Surface Tension

Much to the disgust of my Apple fanboi friends, I have swapped my iPad for Microsoft’s latest relevance salvage operation, the Surface RT.

I recently attempted a month of international travel with no laptop, using the iPad as my only computing device. It was an exercise in futility and frustration. The iPad is fantastic at the things it is fantastic at and simply woeful for any task that does not fit within the functional design of the applications, or the Jobsian workflow governed by iOS itself.

Working within the administration interface of various Content Management Systems was fiddly if it was functional at all. Moving files between applications is often not possible. Sometimes you can share links without copying and pasting though. Writing was great if I didn’t want to do anything too sophisticated with the text once I was finished.

Yes, iPologists will scream that it’s a consumption device, my complaints are invalid because I’m using the iPad outside of the purpose it was supposedly designed for. As much as Apple try to control every aspect of their users behaviour and experience, ever since its release users have utilised the iPad for tasks beyond reading magazines and watching videos, and a lot of companies have made a lot of money – some of it mine – selling apps designed to work around the limitations of iOS.

My work necessitates a file system. Attempts to work around this with Filer, Dropbox and several other applications were frustrating at the best of times, and more often futile.

When the Surface was released I was curious, and optimistic that it may address my issues with the iPad, so a month ago I bought a used one, expecting I’d want to sell it again shortly thereafter.

The Surface lacks polish in places compared to Cupertino’s finest, though it’s certainly no use-the-marketplace-to-beta-test Android device. It is a useful blend of laptop and tablet. It weighs the same as the iPad, but because the excellent touch cover keyboard suffices, I do not need the keyboard case that I housed my iPad in. And more than once I’ve just plugged a full size keyboard into the USB(!) slot. I can have a browser and a document open side by side. Whatever task I’m undertaking, I can switch between tablet and desktop style displays depending on which is the most suitable.

There are a few apps I wouldn’t have made the move to the Surface without. I’m not much of a gamer these days, so the games were not an issue for me. My interest was in work utilities. Dropbox and Google Drive are both good versions, and Skydrive is of course well integrated with Office, which is included in the OS. Plex is terrific, and content looks great on the widescreen Surface. Evernote looks brilliant on the Surface, the tile layout has been beautifully utilised. Press Reader was a must have. Feed Reader is not as good as iOS’s Reeder, but it’s not far off. The share options the make Reeder a standout on iOS are available in the Windows RT Charms bar for every application. Lastpass is good. Instapaper does not have a native app, though as I pay to use Instapaper the third party apps are enough. Facebook does not have a native app, so sharing content to Pages requires the browser. Workable, but not ideal. I’d really like to see that addressed soon. MetroTwit is no Tweetbot, that’s for sure, but it will do for now. A browser that isn’t Internet Explorer would be nice, though it remains to be seen if that will happen.

Having the Surface has enabled me to leave the laptop behind and allowed me to complete tasks I couldn’t with the iPad, but it’s also changed the way I work. I find myself reaching for my phone for some things I would have previously used the iPad for. And this is where I think many reviews make little practical sense. For the vast majority of people, the tablet is not the only device to hand. I’m not using the Surface in isolation, it’s just one of the tools I use to get things done.

I wasn’t comparing the iPad to the Surface, I was comparing my iPhone and iPad to my iPhone and Surface. That led me to conclude that for my needs the iPad is too similar to my iPhone to merit the space in the bag it consumes at the expense of a different device. The Surface works for me because it is different. It does some things worse than the iPad, many things as well or better and several things the iPad couldn’t at all.

But hey if you think I’m being foolish, by all means capitalise on my poor judgment. The .


Photo: methodshop

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