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This tablet is going to finally make me ditch my laptop! I've had a tablet before, an iPad2, which was all well and good with its apps and what have you but that's all there was to it.
The Windows Surface is a brilliant machine for people like me who have been raised on Windows, and want a tablet that perfoms like a laptop. Well it's here, and it's spot on!
The tablet runs on Windows 8, and unlike on my laptop, works seamlessly. Swiping between programs and apps is really straightforward and the display is big and bold enough to be able to work no bother if you're new to Windows 8.
A big plus for this tablet is the various connections that are built in. USB, SD Card, HDMI and Bluetooth mean that you'll never be stuck for moving in or moving out data.
The 64gb hard drive is a good size, and because of the wealth of removable storage you can have, you'll never run out of space.
==Ease of use==
It doesn't come much easier than this. Windows 8 is a breeze to work, people who've used mine who have never used a touch screen tablet before pick it up straight away. For use as a carry around tablet, its light without feeling its flimsy and not there. To set it down, you snap back the stand on the rear of the tablet, drop the keyboard down (which is acting as the cover) and you're away! You can get two keyboard types, a very flat one or a one which is more like a regular keyboard (which I feel more comfortable using).
This tablet covers a wide range of users. You've got MS Office software, for the more practical user. Kids can operate it and watch movies and play games. And general day-to-day web surfing for everyone too. This tablet really does have it all
Whilst this is an incredible product, with its aesthetically-pleasing finish and impressive performance, it does have a few issues. First of all, the Bluetooth pairing is unbelievably hard to set up for a first-timer. And when you finally do get it to pair, it won't remember the connection - frustrating to say the least.
The battery life however, is a dream come true. It lasts far longer than I thought it would, lasting almost a whole day of constant use. The keyboard can be a small to use, especially if you have large fingers such as myself. There is a bigger keyboard available to buy separately, but the price is likely to put many off.
I was disappointed at the lack of 3G. Considering the tablet relies heavily on cloud access but doesn't give an option to connect to 3G. Hotspots are quite poor for receivership, but that could be an issue with my particular model.
The tablet can run numerous apps, including Microsoft Office (Word, PowerPoint, Excel etc) which is fantastic, and personally why I bought the product in the first place (commuting and working at the same time). Storage however can be an issue, with DropBox (when a connection finally appears) being the only way to store work.
Worth looking into if you want a tablet, but there may be much better tablets available.
I had seen some ads for Microsoft's new toy, the Surface, a few times, and thought it looked quite smart and slick. I am a sucker for pretty, shiny things and the surface is both pretty and shiny. I read a few reviews online and visited John Lewis in Oxford Street to see if this toy was for me. As I mentioned, I do like pretty things, and possibly this is why I made such an expensive purchase even though I wasn't 100% sure that this was what I needed. The 64GB Surface RT cost me £559.
As my ancient laptop was on its last legs, I ideally was looking for a substitute, but also something that was up-to-date and unlikely to be obsolete too quickly in such a fast moving field. I use Word and type a lot, so I wanted something with a keyboard that would make this easier. I don't have a CD player and listen to my music through my iPod and some speakers, but ripping a CD would require a separate drive. You cannot play games or upload programs via a disc drive, compatible programs need to be downloaded from the internet or via Apps. However, as much as l love the Surface, I will still be using my laptop for a bit alongside it. Making a tablet type computer your main computer means some charges to the way you work/use your computer and this takes some getting used to if it is new to you, and indeed is not for everyone. This review is based on my experience.
OUT OF THE BOX
The Surface comes in a compact box with its keyboard that doubles as a cover, plus a charger. Basically the thing is ready to go straight from the box. Take the Surface out, flick back the light, thin kick-stand and stand it up. Refer to the little booklet to find the power button and Doug is your mother's brother (I don't have an Uncle Bob). The Surface has enough power to get you started so you just follow the onscreen instructions to set up a Microsoft account (if you have a hotmail or live.com e-mail address, then you can use this). The adaptor is connected to the Surface by five little magnets, which is quite simple and not as fiddly as you may think. If you don't get it in quite the right place it pulls itself the correct spot, I get it bang on 90% of the time. The cable isn't hugely long (about 1.5m) so when I use it on the coffee table, I need to use an extension lead if I need to charge it but as it has such a good battery life this isn't always necessary. MS have two keyboards: the touch-cover which comes with the computer, and a type-cover which is supposedly more like a conventional keyboard. I have not used the latter and was concerned about the former being easy to use. Again the keyboard attaches with magnets at the bottom of the surface with absolutely no faff. I was very impressed.
There is no manual just a booklet with a few sketches, so to get the most of you Surface, you just need to dive right in. Swiping inwards from the left gives you options such as Settings and Search if you are stuck. To be honest I often discovered how to do things by accident, and if I needed to repeat them I then needed to search how to do it. There are videos and clear instructions, so most things are easy to find once you know where to look, so it will take a few days to get the hang of. I have to say that I estimate about 80% of it is intuitive, there are just a few things that I couldn't figure out and had to look up (I bought Surface for Dummies).
DAY TO DAY USE
The MS Surface has two ways of working. Tap the Desktop tile on the home 'Start' screen and you can have a conventional Desktop for your PC with basic versions of Word/Excel etc. (these programs have their own tiles if you prefer to access them that way). As I use this for personal computing rather than business, these versions are enough for me and I have not noticed anything that I cannot do, that I could do on the full package.
When I typed my first sentence in Word with on the Touch Cover I hated it, but by the time I got to the second line I found that it was absolutely fine. Obviously Word corrects some typo errors for you, and I am not such a good typist as to not make the occasional (regular) typo but I am not finding that I am making more typos than usual, but this varies, I have noticed that the space bar isn't that responsive, and if I get carried away typing a lot (I still need to look at the keyboard) I often have to correct where words run into one another. This happens enough times to be annoying. However, I am impressed with how comfy it is to use (and no chipping my nail varnish on the keys). When I do make an error, the ability to touch the screen makes the editing process a lot faster than using the mouse or cursor keys. I find the keyboard facility overall very usable and don't mind using this instead of the laptop, the only comment I would make is that as the whole unit is quite compact (like a netbook), when flat on a desk it is quite small and you may have to bend/hunch over a bit too much, but with any new computer, you need to the position that is most comfortable for you. If I use this on my coffee table I put it on a pile of books and magazine, and if using on my lap, I like a hard back book underneath to make it more secure. It isn't heavy or uncomfortable to use like this, and I have a small lap.
I rarely use this on the move, as my phone is usually sufficient for the brief amount of time I may need to do something online. I have used it occasionally however and can reliably inform you that the screen is rubbish in sunlight, this is adjustable but still difficult to work on (as I type this sentence, the words are getting lost in the pattern of my T-shirt).
Battery life is good with it lasting for eight hours or so with on-off usage. It can be fully charged in less than two hours. It can be on standby for ages before needing a re-charge (over a day - I've not left it any longer).
CONNECTING TO THE INTERNET AND OTHER DEVICES
The surface uses Windows 8 RT, which is not the same as full Windows/Windows pro, and some apps and programs do not support the RT version, hence the not full version of Office. This may effect something like connection to your printer, camera, or some other third party device. I rarely print at home so this has not been a problem for me, so far. Behind the kick stand is a MicroSD card slot (also takes SDHC and SDHX). I have a regular SD card in my camera, so this means I need to connect my camera with its USB cable or use a card-reader (I long ago lost the cable). Unlike many tablet devices the Surface does have a USB port. It also has blue-tooth connectivity if you wanted to connect a different keyboard or a mouse. I have a Windows Phone and I sync it with SkyDrive (Microsoft's cloud drive) via the app. It can also be synced with a standard PC via the desktop.
Getting connected to the internet was easy. The Surface only has a wi-fi connection, no 3G. I can access the web easily, speed obviously depends on your internet connection.
One criticism that has been levelled at Windows platform products (and justifiably so) is that the number of apps available is more limited than on the iOS and Android platforms. This is true, but it does depend on what you want. For me I would really like to see Sky Go represented as I would use that a lot and am hoping this will become available soon as more and more devices start using Windows. BBC iPlayer does not have an app but this can be accessed via the internet browser as normal (Silverlight, which uses SkyGo, is not compatible with Windows RT). There are a number of games available such as Tetris, 4 Pics 1 Word etc., many of which are free. There are also a wide variety of different games which you can buy through the Windows store or Xbox.
I can't play Facebook games through the app, but I can if I go in via the web. There is a Kindle app, but the screen reflection may be an issue in the sunlight, as it is backlit unlike the original Kindles.
I can access the web from either the apps screen or through the desktop and I use whatever is more convenient at the time, although as mentioned above, you have a bit more flexibility with the desktop and the lack of and inability to install some programs like Silverlight is frustrating. Using the touchscreen to navigate is easy and intuitive. The only time I struggle is with drop down menus on some websites, sometimes they disappear too quickly, and I find I mis-hit sometimes (more than I ever did with a mouse) and it tends to respond to whatever was below the drop down box. Google Chrome also doesn't work on this computer, but Windows obviously works fine. It is easy to watch programmes on IPlayer or 4OD (the latter as an app) although occasionally there will be buffering time, due to the internet connection.
MUSIC, VIDEO & GAMES
You can rent videos from the Xbox store for £3.95 which is for two weeks (or 48 hours once you start to watch it). The selection isn't massive but I have found some recent movies that I missed at the cinema which I am happy to pay to watch. The quality is excellent, and I have happily sprawled out on the sofa watching it propped up (without the keyboard) on my tummy. You can also rent TV shows, but in this instance it is not always current shows, but previous series, and you can buy a series pass for the whole series (like a box-set and similarly priced). I don't usually have to have the volume up too high like I used to with my old laptop when watching something on here.
As mentioned above, there are a number of games available to buy from the Windows store as well as the Xbox store. I have only downloaded free ones, and have been satisfied as I am not a big gamer. I am not sure game fanatics will be so pleased with the selection offered - but I don't think this device is a gamer's device, it is just something else that is offered to users.
I like to have music with me as I work on the computer, and usually have the radio playing or my iPod connected to some speakers if I am at home. My device is 64 GB so I cannot keep my full collection of music on it, so I have just transferred some favourites over via USB. Sound quality is pretty good for the most part - odd things sometimes sound a bit tinny though. Obviously the best sound will come through top quality, specialist speakers or headphones, but for a modest sized speaker on a tablet device, I am quite happy with the sound, which only has to reach my ears. There is a headphone jack on the right hand side of the screen above the external volume button (volume can also be adjusted onscreen).
You can also listen free to certain tracks as a free user and more so as a paid user (I haven't paid as I am usually happy with my own music). They do have a Smart DJ function that will find other tracks that match certain artists in your collection, which can sometime be quite interesting (I turned it on by accident when I was happily listening to Kylie and the Sugababes came on) although you do get a few short adverts.
The device has an inbuilt camera, but much like the iPad, is not really compact to take out and about. The camera works both ways so you can take self-portraits (eek!) and ones of whatever is facing you. I have played with this function, but don't really see when I will use it in all reality. They can be cropped if you do take photos with it. My photos from my phone get uploaded to the SkyDrive and appear automatically on my Surface in the Photos app and I add photos from my camera via a card reader, as well as syncing with Facebook and other networks. I back up my photos regularly, but have had no problems with crashing or losing anything. I do basic edits of my photos in Paint via the Desktop screen, but I believe there are various photo editing apps you can use if you want to do other things.
I have had the Surface for two and a half months now and I am thrilled with it. My laptop is redundant, (which is just as well as it pretty much gave up the ghost the other week) and there are only a few things I would rather do on that than on this. It isn't perfect - there are things that can be done better - but I find it suits my needs very well. It isn't that cheap to buy (as was over my initial budget) but many hybrids (tablets with detachable keyboards) are so much more expensive than this one; that I think I got a good deal. As time goes on prices will come down and other options and versions will become available. The app selection is more than adequate for my needs and the multimedia functions also.
I do recommend popping into your local branch of John Lewis to try one out.
CPU: Quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3 / 2GB RAM / Ports: Full-size USB 2.0 / microSDXC card slot / Headset jack / HD video out port / Cover port / Sensors: Ambient light sensor / Accelerometer / Gyroscope / Compass / Power Supply: 24W power supply / Apps included: Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 RT Preview1 (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote); Windows Mail and Messaging; SkyDrive; Internet Explorer 10; Bing; Xbox Music, Video and Games.