First things first – I work for Microsoft, and I will not claim to be unbiased. Yet, I bought my Surface out of my own pocket in a regular Microsoft Store – I was even in line for 3 hours to get it. Just like everyone else could.
Secondly, I primarily blog about AX – this is an exception, you don’t have to read it if you don’t want to.
With the formalities out of the way, let me begin. I’ve had the device for about 1 year now. I wanted to use it primarily for entertainment – I did not go for any of the keyboard options. Let me share my experiences.
1. It is sturdy
The Surface had not been in our home more than a few days when my 4 year old kid came running with it. He tripped over a toy, and the device came flying through the air towards our massive oak table. I’ve hit my toes many times on the table – always with the same result: Pain and Agony in well sized portions. Hearing the thud as the Surface collided with the table I closed my eyes. Game over. My kid was already crying. Bracing my self to clean up and comfort my kid – it was just a piece of hardware after all – I inspected the damages. The Surface was intact. I couldn’t even find the place where it had hit the table. It still worked flawlessly. The table – on the other hand – had lost a small chip of wood. The small disaster turned into a simple “Ooops – up again!” situation.
2. The kick stand
First time I brought the Surface to some friends’ place, they said: “That is cool – how did you get that on your iPad?” I just smiled back.
The kick-stand is amazingly pleasant as it allows for a much more convenient usage.
3. User accounts and Picture login
We have 3 users of the Surface. My now 8 year old girl and my now 5 year old boy – and myself. We each have an account, we each have our own apps, games and settings. I started out by just setting up one account, but quickly we ended up in situations where little-brother deleted (or moved) the games his sister liked. With 3 accounts that stopped right there.
My 4 year old quickly learned how to login – just press your eyes and your nose. Had the system required a keyboard+password login it would have been usable for him.
4. Family safety
Both my kids accounts are monitored by the built in family safety feature in Windows 8. This means I get a weekly report showing how much they used the device and for what purposes. And even better, the data is aggregated across all our Microsoft devices, so it also includes X-Box, the wall-mounted touch-all-in-one PC we have in the kitchen, and the regular workstation. Here is a picture of some of the info the weekly report contains:
The system is highly configurable – you can enforce time limits, ratings etc – you can even excluded some apps (like those used for homework) to count against the time limit. As a parent I feel in control – without feeling I’m spying (too much)
5. The modern UI.
I simply adore the UI – the amount of energy that has been put into the aesthetic look of Windows 8 leaves me humbled. The result leaves me with a feeling of being spoiled. If you haven’t read the story behind the design – you should do so. The competition is ages behind.
Every time I visit Bellevue Square Mall I visit the Mac store – just to see what is brewing. Since Windows 8 came out I’ve not been able to find anything that awakes the even smallest desire in me in Mac land.
I find the same experience elsewhere too: In my pocket (Windows 8 phone), at work (Windows Server 2012), at my Laptop (Windows 8.1) and my X-Box (360 – soon to be One).
The tiles are extremely powerful. They give me information at a glance - I don’t waste my time opening apps to check empty in-boxes.. The Data Sense App (on my phone) tells me my current network usage, the Stock portfolio App tells me how Wall-Street is doing, the weather app tells me the weather, the People app tells me if I have new messages aggregated across social networks, like Facebook, Linked-in. Without even opening a single app I get all this info. That is sheer power!
The Surface has a USB port. This enables me to attach my Kindle to upload documents and charge. This enables me to attach a mouse and keyboard. This enables me to attach a printer. This enables me to attached a USB Drive. This enables me to attach my phone.
What impresses me is that everything just works. All drivers are available for all devices even on Windows RT. I have a Keyspan USB to RS232 – and even that highly specialized niche product has a driver on Windows RT. Connect and use.
When I’ve taken a picture with my phone, it is immediately available on my Surface. When my kids ask: “Can I see the pictures you took?” – we look at them on the Surface – it is better than on the smaller phone.
Skydrive enables many other scenarios too – the one with pictures is my favorite.
The Surface has a desktop – just like you know it from any other version of Windows. You can open File Explorer, Control Panel, Regedit, Task Manager etc. All the built in functionality of Windows is available. And on top of that you get Office.
Some find it limiting that you cannot install 3rd party apps on the desktop in RT mode. This does not concern me. I actually try to install as few as possible across all my PCs – it just makes them easier to maintain and less subject to malware.
For the past year we have not had any problems with the battery life time. I’m not sure how many hours we get out of it, but it is never a problem. Not even on our 3 week vacation in car across Europe this summer.
10. Microsoft Store
There are plenty of apps and games – at least for my taste. There are a few titles missing – but then again, there are also some exclusive titles – like FreshPaint.