“Does Anyone Have a Surface?”

Surface Tablet

Now that the 2012 holiday shopping season has drawn to a close, tech market analysts have been busy at work, trying to figure out who the winners and losers of the fourth-quarter gadget wars were. A number of interesting studies have been published recently, but in the case of Microsoft’s Surface tablet, I don’t think I need a bar graph or an industry pundit to tell me how the flagship Windows 8 device has been fairing.

As I walk around the campus of my university, I always try to keep an eye out for the devices people own and what they are using them for. I think that this real world experience helps me to evaluate some of the market projections that I read online. So far, in January 2013, I have seen a lot of Kindle Fire HDs, the usual slew of iPads, some of the older Nook Tablets (maybe they went for the refurbs?), and quite a few different 10-inch Android devices. Unfortunately for Microsoft, since the Surface and Windows RT hit the shelves late last fall, I have seen exactly one person with this tablet in-hand.

On December 20th, Forbes quoted a statement made by FBR Capital analyst David Hilal: “While the anticipation and launch of Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system has been one of the most talked about technology stories of 2012, we believe initial adoption of the OS and sales of Microsoft’s first tablet have been disappointing.” Perhaps Mr. Hilal is on to something.

An amusing incident occurred at a seminar I was attending two days ago, and since no one else there was really in on the joke, I thought I would share it with you. As I settled into my seat, I noticed that the person leading the discussion was using a new Microsoft Surface tablet to assist in her presentation. The device was propped up on its built-in stand (an interesting feature), and it looked like she was just using it to read from a document. The seminar was moving along smoothly when, all of the sudden, the speaker came to a halt, and a confused look spread across her face. She informed us that her document wasn’t scrolling properly, and that the last few paragraphs of the text were unreadable.

A few odd moments of silence went by before another student attempted to come to her aid. After about a minute of fruitless tapping, poking, and prodding, the speaker finally turned to the large auditorium full of people and asked:

“Does anyone here have a Surface?”

The audience in the 200-seat hall exchanged glances, searching for someone who might be able to help, when a hand shot up in the air:

“I have a hardback book you could write on.”

A few students who were seated in closer proximity to the podium offered the use of their textbooks as well.

“No, I’m referring to the tablet; the Microsoft Surface tablet…” she replied.

As I looked around the room, I could see that most of those in attendance genuinely had no idea that there is a tablet named the Surface. They thought that the speaker was requesting a hard ‘surface’ that she could write on. Needless to say, no one whipped out their Surface to share.

Some of the people at that seminar might have known that you can buy Windows 8 tablets now, but from the confused and befuddled looks I saw on the faces of the students around me, I’d say that Microsoft has a long way to go when it comes to the tablet market.

She finished off the presentation on her smartphone.


32 Responses to ““Does Anyone Have a Surface?””

  1. I’ve had the Surface since day 1 and absolutely love it. Yes it has idiosyncrasies that I’ve had to become familiar with and work through but the overall experience is superior to that of the Asus Transformer that I had been using. My advice is to stick with it and work through the learning curve as once you’ve worked through the total experience becomes so much more satisfying than any other OS. I find that I can devote more time to thinking, planning, being creative than on the actual doing, the process. It’s quite possible that it will be the young who will be able to learn Win8, that the general public has become too dependent, attached to IOS or Android. Win8 makes so much of what’s coming possible that it is a given. Once the 4th generation processors come on line it’s going to be like pre and post. There is no reason to make the changeover now but by this time next year I think that it will be unavoidable. Lenovo is biting the bullet and making the move now and everyone else will follow. Win8 Pro and the Haswell chip will move us into a new

    • Yeah I have heard a lot of great things about the Surface, I just think that people are wary to dive into a new tablet and OS for $500+. I actually thought I would see more of them around since so many people at the library and commons use Windows laptops, but the trend has continued to be mostly iPads and Kindle Fires.

      The best thing the Surface has going for it are the ports. I just wish it had a retina display. That was the deal-breaker for me. I would never pay that much for a tablet that has less than 1920 x 1200 screen resolution.

  2. I’ll pass on the Microsoft or Apple anything right now. Just getting tired of all the hype non-hype, lawsuits of patents, new OSs every few years we have to buy to keep updated, fanboys and fangirls… no it’s time I moved on to something new. Android on tables for me… Ubuntu came out with a phone/tablet/desktop OS which looks pretty darn good and you can run the full fledged Ubuntu desktop on a large monitor connected to a Samsung Galaxy 2 phone!
    I bought me a $249 ARM ChromeBook and have been using it for my main computer for over a month now; it’s still buggy here and there but stable enough to get things done; I have no complaints. There’s a bunch of stuff you can’t run like Skype, but there are substitutes you can find/use. It’s not for gamers or power users; it’s a browser and that’s where I spend much of my time 🙂
    No, I believe it is time to leave the big boys behind whose only innovation is in litigation and move forward to those who are creating the future…

    Very nice and well written article Andrew!

  3. That should have read “Android Tablets” not tables 🙁

    • Much appreciated Bob! I use a MacBook Pro as my main computer, mainly for writing, downloading, file management, ect. But I use my Nexus 10 for everything else. I have an iPhone 4S, but I will be replacing it with a larger-screened Android phone in the fall; maybe the Galaxy Note II. I officially converted from iOS to Android last spring, all thanks to Nathan of course. I just love the feel of the OS so much more, and the multiple reading apps are really great.

      I’m not a fan of Windows, so I will probably stick with my MacBook Pro, but I’ll go with Android for all of my mobile devices.

  4. @Andrew,
    The Galaxy Note II is my dream Tablet; not too small and not too large. I think you would do well with it! Great for taking notes in class with the pen.

    • hi there,

      i’ve got the note 10.1.
      i use it as my phone&tablet simultaneously. i highly recommend it, specially for the note-taking, you mention.
      its best features are the multitasking apps..the S-pen, and sound quality.
      its not very sturdy, due to its polymer based construction, and its not a very quick tablet, if u are one of those ppl who rush between apps operating it.. still..2G RAM is more than enough to run plenty of apps at the same time and running , for eg. , several browsers, with plenty of opened tabs, at the same time, as well.
      i very rarely have a crash, and the battery is not bad at all, as long as u dont use 3G and GPS too much.
      The only trouble that really gets on my nerves, is Android not opening flash videos anymore.
      that being said, i’ve been using this tablet for almost 4months now and i believe nothing like it is out there, on the market.
      hell, just being able to watch a video and take notes at the same time.. on the same screen! or take notes in class while having the camera app ready to shoot any powerpoint pic the teacher shows is reason enough to get one.
      Then there’s the pressure sensitive & palm rejection pen, which is heaven, for us architects/designers.
      Run that with the bundled apps like SNote or Photoshop Touch, and u’ve got yourself a workhorse device.
      feel free to ask me anything about the device.


      PS : if anyone has a solution for opening flash content on JB, i’m all ears!

      • Yeah, I wouldn’t go for the Note 10.1 due to last-gen screen resolution and various software quirks. It would be interesting to see an updated version of this tablet. The Galaxy Note 2 phone is on my list of devices to review as an eReader though.

  5. Whenever there is an article that critizises MS’ new products, in the comments there will be at least one comment to defend MS.

    Now that is not unusual, the same happens with Android, Apple, Sony, etc.

    The thing about the pro-MS comments is how well they are framed, how they incorporate marketing speech (“Win8 makes so much of what’s coming possible that it is a given.”) and how the highlight little features and technical details (“Win8 Pro and the Haswell chip will move us into a new Era.”).
    Their fanbase is really impressive.

  6. Yes, there are still developmental issues with the Surface RT that I hope will be resolved with the Pro version on a 4th gen processing chip.

  7. I’ve been doing some extra seasonal work at Best Buy since right before Thanksgiving. Something I’ve noticed is that the consumer is actually pretty savvy with the drawbacks of RT. They know that their legacy Windows software won’t work. They know that they can’t install any software that isn’t from the Windows Store and isn’t RT compatible. They know that it costs the same as the iPad Retina display. They know that the interface, while touch enabled, is still a classic desktop operating system that happens to have some decent touch features. They know that multiple users are complaining about the keyboards dirtying easily nad tearing, in some cases. In short, they know that this isn’t the iPad killer that Microsoft claimed it was.

    The sales support this. iPad and Android tablet sales still take the crown. With contenders like the Nexus 10, Transformer Infinity, and the Retina iPad in the mix, it’s no wonder. There’s just more experience and quality in those devices. Even the Vivotab RT (that I happen to like better than the surface) isn’t doing all that well. The Windows 8 Pro tablets coming into the mix might change things a little (I think these will ultimately make RT a lame duck OS and hurt the sales even more), but the Microsoft OS will have to take a distant third place in the tablet wars, much as it has in the phone wars. Oh well, they still have the desktop/laptop market pegged.

    • Yeah, Microsoft made the Surface rather confusing to begin with. I remember the early reports that the high-end pro versions would be over $1200. For that kind of money, you would expect 300 ppi laminated retina displays and a robust ecosystem to rival Apple and Android’s.

      • And a butler to do your taxes for you. Seriously, I’m not going to drop that kind of money into a tablet, even if it does double as a laptop/desktop replacement (provided you’re willing to shell more money out for a good display, keyboard, mouse, speakers, etc). The price point is killing them and it will continue to do so after the Pro tablets release.

  8. As a developer i can say only that: WinRT was born with a genius inside, no OpenGL support (IE: all the software from IOS, Android and so on) but only DirectX support.
    Poor idiot people want to push a custom standard over a real standard, everytime.

  9. Not sure why my first try at a comment didn’t make it on here, though it was right before the blog seemed to go down for a couple of days. Anyway, here is my two cents.

    I have had a Surface RT from release and use it on a daily basis as my work computer. For my day job as a college professor it is an excellent device. I have full access to Office (including PowerPoint that doesn’t get screwed up as it does in every iOS or Android App attempt at it), a USB port for peripherals, and screen mirroring (though I wish I had a wireless display option).

    As for the NUI App only restriction, I have not found this to be a concern. With Office RT included I have not found a legacy app yet that I could not find a good NUI version of.

    Now many wonder how much I “use” the device… here would be my typical use in a day.

    Start the morning going through my email (full Exchange support), breezing through news (News Bento) and social media (HTML5 and decent Flash support in IE10, plus social media integration in People App).

    Get to campus and do any last minute work on presentations for the day (editing in PowerPoint), handouts (Word and HTML editing) and updates to course websites (CodeWriter or WordPress).

    Run PowerPoint in class (usually about 100 slides in a file with images, transitions and animations) via connection cable and a wireless remote (plug and play with USB port).

    Carry around in labs for spot analysis of data (Excel) and recording of assessments (Excel, OneNote and onboard Camera)

    Meeting notes (OneNoteMX)

    Uploading podcasts from class (plug and play USB for digital recorder and Skydrive)

    Xbox Music through out the day (real deal, especially since I have a WP8 phone also)

    Get home and browse the web, casual games or let my daughter play with the kids apps

    Ereading using the Nook app (it feels pretty nice to me in portrait, but I have big hands), or resting on my chest (thanks to the kickstand) in bed as I watch movies on Netflix.

    Go to bed and charge it for the next day.

    Obviously for heavy data crunching, gaming or photo manipulation (light work can be done on the Surface) I use my Core notebook, but more often than not I am using my Surface. I have a Wedge keyboard and BT mouse on my desk at work and it makes for a good desk computer for the times I am in my office.

    Is it perfect, no, I wish it had a wireless display option and an active digitizer, but I am willing to forego those for the spectacular battery life, ease of use, build quality and versatility.

    • I apologize, John. Your comment wasn’t intentionally deleted; it was one of the few to get lost during the transition to a new server.

  10. The Surface is a great analog to the Windows 8 Laptop PC. It’s also a very competent tablet/micro-laptop hybrid. Here are my issues with the device. Windows RT will NOT run traditional Windows 8/7/Vista/whatever software… period. It runs RT compatible software only. Windows 8 will run LOTS of RT stuff (since these apps are generally designed to run on both platforms) and makes a better OS solution. Second, it’s not the best tablet interface. It’s literally an OS that’s a cosmetic copy of an OS that is a Desktop-centric system with a touch overlay. It’s not really optimized for it… yet. These are problems I could overlook, easily because RT is such a good analog, but for two reasons. One, the systems running RT are BLOODY expensive. Not a good price point to say “oh well, i can live with that for only $700”. Two, Windows 8 Pro tablets (including a MS Surface one) are coming quite soon. That runs a fair to good chance at making RT a lame duck. The Pro tablets will do everything that RT tablets do, and then some. Not a good thing for an OS that’s been out for a single digit number of months. Will it kill RT? Probably not. Will it REALLY diminish its sales? You bet.

    • Um… you can get a Surface for $499 not $700. It is $699 fully loaded with a touch pad.

      • Right, but that $500 Surface, as you said, doesn’t come with the keyboard (love or hate it), and isn’t fully loaded. That means it’s the 32GB tablet. Not a big deal, normally, but Windows RT, after all is said and done with the recovery partition and whatnot, leaves only about 16GB of free space on the 32gb tablet. It kills HALF of the space. The 64GB tablet reports about 47 GB free. For something more aimed at a desktop-like experience, that space is going to be needed.

        Want the 64gb tablet and keyboard? $700. The pro versions are going to start at $899. $400 more, right? Nope. The $499 surface RT has 32GB and the $899 pro has 64GB. It’s a $200 difference for a FAR superior product. It has an i5, full HD screen, USB 3.0, and a mini display port. And, it’ll run the full gamut of Windows software. Does it come with the keyboard? Who knows. I’d get the mechanical one, anyhow, as I’m not a big fan of the touch keyboard. Want 128GB? Add another $100.

        The point is, that the new Surface is going to be only about 28% more expensive for a LOT more product (43%, if you want the fully loaded experience). Being as the cheapest RT Surface is a big chunk on change to begin with, there’s not a lot to compel buyers to NOT fork out the small extra percentage of money. It’s not about just getting a faster machine with more storage. You’re getting EVERYTHING the RT model offers, and virtually everything a Windows 8 ultrabook has. At those price points, it’s going to be a no-brainer, and the RT version of the OS (and the associated hardware) is going to slowly fade out of existence. That’s a huge investment to be made obsolete by another product from the same manufacturer. The Pro tablets won’t kill the RT tablets right off the bat, but it’s going to happen relatively quickly. There’s just nothing going for RT with Pro tablets right on the horizon.

      • Meant to say that if RT was already an established OS and had been on the market for a couple of years, there would be a LOT more longevity to its life, even given the rise of the Pro tablets. Problem is, the time frame between the release of RT and the Pro tablets is going to be a single digit number of months. That’s nowhere NEAR long enough for the system to take a foothold. Microsoft is going to cut off its nose to spite its face, here. Bad business. It would have been much better to have NOT released the RT tablets in October/November and to instead have focused on the Pro tablets entirely. Heck, they can’t argue that the technology wasn’t there for development. It’s only a matter of a handful of months between the releases. If RT wasn’t in the works, the Pro tablets might have made it to the market right about now. A big part of their rationale was probably trying to cash in on the holiday shopping season. Again, that’s bad business, and it’s already being received in a lackluster manner since the consumer only has to wait a couple more months for the product that the Surface RT tablet SHOULD have been in the first place.

  11. Hi Nathan,The surface looks great ,Have you ever reviewed the Samsung galaxy tablets or there media player.

    • No, I’ve never gotten an opportunity to review any of Samsung’s tablets. They always seem to have dated hardware compared to what else is out there. Maybe if they come out with a new 8″ tablet with a high res screen I’ll buy one to review.

  12. Read some of my comments above, particularly about the percentage of price difference with the VERY rapidly approaching Pro tablets. I’m really not impressed with RT. I really DO like the interface and the Windows desktop environment it offers… I just wish it was actually Windows and ran Windows software. That’s where the Pro tablets are going to come in (and completely take over). You can argue that Apple and whatnot do the same thing, releasing new products that replace old ones, but they don’t do it in such a way that it renders the previous product (that was released about four months prior) completely irrelevant.

    The RT tablets, about a year from now are going to be liquidated, as nobody is really going to be purchasing them, one the Pro tablets are available for a small percentage increase in price. For the $500-$700 price range that the RT tablets come in at, the user is much better off getting a NICE, loaded iPad and keyboard case or a NICE Android tablet and keyboard (like the REALLY sexy Asus Transformer infinity 64GB). With the Android Tablet, all you’re missing over the RT is just the OS, and given its state and near future, that’s not a bad thing right now.

    Or, just wait another month and get that killer Pro tablet.

    Just saying…

    • Agreed. Apparently, the Surface’s ‘smartcover’ is getting negative reviews as well. If you want a tablet/notebook hybrid, I would go with a tested product, like the 64GB Transformer TF700 you mentioned above.

  13. The keyboard covers are definitely getting mixed reviews. The textured surface gets dirty easily and people have been having issues with the cheaper keyboard tearing at the “hinge”. I don’t dislike the RT Surface. It’s just going to be pointless in a month or so. When the Pro tablets (Surface, VivoTab, Razer tab,whatever) come out, they’re absolutely going to be great products. personally, I’d go with the VivoTab or another analog with a GOOD keyboard dock rather than a smart keyboard cover. Why? Better keyboard, extra ports, more battery. Some of the 10.6″ Pro tablets are even offering extra HDD storage in the docks. Really, this eliminates the need for a laptop. If you’re not a hardcore gamer, needing SLI graphics, it also can eliminate the need for a desktop, provided you have a wireless mouse/keyboard combo, some speakers, and a monitor. That, and it is ALSO a tablet. Not bad.

    Willing to go to a 13.3″ tablet? look at the Asus TX300. This thing will offer up to 256GB storage, up to an i7 processor, GOBS of RAM, and the dock even offers a SECOND solid state drive. It’s literally a NICE ultrabook that splits into a tablet. Sure, it starts at $1200, but that’s not too far off the mark for some ultrabook prices. May as well get the tablet, too.

    For the lower price point ($700 or less), the nicer docking Android tablets or a NICE iPad with a REALLY good keyboard case are the way to go. Personally, I’d go with the TF700… it pretty much turns itself into a netbook for portability, and with the micro SD slot on the tablet and the full SD slot on the dock, you can have a 192GB tablet without any extra bulk. Not enough? get a HUGE thumb drive or external hard drive and hook it up to the USB port.

    But, even on the front of Android tablets, it’s worth waiting right now. Why? Nvidia’s Tegra 4 will be out before too long. That CPU is crazy fast. Asus will definitely be releasing a follow-on Infinity Tablet. I imagine it’ll sport 2560×1600 resolution on the same 10.1″ screen, have the crazy processor, offer at least 64GB storage (probably 128GB, as the larger single-chip flash storage just came to be), and at LEAST all the same features as the TF700. Will it cost more? Maybe. Definitely be worth it, though. Heck, with 128GB storage, a 128GB SD, and a 128GB micro SD, that’s a 256GB tablet that couples with a 128GB dock. Not bad.

  14. So, now it’s official. The Surface Pro comes out in the US and Canada on February 9th. That’s a whopping 106 days since the Surface RT hit the scene.

    Really, a new (OK, 106 day old) tablet and operating system isn’t going to survive against a new, more powerful tablet with an OS that’s far more flexible. Looks like Microsoft is kind of strong arming itself.

    Like I said before, it would have made a lot more sense to have never released the RT tablet and to have focused on the Pro from the get go.

  15. I hope the Surface Pro does well but I’m far more interested in the Windows 8 Ultrabooks that incorporate a touchscreen such as the Dell XPS 12 and the Lenovo Yoga 13.

    Either would make a good travel computer but I’ll wait a bit to see lots of user reviews before making a decision there.

  16. Okay, first off I am interested that so many people have these definitive opinions of a device they have never tried.

    Two arguments have been put forward, storage and price advantage. Both are red herrings. Given the SDXC expansion slot and the ability to directly integrate the memory into the main system it is very inexpensive to increase the memory of the device, far beyond any iPad and more integrated than Android allows. The price argument is ridiculous, come on. An ipad that is comparable to even an RT in terms of memory and connectivity (USB and SD) you will spend almost as much as a Pro version Surface ($860).

    The Pro vs. RT debate is a minor point. The RT system is perfect for most people as a secondary computer and most people as a work computer. As the NUI offerings increase the distinction will become more and more meaningless.

    In the end, the proof is in the pudding. I have an RT (which seems to be unusual given the number of opinions being floated) and I have been using it as my primary machine or work now since about one week after launch. At work I use it as a table and at my desk I plug it into a 23 inch monitor (with an extended desktop, cannot do that an Android or iPad) and use a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. Where as all of you think it is useless, underpowered, or not practical… I have not found that to be the case in continuous use since launch.

    As to the covers. I have a black touch cover and it has held up well. It doesn’t get overly dirty, responds well (typing on it right now at about 90% my normal speed), and is very useful. I might get a type cover in the future, but I’ll have to see.

  17. Price comparison
    Surface RT 64GB with touch cover + 32GB microSDHC for those who think there is a storage problem = $719

    IPad 64GB WiFi with Logitech keyboard cover, Office apps, sd adapter and usb adapter = $889

    The Surface will have a wide variety of peripheral support the iPad will not, has full second monitor support (the iPad does not), complete Office compatibility, and is cheaper by over $100… can we put the iPad is cheaper argument to bed please.

    Are android versions cheaper, yes… but quite frankly having used numerous Android tablets, they do not do much well in the way of my professional life. Every enterprise level app is at best an “also ran” type. In the end you only come about $100 less in price with keyboard case and all but you have a less functional and heavier system.