One tall drink of water: Microsoft Surface in portrait mode.

Microsoft’s new Surface tablet is the first computer developed end-to-end by the longtime software company. So how is the hardware? Equal parts cool and disappointing, at least in my initial experience.

After using my family’s Surface for a couple days now, I’ve come to understand why Microsoft’s initial wave of advertising has focused on the satisfying “click” of the TouchCover and TypeCover keyboard accessories when they snap into place at the bottom of the screen. The execution is so good, with the magnets pulling the keyboard into precisely the right place, it’s difficult not to attach properly.

Grammy, are you there? Waiting for Skype to work.

I’m significantly less enamored with the dimensions of the tablet. At 10.81 x 6.77 inches, the Surface is longer and not as wide as the iPad, which comes in at 9.5 x 7.31 inches. That’s not necessarily a good thing. In portrait mode, the Surface is so tall and skinny that it’s bordering on ridiculous to use.

Another downer is the power connector, which is also magnetic but isn’t nearly as foolproof to attach as the keyboard covers. (No, the power connector does not work with a USB charger.)

Overall, the hardware feels solid and well-put together, although the edges on the back of the tablet make it less comfortable to hold in the hand for a long periods of time. That’s one of the places where the iPad seems to me to have a far superior approach, with its curved backside.

The USB port is a big plus, as are the HD video out port and the microSD card slot.

In addition, the Surface kickstand has come in handy quite a few times — for example, letting me place the Surface on the table to let my daughter Skype with my parents.

Or at least, she would have Skyped with my parents if we could have gotten the app to work. We had repeated connection problems, and they’ve persisted even after I installed the available Windows Updates at the suggestion of one of my Twitter friends. I was able to connect to my parents via Skype on my Mac instead, so it’s not a problem with either of our networks.

Others on Twitter say they haven’t had any problems with Skype on Windows 8, so for Microsoft’s sake I’m hoping that my problems represent an isolated incident.

Separately, in the realm of experiments, I’ve been trying to tether my iPhone to the Surface, to use the Apple device for an Internet connection when I’m out and about, but I haven’t had any luck. The Surface doesn’t recognize my phone as an available wireless connection, even when the Personal Hotspot is turned on in iOS. Bluetooth and USB tethering don’t work either. If anyone has any luck on this front, please let me know.

Also in the realm of experiments, this was even more of a stretch, but I’ve also been trying to figure out how to automatically sync photos from our iPhones, via the cloud, to the Surface photo library. I know it sounds unreasonable, but this possible on Windows versions for x86 machines, using Apple’s iCloud Control Panel for Windows, but of course the Surface runs Windows RT for ARM processors, which means that software doesn’t work. (I tried, just to make sure.)

I played around with the SkyDrive app for iPhone and found at least one iPhone app that syncs pictures to SkyDrive, but the key here is automatic syncing, along the lines of Photostream. If anyone has any advice in this area, as well, please let me know.

Or, uh, maybe we’ll just have to break down and get Windows Phones, too. Haha. Gulp.

Previously on GeekWire

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  • Guest

    Not quite sure so far what the game changing advantage of owning an RT tablet would be. Awkward aspect ratio sure ain’t it. The iPad was a game changer right away, now with a vast ecosystem of apps. And I don’t even like Apple, nor do I own Apple products. But the surface makes less sense the more I read.

    • rruffman

      maybe instead of reading go and try one.. The iPad is not a device to do work and play that’s the game change.

      • Guest

        Yes, I’m planning to try one in a MS store some day soon. Still not sure what “doing work” means, like writing text on a keyboard? What kind of real work does the Surface RT allow that the iPad absolutely doesn’t?

        • arcana112

          Record a University lecture on video (by using the kickstand and the awesome true multitasking) and at the same time using OneNote and IE to take notes and browse the internet for research. Access my home file server by using network folders. Write a document or a spreadsheet and having my inbox snapped next to it (or my Twitter feed).

          Real world scenarios. All of those cannot be done on an ipad.

          • Guest

            Thanks. That’s actually a first convincing use case (i.e. lecture). Most just mention writing text on a keyboard, which is rather a yawner to be honest.

        • Dennis

          If you are emotionally invested in your iPad you will never get it. You would defend it even if the Surface was curing cancer.

          • Guest

            You falsely assume that I even own an iPad. Truth is, when it came out I understood the niche of an uncomplicated device for light media consumption. I’m just asking to understand what the Surface RT does beyond that, since people mentioned “real work”. So no, I’m not an Apple fanboy at all, I just recognize when they do something right (or wrong). Same goes for Android and Windows 8.

          • Mike E. Delta

            RT is tricky because it is Microsoft’s first OS on ARM venture and for their “real heavy-duty work” on a tablet, perhaps the bigger brother Surface Pro on x86 Intel processing would be the winner? C. Guest, I admire your discretion and attention to quality judgement. I agree that its not simply a matter of being a cheerleader, one has to know exactly what they are talking about. ;D

        • Anna

          Well I’ve had an iPad for a little over a year now and picked up a surface on Friday. So far in my year, I’ve used the iPad to watch movies, Skype, play some games, and keep my 3 year old nephew entertained. All good things. I tried bringing it to work to take notes in meetings or just get general work done and I could make it work but it really was never as straightforward as I would have liked. My better half tried to use it for note taking at remote meetings as well and it just didn’t really meet her needs either. However, for entertainment it was handy. I tended to reach for my iPhone more often than that simply because all the settings on the iPad ended up being more other people’s than mine and my iPhone worked fine. Now, keep in my mind I’ve only had the surface for 48 hours or so but in that time period I’ve set up the various entertainment apps (which are not as robust as the iPad but meet my needs), my better half set up her own user profile and used it all day to research a paper for school and write it, I brought it into work today and it just…worked. Once I logged into the network I could access all my files on my network drive and just start working without any problem. I went to a meeting and used remote desktop to get into my workstation and worked seamlessly. I even did some quick work in visual studio via my remote connection. (obviously it wasn’t ideal but for me, I need a full workstation and dual monitors for ideal developer work)
          So for me the key thing isn’t that the iPad didn’t work, of course I could make it work for limited productivity things. The key thing was as soon as I picked up the surface I just “got it”. It just worked how I needed it to work without me having to really do anything. I’m writing this on the surface, with the split screen on the side having my music playing and easily accessible to skip the bad song that just game on and then I just alt+tab over to my remote connection to my desktop.
          It is not a pure tablet experience like iPad. But I have no real use for a pure tablet experience apparently. I want a tablet when I need it and a computer when I need it and I want the same device to do both. So I guess the surface is for people like me! It may not be for people like you. And that’s cool because we all now more options.

          • Guest

            Thanks for the detailed response. No, the iPad isn’t for me, but I can easily see its purpose. Not so easy to figure out for the Surface RT, that’s all.

    • Jason Farris

      It’s completely awesome. I can’t imagine anyone not liking it.

      • Guest

        It’s completely awesome, because … it’s completely awesome? What exactly makes it a game changer?

        • john5757

          As someone who gave up their iPad for a surface, I’ll say the surface is definitely better for power users. Having a mini desktop with a file explorer, microsoft office, etc is a big positive. Plus the ability to snap apps and multitask is something I was wishing the iPad would incorporate for the longest. I was skeptical and had a little buyer’s remorse at first, but each day I use the surface I realize it’s a far more advanced machine than the iPad. And I don’t even have the keyboard (yet).

  • Dave

    Have you tried syncing your photsteam with skydrive on the Mac? It might be a roundabout way to get automated updates onto the Surface. Haven’t tried it (I don’t own a surface), but it seems like it would work…

    • Todd Bishop

      I like how you think, Dave. Will give it a shot.

      • Dave

        Great, keep us updated! I’m enjoying the series of articles.

      • john5757

        I synced my photos using the skydrive desktop app. Just put my photostream folder in there. Worked seamlessly. Also, holding the surface in portrait was awkward for me as well because I was so used to holding my iPad in portrait. But now I naturally hold the surface in landscape. Kinda weird how it happened.

  • pavan

    I would advise the author to stay with Apple products, not all devices in the market are made for everyone to be able to understand and use. Apple is so please and ” looks nice”

    • Mike E. Delta

      Hey, everybody this one was actually funny! I vote him up just for hilarity… =D

  • deebehling

    I am writing this on my brand new surface. I was on line in times square because I just had to be one of the first people to get it. I have not been disappointed at all. In my opinion one of the best and freshest devices I’ve tried in quite awhile. I’m not a tech head nor do I represent anybody other than a regular normal user. I have an iPad but got bored after 1 year because frankly anything other than browsing internet watching movies and maybe pics I still kept having to get my laptop to do real work. Its a great product. So please stop hating or calling it an iPad killer because its similar but different and that’s what makes it special.

    • Guest

      Cool! So where does it provide additional use compared to the aforementioned tasks where the iPads excel, and how can you use it for real work more so than the iPad? Just curious what exactly the Surface RT provides beyond light media consumption.

      • ninjacut

        Where to start, its a huge difference really. First it is a full OS, multi user, file system access including file sharing via SMB, USB device support and Microsoft office.
        Default mode is landscape, just like laptop but in touch mode you can control all aspects just with thumbs. Efficient multitasking, just swipe from left or snap side be side and all key things like search, settings are on right swipe. Even full keyboard is accessible in split mode.
        Add touch keyboard to this and you get the full PC experience. The keyboard and mouse navigation is excellent. Create office documents as a pro, save to local folders, microSD, network share or Skydrive.
        Just try it for few days, I have seen die hard iPad users respecting this device for what it can do.

        • meh

          How’s that different from say the Asus Transformer on Android 4.x? That device has been around for a year or more, has USB, a keyboard, file system, cloud storage through free dropbox app etc. Granted, MS Office is missing but there’s a ton of neat apps that cover these tasks well and hardly cost anything. Why exactly impresses Windows 8 on Surface with those old features?

          • folfox

            Xbox Music and Video – Microsoft are really the only ones with the whole “triple screen” thing going at the moment. AppleTV is good but rather limited and Google’s Nexus Q seems like a bit of a non-starter. And least that’s been the clincher for me, each to his own etc etc…

          • Michael Khalilian

            How is it different? Uh, how about the design? And no one was talking about Android or Asus. The questions was how was it different from the functionality of an iPad. But yes, design is king. Android has terrible design. Surface hardware looks great and the metro design is very sleek. I can’t say the same for Nexus or Asus tablets.

          • badescu alexandru

            i can’t wait to get my surface! The experience is much more integrated in Win8/RT than android. +you can just swipe your content from an usb stick on the desktop. working with data is still a pain in android/ios, and the apps available are not that suited for file manipulation.

        • VHMP01

          Don’t forget all the printers and devices that got Windows Drivers out of the box, there most be over 20 year old devices that work properly…

    • Michael Hazell

      Did you get that touch cover as well? I wonder how that feels to type on.

      • Neil

        The touch cover is nice. It takes a bit to get accustomed to the level of pressure needed. There are indicators on the J and F keys so that you know where your fingers are.

        I pre-ordered and when it arrived I got it all set up. I took it to my daughter at college to replace a netbook that she had. She uses it for notes in class and there is no annoying clickity-click of the keyboard when she is taking notes. She loves it.

  • JimmyFal

    I tether fine with my Lumia 900 with the Surface, and unlike the iPhone it does
    not drop the connection when a call comes in. I setup lots of iPhones, and I
    have found that powering the iPhone on and off when connecting to non-Apple
    devices can work wonders.

    Until seamless integration with Photo stream becomes reality in the photos app as it does with Flickr, one way to get photos in there would be attach iPhone to
    Surface and import the pics, I haven’t tried that yet but on a pc it would be detected as a camera. Not ideal but guess what, both phones sync
    better in their own ecosystems, surprise! I hate when they do that.

    Surface is really not meant for portrait, that becomes obvious quickly. As for Skype it has worked quite well for me. But as with any of these devices if something doesn’t work. Turn it off (all the way by holding power for 5 seconds) and turn it on. A quick Internet search and my own experience will come up with lots of neat stories about iPads conveniently turning themselves off for you
    while watching a movie or typing an email.

    None of these devices are quite as perfect as we would like. At the moment the
    Surface is probably sporting a few more software glitches than the iPad, but
    try to focus on what it can do that iPad struggles with. And give MS a few
    weeks to push out some updates, they come much quicker than in the old days.
    The Surface may be version 1.0, but the hardware is impressive and compact and
    it has a keyboard, office, user accounts, split screen multi-tasking and even a bit of Adobe Flash capability here and there!
    Whatever it is, it’s not nearly as bad as the Apple guys are hoping it will be.

    • Guest

      Oh, I don’t think it’s bad, it’s just not that good.

  • facebook-100000176348804

    I so wanted to like the surface. It’s time for me to upgrade my home office network. Looks as if I should pay up and go Apple. The iPhone works with my eyes closed. Looks as if Windows eight is a part time job itself.
    That’s not what I want. Ease of use is consumer relevance. Thank you for keeping us informed.

    • RollingEyes

      Shame on everyone who voted down on this comment. 10 downs for someone simply stating that he doesn’t like a product?! Dissent is futile. This reflects badly on the MS lobby, not on the commenter. (Now vote down on this here too, I couldn’t give a …)

    • Mike E. Delta

      Looking is not the same as being. I don’t equate eyes-closed to Office work, and I don’t quite agree. I have watched many (MANY) struggle with their “easy-to-use” iPhones in my office. When everything at work is built on a Windows foundation, how does throwing in a rogue element built upon a completely different code base, that depends on the hundred-million workaround solutions called apps to “work together” with the rest of a work environment, work better exactly? Pony up A LOT of money to completely overthrow your environment to get that solution to work, you have every right. It is YOUR business after all…but just so you know, Eight is not as hard as the “critics” like to report. Get your hands on it before making any actual decisions, but then again you already own the iPhone it doesn’t even matter *cough*future Blackberry*cough* ;)
      **Disclaimer: These are, of course, merely opinions and do not reflect the views of the article author, website or any of the other commenters; thus subject to the laws of the internet.**

  • SilverSee

    The widescreen aspect ratio allows for snapping two apps side by side, giving a useful multitasking option not available on the iPad, and its also wonderful for video. I would say 4:3 vs. 16:9 is a matter of personal preference and there are scenarios that work best with one or the other.

  • techieg

    As for connecting the iPhone to Surface, you are going to have to call Apple to make that happen. MS had to provide Zune for Mac to connect Windows Phones to Mac computers, the iPad was not supported though. I am sure Apple will be glad to look into helping you make your iPhone connect with your Surface.
    Also, if you cannot install a driver for the iPhone on a host device, I don’t see how it can connect and do anything beyond battery charging. It has nothing to do with either device, its a driver availability issue. a mobile device (or any device at all) needs a minimum of its driver installed on the host computer for there to be any kind of communication. Again, contact Apple for all of that.

  • kevin

    I have a surface as well pre ordered it my windows phone 7 a nokia lumia doesn’t sync it doesn’t have a zune app to work ive used windows 8 pro for about a year now on an acer iconia tab w500 and it did, the apps are sparse and have been since the start that’s why Microsoft did this the entire ecosystem so that developers would start making apps for it then the rt version will shine as for your phone the new windows phone 8 come out in a week and im sure there will be backwards compatibility with my nokia and your iphone

    • Mike E. Delta

      I agree with that assesment…when they did the keynote for the Windows Phone 8, they were talking as though Windows Phone 7 were an experiment that culminated in the creation of WP8. Surface and by extension Windows RT is for now the Windows Phone 7 of their tablet space, but the Surface Pro should be a nice alternative for those who don’t want to staRT earlier than others in this new venture.

  • rswily

    Others on Twitter say they haven’t had any problems with Skype on Windows 8, so for Microsoft’s sake I’m hoping that my problems represent an isolated incident.

    I guess you can’t help some people.

  • Jeremy Schroder

    Todd – Have you invested any time looking for toddler apps? Just curious if there are any options in the store for the little ones.

  • Thomas A B Johnson

    Abandon Apple ecosystem at your own risk.

    • Guest

      Hm, the same used to be said about the Microsoft ecosystem. Yet, people now seem perfectly happy with their abandoning the mass solution. Not a convincing argument against the Surface really.

    • Mike E. Delta

      Which was built on workarounds aka “Apps” ? =[

  • Thomas A B Johnson

    30 comments on work arounds. I doubt the average comsumer wants to get that far in the weeds for a tablet.

  • Michael Hazell

    @toddbishop:disqus I have a question for you… Have you tried inserting any USB HID certified input device? An example of that would be the Microsoft Mouse 3000 (HID Certified), and the Logitech K120 keyboard (HID Certified as well).

  • Rudyt


    I was able to tether my Surface tablet to my iphone5 via bluetooth. However, the connection gets dropped pretty easily.

  • Alexis Gomel

    what about picasa, ubuntu one or dropbox? can you sync the pics with them?

  • Mitch

    You should be able to auto-sync photos to your surface using dropbox. I have my Android phone auto-sync my photos to a dropbox photos so that they are automatically on my computer. I assume iPhone has the same capabilities. Good luck!

  • Mike E. Delta

    I think that EVENTUALLY all these tech companies might have to play nice with each others toys or third party developers need to step up their game…until then the MO seems to be XgettingX forcing users to move to propietary platforms or ecosystems for that “seamless” integration. (and I’m purposely trying to seem cold to this as to hide the fact that I am all for adopting the Windows Phone) =[

  • Rodrigo Ratan

    get a Windows Phone :-)

  • Bob

    I had an issue with my Lumia 900 wifi hotspot. The issue was I had a space in the hotspot name. Once the space was removed it has worked perfectly since.

    • Todd Bishop

      Bob, you are awesome. I just changed the name of my iPhone to a single word, which changed the name of the network created by the iPhone, and my Surface is now connected to my iPhone for wifi. Thanks!!

  • bdc2000

    “In portrait mode, the Surface is so tall and skinny that it’s bordering on ridiculous to use.” Do folks watch their TVs in Portrait mode?

  • InternationalRelationsXPERT

    I agree the portrait mode is pretty top heavy to say the least. Needless to say I’m not a fan of the dimensions. Did Microsoft try the product out before releasing it? That’s my only real gripe about the tablet itself.

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