My Surface 2

  1. What happened to the first generation of Surface?
  2. When pundits are not.
  3. Why Windows RT?
  4. How many “apps” do you need?
  5. My Surface 2
  6. Is the Microsoft Surface 2 right for you?
  7. Tips
  8. Addendum (January 2014)

Published November 27, 2013.

Perhaps what’s most telling about the differences in my experience with the Surface versus those pundits who claimed to be oh-so-terribly-confused is that when I saw the specifications and some user demos on Youtube, I knew exactly what it was: My device. I had been waiting for this, I kid you not, for about ten years.


First of all, it seems Microsoft learned from their previous marketing failure and went with a far more practical approach in advertising:
Surface 2 (official ad)

Life with Surface (use case interviews)

I require Microsoft Office. Actually, most of my use in Office right now isn’t for work but hobbies. I write a lot, make use of TOC/footnotes/Track Changes with split screen, and keep various information and data sorted in Excel. I’ve moved from Gmail to Outlook. I’m simply familiar with the suite. I read up on Windows RT, knew it was like iOS/Android in the “walled garden” sense, and had no problem with that. Really, I don’t need much else in a companion device because I have a Windows 7 desktop for everything else (unfortunately a home version so I can’t use the Surface’s Remote Desktop feature, bummer, though I do know about Splashtop/Teamviewer). I have my own media collection to use in tablet mode, easily transferred by SkyDrive or USB key, and I installed an ebook reader and some app games for airport/plane rides when I don’t feel like trying to “get stuff done.”

I’m also a minimalist. I only travel by plane four times a year, but I avoid checking in baggage due to fees and go with just a small duffel-type bag and backpack for a week-long trip; I would never lug around both a Kindle/Nook/iPad tablet and a laptop. I’m all about the “ultra” in “ultraportable.” This explains why I’ve been one of the very few people in the U.S. to have been invested in the subnotebook market since 2000-ish, where sub-11-inch screens have always been the norm. Netbooks were cheaply built and weren’t powerful enough, and later Intel-brand ultrabooks aren’t small enough–the latter are “thin and light” by my standards. Yes, a 13-inch screen is a very big difference in terms of viewable real estate, but it’s also a very big difference in terms of mobility. Being merely thin isn’t the same as being compact and easily shoved into a number of different bag sizes.

But far more often than plane travel, I like hiding my tablet in my small “sundries” backpack, sneaking to the back of a Barnes & Noble or coffee shop at the mall when friends/family want to go shopping, popping out my Surface, and spending an hour checking email and typing an article like this. Then I realize I have only five minutes left before I’m supposed to meet people, so I snap close my Surface keyboard and kickstand and shove it into my backpack, pick up and close all the zippers in a smooth motion taking all of three seconds. No lengthy setup, break-down, shut-down, packing up. It’s really that simple. Sure, you can do that with consumption tablets, but good luck having instant device use with a lengthy Word document.

At home, I will do some writing away from my desktop and then rip off the Type cover, snap the kickstand out to the wider angle, and start playing Angry Birds or sudoku or whatever. I’ll also be naughty sometimes and have Youtube streaming from IE while snapped next to Word, but don’t tell anyone.

I have a ton of USB thumb drives lying around and they can all be used on my Surface with ease. Same with microSD cards. SkyDrive is pretty convenient, though I always have this lingering doubt about cloud storage (hello, Adobe cloud hackage).

So why Windows RT? I don’t mind the walled-garden approach on my mobile devices. I have an HTC One S phone and am fine with Android. But my Surface is strictly a companion device; the low-maintenance nature of my Surface is a big bonus to me, as I’m not tempted to install a bunch of my desktop software and tweaking for further performance or worrying about various compatibility issues or how any antivirus will bog down performance and battery life (because I feel if you don’t install a bunch of things on a regular Windows machine, you’re not really using it properly anyway).

The inclusion of Office 2013 and expected long battery life in a 1.5 lb form factor (2 lb with Type keyboard) were the biggest reasons for me to buy a Surface, along with the fact that it’s a sexy build. I will always favor a metal and glass construction, having handled plastic tablets. I have no regrets after buying the Surface RT and then reselling it to upgrade to a Surface 2. In my personal battery tests in the first week of owning a Surface 2, I got over 8 hours of constant Youtube streaming and then over 13 hours of local video looping in airplane mode (both at 35% brightness).

I was leery at first of using my Microsoft Account to login, but I decided not to pass up device encryption. Also, considering the apps/Win8 settings are backed up online, as long as I remember to backup personal data, merely upgrading to another Surface or Windows RT/8 device is very seamless when using my Microsoft Account. Contrast that to any new regular Windows device, where you go through all the motions of tweaking, installing an AV/firewall (regular Windows viruses will never run on a Windows RT device since the viruses would have to be recompiled to execute on ARM architecture), checking drivers, installing all your wanted software, making another disk image for backup purposes, and so on. Desktops are generally a bit easier to upgrade since you can go piecemeal with specific hardware components like the graphics card and deal with only driver updating, but multiple full systems with different hardware specs are a pain in the ass. I really don’t worry about that with my Surface.

The only thing I wish I could do with my Surface is install Opera, but I’ve adapted to IE10/11 and only bookmark specific websites I regularly need. If you do need to sync favorites from other browsers, you can use a third party app service like Xmarks (disclaimer: never used it). Ad-blocking? That actually does exist for IE on Surface and works fairly well (Tracking Protection Lists, see Tips section).

I really love the grab-n-go, ultralight, hybrid nature of my Surface plus Type keyboard, which is a complete package for my use case.

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