It was a sad day at the Mall of America today. I decided to return my Surface after 12 days of use. I spoke pretty highly of the Surface hours after buying it (and even listed quite a few reasons why I had to have the device) however after having the device for a little while there were some things I just couldn’t look past.
First things, first – the Surface is a great device. The hardware is of great quality, light, and you get great battery life. It was nice leaving my charger at home in the morning and not worrying about charging it. It was especially nice because the plug is a proprietary plug and there is almost no chance of borrowing one if you forget it. Part of the reason I give it negative marks overall.
The Touch Cover keyboard is actually pretty nice. It takes some getting use to but I feel like you build confidence as you go. I have this ramp up almost every time I go to work and back home since I use an ergonomic keyboard at home and either the laptop keyboard or a USB keyboard at work. Also the cover aspect of the keyboard is great too, though I had many iPad users point out that it was not magnetic and it would not stay closed. I’m sure how much utility that really has since the Touch Cover is one flat sturdy piece of whatever it is and stays closed just fine when I hold it. I think since the iPad covers fold up it makes more sense for it to be magnetized.
Anyway. So, if I like the hardware so much, why did I return it? Windows 8 itself is great. It gives me the flexibility to use Windows in the traditional way as well as offer me a way to drive it using touch. Windows 8 is fast, responsive, stable, and a joy to use. I have used it for some time (ever since the Developer Preview) on my main PC and continue to do so out of choice. I could always go back to Windows 7 but I like Windows 8 too much.
If I like the Surface hardware and I like Windows 8, why did I return the Surface?
Simply put Windows RT isn’t ready for prime time. Remember, Windows RT is not Windows 8. It is a “lite” version of Windows and while it looks like Windows 8 and feels like Windows 8, it is not Windows 8. Windows RT allows you to do pretty much everything you can do in Windows 8 except install your own software. You can only install applications from the Windows Store. I was OK with this when I first bought my Surface, but shortly after I realized that something was missing. Actually a lot of things missing. The app selection now pretty much sucks. I know it is a new platform but to limit the installation of all my familiar (x86) software and then give me an app store with only 5,000 apps was discouraging. I have a Hyper-v server and I can connect to virtual PCs, so this didn’t bother me that much in the beginning.
Confused yet? I say I love the hardware, love Windows 8, I can deal with the limited amount of apps so then why did I return it? Good question. Here are the reasons, in no particular order:
Windows RT is buggy
My network card would randomly disappear and it would never connect to my Wireless N 5 GHz at home on the first try after coming out of sleep. Meanwhile my other 5 devices connect just fine. Other examples of it being buggy range from some websites saying Flash was not detected or needed to be upgraded (even though Microsoft includes its version of Flash in Windows 8), to the Windows Store not being responsive, to the Xbox Music app is nowhere to be found. After the last app update it disappeared, could not be found on the Start screen, not on all Apps, and worst yet when I went to the Windows Store to try to install it, it said I already owned the app and gave me no way to reinstall it. Even a PC refresh didn’t fix it. Only resetting my Surface back to factory default fixed it. Microsoft needs a way to reinstall apps even if they are installed for this particular reason.
Not enough space
It comes with a 32 GB hard drive but you really only get about 15 GB after you count all the space Windows and the restore partitions take. This is still a decent amount of space for docs, but after I sync 5 of my OneNote notebooks, sync my 4 emails accounts, and install a handful of apps I only end up with about 9 GB of space left.
Not enterprise ready
Yes I know these are personal devices, however Android and Apple devices have the ability to side load line of business applications that their company develops and Windows RT (and even Windows Phone) cannot without using Intune. Intune is Microsoft’s cloud based device management system and without this you cannot install LOB applications on your Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 devices. This is a real kicker for those enterprises who already have SCCM 2012 and Exchange. Asking enterprises to introduce one more system into their environment can be just enough for them to make a recommendation against these devices. Licensing also plays a part. Right now it is said that Microsoft may offer licenses for a reduced cost for current SCCM customers however this is not etched in stone yet. I don’t think that most enterprises are going to buy licenses for employee purchased devices. There was some controversy about licensing with Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013 RT for commercial use but Microsoft confirmed that if you buy Office 2013 Professional that license covers Office RT as well.
I know that these are machines that are built for battery life but the performance of the OS is not the greatest. Launching apps (Windows Store and desktop) seemed to take a while to open, some games took a lot longer to open than I am willing to wait, and some games had very poor frame rates too. I feel like most of this will be addresses in updates and patches in the following months but I feel like this should have been ready at launch. Let’s hope Microsoft puts more time into optimizing the OS and drivers.
I knew when buying a Surface that there were only 5,000 apps and I thought that with the combination of remote desktop and my virtual machines at home I could carry out any task I needed to, and I pretty much can. However, it is the combination of not being able to install x86 software and the limited choice of apps in the app store that make the experience sub par. Take for instance SSH. I use PuTTY to connect to a few of my Linux servers to do administrative tasks. This is as simple as just downloading and running an executable on traditional Windows however I can’t because Surface is ARM based. So I searched the app store for an SSH app and… nothing. So now, just to do a simple task I have to connect to VPN, then remote into a virtual machine, then launch SSH and go from there. This example is repeated many times over while the Windows Store is in its infancy. I understand that once the app selection grows this will not be an issue, however these are things I need to do now.
The Surface is a great piece of hardware and overall the experience is OK but I don’t think that this makes up for many of the things that are missing or wrong with Windows RT. I really did give it a fair shot but after having it for almost 2 weeks I can’t say that I recommend these devices for geeks like me. I want more disk space, I want a dual core Intel processor, I want a higher screen resolution, I want more RAM, I want to be able to install line of business apps when my company offers them, and I just want the flexibility of a PC. That was probably one of the biggest things that I learned through this whole experience, is that I want the ability to install and configure anything I want. Yes I will probably never design and write an entire application on my tablet, but I want the flexibility to install Visual Studio for when I need to edit a few lines of code or even for debugging. The same with Photoshop, OpenVPN, Firefox, Chrome, Outlook, and any other piece of software I use on a daily basis. I don’t want to connect to my Virtual PC at home each time I need to do the simplest task and there are times where I don’t have connectivity at all (like now, sitting in the airport.) I start to question whether Windows RT is even worth the trouble for Microsoft. Intel’s new Clover Trail Atom processor is starting to show up in Windows 8 devices and they seem to be just as efficient as ARM processors however it is an x86 processor which makes essentially makes it compatible with all the software you install on Windows 7. After taking all of this into consideration, I packed it up and returned it to the Microsoft store and said so long Surface… I’ll see you when you are a little older, a little bigger, a little heavier, and a little more “Pro”.