Thoughts on Surface

For the last few weeks, I’ve had the fortuitous opportunity to spend some time with the Microsoft Surface RT. I have a few thoughts I’d like to share about that experience.

Productivity

Productivity on Android sucks. Productivity on the Surface RT blows it away. Not even close. Office RT still has its quirks, but Microsoft continues to show that it dominates the spreadsheet and document ecosystem for a reason: it’s had nearly 30 years of experience perfecting it. Google Docs is a middling product whose only real strength is real-time collaboration / sharing. Microsoft is well on its way to emulating this, and frankly, once it manages to hone that concept, I see no reason to care about Google Docs (or Drive – whatever you want to call it).

Browsing

IE10 makes Chrome for Android look like a toy. It renders more quickly, runs more smoothly, and simply makes for a better mobile browsing experience. Again, because it brings basically the entirety of the desktop browsing experience with it, like Office RT brings the desktop productivity experience.

Multitasking

Android multitasking has refined itself over time, but Windows RT uses the same multitasking solution found in Windows 8. And it’s better. Windows was designed from day one to be a multitasking operating system. Android was designed to be highly modal. It’s kind a of a “duh” victory for RT here.

Speed

Windows 8 RT can go from super smooth and blazing fast to annoyingly laggy and unresponsive so quickly it makes me feel bipolar. One moment I’m in awe, another I’m furiously tapping at the screen wanting to throw the Surface out the window. Android is just far more consistent in terms of performance.

App Ecosystem

Windows RT still has a pretty meager app selection, though there are already a number of very high quality apps available. Cocktail Flow (also on Android), for example, is gorgeous. Hulu Plus works pretty well. Netflix is decent. Epicurious’ app, unlike Android, doesn’t make me want to self-harm. It’s hard to say how quickly the app selection will grow at this point, but if Microsoft’s dev tools allowing x86 / ARM cross-compatibility are as robust as we’ve been told, I’m optimistic that quality Windows 8 touch-friendly apps will eclipse Android ones fairly quickly.

Gaming

Ugh. Non-existent on Windows 8 RT at this point. Pathetic. Android has a massive advantage here.

UX / UI

I find both Windows and Android pretty natural at this point, and having a Windows desktop on the Surface is pretty powerful for things like multitasking. And a lot of Windows 8 RT’s gesture actions and such are pretty cool – much more slick and visually appealing than Android’s. Some of them are also absurdly frustrating and unintuitive, whereas Android is far more straightforward and simple. RT simply requires too much work to get to something as simple as display brightness or system updates. Android wins for ease of use, Windows 8 wins for presentation.

Hardware

The Surface is too heavy to use as anything but a small laptop. Too thick. Too wide. I tried using it in bed or while sitting in a chair, and it’s just unnatural. I revert to the laptop position with the type cover and kickstand instinctively, and have no desire to use it without the keyboard / mouse crutch. In a way, that makes it powerful. In another, it severely limits its usability as a tablet. That said, I do find myself very naturally mixing touch input and mouse / keyboard on the RT. It’s a little weird. I get an anxious impulse to clean my screen a lot because of it – my brain is thinking, on some subconscious level, “Your laptop’s screen is FILTHY! CLEAN IT NOW!” only to have it soiled again 30 seconds later.

Final Thoughts

Right now, Surface is too buggy, expensive, and weird for any normal person to buy it. It’s going to be a total commercial flop. Surface Pro probably will be too (even if I totally want one). But I have zero doubt touch-enabled Windows 8 convertibles and tablaptops (tablets used mostly as small laptops) will catch on. Probably mostly the non-RT ones, though. Microsoft has done a hybrid touch / mouse and keyboard OS right. They’ll kill (or become) the Ultrabook. It’s going to take some time to get all the kinks worked out, but I have no doubts about the ecosystem growing around this platform, or the average person’s willingness to live in the Windows 8 world. It’s nice.

Should you buy a Surface, though? Hell no. Total waste of $500. It’s more science experiment than serious tool at this point. Then again, an Android tablet is even less of a serious tool. At least it has a killer Gmail app and lots of games, though – which the Surface does not.

Tl;dr – if you don’t have a Nexus 7, get one you idiot. But don’t be surprised if a year or two from now a Windows 8 tablet / small touch-enabled tablatop starts to look appealing.

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