Posey's Tips & Tricks

Windows RT Revisited: the Bad and the Good

Brien's back with some more thoughts after spending extensive time with Microsoft's Windows 8 tablet.

A couple of months ago I wrote a blog post based on my first 48 hours with a Microsoft Surface tablet. I have to say, I was really surprised by the volume of e-mail that I received in response to that blog post. My mailbox was flooded with messages from people who either agreed with something I said, completely disagreed with me or had more questions about the tablet.  Since my previous blog post proved to be so popular, and because 48 hours really isn't enough time to really get a feel for a new device, I decided to write this blog post as a follow up.

Before I get started, I have to confess that even today my tablet isn't something that I use on a daily basis. I mostly use it when I need to quickly look something up on the Internet and don't feel like going upstairs to use my desktop. However, I did recently spend a lot of time with my Surface tablet.

Normally when I travel with my wife I leave my work at home so that I can spend quality time with her. Over the holidays however, I didn't have much choice but to work while we were traveling. We were scheduled to take a three-week trip to South America and I had a couple of books due at the end of the year. Because of weight and space issues I left my big laptop that I normally travel with at home. Instead, I brought along my ultrabook and my Microsoft Surface tablet.

Throughout the trip I used the Surface tablet extensively. I found that there were some things that worked really well and other things that didn't work so well.

The Bad
So far there have only been four things that I don't like about the Surface tablet. Fortunately, most of these things are minor and easily resolvable.

The first issue was that the keyboard cover tends to leave key shaped marks on the screen. It really isn't a big deal though, because you can hardly see the marks when the screen is turned on.

The next issue that I had was that on one occasion the power switch got jammed. At the time I thought that my tablet had died because I couldn't get it to power up for anything. When I told my wife about it she asked to check it out. It took her about five seconds to fix the problem. When I asked what she did she said that the power button had been stuck and that she occasionally has the same problem on her Android tablet.

The third issue that I have with the tablet is that Wi-Fi seems to be a bit unreliable. When I use the tablet at home I find that the tablet constantly loses its Wi-Fi connectivity, or it will lose its IP address configuration. In all fairness though, this might not be the tablet's fault. The Wi-Fi signal is weak in my living room (where I usually use the tablet) and I have so many wireless devices that my access point is probably at or near the maximum number of connections that it can support. Even so, I wanted to mention the connectivity problem because I was curious as to whether anyone else has experienced this problem.

The last issue that I have had with my Surface tablet is that like Windows 8, it is missing many of the video codecs required to play video files that were natively supported by Windows 7's Media Player. Fortunately, I was able to download a free video player app that installed the codecs that I needed.

The Good
There are so many things that I like about my Surface tablet that there simply isn't enough space to discuss them all here. Even so, I wanted to tell you about a few things that really stood out.

First off, I love the tablet's mouse support. Because of the nature of the work that I was doing while in South America, I spent most of my time working in Desktop mode. Desktop mode uses the Windows 7 interface which really doesn't work all that well with a touch screen. However, I was able to plug in a mouse and use Desktop Mode as efficiently as I would have on a desktop computer. The mouse was a perfect complement to the tablet.

Another thing that I really like is that the tablet has a micro SD card slot. My tablet only has 64 GB of storage space, but by inserting a 32 GB micro SD card, I was able to increase the available storage space by 50 percent. It might even be possible to use a larger capacity micro SD card. 32 GB was simply the largest card that I could find locally before my trip.

One last thing that I really like about the Surface tablet is its display. The screen is crisp, sharp, and vibrant. Even though Surface doesn't use the retina display, I personally think that the Surface display looks better than the iPad's display. Of course this is purely a matter of personal opinion.

The Verdict
I have been extremely pleased with the Surface tablet and would feel good about recommending it to anyone. Sure, there were some things that I didn't like about Surface, but there is no such thing as a perfect tablet. My wife has an iPad and an Android tablet that she lets me use as lab machines, and I greatly prefer the Surface to either of those tablets.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a seven time Microsoft MVP with over two decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written many thousands of articles and written or contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. When He isn't busy writing, Brien Posey enjoys exotic travel, scuba diving, and racing his Cigarette boat. You can visit his personal Web site at: www.brienposey.com.

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Fri, Mar 8, 2013 Son of Belushi London, England

If you quickly google "Surface RT" you will find pages of articles damning the device, mocking the sales and complaining about all that it's apparently "not". Nobody likes Microsoft and everyone wants to stick the knife in. Well the Surface RT is not perfect and the lack of Windows Media Player is a mark against it (xBox Music is diabolical, for sure) but if you spend a little time customising it, getting it how you want it, well it's a great little device. More so than an iPad or a Galaxy Tab, the Surface Rt is a genuine computer, capable of much more than mere consumption of media. It's light on apps but of the half a million or so in the iTunes store, how many of them are you really going to use? I like the Surface a lot and if it had a piece of software as good as the Zune Player, for syncing media and managing content, the Surface would (and I guess still could) be a genuine game-changer. For those still riding the anti-Microsoft wave that Apple started 10 years ago, grow up.

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 Ross Indianapolis

Finally an honest and unbiased review. Very informative and showed a great deal of knowledge about using this device I appreciate your information and will be picking up my surface this weekend.

Wed, Jan 23, 2013 Brien Posey

Just a quick update to the blog post. I put in a new Wi-Fi access point yesterday and the Wi-Fi issue with my surface tablet seems to have gone away. Only time will tell for sure, but I think that the access point was to blame rather than the tablet.

Tue, Jan 22, 2013 ITMAGE

I agree with Deric, I find the WiFi incredibly functional - far more so than my iPad3 wifi ability. There are a few things that are not so great. The first is minor: The power adapter can be a bit of a pain in the neck to connect. The second is more aggravating: VPN ability. If your Surface and your server are BOTH behind NAT devices it doesn't work. Normally (with Win7 for example) you can set a reg key to permit this, but RT seems to ignore the key. The third is very frustrating and that is: No true GPS ability. I did some investigations to find out if there was a compatible USB GPS device and the answer was NO. The problem is that there are no compatible drivers, and it would seem Microsoft may be unintentionally impeding the ability of the manufacturers of said USB GPS devices to obtain the necessary sdks and permissions. It's unfortunate because this would be a great value-add for the device and open up lots of doors. Luckily items 2 and 3 are resolvable via software. But so far I've not had any luck in getting useful responses from Microsoft, and that is another frustration entirely.

Sun, Jan 20, 2013 Deric South Africa

I too love my Surface. I personally have not had Wi-Fi issues, in fact I find the Wi-Fi incredibly stable. The only issues I have had were finding codecs (not that I have needed them yet) and that you can't load X86 apps. The biggest problem with the Surface, in South Africa at least, is 3G which is not integrated. This is the biggest problem for us since hotspots and free roaming internet access is not as common as 1st World Countries. I have not been able to get a Vodacom 3G device to work on the RT yet, though I am sure the Pro will be more accommodating. People locally know they can use Wi-Fi or tethering, but they compare to the Galaxy Tab 2 or the "Fruit" device, which does have 3G.

Sun, Jan 20, 2013 Wayne

I too get the wifi issues, but I change wifi networks ALOT. Sometimes I have to restart other times I have to just disconnect and reconnect. Sometimes I have to restart my 3g/wifi hotspot. I also have a similar issue with my iPhone, it needs to be restarted when I use the hotspot.

Sat, Jan 19, 2013 Alan Alexandria, VA

I agree, and have come to love the Surface RT. it does most of what I want and more. When I travel the Surface does it all. Yes, there are more iPad apps, but most are for entertainment and not work. I will probably keep my iOS apps current by switching to the iPad Mini while mostly using the Surface.

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