Thinking Rhetorically about Microsoft Surface

Let’s face it. I’m an Apple guy at heart. I’m shoulders deep into the Apple eco-sphere, owning many versions of iPhone, an iPad, and a Macbook Pro. I want another Mac and I’ll probably buy the next version of iPad (if it ships with Touch ID). To anyone who asks me “what kind of smartphone should I buy?”; “iPhone, duh!” are usually the first two words that pop out of my mouth. But recently, I did something even I wasn’t expecting to happen.


Like many shoppers on Black Friday, I picked up one of those things called the Surface RT; that thing most of the internet doesn’t like. The Independent says that the new high-end Surface Pro 2 (a $1000+ tablet, mind you) is “worth your time, but perhaps not your money“. Motley Fool has a piece on why Windows should kill Windows RT, the software that runs on Surface and Surface 2. Fortunately, Simon Bisson over at ZDNet is a bit more optimistic, calling the Surface a “good device, that’s made better with Windows 8.1

Now, I ordered my Surface RT on eBay (thanks to the Microsoft Store being down!) for $169 refurbished. Like many, I would argue that the promotional price of $199 for the Surface NEW is a better buy; but seeing as how Microsoft had prolonged periods of downtime on their online store, I had to go elsewhere. I got my Surface in a timely fashion – arriving Wednesday evening. Let me give the Surface a couple of bonus points here, because unboxing my Surface was actually exciting. The packaging was actually very nice and well-thought out; blue and white make for a surprisingly appealing box.

But unfortunately, that’s where it ends. It takes around a minute or so to boot the Surface, which is respectable given its hardware, but setup is rather mundane unless you already have a Microsoft account. To save time, I just used the existing Xbox Live account I have; and I found myself at the home screen quickly. My device shipped with Windows 8 (not 8.1) – so I was aware of the update waiting for me. However, the System Profiler informed me that I had 38 system updates that needed to be installed. Yes, a whopping 38 updates. On top of that, 15 of the default apps needed updates from the Windows Store. Even though I had 50% of battery capacity, I still needed to let my Surface “be fully charged” in order to apply any of these updates. So, now am I not only waiting a few hours (or overnight most likely) for my device to charge, but I now need to wait many hours just to get my tablet up to speed. If you follow me on Twitter, I joked about how I wished my Surface a “bon voyage!”. Surprisingly, my downloads were quick, but that’s probably because I had to leave my Surface right next to my wireless router. All in all, I would argue that the updates took around 6 hours or so to install. Ironically, it was the Windows 8.1 update that actually installed the fastest – in only around 20-30 minutes despite the 2GB file size. 

Now, the real reason why I’m even writing this piece is because of the experience that Surface RT delivers. On paper, it’s superior to my iPad 3; double the RAM, double the cores (Tegra 3 is a quad-core processor all-in-all unlike the A5X chip which only delivers quad-core graphics). Device connectivity is far, far superior on the Surface, and I really enjoy the mouse support on Surface, which is not found on iPad. Having an almost-full suite of genuine Microsoft Office (the Mac version is laughably bad in comparison to Windows offerings) is simply amazing. But even with all of this, there’s something missing about the Surface. And this thing isn’t exclusive to just the Surface RT – it applies to Windows itself. Simply put:

There just isn’t any…pizzazz. 

There isn’t anything about Surface RT that has that wow factor. Everything about the Surface RT just feels incredibly bleak. Now, don’t mistake this to the iPad, because as I’ve quickly learned, comparing the two tablets is like comparing apples to oranges. They both deliver entirely different experiences. But when I’m using my iPad, I feel as though I actually can have the best of both worlds: The iWork suite is great for writing up quick entries. There’s no shortage of financial tools for iPad, and if you’re willing to shell out the big bucks, lots of enterprise quality software. But more importantly, the iPad is fun. It is an incredibly fun device. The Surface reminds me a lot of an average corporate Joe, who likes working in his office, but never wants anything more from life. When I try to do something that isn’t related to work on my Surface, I just get frustrated. Web browsing is nothing short of an awkward experience, and using more than one app at a time is just plain silly; mostly because these apps don’t scale correctly to take advantage of half the screen. And when that’s one of the major selling points of Surface, you can’t help but wonder what else the Surface is going to make “not fun”.

All of this said, I don’t recommend one device over the other. But, if there’s one thing I have learned from Surface RT, it’s why Microsoft has delayed Office for iOS for such a long time. While the iPad and Surface are two different kings of their own mountain, if you had to place a bet on whether I still own my Surface in a month, the wise man would bet against it.

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