In 2004 I switched from Windows to Apple and – apart from flirting with Google’s Chrome operating system – I haven’t seriously looked back since. In the interests of (trying!) not to be too biased the advent of the Microsoft Surface range of tablets offered an opportunity to take another look.
Microsoft have – as usual – muddied their marketing message about what their Surface range of tablets can and can’t do.
Last years models are still on the market – at this point I would recommend to steer clear and go for either the Surface 2 or the Surface Pro 2. If you are intending to buy a Surface it is critical that you clearly understand the difference between these models.
The Surface 2 is, in effect, Microsoft’s answer to the iPad. It is designed on what is called ARM architecture and is really for home or student use. It cannot run traditional Windows applications, only those available from the Windows Store for what they are calling the Modern UI. However what you do get is a copy of Microsoft Office – or at least the basics – Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook. At this stage the licensing for this device really prevents its use in a corporate environment – although if Microsoft have any sense at all this will change. Many corporate staff members only really need Microsoft Office and a web browser and so the Surface 2 would be an excellent choice. It is thin and light with excellent battery life. The screen is 1080p (1920×1080) – so nice and clear. For many users this would be a perfectly adequate device – especially when connected to an external screen, keyboard and mouse.
The next step up is the Surface 2 Pro. This really is a proper – and decent – PC. It runs on the latest Intel Haswell chipset which gives better battery life – expect seven or eight hours for typical use. The Surface 2 Pro is slightly thicker and heavier than its little brother – but the range includes a machine with 8Gb of RAM and a 500Gb solid state drive for storage. That is a pretty powerful machine for any purpose – and it’s a device the size of a tablet! You can also write or draw on the Surface 2 Pro with a included stylus. The Surface 2 Pro has a real digitiser built into the screen – so the writing feel on the device is excellent – and for drawing it has pressure sensitivity which means that you get thicker lines when you press harder – just like a real pencil… Being a ‘proper’ PC means that the Surface 2 Pro WILL run traditional Windows software – such as Adobe Photoshop. However, Microsoft Office is NOT included with this device which, if you subscribe to Office 365, will cost you approximately AU$100 a year extra. Office 365 can be installed on up to five household computers – Mac or PC – and includes an additional 20Gb of SkyDrive online storage. Incidentally – if you buy a Surface 2 Pro you will receive 200Gb of SkyDrive storage for 2 years as a sweetener!
Accessories wise – currently available are Touch Cover 2 and Type Cover 2. Both are keyboard covers for the devices, include a trackpad and are backlit. The Touch Cover 2 is a basically completely flat and is a bit like typing on a iPad screen – but works surprisingly well. The Type Cover 2 is a bit thicker and has keys which actually depress – just like a real keyboard! In the pipeline there is a Power Cover – which won’t be backlit but adds a few hours to battery life – expect it to be a fair bit thicker. Also a docking station, various video connectors, power adaptors and so on. That reminds me. The power brick has an additional USB port on it so you can charge your phone from the same power socket. A small thing – but a nice touch!
I could ramble on for pages about these devices – I think they are really decent and that Microsoft and Windows have come a long way over the last few years. I really appreciate the concept that they are trying to achieve ‘one device’ that will do it all – a desktop for work and a tablet for leisure…