Sunday, December 23, 2012

Surface RT - not making the grade

I got the chance to sit down with a Surface RT for about 30 minutes at the Microsoft Store in Bellevue Square. Below is what I came up with.

Typing on the Surface RT:

Normally I can type about one hundred and fourty words er minute . this keboardwlldefinally tke sgignificant getting ued to. It doesn’t seej totally respondent immediately to my typing but aftr time we cn see tht I end up mak8ng some significant improvements. It is in the slow typing and light taps tht I tend to miss. Specilly things with my little fingers. I’m not entirely that adpting to the new keyboard is something we neceeearily want to train all of our student so to. Though the machine ca still plug intoa USB keyboard. I can probably get much better at using it after significant time working with it. The cover seems strong and durable. It works well as both a cober and keyboard. I do have question about its durability moving into and out of a backpack all the time. Again, this is me starting off with the $600 surface. It doesn’t have full versions of nything. But it coms with word, excel, powerpoint, and one note. It doeswork well and shold connct appropriately to ou system. I’m not sure if onsitestorage would be a fesable option or not. All in all it seems responsive and like a machine that would definitely work.

additionally some of the basic windows commads don't work. The web browser doesn't paste using control-V. differences like this are a major drawback to a ststem like this.

Post experience review composed on a laptop:

  Overall I'm not really that impressed with the Surface RT. It's too similar to a desktop but lacking several of the primary features that I've become use to. Unlike the iPad which is very clearly a separate device, the Surface RT mimics much of what Windows 8 is capable of without being a true windows machine. It fails to operate as a laptop but in offering the limited down version of Windows it becomes too complex for a tablet. It doesn't have the ease of use of apps that are solely designed for a tablet. It doesn't operate intuitively as I feel tablets should.

  When it comes to picking a student device for our school I really feel the Surface RT doesn't make the grade. It has too many options which will end up being confusing for many students. It doesn't really teach people to use Windows to the level that I would consider an individual proficient in OS usage. Unfortunately students would be better with either a real laptop, which could be obtained for the same market price as a new Surface, or an iPad 2, which is available for a couple hundred dollars less.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The future of Tablets: iPad vs Surface

iPad 3
  At my school we've been having a series of discussions about tablets. There's a number of teachers that have already adopted iPads and bring them to meetings instead of their laptop. In truth, it seems like a laptop isn't really a laptop any more. It's simply a desktop that is portable. Generally speaking the need for desktops has essentially vanished. The cost of a laptop and the speed at which it becomes antiquated means that the lack of ability to upgrade such a device is irrelevant. It's easier just to replace it anyway. Fully functional laptops can be found for around $500 to serve most major purposes.
iPad 2
  What really brought on the immediate discussion point was our Superintendent who we felt needs a tablet. It would really meet the majority of his needs. With the recent invent of the Microsoft Surface he thought that it may be worth someone investigating this as a potential answer to the future need for student tablets. I persuaded him that if he was going to get a device to meet his purposes he should pickup an iPad and we should pickup a Surface to test separately if we think this may be the direction to go in. This lead into a discussion of me getting a tablet, and it made the most sense that if someone was going to be testing the viability of tablets, it should probably be me.
  I'll admit that I was a little disappointed that this meant that I'd be diving into a Microsoft product instead of an Apple product. Generally speaking the price point of Apple products have been the major deterrent for me engaging with them on a personal level. MacBooks tend to run around $1000 while fully functional PCs laptops are half that. However, when it comes to tablets, a refurbished iPad 2 runs $319, new at $399. The iPad 3 and the Surface run approximately the same price somewhere around the $700 range. When it comes to having a simple device that works well, that has always been Apple's strong point. It is when trying to get powerful performance and flexibility that Apples have lacked.

Surface RT

  So I started to look into the Surface. The current Surface RT proved quite an interesting device. It contains a pared down version of Windows 8 and comes default with a the basic version of Office which includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. This deals with one of the biggest struggles of mobile devices, having the common programs that people are used to using. The iPad charges $10 each for their equivalent versions iWorks programs Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. Not that the $30 couldn't just be rolled into the machine, but the idea that to get true functionality out of the device I need to buy a couple of basic programs that Microsoft is giving me for free is just somewhat annoying.
Surface RT
  The most interesting thing about the Surface was how much it was working towards looking like a PC that was also a tablet, rather than being a totally separate device. This appears as progress as our discussions drift to the eventuality of a single device (think smart phone) that can operate as an entire computer. All you need to do is plug it into a monitor, keyboard, and projector. While the Surface RT doesn't totally realize that dream it is a step forward. However, what Microsoft has for the future definitely gets closer.

Surface Pro

  In January Microsoft is releasing the Surface Pro which, unlike the name suggests, isn't really just an upgraded version of the Surface RT. The Pro will come with a full version of Windows 8. That doesn't sound very impressive until you start to delve into it a bit. A full version of Windows 8 makes this less of a tablet and more of a full laptop as far as functionality goes. It doesn't have a mobile processor, it's got a full Intel chip. Perhaps the most important feature of the whole show is also the simplest. It's got a USB port.
  The combination of a 3.0 USB port and a full version of Windows 8 is what really makes this device shine for me. A single USB port is enough to plug into a Targus Docking Station. This means a Surface Pro is the tablet when I'm traveling, and a computer when I'm at my desk. The idea of this is very intreaguing. It reminds me of a home inspector that I hired at one point that had a laptop with a screen he could flip around into a touch style device. His was a 5 lb laptop; this is a 2 lb tablet. The touch laptops of old never really did it for anyone because they weren't ergonomically designed tablets. The ability to easily plug into a station through a USB plug means for teachers they could move from their desk with the device quickly and easily. They've still got a functioning tablet for meetings and roaming, and it's a single plug to reconnect to the projector and keyboard. This might work.
  There is a few odd things with the Surface Pro. First off, while the RT comes with the limited version of office similar to Office Home or Student versions, the Pro doesn't ship with office installed. This isn't a big deal for me personally because my district has licensees, but it is odd. Second you're looking at a 64gb internal solid state drive. I like solid state, but 64gb concerns me for a laptop. By the time windows, office, and a few other basic software things are installed it doesn't have much room for media. Also the $899 doesn't come with the keyboard which I think will be a vital piece of the puzzle as it works as both a screen cover and keyboard. That means you're really looking at $1K to get started. Plus you'd need a dock, and another keyboard and monitor and -- crap. That's a lot of money.

Teaching Stations

  When I start looking at the whole package of what it'd take to set up a teaching station for each teacher with a Surface Pro the price gets out of hand really quick. I just ordered 2 Lenovo laptops (L430s) with docking station and carrying case for $710 each. That gives me enough extra coin compared to the $1200 (with dock) of the pro to pickup an iPad 2 (Refurbished for $319 from and a couple of accessories. Because the L430 is a real laptop I don't need a separate keyboard. and monitor and such, though I'd probably use them anyway. It's got a full 320gb storage, dvd drive, and all the necessary hookups already on it. It's a tough sell to get it all in one for more than I'm paying for it separate.
  While the idea of an all in one I'm not sure if the price tag is worth it, yet. I feel that eventually we'll be looking at tablets replacing laptops and using a good dock as a working station. Laptops have already basically replaced desktops in most light business applications, and if they haven't it is simply because people haven't bought one in the past three or four years. I'm curious to see how Apple responds to this. For the first time we see Microsoft taking a step ahead and making the OS on a new device better than the competitions. Apple needs to respond with a full iOS version of an iPad.

The Future

  What I'm hoping to see in the future is the combination of all of these things into a cell phone that you can plug into your tablet, or into your computing docking station. Solid state drives are becoming more powerful and will eventually replace moving parts drives altogether. Eventually we'll just be carrying around the very core of what we need with us and just need to plug it into the format we want to work.
  As it is I'm very curious to get my hands on a Surface Pro to see if it really lives up to expectations. While it might not be the answer today, it is a first generation machine. In two years, we should expect to see major changes in the tablet arena. The iPad 2 is still a fully viable tablet at under $400 and it is only a year and a half old. The Surface Pro might find some similar drift towards affordability on a mass deployment level. I could see paying an additional $100 or $200 to get a tablet over a laptop, but for now the additional cost of a new iPad 3 over the laptop equivalent is a bit high out of pocket for a really good idea.