What do you get when you combine a legendary company meeting with an edict from Steve Ballmer? Why you get a Surface RT of course (you were thinking of something else, weren't you? Admit it!). Seriously though, there’s no denying the fact that 2012 is a huge year for Microsoft. One only has to look at all of the launches to understand the magnitude of what is/has been released.
Since Microsoft is focusing on becoming a “Devices and Services” company, let’s talk about the Surface as its one component to this strategy. The catch phrase of “Consumerization of I.T.” has certainly been overused however there’s something to be learned from it. If people start bringing their own devices to work and expect the same type of information they get from their mandated work assets then I.T. departments have two options: 1) Provide a mechanism for its employees to leverage their company’s proprietary products/services and in turn increase efficiency or 2) Deny such requests and lose employee productivity.
Enter Surface. Starting with the packaging I was totally captivated and fully engaged. This wasn’t just something thrown together by the marketing team and rushed to store shelves (i.e. put in box and ship). It was a methodical packaging structure. Once you get to and hold the Surface it’s obvious that it looks and feels like a premium product. The VaporMg casing is impressive and it’s comfortable to hold and feels great in your hands; really solid. At the same time it’s only 9.3mm wide and weighs a mere 676g.
Following the onscreen instructions made the setup trivial although I will concede that to fully embrace synchronization that the Surface offers you’ll need a Microsoft Account (though you can provision a local account). This clearly wasn’t an issue for me as I’ve been a Hotmail user (err…Outlook.com) for more years than I care to remember so the requisite Microsoft Account (formerly Windows Live ID) was taken care of.
Let’s get something out of the way right now, shall we? If you’re not an admirer of Windows 8 then you’ll surely be disappointed with the Surface. If however you have an open mind and can overcome the small obstacle of the user interface (UI) changing to meet this new form factor then you’ll find a very capable device within your fingertips.
I quickly snapped/clicked the Touch Cover to the Surface (it attaches magnetically as seen in the commercial) which is held in place quite firmly. After closing the cover you’ll notice that the edge feels like the spine of a book making the Surface incredibly comfortable to hold. As a bonus the cover itself is only 3mm thin. I found typing to be easy and misspelled words to be few although those who want a more traditional feel could opt for the Type Cover which is only 2mm thicker than the Touch Cover.
Speaking of snapping, the power cord has a similar mechanism to the Touch Cover and makes charging extremely simply (there’s no wrong way to “plug it in”). And while we’re on the topic of power, the full sized USB 2.0 port enables you to transfer files using a USB flash drive or simply charge your cellphone while on the go and in need of some extra power. This would’ve come in handy during Hurricane Sandy.
As far as extensibility is concerned, the HD video out port offers the ability to connect to a bigger screen (the Surface has a 16x9 aspect ratio) and the available Micro SD card reader behind the kickstand allows you to extend the available storage space on the Surface (add a 64 GB card and you could double or even triple your available storage space). The former was perfect for watching shows with the family and the latter provided a way to store even more of that digital "stuff" I've acquired through the years.
The Surface comes standard with Office Home and Student 2013 which means that Word, Excel PowerPoint and OneNote are just a click away. Some may say that this involvement of the desktop feels disjointed but once you realize that the Surface is a producer and not just a consumer of content it all makes sense. This is even more apparent with the Surface Pro. I used all of these products and easily got accustom to touch, type and mouse movement.
Many pundits have seized on the fact that you cannot install and execute legacy applications (i.e. Windows 7/Vista, etc.) on the RT version. While it is true that you can’t run certain applications, this just means that you’ll have to turn to the Microsoft Store for modern applications which are the key to unlock its full potential. Here you can install any application you see fit and trust me when I say I installed my fair share. While I won’t debate app quality it’s safe to say that your mileage may vary (YMMV) depending upon the publisher.
I’ve been using my Surface constantly and having Windows Mail and Messaging; SkyDrive; Internet Explorer 10 (included as a modern application but also available via the desktop); Bing; Xbox Music, Video, and Games all in one package is nothing short of remarkable. Speaking of Xbox, if you have one (and can break away from playing your favorite game) then you should definitely download SmartGlass. Having this accessible via the Surface as well as the seamless mixture of other devices (PC, Windows Phone 8 and Xbox) is worth the price of admission.
All that being said, the Surface becomes another device that I will rely on and I while I have no misconceptions of what it is I do believe that both versions of the Surface will showcase Microsoft’s new philosophy and will ultimately position the company for strong growth in this category.
To learn about how Surface was designed, check out the YouTube channel and here’s an FAQ about Windows RT. If you’d like your very own Surface or to take one for a spin, visit a Microsoft store or a retailer near you.