After much waiting, Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablet/notebook hybrid arrived on Australian store shelves this month. And after much saving, I was able to pick one up and finally join the Windows 8 brigade.
The first thing that surprised me is how little comes in the box. It is literally the tablet, a power supply and a stylus and the tiniest instruction book ever. For people used to custom PCs, the extreme lack of useless boxes, cables and paperwork is surprising. It is definitely an Apple thing here and honestly it is not a bad idea.
On turning the tablet on, it goes through an initialization process. If you haven’t got an Outlook/Hotmail account it might be wise to do this first as Windows 8 is closely tied to those accounts and it certainly seems to speed up the install process.
When all that is done, you’ll be prompted to log in and will be presented with Windows 8’s start screen. And it is a great introduction as that screen is excellent. You can certainly see the difference against the RT version (1080p versus 720p). It isn’t pushing the technology envelope but for the screen size it is perfectly adequate and easy on the eye.
After admiring the screen the next thing you’ll notice is the weight. Maybe it’s similar to an iPad 1/2 but I think it feels bulky because so much is packed into a smaller package. Its a necessary evil but does impact portability.
Another one of the necessary evils is the battery life. Certainly not anywhere near the RT (only 4 hours) but then you can’t play Torchlight on an RT either. Comparable devices with better battery life are running Atom processors where the Surface Pro packs a Core i5. Later this year with Intel’s new architecture around the corner we are sure to see better battery versus power but for the time being this machine sits nicely at the top of the pile.
Powering all of this is of course Microsoft’s latest and greatest version of Windows. While there is certainly a lot there for touch friendly users and even desktop fiends, it still seems very much like a work in progress. For example, the behaviour of start screen tiles is a little different to how they operate on Windows Phone; an inconsistency I find baffling since WP has been on the market longer than Windows 8. Also, while the Windows desktop works well enough on the 10 inch screen, the default settings for this mode should have been more optimized for the size and input methods. Jumping between desktop and Metro/Modern can be jarring too; some effort to aid with the transition may have been handy.
As part of the package, the Surface Pro includes a Wacom stylus. It’s a cool addition and makes using the desktop mode a little easier but the big problem right now is there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot that really use it well in the Windows Store. Why Fresh Paint, an app built by Microsoft, doesn’t use it well is strange.
Of course people will say that it is the apps that matter and they are of course right. Having access to the entire legacy Windows catalogue certainly helps but where the action needs to be is in the new Windows app store. There is a lot available already but you get the impression that you are still going to fall back to desktop apps as it isn’t easy right now to pore through anything but the first 100 apps in any category.
Overall, this is a great product that right now is more limited by the software than any aspects of its hardware. However with the impending Windows 8.1 update, there is a good chance for us to soon see this product in a much brighter light.