I’ve been an avid iPad user since May 2010. I upgraded to an iPad 3, err… sorry, the “New iPad” in June 2012, which is apparently now already obsolete thanks to the introduction of the 4th generation iPad barely 6 months later. Thanks Tim Cook, really sucky move! In any case, I love my iPad. The device never leaves my side. I carry it everywhere around the house, I use it for work, emails, web surfing, apps & games. I carry it on vacation, on road trips, on the plane, when I read in bed, everywhere. I’m basically an iPad power user.
I have a lot of tablets. Aside from the iPad, I have an Asus Transformer TF101 running Android ICS, a Blackberry Playbook (the saddest tablet ever), I also often used a Samsung Series 7 Windows 8 tablet from work (aka the \\BUILD tablet), and I even have an old Motion Computing LE1600 Tablet PC and one of the failed Microsoft UMPC’s. My iPad is my favorite, by far!
Yesterday I bought a Surface. I figured it might be interesting to chronicle my experiences as an avid iPad user transitioning to a Surface. I probably won’t give up on my iPad anytime soon, but I’ll try to explore the possibility, and what the benefits and struggles are.
Day 0: Buying the Surface
Today is technically Day 1 since I bought it yesterday. My wife and I headed to the Microsoft Store in Freehold, NJ. This was actually my first time in a Microsoft Store. My first thought upon walking in was “It’s about time!” Apple’s Stores have been hugely successful and it’s not hard to see where Microsoft got the inspiration. My wife’s first words were actually “It’s just like an Apple Store!” I just hope Microsoft opens stores a lot faster and in more countries. My older sister tried to buy a Surface in Montreal and apparently they are nowhere to be found still.
I opted for the 64GB Surface RT. This is the largest storage option, and you can still add a storage card for another 64GB, which rocks! The Surface Pro running Windows 8 Pro is not available yet, it should come out in 3 months. I’m not sure why since Windows 8 is done, but I suspect Microsoft wanted to introduce a cheaper model first to appear more competitive.
If you are still not too sure about just what is Windows RT, make sure to read my blog post on this very topic here.
What sucked is that the only 64GB option comes bundled with a black Touch Cover. You cannot just buy the 64GB Surface alone. The Surface is basically $499 for a 32GB, $599 for a 32GB with Touch Cover, and $699 for a 64GB with Touch Cover. Microsoft teases you with these flashy Touch Covers but if you want to use one with a 64GB Surface, you basically have to buy two keyboards. I wanted the blue Touch Cover since it matches the Infragistics logo, but I’m not gonna dish out $120 for a second keyboard. That was a weird move on Microsoft’s part. They’ll probably change that in the future but once again early adopters get the shaft.
Oh, and thanks for the Surface sweetie! This was actually a belated birthday gift from my wife. I told her back in September before my birthday “Don’t buy me anything sweetie, there’s something else I want and it’s coming out at the end of October…”
Configuration & Apps Installation
The Surface configuration is pretty seamless. The guys at the Microsoft Store insisted on doing it on-site and I agreed, if only to make sure I didn’t get a bogus device. Since I already have a Windows 8 computer tied to my Microsoft Account, all those setting carried over, including my lock screen image, desktop image, email settings and other accounts, keyboard settings (I use a French-Canadian mapping) and others. It’s pretty cool.
The next step was installing some apps. The Windows Store allowed me to quickly filter through all my apps I’ve purchased to date but that were not installed on this Surface. The Surface comes preinstalled with a nice set of apps:
- Office 2013 for Windows RT, which gets updated when you initialize the Surface
- Mail, Calendar, People, Messaging
- Photos, Music, Video
- Bing, Bing Maps, Bing News, Bing Travel, Bing Finance
- Internet Explorer 10
- Windows Store
Here are some of the key apps I went with so far:
- General Productivity: OneNote MX, Skype, Lync
- News & Weather: WeatherBug, USA Today, NBC News, The New York Times, The Globe & Mail
- Entertainment & Leisure: Netflix, Kindle, Hulu Plus, Zinio, ABC Player, ComiXology, Flixter, Dilbert
- Social: MetroTwit, Tweetro, Rowi (still can’t find a perfect client for my needs)
- Others: Remote Desktop, Windows Phone Connectivity App, Bank of America, eBay, Fresh Paint, Wikipedia
I also got a lot of games, but I’ll save that discussion for another day. For some reason it looks like the Engadget app was pulled, I’m not sure why. I really liked AccuWeather on my Windows 8 laptop but it’s clear they had not tested it on Windows RT since the performance degraded dramatically. In fact, that was something I noticed on many apps. I guess now that Surfaces are out, many of those app developers will get to test their own apps for performance and usability, and then introduce much needed changes.
At first glance, there are some key apps that are NOT available on Surface yet, and there are some I’ll miss most. Hopefully they come soon, or in some cases, an equivalent could do the job. My top missing apps for now are:
- Flipboard (I cannot live without it)
- Amazon (shopping)
- Safari Books
- CNN (I want the Live TV feature, this is what I use most in it)
- Facebook & LinkedIn (surprising, isn’t it? some functionality is exposed via the people hub but it’s not enough)
- SharePlus & ReportPlus (but I work for the right company to get this remedied)
- Dropbox (I use SkyDrive more, but I honestly make use of both)
- e*Trade, Bloomberg & CNBC RT
- HBO GO, Xfinity (from Comcast)
I’m not done hunting for apps, that’s actually a fun metagame. There are also a lot of games I want to see on Windows RT since I own over 100 iPad games and play quite a few regularly. Now that the Unity 3D engine is bringing support for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, we’ll see many more iOS & Android games getting ported to the Microsoft world. The Windows Store shipped with over 7,000 apps, which is impressive considering it’s more than any Day 1 tablet store compared to iPad and Android. But we’re not competing against Day 1, the Surface is competing against iPad + 31 months. There’s a lot of catching up to do.
Before and After
My Surface initial configuration is now done. As an iPad user, my “first glance” tablet experience went from this:
You can immediately notice the blatant difference. “iPad vs. Surface” essentially boils down to “Chrome vs. Content”. The iPad OS is all about providing a grid of launcher icons in a beautifully pleasing experience, complete with a fully customizable desktop background of your choice (love my Windows-esque background?), glass reflections, shadows and more. The problem is those launchers don’t tell you much. I don’t use the default weather app on the iPad because apparently it thinks it’s always “73 and sunny”.
That 377 number on my mail icon is the most useless number ever. It’s the number of unread emails I have in my linked inbox. If I check my iPad 30 minutes apart, I have no idea if the last count was 369, or 372, or 376. It’s useless, unless you’re one of the 7 people worldwide who can actually stick to the “Inbox Zero” technique for more than 2 days. The same goes for the other apps, all they give me is a count, and if you use folders, this count gets aggregated, making it even more useless.
The Windows 8 Live Tiles (inspired from Windows Phone 7+) immediately give life to my Surface. Upon providing my Microsoft Account credentials, my photos automatically got sync’d with SkyDrive, my people hub got populated with my friends, co-workers and contacts, including favorites, the mail app automatically picked-up my personal, Infragistics (Exchange) and Google mail settings, and more.
I was saddened to realize you cannot set the Start screen background to what you want on Windows 8 or Windows RT. You can chose from about 20 or so patterns and chose from a palette of color schemes, but you cannot use your own photos. I hope this changes in the future.
Taking a Screenshot
I discovered a cool trick on the Surface since I needed to post a screenshot for this post: how to take a screenshot on Surface. Simply press & hold the Windows button at the bottom of the Surface on the device itself (not the keyboard cover), and then just press the DOWN VOLUME button on the left side of the Surface.
The screenshot will be captured and saved in your Pictures Library under a Screenshots folder, which you can access with the built-in Photos app.
Onward to Day 2…
I actually have many more observations about my Day 1 but I’ll save some of them for tomorrow to keep this post under control. In the coming days, I’ll be talking about the Desktop on Windows RT (yes, there is one), my Twitter client woes, the level of SkyDrive integration, using the Surface as a productivity laptop, the device hardware itself, and more. I’ll also dissect the best and worst of some of the popular apps on Windows RT.
If you have any questions about Surface, including suggestions for future topics to explore in this series, questions about my experiences with the Surface vs. the iPad, or any other tablet I mentioned, feel free to ask them below, or contact me on Twitter at @ActiveNick.
If you’re a developer interested in building apps for Surface, Windows 8 and Windows RT, Infragistics has the tools for you. You can also follow @infragistics on Twitter.
Did you buy a Surface or other Windows RT tablet? Are you waiting for the Windows 8 Pro tablets? What are some of the key apps you want to see on Surface? Or are you just happy with the tablet you use today? Let me know what you use out there.
See you tomorrow! (provided Sandy doesn’t knock out my power in New Jersey) [Link to Day 2: Sandy Killed my Power]