Microsoft Surface RT Review: This Thing Confuses Me

33 responses

  1. mikecane

    >>>We’ve got two instances of IE. One on the desktop and one in Metro.

    Do they each have separate settings? What if you want to clear cache, etc — do you have to do it both in Metro *and* Desktop?

  2. Doug

    Wow!!!! Warner, I have always valued your opinions. Thank you. If this thing confuses you, how is the average Joe suppose to figure it out. This is bad news for Microsoft!

  3. Yamirokuai

    Very interesting. I think what is confusing about the Surface it’s it’s laptop soul. It’s a bit jarring seeing regedit or PowerShell in a tablet but I’m sure lots of people like me will love to have that option.
    This is not a toy like the iPad, that’s for sure,

  4. Ryan Spooner

    Personally I love my Surface. Have only been to the desktop twice. Once to run Windows update, and another time to check out the new office after updating. The Metro is very nice indeed on a tablet, and the hardware is to die for. One comment on this article though… the Netflix app DOES have a search function. It’s the same search function that every other Metro app has access to, and it works.

    • Warner Crocker

      Good to know about the Neflix App Search function. Thanks for adding that in.

  5. dennisvjames

    bummer. was hoping for better inking…

  6. David Howard

    Hitler’s thoughts on Windows 8:

  7. Michael

    I believe the inking experience should be much improved on the Surface Pro, which is what I’m holding out for.

  8. Chris R. Chapman (@DerailleurAgile)

    My own experiences with Surface RT over the past few days is strongly in simpatico with this review – I’m a former Softie and did have some higher expectations of this device given the verbiage that preceded it

    I totally agree with the notion of the “duality” in the platform – to me, it feels not just disjointed but rather cynical in motivation, in the same way Windows 95 was in reality just a front-end on top of DOS. I realize it’s a sweeping comparison, but that’s how it /feels/.

    There was a big opportunity for Microsoft to impress with a device that would be the “glue” between XBox and other Windows devices in a consumer home. It’s early days, but it takes a real apologist to not acknowledge that they missed the mark in a lot of critical ways that call into question whether the Pro version will be that much better.

    One thing not mentioned here are the poor quality 1 megapixel cameras that no amount of post-processing can improve, along with the curious inability to directly share photos from the camera app. Image files are sent directly to your Photos library, so they can’t be shared at the point of capture (the “share” charm just rebuffs you with a message that there’s nothing to share). When you try to share the images from the library, you’re told that you can’t share from the desktop. You need to manually upload the images to your SkyDrive.

    To me, a no-brainer killer app would have been a slick camera that would automagically synchronize with SkyDrive, given all the hype that’s Microsoft has plowed into cloud this, cloud that, cloud the other.

  9. steve

    I’ve been a windows tablet user for years, and I don’t find surface RT to be the least bit confusing or mystifying. I was planning to hold out for a Pro model to get inking and to be able to run VBA-enabled office projects, but I couldn’t resists trying the RT model out, and I now don’t know if I will bother with the Pro.

    First off: If it weren’t for the “disjointed” existence of the old-school desktop, this device would lose a lot of its attractiveness. Unfortunately, some of us need to work in the real world of browsers and spreadsheets and word processors, and having them side-by-side or easily swappable in an old-school desktop means productivity is nearly at laptop level for when you need it. (Something you can’t say about any other tablet.) Ditto the ability to navigate a home network and move piles of files from machine to machine or NAS. As much as I love the metro interface, and as much as the snapscreen is an improvement over the one-or-none choices from an iPad, it still wouldn’t be good enough to get work done. The regular desktop is there when you need it, familiar and fast, and gone with a single swipe or key click. Nothing confusing about it.

    The synchronization between Microsoft cloud and other windows machines is very robust and even uncanny. (The surface figured out that my home PC’s “pictures” library was a big NAS full of images, and it started cataloging them immediately.) Xbox started music matching on my surface, gleening information from I know not where — perhaps the play history on the abovementioned computer. I was then allowed to download from the Xbox music store titles I already own and had played on my Windows phone and/or zune desktop software. This thing also found my Xbox (and streamed a video from my network, back over the network to the Xbox, as a test). Heck, it even found my internet-connected Samsung TV in the basement. I had no idea it could do that.

    I work a lot with sharepoint documents on a work server and the RT machine works perfectly with those, and after I opened one document from the remote site, Office remembered that location so I wouldn’t have to visit the browser again to get documents from its libraries. This is a big deal and a great productivity booster. The office products included are as full function as 99% of office users could need. (I’ll miss my VBA code on this machine, but you can’t have everything… yet)

    I was surprised to find “inking” available as input and in OneNote. Both are pretty snappy and work well with a finger — much worse with the spongy pen from my wife’s iPad. The inked remarks I put in One-Note were fully searchable in the usual ways, meaning another strike for me against springing for the Pro later on. No, it’s not the digitizer pen on my lenovo convertible, but it’s a decent little perk and again, something you won’t get elsewhere.

    I find the metro aps very snappy. When anyone complains about load times, I wonder if mine came with superchip or something. I don’t experience loads of anything more than a second or two. The pictures hub is great, bringing in Flickr images, something the Windows Phone photo hub should do. One thing it misses (that WP includes) is people tagging, which should be added pronto. I’m used to Windows Phone mail and I find the included program in need of a few tweaks — perhaps moving to a checkbox-type function like on the phone rather than a swipe-right to highlight. On the plus side, the mail app grabbed my hotmail, gmail, and work exchange accounts without a single hitch, mail, calendars and contacts. It also shuffled in linkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook contacts as seamlessly as does Windows phone, linking entries so you don’t get a pile of dupes. The contacts screen is clean and useful, with instant-link mapping, quick buttons for video calls and messaging and more, plus social updates, all at your fingertips from a contact screen. Again, no one else has this level of clean integration. Those yearning for Outlook, well, I don’t get that. I’m moving further and further away from outlook and hoping never to look back.

    I have no sympathy for complaints about the camera. They’re perfectly adequate for video calling, which is what they’re intended for. (I do wish that Microsoft messenger system on this platform supported video calling in addition to the integrated Skype calling, as there are some folks on messenger who aren’t on skype, believe it or not…) Back to photos — once the still have been run through the obligatory and cheesy hipster effects that make them art, they’ll look as bad as what everyone else uploads.(A retired photographer, I carry a real camera with me at all times, since that’s what real photos require.)

    While we’re on that subject, how many tablets can you stick a memory card into (or a USB reader) in order to offload photos mid-safari? The Surface RT prompted me for import perfectly, and when I went to the pictures folder to move the RAW files I shoot in by hand, I found out that Windows RT hadn’t skipped them, as I suspected it would, but instead had dropped them into the same folder as the jpegs. Then, it was a beyond-simple matter for me to send the images directly to my NAS. (Simpler yet would have been if I could have added an automated move routine started on another machine, but the homegroup capabilities on RT don’t allow network sharing from the outside in.)

    The experience hasn’t been perfect. Mine dropped WiFi fairly often, a situation I remedied by telling my router to change keys less often. This networking challenge was outweighed by the flawless discovery of my horrible network printer (a Brother) and the flawless printing of a web coupon I needed. There are some *great* advantages to having this thing built on the bones of older windows.

    Throw in the gorgeous applications — the Bing weather and Finance apps are useful eye candy — and the growing number of them (and they will grow, because by the end of the first week of Windows 8, there will probably be upward of 10 million target consumers for developers to target) and Surface tablets will only get better.

    Having been in Windows Phone 7 since day one, I saw how dedicated Microsoft was to improving the native apps and that ecosystem, and I believe we’ll see the same here. Don’t hate this because it’s not what you’re used to or what you expected. See what it can do that other tablet can’t, and appreciate that.

  10. RossNWirth (@RossNWirth)

    Warner I’m surprised, you and several of the folks I’ve followed since the Tablet-PC and UMPC days have had similar feedback, or outright skipped the Surface.

    My experience was closer to Steve’s than yours, I’m really enjoying this thing. the integration to SkyDrive, Exchange, and SharePoint is huge for utilizing it as more of a productivity tool at work, than my iPad, or HTC Flyer, Nook Color, or Galaxy Tab could have ever been.

    I will give you the disappointment over active digitizer, but I’m pretty sure with a bit more practice I will be able to type faster on the touch keyboard than I can write.

    I do have some annoyance with the quality of some of the apps, but agree with others, that with Win 8 rolling out that’s poised to changed (more so than it has been to date for WinPhone). My biggest app complaint is Mail, more Outlook capabilities (categories, smart folders) should be included, or Outlook should have been included in the desktop.

    • Warner Crocker

      RossWirth and steve,

      I’m glad you guys are having a better experience than I seem to be with the Surface RT. Like all things mobile it really is going to be a different experience based on different users, their needs and expectations.

      • ctitanic

        I do not know what to tell you. The update failure is something to be worry about. I would recommend to reset to factory settings and try to update it again. If you do not do that you will be suffering the whole time. The inking experience using the keyboard is not good but it’s the worse I have seen. About the rest, I’m enjoying mine like I have not done since the UMPC time. I gave my iPad to my wife and using the Surface as full time and main PC at home.

      • ctitanic

        Oh, and mine passes the whole time the pinky test. The only times when I had experienced some lack of performance is when using the metro IE and I hade many pages opened some of them heavy in adds. I also found that if I use the option to be opened in the full version everything works fine there.

  11. Barry

    Warner, to close an app in Windows 8 swipe down from the top bezel to the bottom bezel in one fluent motion. It works 100% of the time. The trick is to swipe from the top bezel and just keep swiping until you hit the bottom. Quick and -once you get the hang of it- easy.

  12. Chris R. Chapman (@DerailleurAgile)

    I returned my Surface RT today – I was the 3rd person in a 30 minute window for the local pop-up store doing so, and definitely not the first or last. A lot of unhappy Microsoft fans bringing the devices back, all with similar grievances as enumerated so far. The bloke who was in front of me in the returns line and I shared our experiences with the staff who patiently took them down (albeit on stickies).

    Common refrain: Should have launched with Surface Pro – RT too crippled and bizarre.

    I’ll wait for Pro in New Year and decide if it should get my $1000 CDN, or just upgrade my laptop and be done with it at that point.

    • ctitanic

      so far all cases of people returning it are those who bought it without fully understanding the differences between WinRT and Windows full version. let me put it in simple words. WinRT is a version of Windows with limits in what can be done on it. less limits than in an iPad (in which applications are all time filling those holes or going around the limits). By January these firsts weeks will be a thing in the past because of the new applications currently being release daily.

      • Chris R. Chapman (@DerailleurAgile)

        I and the other people that I spoke with in line understood that there’d be shortcomings, but weren’t prepared for how many and how extensive. And to be clear: They’re not all software, they’re hardware related, too. The customers covered a cross section of occupations, as well: Students, consultants, etc so everyone had different expectations and desires from the unit. We were of the same opinion that the device didn’t feel “ready” for prime time and certainly didn’t jive with the expectations that were set by Microsoft.

        However: I get your drift. If there was one other common sentiment between us all as we dropped our units off, it was feeling a bit like suckers.

      • ctitanic

        There is nothing to be a shame of. This device is just not for you and the PRO is it. If I could I would have bought both. But I can’t so I went with the RT. Why? Because here is where all the fun is going to be. The PRO is just one more PC with a new OS. I love the feeling of finding new stuff every day and see the improvement.

        The other thing was the processor, I do not want anything with fans or dealing with heat issues. The PRO could have these issues.

        So far, in the majority of the cases all issues are software and that’s fixable. I myself have not found hardware issues. The speaker volume is ok for me. My WiFi works fine. I do not know of any other complains.

      • Ryan Spooner

        So let me get this straight… most of you returned your surfaces because you had no clue what Windows RT was before you paid hundreds of dollars and that you were ignorant to the face that you could only run Metro apps?

        This thing is absolutely no different to the iPad when it launched in that regard. You couldn’t run Mac OS X apps on it… and the number of apps available at launch was limited. How is the surface any different? In fact the Windows 8 app store actually had MORE apps in it at launch than the Apple app store did at launch (talking about iPad apps here, not iPhone stretch iPhone apps)..

        How is wilful ignorance on your part a fault of Microsoft or the Surface?

        Also what are these mythical hardware issues you speak of? You seem to have failed to mention a single one. Personally I think the hardware is very very nice. The engineering on the casing, the keyboard, the hinge and pretty much everything else is top notch.

        I agree the software is a little flaky in places, but a few patches will sort the glitches out. This is certainly no worse than any other platform on release.

      • Chris R. Chapman (@DerailleurAgile)

        Curious strategy of blaming the consumer for being rubes – best you don’t pursue a career in marketing or public relations.

        Here are the hardware issues – a collection of oddities, inconsistencies and downright bad UEX/UI behaviours that distract from what should have been a much more “complete” tablet from Microsoft. I and the other returners discussed these items with the staff at the store for about 15 minutes while they wrote them down. Feedback is ostensibly going to Redmond.

        Re: iPad1 had certain limitations on launch – granted, but this late 2012, not early 2010. Precedents have been established in the market, and consumers have performance expectations from competitive offerings.

        In no particular order:

        1) Embedded digital compass yet no GPS – no-one could figure out the relevancy of knowing what direction you’re pointing in yet having no idea where you were.

        2) 1MP cameras on front AND back. Universal disappointment in the quality of photos the device takes, especially given most cellphones have at least 5MP. We’d all have settled for 3-4MP as a sop.

        3) Speakers – the group was divided on this: Everyone agreed they were too low, too muffled but this wasn’t a deal-breaker. It was noted that other tablets have more decent volume.

        4) Touch interface inconsistencies: Everyone reported issues with getting pinpoint touch gestures to work, eg. clicking on web page or app UI elements – to the point where you needed to click several times over, producing unintended actions. Especially true for Office 2013 apps.

        5) Touch keyboard – issues here could most likely be alleviated by ponying up for the upgraded keyboard. Number one problem was the location of the mouse buttons in relationship to the touchpad: It’s difficult to make solid presses (slips off) so clicking and dragging becomes a rather frustrating cat & mouse game.

        6) Display flickering: Half the group reported this when swiping the surface left to right. Not known whether this is due to the ambient light sensor or the ambient light conditions.

        7) Only a few of us (me included) knew there was a MicroSD slot for expanding the memory – I was the only one who actually put one in and it was very awkward.

        8) Only half the group reported WiFi drops. I had this occur once and it was before downloading the updates. Don’t know if they’re related or not.

        9) Bizarre proprietary power connector; everyone likes the magnetic connection, but it takes effort to properly seat, and it’s prone to popping out when using device while charging.

        Surface RT Software Issues

        Everyone had their units for about a week, so they put them through their paces, some more than others. Again, in no particular order:

        1) Two versions of IE – why? Most noticed this; it’s an inconsistent experience: From the “Start” screen, it’s crippled; from the “Desktop” it’s more fully-featured. With the caveats that some Flash sites won’t work. Definitely an incongruous experience when it comes to working with Office apps – eg. you want to clip a website into OneNote but, d’oh! You’re using the “Surface” side IE. Gotta cut & paste the URL, go to the desktop, etc.

        2) Can’t work with PDFs out of the box – getting a PDF into OneNote is especially tricky, which a student related. Not a deal-breaker, but a definite annoyance.

        3) Virtual keyboard experience is different depending on which “personality” you’re working with: On “Start”, it’s automagic. On “Desktop”, it’s hide-and-seek, tending to pop up and get in the way.

        4) Poor UI/UEX cues to tell you how to use apps and OS features – mostly non-existent. This should be a friendly experience to woo new customers and wow the disillusioned veterans.

        5) Everyone had issues with the email app. It works, that’s not the point. It’s how it works. For example, rotate the Surface and try using it in portrait mode. It’s puzzling that you can get a better experience with Hotmail/Live and OWA – this seemed like an easy win.

        6) Everyone understood the lack of apps in the store and the quality: It’s early days.

        7) No AD integration – yes, it’s been touted ahead of launch, but it’s still bizarre. It makes the Surface RT the ugly red-headed stepchild of devices.

        8) No SkyDrive integration from the Desktop as you can with Win7; given that you need to spend time on the Desktop working with Office Files, it’s odd to force the user to go to the Start screen to manage their files.

        9) The rationale for the Desktop and Windows Explorer was questioned openly, given you can’t use the Share charm on files nor move them easily into SkyDrive.

        10) Even with the updates, the Office Apps performed sluggishly. I was the only one informed enough to point out that the Office and Surface teams were segregated until the last irresponsible moment, hence the discontinuity and the patch barely getting out in time.

        11) Two of us noted how Surface RT feels like the modern version of Windows 95 – bolted on-top and not well-integrated. No one disputes how nice it looks and how much they wanted to use it – just the fit & finish.

        These are the ones I can recall being most top of mind for everyone.

        Do note: Everyone was, by their admission, Microsoft users and very pro on the Surface RT. Everyone agreed that they could probably have overlooked a lot of the issues if it were priced lower. Those of us who had XBox 360s really liked the integration story there and how well it was executed. Each of us had different play/work profiles, that we wanted to use the device for, yet universal disappointment.

        In short, it was a well-informed/rounded group of people that should have been easy soft lobs to buy and enjoy this device.

        You might take issue with the points I’ve raised here, and again try to blame the consumer for “imagining things” or being too fussy or just not agreeing to overlook the cynicism with which it /feels/ it’s been offered.

        I think with just a little more thought & care a lot of these issues could have been avoided and there wouldn’t be a need to have asterisks on the features. Do a few things really well to establish the Microsoft brand on the tablet experience.

        Unfortunately, Surface RT feels compromised in its execution. A lot like the Zune was.

      • ctitanic

        Could you filter your post and show us the hardware issues? Beside the speakers not being loud and some WiFi issues? The rest seems to me issues with UI. Once again, bought RT and W8 expecting to see and use it as it was W7.

        One more thing, MS was not committed to Zune as it’s now with Surface. Just show me a publicity video of MS about Zune ;-)

        Chris, do not buy the PRO, you will be disappointed too. You better go with something still running W7, Android which is a copy of the iOS UI, or better wait for a year when the Windows Store will have 1000s of Apps there and every single software issue has been patched. This is my honest advise to you after reading all your comments.

      • Chris R. Chapman (@DerailleurAgile)

        I hear your cautions and I’m considering just upgrading to a Win8 laptop vs. the Pro given the higher pricepoint which will be beyond an iPad4. I appreciate everything you’re saying.

        But I do still forcefully argue that the overall experience is very much in-line with the author’s – split and not well integrated. It could be argued this is a “feature” – but it really shouldn’t be.

        Hardware in a nutshell: Poor rear-facing camera/picture quality, irrelevant digital compass, no GPS, bad pointer tracking from touching the screen, mouse on Touch keyboard poorly positioned/too small; awkward MicroSD slot that’s almost invisible; laggy feel of app performance, esp. w. Office 2013 even w. updates. Forgot one other: Odd aiming angle of the front camera leading to rather “dramatic” shots when using the kickstand – when in frame.

        I can’t agree with the notion of “buying RT and Win8″ and wrongly expecting it to work as Win7. None of us went in thinking this was a Win7 laptop replacement, but we did go in expecting the integration and fit & finish story to be better because our expectations had been set by Microsoft’s own publicity, leaks and advance media stories. Bad on us for not being more skeptical.

        More to the point, however, was Ballmer’s own comments: “This is the tablet consumers want.” He’s absolutely right on the money with the expectations: We want a scaled-down, Microsoft laptop that unifies our investments and gives us the solid experience that’s been advanced by Win7 and XBox360 and XBox Live and SkyDrive and O365. We wanted a fun competitor to iPad that wasn’t a clone, but something that stood up well nonetheless, especially for the price.

        We’re just not getting that with this device, and it seems like the Pro will only hit part of this mark. I’m not alone here – there’s a growing discontent that can’t be explained away. And as an old adage goes, when you’re explaining, you’re losing.

      • Chris R. Chapman (@DerailleurAgile)

        Re: GPS is used for more than just navigation – geo-location of photos is a good example, so is proximity sharing of data. But, let’s agree here: Why include a digital compass, then?

        Re: Cameras – We all questioned the REAR camera, not the FRONT. Agreed that you don’t need high res for Skype chats. Taking photos off the back, well – if you’re going to phone it in with 1MP, why bother? Save the money, cut it out.

        Re: 3G Not a big thing for many of us as we either use the WiFi or have hotspots. Getting yet another dataplan wasn’t interesting to anyone, especially because we have some of the highest cellular rates in the world here in Canada, and we tend to lag behind in decent coverage beyond metropolitan centres.

        Re: Market research: Disagree. Compromises are always a reality with bringing a device to market – I and others get this. That said, it /feels/ like Microsoft was convincing themselves and not their market that this was a good balance. In retrospect, the downplaying of RT as an iPad competitor should have been a clue. And again, disappointing that the integration story wasn’t as complete as it could have been,

      • ctitanic

        No GPS, could you give me any statistics of how many users use their iPad as navigation device? The fact is that it’s to big for that use and the screen performs poorly under sun. So why to include one knowing all that.

        More MB in both cameras. For Skype few MB are ok. I have seen very few cases of people using the iPad as video camera. It’s too big, again only practical indoor, poor zoon, no enough space on it for long videos. Tablets are not video cameras, period. So why waste more money putting a high MB cameras on them.

        Thanks god you did not mention the lack of 3G.

        Microsoft simply has included in Surface what’s really needed and really used in Tablets. They did a good market research this time.

      • ctitanic

        Chris, the rest of your hardware issues are in fact issues of taste. I like the fact that the MicroSD card is so hidden. I use it as an HDD extension and removing it accidentally could result in unpredictable consequences. The same applies to the mouse in the touch keyboard. The fact that you do not like the design does not means that those are hardware issues.

        The other issues mentioned, like the Office’s, those are software issues that could be resolved.

      • Chris R. Chapman (@DerailleurAgile)

        Re: Taste vs. “Real” issues. Again, poor strategy to blame the customers – I and others have observed these as issues that affect the usability of the device. They aren’t invalidated by your disagreement or indeed anyone else’s. When you do usability testing, you pay especially close attention to these things.

        Certainly the staff at the Microsoft Store were *very* interested in sitting down with us and getting our feedback – they were primed for it and were really patient. That was the most stellar customer experience I’ve ever had returning a product! I felt validated as a customer, which keeps me loyal.

        Re: MicroSD – Hiding the slot to the point where it’s invisible and requires Google searches to find is poor UEX. It could have been remedied with a simple embossed highlighted dot or arrow and moving it down from the kickstand hinge so many different finger types could use it.

      • ctitanic

        The compass comes from the same chips used for geolocation using the WiFi, etc. But GPS you only gets it including the 3G chip. So one thing you got it for free, the other you need to add more stuff to get it. About the back camera I agree, they added because the iPad has it. It should have been eliminated.

        About your comments about the market research, again I think that’s a matter of taste. I believe that they did a good job.

        BTW, Microsoft employees have been instructed to hear any type of complains and do not try to convince anyone of being wrong. Those are marketing rules. The last thing you need is a confrontation in a store.

        There is not point in continuing this discussion. I just hope that take my advise and stay away from Surface, no matter what version at least until some new patches are released and the Apps number reached few 100000s.

      • Chris R. Chapman (@DerailleurAgile)

        I agree; no ill will here: I appreciate the rigour with which you’ve tested my assertions, especially given we don’t know each other from Adam, nor who we know or what we’ve done in our professional careers.


      • ctitanic

        I’ll read everything you have wrote with the biggest attention, even when I disagree with what you are saying, and will defend your right to say it ;-)

        Offending or diminishing anyone is not a tactic that I ever use. I take your opinion seriously and I respect it. My objective is to help no anything else.


  13. Bill

    I cannot for the life of me figure out how to email an attachment from Surface RT. Is it even possible? The biggest draw for me is the ability to work with MS Office apps, but if there is no way to email a word document that I edited to a colleague, it is a non-starter. Am I missing something? When I try to “Share” an office document via email I am given an error message saying there is no “Mail” app configured. What’s up with that? I can live without Outlook, but not being able to attach a document is laughable. Please tell me I am missing something here.

  14. Bill

    Nevermind, I figured it out. Sorry for the rant. ;) Just need to get used to the new ways of doing things. You can attach documents by swiping from the bottom when composing an email and selecting “Attachments”. Seems so obvious now. My bad.

  15. drrjv

    I can’t stand this thing! I’m sending my Surface RT back to Microsoft – just got an RMA

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