My first look at a surface was at a meeting last week, when the geekiest of us, proudly produced it to show us some photos from years gone by. We found we couldn't swipe from photo to photo, instead we had to close the window down.. view the old familiar Windows Explorer underneath, then click to open the next photo. I wasn't impressed then... but now I've had a chance to have a proper play and make a proper judgement call.
The Surface has gotten several team members excited. They love the form, they love the flip out stand, and they like the SD card slot and the USB port. I too am a fan of all of these things, but not a fan that the unit doesn't come with the genuinely nice keyboard/cover. But then we dig deeper and the problems start to appear. I'm not the first person to test this and the first person told me how they liked it. I'm happy for them, so I asked.. what device would it replace?
I use my iPad for casual web browsing, controlling the Sky box, streaming music around the house and viewing pictures on the retina display. I use my Mac, for music and photo storage, video editing and general spreadsheeting and work purposes. The answer was unclear how the Surface would fit in or replace either of these gadgets. The device is advertised as 32gb, but the OS is a frankly gargantuan 16gb, so only 16gb is left for storage! The display is a blocky, low resolution last generation display. Text is not crystal clear, it's not what we're used to on tablet devices or even smartphones of this genre. Dare I say it, it's downright ugly to my eyes. I admit others said that they thought it was ok, and admittedly, it's no worse than an ipad mini, although it isn't a patch on a retina display.
Nevertheless, the problems started before we'd even studied the display. Turning the device on, took some 10 minutes. Why? The dreaded windows updates were happening. 100% complete was displayed on the screen for at least a couple of minutes. My patience hadn't even begun to wear thin. Nevertheless, we waited for it to boot up.
After boot up, the wonderful Mobile-esque tiles appeared. I have to admit. I like this sliding about simplicity to Windows 8 machines, it looks nice, it looks simple, it looks like something you'd want to use. Here's the problem. It didn't connect to Wifi. We tried, we poked around, but we were told there was no wireless device installed. Only one option in this instance.... (after a fruitless poke around in device manager) as Moss would say... "have you tried turning it off and back on again". Alas, this was, still is, and always seems to be the right way to resolve a windows error. It worked.
We booted up internet explorer and I typed www.google.co.uk... at least I thought I had, then I had another error message that asked me what I wanted about:tabs to do? The responses were 'yes' or 'no' and I didn't really understand the question. So, thinking positively, I hit yes. Nothing happened. Back to the address bar and I typed in www.google.co.uk again.
This loaded in a reasonable time and I hit the new apps button and headed for google news. I clicked on the first story, which didn't open, we waited, and nothing happened. I clicked again, nothing. About the 4th or 5th time and the page went blank. Then the news story eventually loaded. I hit back and the same page reloaded. Again, same thing. I hammered the back button, but the same story about Ed Milliband kept reappearing. I went back to the address bar and, out of curiosity, simultaneously loaded up the same page on my iPhone. news.google.co.uk. The pages loaded in about the same time on both machines. I clicked a different story and the iPhone was marginally quicker, just a second or so. The back button problem reoccured on the surface, on the iPhone the story opened on a new tab.
A couple of times during the test, we ended up at the desktop. Or... the reality of the Operating system behind the problematic device. Under the skin of the surface, this is just another incarnation of Windows. On the slick surface, no pun intended... when you click 'all apps', there's a link for disk cleanup and disk defragmenter. On a device with a solid state drive, this OS is still so dated, that it needs these two applications? Seriously?
This is the fundamental problem of the surface, is that the beauty is only skin deep. It's ironic that they've named it so appropriately.
Windows ought to start with windows mobile and work it up into a fully fledged tablet from that OS. A tablet based on Windows Mobile would be so much better than a tablet based on Windows. It's outdated, the scars run too deep for customers who lived through 1998, Me, XP and Vista! Disk defragmenter, device manages, services, control panel and cleanup are all so fundamentally outdated that they have no place on a modern computing device. Drop Windows Microsoft and catch up with the rest of the world.
I genuinely wouldn't use this, even if I were given one. I would sell it as brand new and still sealed to some poor sod who would have been better off doing his research properly.
Incidentally the RT stands for Real time, although I'm not sure why. Not impressed. At all.