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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

First Impressions: Windows Surface Tablet

For unrelated reasons, my wife and I were near a Microsoft store today and we took the opportunity to drop by and check out the Windows Surface Tablets. Given my experience with Windows 8 Pro recently I expected to be underwhelmed. Instead we both came away pretty impressed.

The tablets themselves don't look anything special. The kickstands are very nice, but if that was all I wouldn't be impressed. The keyboards, however, are amazing. The thin keyboard is nice enough that you can actually touch-type on them with no errors. It's nothing like typing on a touch-screen. Even without haptic or audible feedback I could type at about half my normal speed, which is still at least 50% faster than a typical touchscreen.

Switch-over to the thicker keyboard, however, and my typing speed went up dramatically, to about 95% of the speed as the Thinkpad X201's. The Thinkpad's got 2 extra inches, so you can see why I'm impressed. This is the first tablet that I would consider as a decent laptop substitute!

While I was unimpressed by Metro on desktop, on the tablet it shines. You can treat it like any other tablet for viewing video, or whatever. But click on Microsoft Word, and the tablet UI fades and you get a windows UI. You can bring up Internet Explorer, and cut and paste to your heart's content as though you were on a laptop. You could watch youtube on half the screen while writing in the other half. A writer could actually get decent work done on this! The machine even has a microSD slot and a full USB slot as well as a display port slot, which means you can actually do laptop-y things with it, like post-process photos from a real digital camera (not the fake stuff that comes on tablets).

The big deficiencies (and these would get me to wait for the Surface Pro) are the lack of applications. Dropbox, for instance, hasn't been ported to Windows RT yet. If you wanted to use Lightroom, Photoshop, or Adobe Premiere Elements, you're out of luck, at least for the foreseeable future. However, all these issues would go away on the Pro version of the tablet, and I could see myself buying one instead of a laptop in the future.

It's never sexy to heap praise on Microsoft, but if you've got an interest in tablets, you should definitely check one out in person before ruling it out. And if Lightroom or Picasa or an equivalent got ported to Windows RT, watch out: this may well become the tablet to get for any serious photographer!

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