Microsoft Surface Review: Ignore the Apple Slappies – The Microsoft Surface ROCKS

This is a first for me. While I like both tools and toys, I don’t normally go through the time and effort it takes to pen something formal like this. Mostly because there’s usually enough information out there to suit just about anyone’s taste or thirst for information.

But this time – it’s different. Because I’m more than just a little pissed. And that’s why I’m writing this review.

You see, for the last almost two years I had a iPad. And during that time I tried my damnedest to make the thing into some sort of worthwhile business tool. For my daytime IT consulting gig, my real estate business, or my real estate information products business. I didn’t care. It was (and still is) a cool piece of technology. But it didn’t fit into my business world. I bought just under $100 worth of apps for it. I bought three different keyboards for it. I took it to meetings. I took it on vacation. I took it to my kids sports events. And in the end, it was always like I was trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

When the iPad was first released years ago, I remember talking to a good friend of mine, who’s an early adopter, about it. I told him that personally, I thought that the iPad was a solution looking for a problem to solve. He disagreed, and likewise thought that it was a cool piece of technology. So he stood in line at the Apple store at Somerset mall in Troy to buy one the day it was released. And guess what? He returned it less than a week later.

Why? Because he said that it was a solution looking for a problem to solve.

So – after I came to grips with that (again) a couple of weeks ago, I set out to research other tools. I like the idea of a tablet a lot, and over the last several months I realized that I could really use a tablet in my day to day business life. But it had to be a whole lot more functional and a whole lot more business focused, and more than just a fancy email checker and web surfer with a really slick high res display.

So I cast my net wide, and started to look around.

It turns out that the dad of one of my son’s friends works for Microsoft. Now I have never been a big fan of Microsoft, but the dad was a really good guy, and at one of the boy’s 8th grade basketball games we got to talking about tablets. And he told me about the Microsoft Surface.

Microsoft had a tablet? Really? Since when were they making hardware? I had nightmare visions of Windoze Millennium and the blue-screen-of-death flying through my mind. Ugh.

But as he told me more about it, I was more and more intrigued. And the more we talked that day at the game, the more I thought that it might make a lot of sense for my needs. So I set about doing some research about in online.

And that’s when the trouble started.

It was damn near impossible to find an actual real review of the Surface, no matter how hard I tried, or how many pages of google results I surfed through. Why? Because page after page after page of “reviews” were all focused on comparing the Surface to the iPad.

And worse yet? All of these supposed “reviews” were written by (mostly) hard core Apple slappies. It was beyond belief. I was shocked by the crap that was being written by these effete Apple fanbois masquerading as objective “reviewers”.

You want some examples? Ok how about:

  1. The female reviewer (and gushing iPad lover) who – sigh – deemed the Surface a “failure” after just a day or two and “abandoned it to the kitchen counter” for use by her kids to watch videos. Now there’s a real shock. If all you’ve ever used a tablet for is to “consume” entertainment, then heaven forbid you take a few days to educate yourself on what a new device with greater capabilities can actually do.
  2. Then there was the really whiny apple fanboi at Techcrunch who spent nearly 2500 words on a meaningless rant. There aren’t enough apps in the Microsoft app store. Whaaaaaaaaaaaaa. It’s buggy (it’s not). It’s too much like a PC (wow – call 60 Minutes). The entire review was one long whine by this guy. What a waste of content space.
  3. The one that took the cake though was a clown at ZDnet who pretended to write a real review. He titled it “Why I’m Returning My Microsoft Surface”.

    I kid you not, his four reasons were:
    1. It’s slow. He complains about it taking a “couple of seconds” to switch from landscape to portrait. (Uh, no it doesn’t)
    2. Lack of apps. (That’s surprising for a brand new device and OS? I guess the iPad was launched with 100,000 apps already in the app store then.)
    3. It’s Wi-Fi only (Aren’t some of the iPads Wi-Fi only? I had mine for nearly 2 years and never once used the 3G capability)

    But the fourth reason is the best of them all:

    4. It’s “rough around the edges”. He says he doesn’t like the “hard edges” as compared to the iPads “soft curves” Seriously?

    Talk about effete. And to top it off, what he doesn’t tell you is that he has written SIX books on apple, and that the department he writes for at ZDnet is called – ready – “The Apple Core”. Awwwwww. How sweet. So he’s precisely the go-to guy for a review on a Microsoft product that loosely competes with the iPad, right?

NOT.

So I waded through all this crap, and found something really interesting. And that’s that while nearly all of the “reviews” were overwhelmingly negative (an understatement), the comments from people that had bought the device and -shocking! – USED the device were overwhelmingly positive. Like 98-99% of them.

So I trolled through all the comments that I could find. And after doing that, and after a couple of more conversations with my friend at Microsoft, I realized that the Surface was not really a competitor to the iPad at all. It was a tool. To be used for business. By real-life adults.

So I bought it.

And I have been BLOWN AWAY by it.

But before I tell you about my experience with it though, I want to take a minute to set the record straight about me so you know where I’m coming from.

I’m a businessman. As I mentioned I have a daytime gig and two businesses that I run. I need tools that work, and I don’t have time to screw around with stuff that doesn’t. The iPad was an exception because I need a tool in that space.

I use a pc laptop at my daytime gig. I have a vintage 2006 Black MacBook (bought new in 2006 and still going strong) that I use for my real estate and information products businesses. And I use a Blackberry Bold as my phone, because I want a damn phone and not some “entertainment consumption” toy.

So I couldn’t care less who makes what. I love Apple products as much as the next guy, and I’ll buy another MacBook when the time comes if it’s still the best in it’s class. But when it comes down to it, I’m a fan of whomever makes the thing that works the best for my needs. I swear that these Apple slappies remind me of the nutjobs here in southeast Michigan that argue back and forth about whether Chevy or “Fords” has the best pickup truck. Grow up. Seriously.

So the perspective that I have, and the perspective that I’m writing this review from, is that of a business USER. Someone who is about as far away from the pseudo “journalists” getting paid fifty cents to write two hundred word rants on products they have never touched as you can get. Someone who bought the Surface with his own money with the intent of using it for business.

And from that perspective? In my opinion the Microsoft Surface ROCKS.

I did more real work with it in the first couple of hours than I did in the entire almost two years I had the iPad. For example:

I’m launching a new information product in a few weeks, and we’ve been doing quite a bit of test marketing. Since I bought the Surface, I’ve been able to easily monitor the launch with it, no matter where I was. I used Wi-Fi where I could, and when I didn’t have it I used the mobile hotspot capability on my Blackberry.

I was able to troubleshoot registration and purchase issues in real time while watching my daughter’s lacrosse practice. I added some new user registrations while at my son’s basketball game, and I wrote up some new marketing ideas for some tweaks we wanted to make to the materials while at my daughter’s swim meet.

I have done some of this previously with the iPad, but the lack of a real keyboard and a pointing device made the iPad painfully difficult to use for doing that.

And this only scratches the surface, so to speak.

Since excel and word are native to the device, I’ve been able to analyze three potential real estate deals with my own spreadsheets that I had saved to dropbox. Doing any kind of real spreadsheet analysis on the iPad was impossible. I also wrote up two new leases in word, and I drafted two letters to tenants from my own letterhead templates that I had also saved to dropbox. From my perspective, having the MS office suite of products native to the device are a huge win in terms of doing real work. And while I personally love Pages and Keynote for really nice marketing materials (I have never ever used Numbers), I have over seven years of real estate related documents in MS Office file formats. And that’s just too big of a hurdle for me to even consider converting to Apple formats.

In the short time that I have had this device (which I’m writing this review on), it has turned into a real productivity tool for me. And I don’t have a single video, piece of music, or game on it. And I doubt that I ever will.

In terms of usability, I have been very impressed by its quality and functionality.

The screen is really nice. The Apple fanbois all whined that the screen resolution wasn’t on par with the Retina display. So what? It’s crisp and clear, the colors are great, and the resolution is FAR better than I had on the iPad 1. It works.

The keyboards are spectacular. I bought mine bundled with the “Touch” keyboard, which has a thin flat surface with no real keys that doubles as a cover. They were running a special when I bought mine where they were discounting the “Type” keyboard, so I bought both. I like the Touch keyboard best, and it was really easy to get used to.

The “Type” keyboard has real keys, which is nice for longer typing tasks such as this review. Both are nearly full-size, but neither are as good as my laptop or MacBook keyboard. Both are light years better though than the cramped keyboard cases I tried (and discarded) with the iPad. And both have touch pads. Brilliant.

It also has a USB port that I can use for a thumb drive, to transfer audio files from my digital video recorder, or attach other devices.

And the connectivity is superior. I have a wireless printer in my home office, and I tried several free and paid iPad apps to use to print with before I found one that sort of worked. It was completely different on the Surface. The first time that I wanted to print a Word doc, when I hit print, the printer was already there waiting. I literally did zero set up. That’s what I expect from my tools!

And not surprisingly, it also works great as a tablet without the keyboard. It’s wider than the iPad, and it’s native use is in landscape mode. That wasn’t an issue for me, as I always used my iPad in landscape mode anyway. The on-screen keyboard is better than the iPad’s too. The only browser available right now is Internet Explorer, which I am not a fan of. But I used Safari on the iPad, which I dislike about as much as IE, so that’s a wash. The bottom line is that I can also easily use the Surface in my lap without a physical keyboard to browse the web, use facebook and twitter, or play Ice Age or Princess Bride movie clips off of youtube for my kids just as easily as I did with the iPad.

Is it perfect? No. I didn’t expect it to be a laptop replacement and it’s not. I’m not going to render video, I’m not going to create lengthy powerpoints (although I probably could), and I doubt that I’m going to do any hard core work on any of my wordpress pages, even though I probably could do that too. No. This is a great tool for those times when you need some computing power and you don’t want to or can’t lug your laptop with you. It absolutely excels in that role based on my experience so far.

But it’s not perfect, and there are a few things that I’m less than happy with. They are:

  1. The kickstand that holds the screen up is made of the same metal as the case. At the angle it sits, it scratched my wood desk at home the first time I used it. After realizing this I have started using it on a blotter on my desk. It’s fine at the office and doesn’t seem to affect the desktops in the offices, cubes or conference rooms. This is more of a minor irritation than something I’d change, because I love the case, and the construction is first rate.
  2. ‘The viewing angle of the kickstand is fixed. It’s good for 85-90% of what I have used it for so far. But being tall, it would be nice to have some adjustment options.
  3. The charging cord is plain stupid. Microsoft created its own version of the Apple magnetic charging connection, and they did a really poor job with it. It should be a simple USB type connector instead of the one they went through a lot of trouble to create.
  4. There is no user guide or manual. No joke. A brand new OS, brand new hardware, and basically zero documentation. I’m not usually an early adopter, so I don’t know if this is common, but it has slowed down my journey up the learning curve and it’s really not acceptable. Honestly – just some keyboard shortcuts would be nice.
  5. I really wanted a RED Touch keyboard. Seriously Microsoft? Would it kill you to bundle color Touch Keyboards with the Surface instead of just black ones??

Conclusion
As you can tell I’m very impressed with this device. It has FAR exceeded my expectations in the short time that I’ve had it. And I expect that I’ll find even more uses for it as I travel up the documentationless learning curve. The Windows RT OS has been easy to use and very responsive, and I’m looking forward to seeing the new apps that are created for it. I have to say, though, that having the Evernote app available when I was setting up my device was a huge plus.

Having used both the Surface and the iPad I can sum up my impression quite simply: the Microsoft Surface is for work. The iPad is for play. If you’re looking for a productivity tool to get work done, get the Surface. If you’re looking to impress the people at the coffee shop where you hang out then get the iPad. In my opinion the two devices aren’t even in the same class and shouldn’t be considered competitors. It just wouldn’t be fair to the iPad.

But don’t take it from me. Take it from both of my high school daughters.

Before I put my iPad up for sale, I asked both of the girls if they wanted to buy it. After a lot of back and forth with both of them, I discovered two things. One, that both of them would take it if it was free (shocker I know) and two, that neither of them wanted it even if I dropped the price to $50. As one of them said, “I don’t know what I’d even use it for other than watch movies”.

Case closed.

Dennis is an active real estate investor based in Metro Detroit.

In addition to his day job, at present he holds a portfolio of rental houses and he's an active wholesaler who has closed deals in real estate markets throughout the country.

He's also a published author of a book on rental house investing called "How to Buy Your First Set and Forget Rental House", and has trained over 1000 new real estate investors on how to get started with real estate.

You can reach him directly at dennis at dennisfassett dot com

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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