An Apple User’s Experience Of The Microsoft Surface 2

Yesterday, I took the plunge and purchased a Microsoft Surface 2 Tablet / Laptop hybrid thingy. I also bought a cyan coloured Type Cover 2, which I was assured would improve my overall experience with the Surface 2. It does.

Firstly, I should explain something fairly fundamental. I for the past ten years, have used nothing but Apple devices, computers, iPhones since 2007 and the iPad since it was first launched in 2010.

I have enjoyed using PowerMac G5, PowerBook G4, Mac Pro, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, Mac Mini, iPhone and iPad, along with various Apple network devices, what Apple call Airport Extreme or Express. I have also converted all my software from the PC days to Apple written or OS X equivalents. In short, I have absolutely NO interest in Windows or PC related gear.

Now, having told you all this, why, you might ask, did I buy the much maligned Microsoft Surface 2? That is a question I have as yet not fully answered myself, but here are my impressions after my first 24 hours with the little kickstand wielding device.

I’ll spare you the unboxing experience. Enough said that it wasn’t up to the Apple ‘wow’ you get when you open any of their devices.

This was partly because of the awful security tag the retailer sticks on everything to stop potential shop lifters. A relatively pointless task since their stores are almost like prisons to get in and out of anyway. Certainly not the Apple Store experience there either.

Anyway, I slid the inside part of the packaging out to reveal my new plastic wrapped tablet. The first thing that struck me was how much smaller it was than I had imagined. The second thing was ‘there’s not much else in here’. Besides the Surface 2, there was some documentation underneath it’s moulded packing space and a charger with U.K mains adapter. That was it.

Having slid the mains plug on to the huge power block/lead, I unwrapped the Surface and switched it on. While it was doing its first boot, I unwrapped the Type Cover 2. Again, the opening experience was not up to Apple’s standard, but this is Microsoft after all and as Steve Jobs, famously declared, ‘Microsoft has no taste’. It could have been better but also could have been a lot worse.

The Type Cover 2 basically sits in a rubberised frame inside a plastic see through sleeve. It’s easy enough to get it out and even easier to connect it to the Surface 2. Without any guidance, as such, from me, as soon as I was within a couple of centimetres from the Surface 2, the Type Cover 2 literally jumped into position with a nice reassuring snap. That was all there was to it. Keyboard connected. Cool.

Now, as I have already said, I have had absolutely no Windows interest since XP in 2004. I looked at Vista (no thanks), then Windows 7 (nope, not this either) and at Windows 8 (very quick peek, then meh! Not interested). I’m a seasoned Apple user! Yet the Surface had been lingering in the back of my mind, niggling away at me. Could it really be as bad as everybody said?

I never got the chance to see the first generation of Surface devices. No retailers had them on display. The ones I asked about it too offered to go and get one for me to see, but added it would mean unboxing it. So being helpful and unhelpful at the same time. Again, no Apple Store experiences there.

I had watched video reviews online and virtually everybody had something pretty horrible to say about the Surface RT. Half baked, identity crisis and other more colourful opinions were in abundance.

Yet despite all of that and being into what must be nearing the end of the Surface 2’s life span (I’m sure a Surface 3 will be announced or released very soon – it’s always the way when I buy something), I am writing this on a Surface 2.

The Surface finished doing its thing. I connected to my wireless network without glitch and created a Microsoft account. If you don’t have one you won’t get much further, so it’s mandatory, makes sense when you can only install apps from the Windows Store, but more on that later.

The Surface 2 told me that it was installing some Apps and took a bit longer to finish the initial set up. Once the setup was complete, there I was looking at my Live Tile Start Screen. Now what? I thought.

Remembering my old Windows 98, Me and XP days (oh no!), I thought ‘updates’. Microsoft always had loads of updates, so I worked out how to find settings (slide a finger in from the right hand edge of the screen to open your ‘Charms’. Quite cool. I chose Settings, where near the bottom is an option to Change PC Settings.

Now here I do have a bit of a problem with Microsoft. The Surface 2 is not a PC by any conventional standard, so I quite resent the PC reference. Configure Settings or Configure Surface would have been snappier and more relevant.

Anyway, I found the update option and touched ‘Check for Updates’, then waited and waited and waited. I then decided to wait a bit longer. After what seemed like an eternity, I had to restart my Surface 2 to install updates. So, I hit Restart and did what apparently Microsoft love their end users doing. . .I waited.

The Surface 2 restarted to a familiar Blue Screen (yes that BSOD blue) but instead told me it was installing 1 of 70 updates. I could not believe my eyes. 70? Seven Zero. 70 updates. So, thinking (correctly as it turned out) that this could take a while, I set about making a hot drink downstairs and did some work on my iPad Air while I was waiting for the Surface 2 to do its thing (again). I kept an eye on what was going on, garnering some hope that things were moving in the right direction as the 1 of 70 edged to 3 of, then 5 of and then 23 of. Forty five minutes had passed and it wasn’t even half way through the update install.

Yup, this took me back to my Windows days, literally days when you had to reinstall everything and lost days in the process. So, I decided to kill more time on some menial tasks that needed doing.

Eventually after almost 2 hours, the updates were finished installing. I decided to check to see if there were more. As my shoulder sagged downward I had my answer. There were more!

Update. . . check

Install Updates. . .check

Downloading Updates. . . . . . . . .

After a further 25 or 30 minutes, the second round of updates had installed. I checked again and almost lost the will to live. There were even more updates to install. Fortunately, not that many, only about 11 or 12 and they installed within about 20 minutes.

So, finally, after the best part of three hours since unpacking my new device, I was able to do something on it!

Microsoft really needs to do something about the whole end user experience here. Compared to any Apple product you but, you open it, take it out and switch it on. There’s usually enough power to get you up and running almost instantly. Plug it in to charge and download apps until you’re sick of ploughing through 1.2 million app. At least you opened it, switched it on and can use the device within minutes. NOT HOURS!!!!!

I have to say, that after the many hours delay in being able to use my new much maligned Surface 2, I had almost given up any interest in the thing. But, being fair, at least all the updates showed that Microsoft has been updating and improving the Windows RT experience for end users. When the Surface finally told me there were no more updates, I made another coffee, to calm me down, and decided to see what this little slate could do.

Looking at the lovely tiles on the Start Screen, I obviously touched them to see what each one did. Oh I had a Store. What’s available?

Much has been written by many, that the Windows Store doesn’t have many apps. This is true, well to a point. It has many hundreds of thousand apps. Is that enough? Apparently not. It needs millions of apps like Android (yuk) or iOS (home. . .mmmmmm) to compete.

Well I classify myself as a fairly typical iOS user and as such, I have pretty much given up looking for Apps in the App Store. I have the ones I use and rely on most (Flipboard, eBay, Banking, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Garageband, Twitter, I don’t do Facebook – I hate strangers poking me!) but you get the point. I have dedicated apps I use and keep using them because they are exactly what I want, so huge numbers of apps can actually be a bit of a nightmare finding real gems.

On opening the Windows Store, I was greeted with Skype, Twitter, Flipboard, Facebook amongst several others that are instantly recognisable. BBC iPlayer wasn’t there, but the Surface 2 supports flash, so the iPlayer will work through Internet Explorer 11. And it works very well through the browser I have to say.

Other catch up players, 4OD and Demand 5 were there, unfortunately ITV player was missing, interestingly though, the Scottish iTV company STV player was there and many shows from ITV can be viewed through the STV Player (Corrie, Emmerdale etc. the usual culprits). Basically for any T.V related media consumption on the go, the Surface 2 has many options to satisfy most people.

Going through each app, logging in or setting up accounts, I was finally ready to put the Surface 2 through its paces.

First off, it’s very responsive. The touch screen glides under your finger, much like an iPad. Microsoft were paying attention to that. Secondly, it’s pretty quick. Apps open with an animated flair, not found within the iOS world (I can’t comment on Android variants). The tile flips around as it magnifies to encompass the whole screen for as full screen view. I like that touch (excuse the pun).

Now, just to be absolutely honest, I have dabbled with Windows Phone 8 in the past. I tried out a Nokia Lumia 820 last year for about 5 weeks and absolutely loved the whole experience. Unfortunately, there were just some issues with the Microsoft App for Mac, which is required to transfer music etc. from your main computer to the device – this has now been updated and with Windows Phone 8.1, yet another catchy name from Microsoft, most issues appear to have been resolved.

While I’m talking names. Microsoft really need to employ me to come up with their naming. Now that they own Nokia, had I kept the 820, I would have to say, I gave up my iPhone 5 for a Nokia Lumia 820 Windows Phone 8. Doesn’t it just roll of the tongue? Apple has iPhone, iPad, iMac, iPod etc. Microsoft has Nokia Lumia xxx Windows Phone 8.

Think about it? With names like Nokia Lumia 820 Windows Phone 8, Microsoft are adding to global warming since we have to breath out so many more words! At least with the Surface they have it pretty well sorted. Surface 2, Surface 2 Pro or Surface 3 Pro. It’s a move in the right direction, but Microsoft need to just sort it out. Now that they are a hardware vendor, they need ranges. Tablet = Surface or Surface Pro. Phones, assuming they are branding them as Nokia, they should just have Lumia followed by the series, for example Lumia 1 base model, Lumia 3, Lumia 5, Lumia 9, a bit like the BMW series cars.

Alternatively, if I were in charge at Microsoft, I would use the Nokia brand for all the hardware devices. Nokia Surface for tablets and Nokia Lumia for mobile phones. It isn’t rocket science. Microsoft keep coming up with names that frankly, suck big time. Zune? What? Xbox? Sounds like it used to be a Box?

Apple get naming right, well most of the time. MacBook Pro is a bit of a mouthful and doesn’t flow very well. Not as well as iBook, but that has gone on to new pastures as an e-book store, but mostly Apple get it. Short and punchy titles for their gear, makes them cool before they even get on the store shelves.

So there you are Microsoft, some free advice. Brand your devices as Nokia, then have product ranges of Surface and Lumia. Much punchier and catchy.

Anyway, back to the Surface 2. I downloaded apps from the store. They installed quickly with a nice sounding ‘chime’ and visual notification to let me know they were ready to use. It’s a good sound. Apple gives you no visual or audible notification to tell you your app is installed. It just finishes. I like the Surface approach on this one.

Gliding between tiles, scrolling left or right, I accidentally discovered that if you swipe upwards, the screen slides down revealing all the installed apps. They’re laid out in alphabetical order from left to right, so you san swipe left or right on screen to go through them. This makes sense. It’s the same action as you use on the Start Screen to swipe between the blocks of live tiles.

It’s not the most intuitive way of getting about but it does start to make sense the more you use the Surface 2. Again, it’s early days, but I am beginning to like the interactions the more I use them.

Apps or the lack of Apps? Is that the question?

It is no secret that the Windows Store has fewer apps than the likes of iOS and Android stores. In fairness, how many fart apps are there in the iOS app store? Perhaps thousands. Are they helpful or beneficial? Increase productivity? Unless you’re heavily into flatulence research, I’d wager not.

The apps I have tried out, some photo editors, eBay, Twitter, Flipboard are all perfectly functioning and do the job the iOS versions do. The Surface 2 versions, do it a bit differently. Instead of scrolling up and down, you scroll left and right. It’s actually quite logical on a device who’s mainly designed to be used in landscape mode.

Have I found any major annoyances? Not really, however this may change the more I get used to how things work and how you do things in the Windows world.

I think my Apple background has actually helped here. You see, I have no PC baggage (legacy apps) to miss. I can’t really see the shortfalls the other reviewers are complaining about. I see Windows RT as the future of Windows.

Apple ditched legacy support long ago. When Rosetta was dumped with the release of OS X Lion, all PowerPC apps were defunct on future models. If you had a prized PowerPC application, you the end user were then limited to using OS X Snow Leopard for the foreseeable future or pay for a newer updated version or a complete replacement. Sure, there were those who complained short term, but Apple users are preprogramed, albeit subconsciously. This is how Apple move on

Microsoft has to move with the times and stop supporting ancient, by tech standards, hardware / software. The app developers all need to get behind the RT versions as this is going to be the future of the desktop environment.

Apple has shown this. OS X Yosemite, Apple’s latest soon to be released desktop offering, has even more iOS influence than any previous version. Reviewers don’t complain about hopping from Launchpad, an iOS like app layout back into the old familiar desktop environment of OS X do they? Ask yourself why not?

I am no Microsoft fan boy. I have nothing invested in Microsoft, well other than this new Surface 2, so perhaps I can see things from a different perspective.

To me, Apple and Microsoft are both trying to achieve the same goal . . . a unified and secure end user experience across all their devices. Apple was in the smart devices (arguably created it) sector long before Microsoft got involved and have been gradually making moves on the desktop OS little by little.

Microsoft on the other hand are playing catch up. And with their new CEO in place, hopefully the mistakes of old are a thing of the past. I personally think the entire industry needs to re-evaluate their understanding of this little, much maligned device.

It’s been over 48 hours since I started using the Surface 2, after all the updates, further updates and final updates (get it Microsoft?) and this little thing has not caused me any trouble at all. It has done everything I have asked of it quickly and efficiently.

The fact I am sitting writing this is testament to the Surface 2. I have written up to this word, @2790 words. I’ve owned every version of the iPad since it was first launched and I don’t think I ever wrote that much on all of them combined! Perhaps if I’d bought a Bluetooth keyboard that would have been a bit different, but I didn’t.

As I said at the start, I am an Apple user, I have been for ten years. I’ve owned every version of iPhone and iPad since Apple released them on the world. The next iteration of each will be released within the next month or two and for the first time ever, I couldn’t really care about either of them.

The short time I have been using the Surface 2, has revealed so many irritations that obviously sat at the back of my mind with both the iPad and the iPhone. Fixed storage, fairly limited ‘Home Screen’ customisation options and a hefty price tag.

My iPad Air cost me £479.00 when I bought it new. The case I needed for it, to save the easily scratched body, was another £40.00, so £519.00 for the 32GB iPad Air Wi-Fi model.

Yesterday, I spent £259.00 on the Surface 2 32GB version, £109.99 on the Type 2 cover (Cyan version) and £16.99 on a High performance Class 10 32GB Micro SD card. Total £385.98. That’s £130.00+ saving over the iPad Air.

Now, some may argue that I have a less complete app ecosystem to access. This may be true. Other’s may argue that I have a soon to be killed off Microsoft ‘wanna be’. This may also be true, but the release of the Surface 2 in and of itself, shows that Microsoft is for now, sticking with the Windows RT pipeline or products.

But, I got so much more. Microsoft included 200GB of online OneDrive (Cloud based) storage for 2 years. Free. I think this option usually costs @£3.00 per month, that’s worth about £72.00 for the two years. Microsoft also included unlimited global Skype calls for a year. I can call any landline telephone number in over 80 countries via my Skype account for nothing for a year. I have no idea what this package would normally cost, but it’s included with each Surface 2 until the end of December. That’s a tempting deal, especially if you use Skype a lot. The 200GB online storage is a great help to me, especially for my photography business. It all helps.

I gave up using Office on my Mac, I didn’t use it that often and the cost was just too much for the little use I got from it, however, Microsoft also include a full version of Office 2013 with the Surface 2. Preinstalled ready to go. Now the last time I looked, to buy a standalone version of office cost more than the price of the Surface 2, though it’s been a while and things may have changed, but Office is not a free application, so even if it were the £100.00 Home and Student version (which it is) to buy, that’s added further value in the Surface 2 proposition

What did Apple include with the iPad Air? Nothing.

Now don’t get me wrong. The iPad is a technological marvel. The end user experience is second to none and the available ecosystem is vast. I am an Apple user of ten years, but I am impressed with the Surface 2.

It doesn’t compete with the iPad, it’s a different class of device. It offers more capabilities than the iPad from a productivity point of view, but the areas it offers these capabilities are not areas the iPad really targets. The potential for this device space is huge if only App developers would let go of the legacy past that Microsoft is trying to lay to rest. Windows RT less the bolt on desktop, is in my opinion, the future for Windows. It is a modern OS with excellent functionality and an immersive interaction experience for the end user.

I’m surprised I like the surface as much as I do in such a short period of time. It is different, but I am warming towards it. It is by no means perfect, but neither is the iPad. If you need more storage you have to buy a bigger iPad. If you need more storage on the Surface, by a cheap MicroSD card or use it’s USB 3.0 port and stick a USB thumb drive or portable hard drive in there. Storage galore for much less money than a bigger iPad!

The Surface 2. A device I bought out of curiosity, which has been maligned by virtually everybody online, yet as a new to ‘modern’ Windows, I am pleasantly surprised and happy with my purchase.

Microsoft has done an impressive job in a relatively short period of time. This is only the second generation of device and for those who are really giving the Surface 2 a hard time, I ask them to remember the original iPhone. No App Store and no 3G connectivity, yet despite all the naysayers’ slating (excuse the pun) the device, look what happened.

When Apple launched the iPad in 2010, despite the huge success of the iPhone and App Store, reviewers all over were asking ‘who needs an oversized iPod Touch?’ Boy did those guys get it wrong.

For a software company, yeah I know Microsoft had a hardware division who made, Mice, Keyboards and Speakers, they weren’t into making computing devices, just the software to run on those devices.

Apple have a long history of hardware and software creation. Microsoft doesn’t. With that in mind and considering it’s just two or so years ago since the first Surface and Surface Pro were launched, Microsoft has provided a more than capable and powerful range of touch devices.

Microsoft really need to get their act together and focus on the important end user unboxing experience and sort out all the updates when you first open the Surface 2 up. One large update is fine. Over 90 is a bit too time consuming for somebody eager to play with the new toy! They will get there if I am anything to go by. If someone asked me a year ago if I would have considered buying a Microsoft tablet, I would have laughed so loud. But here I am a year on using my very own Surface 2.

I did my research, read the bad and the rare positive reviews. Watched endless videos on YouTube about the Surface and Surface 2. Ordinarily, with such bad press, I wouldn’t have even bothered making the trip to see the display product. The nearest store that had a display model was a 45 minute drive away, yet I was intrigued enough to make that trip and spend an hour in the store playing around on the Surface 2 to see what it could and couldn’t do.

Here I am. A self-declared Apple user typing my first blog entry on a Microsoft Surface 2 running Windows 8.1 RT.

It’s a new world. . .


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