Posey's Tips & Tricks

First 48: A Weekend with Microsoft's Surface Tablet

After only using the device for a couple of days, Brien shares some of his initial thoughts on the the Windows RT-based hardware.

Back in July I wrote a blog post in which I said that I thought that Microsoft was on the right track with their Surface tablets.  While I still agree with the views that I expressed in the blog post, I wrote the post long before Microsoft Surface had been released, which meant that I didn't actually have a Surface tablet at the time.

My Surface tablet showed up a couple of Fridays ago. At the time, I was at the Kennedy Space Center watching them move the space shuttle Atlantis. My wife called to tell me that the tablet had been delivered and asked if I wanted her to charge it up so that it would be ready when I returned home. Of course I said yes.

Later that evening I spoke to my wife on the phone again and she confirmed that the tablet was charged up and ready to go. I asked her what her initial impressions of it were. She told me that the tablet felt fragile and that the power cord was "kind of funky." Needless to say this made me more than a little curious.

When I got home late Friday night I inspected the Surface tablet for the first time. Personally I don't think that the tablet feels fragile. I think that the reason my wife thought so was because it has a completely different feel than her iPad. Both the iPad and the Surface tablet's cases are made of metal, but the Surface tablet uses a different kind of metal (I don't know what it is). The metal feels a lot like glass, hence the fragile feeling.

The device's power cord really surprised me. Most of the consumer electronics devices on the market have begun using somewhat standardized USB chargers. This isn't the case for the Surface tablet (although I'm sure that someone will eventually offer a USB charger). Instead, Microsoft created a proprietary AC adapter. What makes this adapter so unique is that it is magnetic. You don't have to insert the adapter into the device. Instead, the adapter has magnetic contact plates that hold it onto the tablet.

When I ordered my Surface tablet, I opted for the 64 GB model with the keyboard cover. Like the AC adapter, the keyboard cover attaches to the tablet by using magnetic contact plates. The keyboard itself is made of a material that I can only assume is some sort of rubber blend, although in my opinion it feels more like a type of cardboard to the touch.

In spite of its odd feel, the keyboard cover works really well. It does a good job of protecting the tablet's screen when it isn't in use. The tablet also features a kickstand that can be used in conjunction with the keyboard to allow the tablet to be used similarly to a laptop. The keyboard can also fold back so as to be completely out of the way (without having to be removed) when you want to use the device as a tablet.

The keyboard features full-sized keys, but does not have a number pad. The keyboard also has a built-in touch pad, which might seem strange for a tablet, but it works surprisingly well.

Using the keyboard takes some getting used to. When you type on the keyboard, there is no sensation of pressing the keys. The keys don't move enough to even be noticeable. Even so, the keyboard seems to work pretty well. I have two laptops that I use when I travel, and they both have a tendency to leave out letters when I type. Although I have not yet written anything lengthy on the surface tablet I have not noticed it skipping letters that I type the way that my laptops do.

When I powered up the Surface tablet for the first time I wasn't quite sure what to expect with regard to the setup process. I knew that Windows RT was similar to Windows 8, but I assumed that there would also be some differences. The setup process ended up being identical to that of setting up Windows 8. In fact, some of the screens even said Windows 8 (as opposed to Windows RT).

Once everything was set up, I found the operating system to be very smooth and responsive. The thing that I like best about the tablet is that unless you go through a full shutdown, pressing the Power button causes Windows to be instantly available (similar to pressing the power button on a smartphone or an iPad). There are a lot of times when I want check something on the Internet, but don't want to wait for my laptop to boot. In these situations I usually end up using my smart phone, which doesn't always meet my needs. I absolutely love having Windows on a tablet that boots instantly!

I also tried attaching a few USB devices to the tablet. I was curious how well they would work, because most manufacturers have not yet made Windows RT drivers available for download. I tried a USB mouse, a 250 GB USB hard drive, and a 16 GB flash drive. All three devices worked perfectly with Windows RT.

Just to remind you, my thoughts are only based on my first weekend with the device. Needless to say, I haven't had a lot of time to fully explore the tablet. That being the case, I want to blog about the Surface tablet again in a couple of months after I have used the device more extensively.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and 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 health care 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. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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