Surface 2 RT - A Great Device for Mobile Work and Pleasure
By Todd Ziesing, Terrace Software, Inc., San Francisco, Ca.
I work primarily in an office with a terrific desktop PC running Windows 7. I also travel to meet with clients, attend conferences and for pleasure. I never liked the laptop for travel and always felt like it was too big and provided much more than was necessary for my needs. Enter the Microsoft Surface line of devices.
I ran out and bought a Microsoft Surface 1 (running RT) when it was first released. I used it for a few days and then returned it. The first version of Windows 8 was not fully baked. I really liked the Surface Concept but Microsoft missed several critical things in the first release. I was very disappointed.
Surface 2 was announced and - guess what - I bought one as well (the RT version again with the Type Cover, a Flex Mouse and a 64GB microSD card). This time I waited a few months to read a few reviews and see how the market responded. This latest Surface ran Windows 8.1 Update which fixed some of the omissions and confusion launched in Windows 8. Additionally, this Surface added a faster processor, a better kickstand, and longer battery life.
I was hesitant to jump in given my previous experience. So, slowly I started using the device. We had a few trips planned (some personal and some business) and I hoped that I could leave everything home and just live off the Surface 2 RT. My first activities focused on the core stuff: email, file sharing / storage, Internet, banking, eCommerce, social networking and some entertainment. When I started with the Surface 2 I told myself just live with what Microsoft and the Marketplace has provided and see how it goes. I’m not normally patient so this was a bit of a reach for me - but I stuck to the program.
I got the Surface 2 setup at home with everything I thought I would need to travel successfully. It took a few days for me to feel like I had the core bases covered. This occurred about 3 weeks before my first trip. We were headed overseas for a couple of weeks. I decided just a few days before our departure to take the plunge and travel with the Surface 2 RT, Type Cover and Flex Mouse. I will note that I installed Microsoft Office for RT (runs in the Desktop area only) and I installed some core Metro Apps (OneNote, OneDrive, Yammer, Twitter, Wikipedia, NY Times, FlipBoard, Reuters, TechCrunch, Amazon, eBay, Open Table, Kayak, Flixster, Craig’s List, YouTube, Netflix, Kindle, Solitaire, Backgammon, Chess, etc.). It didn’t take me long to set everything up initially. Each of these Apps are core to my connected existence (sad huh?). I use all of them on all my devices (an Office PC, a home PC, a home iPad, an Android Smart Phone [Moto X] and on the Surface 2). So, passing this test was critical to adopting the device. There are fewer Apps for Windows RT (which is unfortunate) but there are enough for my simple life.
Surface 2 RT does include a number of well thought out core apps. The Metro apps for Email, Calendar and Contacts work fine. I would not say they are the best but they are definitely in the top 10% of this segment for touch devices. The integration with Office is very good. We use Office 365 and OneDrive at work and all that is just about perfect. I do use OneNote a lot. I use it on the Surface 2, on my desktop PC, on my Android smart phone and on our home iPad. Terrific little app and ecosystem. The Surface 2 also comes with apps for mapping, news, finance, sports, etc. using the Bing core services. There is a very capable camera with the device along with an adequate picture(s) manager. Serious photo people will probably download some third party apps to fill this capability out. For movies and TV there is a solid video app as well. If you are an Xbox user the Surface 2 offers a killer set of apps and cross platform functionality for gaming, movies, TV and entertainment.
On the Surface 2 I did experiment with the overall O/S Settings - particularly Allow Switching and Corners and Edges settings. After going back and forth I finally settled on deactivating the App Switching and just running the Surface 2 like my Smart Phone. There is a comfort for me in using mobile devices in a more ‘modal’ fashion and using office workplace devices in a more ‘modeless’ fashion (i.e. multiple Windows operating with simultaneous task work). For the mobile device ‘modal’ is where I feel most comfortable (perhaps because of the touch centric nature of the device) but I still try changing those settings now and then.
So, at this point I have owned my Surface 2 for several months and I have traveled with it three times for both pleasure and work. It did take some time for me to adjust to the peculiarities of Windows 8.1 Update and to the compact nature of the Type Cover / Surface 2 screen. And, it took me some time to adjust my activities for the software on the device in terms of how I work. But after a few weeks I can honestly say that I like this little machine a lot. I’m not sure how to classify it: is it a tablet with a keyboard, is it a small laptop with touch, or is it something else. I think it’s just a great work / mobile / travel device. I love the size, weight, build quality and battery life. I love the Flex Mouse when I need an external pointing device (which is not often). I also have grown to appreciate what Microsoft is trying to do with Windows 8.1. It has many rich operational features that help make repetitive actions on core tasks simple and fast (boy was that a surprise).
Surface 2 RT provides kind of a unique form factor. Alone it is a very capable touch tablet. With the Keyboard snapped in it can be used like a mini laptop. The combined keyboard/tablet configuration can be quickly shifted to a pure tablet form factor simply by swinging the Type Cover around the unit. So, it’s pretty versatile adapting to the situation / need. Another thing I like about the Surface is that the Apps and Browser can be operated through keystrokes with the Type Cover. Home, End, PgUp, PgDn, BackSpace all work well in all the apps. And traditional Windows commands like CTRL-A (select all), CTRL-C (copy), CTRL-V (paste) all work as well. Quite cool actually once you teach yourself how to use the device.
I don’t think the Surface 2 RT is a Laptop replacement like the Surface Pro 3. I don’t think that was ever the design goal. I think Surface 2 RT is designed to be an inexpensive work / travel device for a mobile worker who needs to keep up with some core activities (work and personal) while on the road.
I do think the pricing of the Surface 2 is a little on the high side (probably about 15% more than a perfect price point) but I can swallow that without regret because Surface 2 does what I want well. One nice change would be for Microsoft to just include the Type Cover with the unit since it’s really a critical component or a fulfilling experience.
Notably, I don’t miss my Laptop when traveling. I can get work done while traveling, I have a light device to take to meetings and I have an easy to use ‘end of day’ device back at the hotel to follow up and set up my next day’s activities. [BTW – this BLOG post was composed on my Surface 2 during a recent business trip]
The Surface 2 RT has received some mixed reviews. I think that is because it is not comparable to other classic tablet devices (i.e. it’s not Apples to Apples - forgive the wording). I think the inconsistent reviews may also be rooted in questions about the Windows 8.1 RT O/S: Will Microsoft stay with this for the long term? One indicator: watch for a Metro release of Office for Windows RT.
I would encourage any curious buyers to take a second look at Surface 2 RT and align your evaluation of the device to the functionality of the device for travel - both business and pleasure. The lack of a deep App marketplace is a definite drawback. For me I can get by because I use it as a Core Travel Work device and because the browser is quite capable allowing me to shift some of my App centric activity to the web. But I would enjoy and consume more Apps if / when they become available.
I thought I’d write this little update after using the Surface 2 RT for a while. Like I mentioned earlier this little device grows on you over time. Be patient and keep learning about the operation of this clever mobile device and I bet you may grow to love it too.