacted. So it didn’t look like I’d be picking up my Surface on Saturday.
By late Saturday morning, the on-line store had sold out of Surface Pro 128 GB models, and there were reports of stores with long “Apple-like” lines selling out of the devices as well. I honestly didn’t expect that. So in the afternoon, when it became nice and sunny out and I had the car all dug out, I actually considered going in. I called the store to ensure they were open. I found out later that Microsoft had put all the employees up at a local hotel so they could get into the store in the morning for launch day. They were open, but informed me before I even asked that they had no more Surface Pros left. I said I had a reservation card and after a few minutes on hold, they said if I could make it in, they’d take care of me.
I made it in and got a 128 GB Surface Pro with a touch cover. All went smoothly. The best thing that happened in the store though, was overhearing this conversation between a woman who walked into the store and an employee:
Woman: “Do you have any iPhones in stock?”
MS Guy: “… um, no, this is the Microsoft Store. If you want an iPhone, you need to go to the Apple Store.”
Woman: “Oh… hmm… OK. … So you don’t have ANY???”
Thanks for putting up with all that, when what you really want to know is how the device itself is.
Short story: I like it a lot. Not sure if I love it yet or not. Much like Windows 8 itself, it’s so different than anything else that I think it’s going to take a while to figure out how it fits into my technological life.
The Surface is kind of like a tablet, but a bit heavy to walk around with and use one-handed like an iPad. It also doesn’t have the extended battery life that your usual tablet does. Average reports of around 5 hours.
But that extra weight brings you a lot. This is a very full featured computer with a core i5 processor running full Windows 8. I can install any program on here that I can install on a regular laptop or desktop Windows pc. And it runs those programs well.
The type cover is great. It snaps in solidly with a very strong magnet and is extremely usable. The screen is beautiful. It’s a bit small. I’m not sure how well I can use the screen itself for an everyday work pc. But it will connect to an external display.
The keyboard also has a track pad which, while not the best track pad I’ve ever used, is far from the worst. I actually find myself using it fairly often. When in desktop apps, the UI elements can be fairly small and hard to hit with a fat finger, so the track pad comes in handy.
The surface also come with a pen. This uses licensed Wacom technology, so the experience of using the pen as a drawing tool is outstanding. To be honest, the pen feels a bit cheap and plasticy compared to the beautifully solid build quality of the device itself. But it works, and is another option I sometimes use for hitting small ui elements in desktop apps.
Overall, the experience of using the device is very good. It’s small enough that when you are typing, your fingers are close enough to the screen that it’s quite natural to use the touch screen as needed.
There was a big media frenzy in the last couple of weeks about the available storage on the Surface devices being “less than advertised”. A real bunch of FUD, in my opinion. Yes, the OS and essential programs are going to take up space. Windows 8 is a full operating system, not a mobile OS, so it’s rather large. But this post really made my day, showing that a 128 GB Surface has just barely less usable storage than a 128 GB Mac Book Air. In fact, if you move the recovery partition off, it has more.
Anyway, like I said, still getting used to this device and feeling out where it fits and what I’m going to use it for. I’ll report more as that becomes more clear.