I recently had a birthday and was bought a very generous gift of a MS Surface RT 64GB and I wanted to give my honest opinion of the device, as it would seem so many appear keen just to hate MS and anything and everything they make. I am tired of the smartphone / tablet argument. Everyone has different needs and wants from a device and I would say even if I had not have been given it as a gift, I would have still bought one as it suits my needs. Hopefully anyone reading this may find it useful advice for setting up a surface or consider buying one.
Give it time
I have been setting up and using this tablet for near on 4 days now, I am still getting to learn all of the gestures, what it can do and what it can’t do, throwing media content at it. I didn't have a play with one in a shop as it is so easy to go in play on one for 5 - 10 minutes and make up your mind. "Nope tis ****". I wanted to appreciate the device fully. I don't want to appear biased however, yes there is an ipad in the household and I have used this for some time, and I agree it’s very good but I would say for games, entertainment and internet browsing only. I felt the need for being a bit more productive. For example, anyone remember seeing the adverts for the ipad with the doctor showing a patient an x-ray or the business analyst with his pie charts and spread sheets on the ipad? I don't think I have ever seen this in real life. The most I have seen an ipad being used in the workplace is someone using it to publish corporate tweets on twitter. That's about it. I was an early adopter of the android OS before moving to windows phone and being an early adopter of that, I don't regret it for a moment.
Well, this is simply fantastic. Clean, sharp edges with all the controls and ports in the appropriate place. I understand that MS spent a lot of time calculating the perfect angle for the device to sit on its stand and allow ones face to appear in the middle of the video on a Skype call... USB Port! It has a USB Port, my friend was trying to get me to consider which keyboard cover to get, the touch or the type? I think I will go with the touch as if I wanted to type on a proper keyboard... I will just plug one in... I have plugged most things into this port and it recognises the device and just works. The only thing I am yet to try is a DVD drive, but my research has me to believe that it won’t work. The stand at the back is great for those conscious of scratching the back when you place it flat.
There's an app for that
Yes, there are not as many as the iOS store. Once you accept this fact, you will see that there is still quite a bit of exploring you can do, most apps being free, but of course - the better ones you have to pay for.
It’s taken me a good 2 days to get over the fact that I don't need an app for everything. I was a little disappointed to find no Spotify app or BBC IPlayer app for windows RT yet, until I went to their websites...
Creating short cuts to the Spotify web player and BBC iPlayer, work perfectly fine and can be pinned to the start screen and look like any other app. The same applies to YouTube, there is a massive selection of different YouTube apps on the store, some free and some paid for. I suggest not wasting your money. Just pin the actual website to the start screen. Most of the apps I have found to be poor and playing video back as laggy and sometimes making the whole picture grey. However, playing video through IE10 via the websites is flawless. Save you pennies on buying apps for everything, it doesn't necessarily need it.
Office, this is core to what makes this device productive. I think this is where Microsoft holds a massive part of the market. The ability to continue working on documents that I had on my PC or run business whilst not at my pc is great. The only down side is that Office RT has no support for Visual Basic for Applications or Macros embedded into your documents, this is a little frustrating.
So for now it won’t play MKV files, but that's not a problem converting my existing films form the MKV files to MP4 (Set to 1280x700, 2000Kbps, 24 FPS) and the results look fantastic. The screen on this device is truly brilliant. Blacks seem to merge into sides of the device, making it difficult to work out where on the screen the picture finishes. I also had a look at Plex as a solution for getting content onto the device. I have a Windows Home Server with all of my media content on and running a Plex server for the surface is no problem, video looks great and the app is one of the best I have seen for this device, beautifully crafted. Plex offer a product called Plexpass which at a price allows android and iOS customers to convert and sync video to their device, from what I see yet is that is not a feature or is yet to come to Windows RT. But no problem, just covert the MKV file using conversion software like Handbrake or something else and your good to go with your films.
As you probably guessed at my disappointment of there being no Spotify app yet. I am not about to jump at Microsoft's Xbox music offer of $90 a year to allow me to sync my music library to the cloud and stream what I already own... I am no fan of Xbox music at all, very clunky. Instead to get around the issue of taking my music library with me for free is to store all my music on my server and have it automatically sync my music folder from and to the surface and the server periodically and you have Free Syncing...
Fantastic. You can access your windows machines through file and print sharing and I have successfully remote desktop'd into the other PC's on my network with no issues at all. Remote desk toping the other way around I am still yet to work out. It might be nice if I could be at my pc and remote into the surface (I guess I would have to be pretty lazy to not just go and get it).
Just a note with file and print sharing. For some bizarre reason Microsoft disabled folder sharing from the device. Perhaps for public networks? In short, I don't know why. To enable this "Right Click" on Computer on the desktop and go into Manage > Services and Applications > Services > Server and set this from Disabled to Automatic... and there you go file folder sharing.
From what I read also there are some improvements to come in Windows 8.1. Most interestingly will be the use of the front camera to allow support for gestures - Wave your hand in front of it to turn the page. This sounds handy. I'm not sure it really needs the start button back on the bottom of it, the comeback of the start button will allow a 4th way of getting to the screen if you didn't want to press the key on the keyboard, swipe in from the charm bar or press the touch sensitive button on the device. New tile sizes will be good, I fancied different tiles other than medium or large.
In summary this device isn't one to be over looked and even better with the slashed price tag. Love it!
Edit: Apps that I think are worth adding from the store:
Toolbox – Has all sort of little tools you would expect of the device like timer, a Facebook interface and loads more
Sky News – Looks good for reading the headlines.
Tune in - Internet Radio
Plex – to watch my films from my server
TV catch up – Streaming online TV Live.
Netflix – as stated – good interface
Remote Desktop – You could do this via the Network icon on the desktop but why not via metro…
Bing translator – helpful translator and stores offline languages
Network speed test – looks nice, possibly nicer than Speedtest.net
Metro Commander – A file explorer for metro
Fotor – on the fly picture editing, some good effects
News Bento – A fantastic looking news program that allows you to add your own feeds.
Skitch Touch – a great diagram or annotation software.
One note – yes is available in desktop or metro, but only desktop comes installed.