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Friday, November 2, 2012

The Microsoft Surface's Beauty is Only "Surface Deep"

As a long-time Microsoft fan (my first computers were all PCs), and with all my excitement about Windows 8, I was very excited about the Microsoft Surface. In fact, I was so excited that despite Press not getting complimentary Surface tablets (or even trial ones) at Microsoft's recent Windows Build conference, I went out and bought my own. With all the hype Microsoft was giving it - run all your Windows apps across every Microsoft device, in a beautiful, comfortable environment - I was anxious to try it out! It took a few days, but despite my initial excitement, today I returned my Microsoft Surface RT and will not consider a new one until I'm confident they fix a few things.

The Pros

When I first opened my Surface, it was a  beautiful experience. From the Microsoft Store here in Bellevue, Washington (the busiest I've ever seen a Microsoft Store), to the packaging of the product, to the shiny, beautiful hardware that Microsoft had created with the Surface RT. Then, you turn it on. It has beautiful fonts. Beautiful colors. A bright, shiny beautiful screen that draws you in. It's not the Windows you grew up with.

Installation was a little slow, but I anticipate that's the Windows experience loading all the information it has on you in SkyDrive, as well as any new updates that may have loaded since it first launched (oddly, after 1 week from their launch, even after it first booted up, I still had 4 new updates in Windows Update to apply). All that was okay though because the interface was just beautiful. It is by far Microsoft's most beautiful device and operating system to date.

My initial impressions were pretty good. In fact, they lasted for a day or two after first opening it. This device really takes several days to really do a good review. The biggest excitement for me was the ability to be able to run Microsoft Office - on a tablet! As a writer, my publisher has specific templates I have to use for my writing, but some times I like to just sit in front of my TV, or maybe even the beach in Hawaii, and write in places that aren't always convenient for a laptop. Having a fully functional Microsoft Office was very exciting for me!

Then there is the SkyDrive integration. I was able to integrate all my favorite social networks, all built into the operating system, and have SkyDrive remember the authorization for each. Then, under the "People" tile, it would show me the updates from my friends and I could respond right from the OS, no other app to install! The thing is this thing almost doesn't need a Facebook app (Facebook hasn't shown interest yet in building a Windows 8 app) - it's built into the operating system!

In addition, I could pull in my photos from Facebook and Flickr and elsewhere and load those, right inside the OS. When I need a photo for a blog post? Facebook and Flickr now become options on top of the other folders on the drive. It all integrates seamlessly and smoothly into the operating system.

The touch keyboard turned out to be very nice. I was a little worried at first, but as I got used to it I started to realize I can actually type faster on the touch keyboard than I can on my laptop or a traditional spring keyboard (Microsoft sells those as well) because my fingers don't have to go down as far and I don't have to press as hard. I don't know how that works ergonomically, but I could definitely type faster, once I got used to where the keys were.

Here's why I'm selling it

There were a few other features (Microsoft Music is pretty cool, for instance), but that's where it ended. The thing is, with the exception of the touch keyboard, all of these are Windows 8 core features anyway - none of them are very unique to the Surface itself. And Windows 8 is still pretty cool! The Surface however, I soon found, would lag as I typed. It was slow. Very slow, and it didn't take much to achieve that.

I found that something as simple as using Google Reader, as I hit the "j" and "k" keys on my keyboard to go back and forward through items, it would go quickly at first, but then after I went through about 20 or so items on the page (I read hundreds of news feeds a day - follow Twitter.com/Jesse to see my shares from that) it would slow down, considerably, to the point that it wasn't even usable.

I noticed this on other websites as well. I also noticed it within various apps, such as browsing through photos, or watching videos. Microsoft Office tends to lag. Mail doesn't respond well.

I really wanted to like it. I really did like it for many reasons on the surface. However, when it comes to what lies beneath - the hardware, I'm afraid Microsoft put this operating system on a piece of hardware that just isn't powerful enough to power it. Microsoft launched this thing too early - period.

On a $200 or $300 tablet, I would likely forgive these things. For the UI itself, it's worth keeping at that price. But at the $700 price point for the 64GB version I purchased, Microsoft should do better. They're trying to compare themselves to Apple at that price point, and have specifically done so in their demonstrations and advertising. If you're going to compare yourself to Apple, your entire experience needs to work together fluidly, fast, and smoothly. Unfortunately, with Microsoft, it's not what's on the Surface that counts - they've got to be paying attention to how fast it can run.

Will I buy one later? I want to see if Microsoft fixes these slowness issues. They can do this with both operating system updates and through perhaps the upgrade of the Surface Pro, which should run on a faster processor (scheduled to come out in January). I may give it a try then. Until then, Microsoft has lost my trust with this one - I feel they tricked me. And with that, it's going to take some effort to gain my trust back again.

Maybe they can try installing some of these to make it go faster?

Photo courtesy Justin Allen.

You can also see I'm not the only one with this experience:

Chris Pirillo's review: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=gQhhtvuZwVg
TechCrunch's review: http://techcrunch.com/2012/11/01/microsoft-surface-rt-the-sad-treadmill-of-overhyped-expectations/

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