I was excited to get my Microsoft Surface Tablet on Friday because I thought the device was really special. What I didn’t expect was for it to change how I interacted with technology. The Microsoft Surface with Windows 8 is not simply a tablet it’s a new type of personal computing experience. The more I use my Surface, the more I realize how much of a game changer it is.
The Surface isn’t the first tablet I’ve owned. My first tablet was the Motorola Xoom followed by the Samsung Galaxy Tab, both running the Android OS. I also have an Apple iPad 2, that makes the Surface my 4th tablet. I expected it to be similar to all the other tablets I own. It isn’t. In fact, the Surface is not even a tablet at all. Well, the concept is a tablet, but the Surface…it’s a PC…and a tablet.
I’ve been using Windows 8 Pro for about 6 weeks, since the final build was released to Microsoft Partners. I have been fairly impressed with its performance, and with the features on my touch screen laptop, but I just didn’t realize the power of Windows 8 until I experienced it on the Microsoft Surface Tablet PC.
For those of you who haven’t purchased a Microsoft Surface Tablet yet, let me walk you through my 2 day experience. The first impression of the Surface comes through in the packaging. If you appreciate the minimalist design of the Apple iPad, the packaging of the Surface will also appeal to you. The surface comes in a beautiful black and white angled box. As you open it, you realize the inside box is split into two pieces. The bottom piece contains the Surface cover, which is also a full sized flat keyboard. The keyboard cover that comes with the Surface has slightly raised edges and raised bumps on the F and J keys. Many reviewers have commented about how ingenious it is to have a cover that’s also a keyboard, but the even more remarkable aspect of the keyboard is that it also has a mouse pad built in. This allows you use the Surface as either a normal tablet, just like an iPad or Android tablet, or to use it just like you’d use your PC. You’ll also notice that the keyboard has keys that are specific to Windows 8 and it also has all the normal function keys (F1 – F12), as well as page up, page down, end, home, and arrow keys. Volume, screen brightness search, flip, and settings buttons are also provided, to make it easy to switch between apps and control the settings of your Surface Tablet PC using only the keyboard.
In addition to the standard, flat, touch keyboard that comes with the Surface, which, by the way, comes in several different colors, you can also choose the Surface Type Keyboard Cover. The Type Keyboard is slightly thicker, by a couple of millimeters, barely noticeable, really, and instead of having flat keys, it has a full normal, push-button-style keyboard, just like what’s on most laptops. So if you’re a touch typist and need to “feel” the keys, this is an amazing choice. Jut like the flat keyboard, the touch keyboard also doubles as the Surface cover. The back of both keyboard covers is a sort of soft suede or felt-like material. I tried both keyboards and just fell in love with the Type Cover keyboard. Both keyboards are strongly magnetized. The bottom of the Surface is grooved, so the keyboards just “snap” into place once you bring them close to each other.
Once unwrapped, the Surface is pretty striking with it’s sleek black surface and angled, beveled edges. It has a really nice feel, as you hold it. It’s feels slightly lighter than an iPad 2, but a bit thicker. It has just the right amount of space around the edges making it very comfortable to hold in the same manner of holding a book.
The main reason the Surface is thicker than an iPad and the Galaxy Tab, is that it has a full sized, normal USB Port on the right side of the device, along with a mini HD video port. At first, I thought this was not an optimal design element, even though it felt good in my hands, and thought Microsoft maybe, should have gone with a thinner version and not included the port. But that we before I started using the Surface. After using it, I soon realized how smart the USB port really was. If one stops thinking of the Surface as a tablet, and starts thinking of it as a new type of PC, then you ask yourself, what PC wouldn’t have a USB port on it to allow for transferring files to a thumb drive, etc.? Also, as I got used to the thickness, I actually found it easer and more relaxing to hold than either the iPad or the Galaxy Tab. The thinness of those tablets actually makes you strain your fingers to hold it, especially the iPad, because of it’s thinness and it’s extra weight. The thickness of the Surface is similar to that of a thicker magazine, such as Harvard Business Review, or a small booklet, and is quite natural to hold, even with the keyboard cover folded back.
As soon as you boot up the Microsoft Surface, you immediately notice a difference. The Surface calls itself a PC, not a tablet. And you soon realize why. The Surface doesn’t have a normal, scaled down, operating system on it, it has Windows 8. Granted, it’s Windows 8 RT, which means you don’t have the ability to run all your normal Windows applications such as Photoshop, or your line of business (LOB) applications, but it does have all of the features and options of a full Windows 8 operating system, including the desktop, Windows File Explorer, and even the control panel. A full featured, desktop version
of Microsoft Office 2013 is also included with Surface. The desktop includes Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Internet Explorer, and Windows Explorer. And because it’s windows, it automatically sees all the printers and other computers on your network. Within minutes of turning the Surface on for the first time, I was able to open up Excel and Word, and pull up documents from my laptop computer and begin working on them. The Surface allowed me to seamlessly open and save document to and from my laptop computer. The other interesting thing about Windows 8, that I think Microsoft really got right, is the synchronization between devices. Since I’ve been using Windows 8 for about a month on my laptop computer, I already had a number of my settings configured and my desktop background set as well a several preferences. I even had a number of Windows Store Apps installed on my laptop. So after I got through the initial Surface setup, it immediately began synchronizing all my settings and preferences to what I had setup on my laptop. Within about 2 minutes, my Surface tablet looked and felt like my laptop, and was ready to go, without me having to do anything.
We do a lot of data analytics for our clients, so I was curious what would happen if I opened up an Excel workbook with embedded connections to SQL Server Analysis Services, that contained Pivot Tables and Pivot Charts. I didn’t actually expect this work, but I thought I’d give it a try anyway. I was so shocked when I opened up the pivot table tab in the spreadsheet and started dragging and dropping and slicing and dicing the data around, right from my Surface Tablet. All the data connection settings were in tact, and nothing had to be done for the spreadsheet to work. I just opened it up and started working on it. It was an amazing experience to be able to do something like on a tablet PC. The built in OneNote application allowed me to take a screen shot of my Excel spreadsheet running a pivot table on the Surface.
After I got over the shock, I thought to myself, what else could I do with this thing? So I looked for an app in the Microsoft Store for remote desktop. I quickly found it and installed it to my Surface. I ran the app and was able to connect to my desktop and remotely log in and work directly on my laptop through my Surface tablet. I know you can do the same thing using Android and the iPad, but the experience on the Surface was just completely seamless. By having the full keyboard, the mouse pad, and being able to seamlessly use the touch screen on the Surface, I soon forgot I was even using on a tablet at all. Everything from the resolution of the Surface screen, to the keyboard, to the fully functional and integrated short-cut keys, was just perfect.
The last thing I tried was printing. I opened up a Microsoft Word Document on the Surface, from a file I had on my laptop. I hit the print button and a list of available printers popped up. I selected an HP color laser printer and clicked print. That was it. There was no setup. No print driver installation. No configuration. Just print.
For the first time since the iPad was introduced, I can finally see a personal replacement device for my desktop and laptop computer. To say the Microsoft Surface and Windows 8 is a game changer, is so obvious, that it’s almost not worth saying. The Surface PC, don’t call it a tablet, is nearly everything you need in a device, combined into one. Microsoft really did this thing right. It sends a clear message to all the hardware vendors and to Microsoft’s competitors, that the PC is not dead, it’s just arrived, and it’s called the Surface!