All the techno pop music in the background sort of contributed to the rhythmic ease of use with which I operated the refurbished Microsoft Surface RT tablet I recently purchased. It took some time to get to the point where I could enjoy Microsoft Office, though, as the out of box configuration lacked a keyboard option.
I went shopping on eBay and discovered a non-Microsoft case/keyboard combination whose price was right. Delivery time was as expected since it was coming from overseas. At $169 for the Surface I could not resist finally jumping in to the tablet space. While I have a Windows 7 laptop that has done the bulk of my portable writing heavy lifting, I have been in search of a tablet to suit my mobile writing needs. Every so often I dust off the Mac PowerBook G3 Lombard with the bronze keyboard that is appealing typing-wise, but not so much portability-wise as my many batteries for it have long since given up the ghost. I know I could probably find a battery for this beast running OS X 10.4.11 Tiger via XPostFacto, but the battery would probably cost more than the machine is worth at this point. Plus, the Lombard is quite heavy by today’s standards weighing in at a relatively hefty 5.9 lbs. Its lack of portability resigns it to the pile of sporadically used machines at my disposal—a Macintosh classic I can’t quite seem to part with among some older Windows and Linux boxes.
I was excited when the keyboard/case combo finally arrived for the Surface. I took it out of the neatly and sturdily packaged envelope and positioned the Surface in the new case accessory for size. It fit well. I plugged the thin, USB cable for the keyboard into the Surface and went about trying to get something going on the new tablet.
The Surface comes with Microsoft’s new version of Office which is the gold standard for office productivity suites. I had been using Microsoft Word 2010 and was not as anxious to test new features as I was pleased to realize there would be no steep learning curve from Redmond’s 2010 version of Word. But, I didn’t even get the chance to fire up Word as I was dismayed by the Surface continually dropping its Internet connection.
Well, even though I was getting a hardware-related error for the Wireless N adapter in the Surface, I was pretty sure this was ultimately software related and hopped on my nearby Mac to research connectivity problems with the Surface. After running across five potential “fixes” for the issue, I decided against any of them. Internet Explorer was not opening via touch. This was a problem before I received the case/keyboard combo. I accessed the Internet previously by performing a search within the Surface that offered destinations online in the results field. I simply tapped on one of them and was online with Internet Explorer (IE). But IE was choking and maddeningly dropping the connection. Since I felt the installation of software on the Surface right out of the box was buggy, I opted for Microsoft’s “Refresh” option which was supposed to be utilized to restore functionality when the Surface was not working properly.
It took the better part of 25 minutes for the refresh to finish, but once it did, everything, including the touch activation of IE was working properly. I was online finally, the connection held up and I was not receiving any more errors. It was time to fire up Word and give it a spin.
At the $169 price point Microsoft’s Surface really hits the sweet spot if I do say so myself. As anyone who knows me understands, I feel I should have been made an honorary Apple employee long ago. I would venture to say I’ve pointed more people towards Macs and Apple products than maybe some Apple Store employees. The tight integration of hardware and software was always one of the things Windows boxes could never come close to. If the hardware was not lackluster in say, Acer machines back in the day, then the version of Windows OS that ran on them was perhaps not quite optimized as well as it should have been to run without throwing all-too-regular error messages during normal use.
While Macs before OS X suffered “bombs” and frozen screens, once OS X matured both PowerPC and Intel machines were designed and optimized for the Mac OS—building upon the legendarily elegant user experience.
With the help of the non-Microsoft keyboard contained in the all-in-one case/keyboard combo that utilizes the USB port on the Surface, I have achieved my own version of tablet user utopia. The Surface feels good. Office feels tight, no lag. While Internet Explorer is the only browser loaded, it’s more than snappy and loads pages quickly since the software setup was “refreshed.” The entire experience with the Surface as I write feels like something Apple might have designed—its Safari web browser and Pages software recalling similarities to mind in terms of how the software and hardware integration feels.
Would I have bitten on a Surface instead of an Apple if the price had not been so right? Perhaps. But I have been very intrigued by Microsoft’s attempt at its own tablet hardware and software integration. I had been following reports after the Surface 2 was released, wondering when we’d see the original Surface at discounted prices. Well, the time came originally this past Black Friday when the Surface and Microsoft keyboard option were available at steeply discounted prices. While the Surface I settled on is refurbished, it looks as if brand new. It did not come with a keyboard, though. If I wanted one of those from Microsoft I would have had to pony up another $70-$120 depending on where, and what keyboard option, I was shopping for. That additional expenditure would have negated the sweet spot for me. If you search on eBay for keyboards for the Surface you can find what I did for around $20—another price that hits the sweet spot.
Although I am a former Apple and Mac evangelist, these days I am a value computing guy first and foremost. I use what works best (for me) and I suggest to anyone who asks, to do the same. Although Apple’s iPads are still dominant, they don’t hit the sweet spot on value—at least not to me. Just like Apple refurbished tablets I received a one-year warranty from Microsoft on the Surface–another plus since Microsoft refurbs are typically only warrantied for 90 days. At the end of the day, and all things considered, the refurbished Surface at $169 and eBay keyboard/case combo for $20 is a sweet deal—even if I had to put some time into it up front before I could really begin doing more than just “scratching” the Surface.