Congratulations! Someone loved you enough to give you the gift of a Microsoft Surface with Windows RT.

I’m imagining you sitting there next to the tree with the package unwrapped, and a gleam in your eye as you consider returning it for a new iPad or several Kindle Fires. Before you check to see if your local electronics store is open today, let me just say that there’s a lot to like about Microsoft’s new tablet.

The built-in news and sports apps are immersive and informative; the People hub is a great way to catch up quickly on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks; and many of the basic apps are there, such as Angry Birds Star Wars, ESPN and Netflix (at least when Netflix is working). The TouchCover or TypeCover keyboard will also be particularly nice if you use your Surface for work. (Hopefully you got one of those under the tree, too?)

Yes, the Surface has its challenges, starting with its dimensions. At 10.81 x 6.77 inches, the Surface is made for use in landscape mode — great for watching movies but unwieldy in portrait mode and generally requiring two hands to hold.

For more of what you can expect, I’ve documented my own family’s high and lows in my Surface Diary posts, in which I convinced my wife to spend our iPad budget on one of the new Microsoft tablets.

Apart from getting comfortable with Windows 8 and learning the basics of the navigation, there are some quirks that you’ll want to understand. I’ve jotted down a list of small things about Surface that I wish I had known from the start.

Multiple User Accounts: One of my favorite parts of the Surface is the ability to set up accounts for each member of the family, essentially giving each of us our own personalized tablet when we log in as ourselves. Swipe in from the right bezel, tap Settings, then “Change PC Settings” and navigate to the Users tab to set up multiple accounts. Be sure to set up picture passwords, as well, to make things easier on everyone.

Family Safety: One benefit of having multiple user accounts is the ability to set up a profile specifically for your kids. As an added bonus, you can then use the Family Safety settings in Windows to control and restrict their access to apps, limit the amount of time they spend on the computer, and get reports on how they’re spending their time. Search for “Family Safety” from the Windows Start Screen to navigate to the setup menu in the traditional Windows desktop.

(Screenshot from Microsoft Surface video.)

Finding the microSD slot: One nice feature of the Surface RT is the ability to expand the storage with a microSD card. So where in the heck is the microSD slot? Turn the Surface face down, flip open the stand, and look in the recess beneath the stand on the left-hand side, just above the power connection. Yes, it’s tough to see, but trust me, it’s there.

Yes, you can forward mail: Microsoft’s built-in Mail program leaves a lot to be desired, but the basic functionality is there, if you take the time to find it. One of my biggest struggles at first was figuring out how to forward mail, and I’ve heard similar complaints from others. Here’s the trick: Hit the reply button in the Mail interface, and one of the options that pops up will be forward.

Software Updates: Especially on a newly released V1 product, it’s smart to keep the operating system and applications up-to-date as much as possible. Make sure you’re set to automatically install updates in the Windows Update section of the PC settings. (Swipe in from the right, then hit settings, then “Change PC settings,” and scroll to the bottom of the list.) Also remember to update your apps via the Windows Store.

As a third check, it’s worth navigating to Windows Update in the Control Panel in the traditional Windows desktop. I’ve sometimes found updates waiting there that weren’t being installed via the other Windows Update. (Yes, Microsoft has some work to do to unify all of this.)

Check the charge light! Microsoft clearly paid a ton of attention to the keyboard cover attachment point, with the signature “click” as the accessory snaps in. But the power/charging connection is another matter entirely. It’s very easy to seat the charging connection improperly into the frame of the device, and then come back later and realize that your Surface hasn’t been charging. Make sure that the light at the top of the connector is lit before you walk away.

Those are some minor points, but hopefully they’ll help to get you on your way. Good luck and enjoy your new Surface! At least you didn’t have to pay for it! Here’s an index of my Surface Diary posts for a deeper dive.

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  • AvoidDroid

    Number One Tip : Return it and get an iPad.

    • GtWhiteNorth

      Or ignore posts for the next few years by AvoidDroid and hope by then that he has matured enough not to write shat. But I highly doubt it.

  • ctianic

    My tip is learn the new ways, you have something in your hand that is more powerful than an iPad.

  • Disgorge

    Or the person disliked you enough to give you a surface. How is it more powerful? Because it has office? Get real. I make documents all day long using numbers and pages.

    • VHMP01

      A USB Plug that recognizes most computer devices made in the last 20 years? Makes it like incredibly ‘Magically’ more productive to me!

  • Squakmtn

    My Mother in law
    was a proud recipient of a Surface this morning. As an iPad owner I have to say the Surface’s basic navigation paradigm and functionality makes the iPad look like a toy. The Surface is a much more mature 2.0 version of how to do tablet when compared to the iPad.
    Apps are another story altogether; if you have to have the latest apps then the iPad is still your thing. Interestingly, my low tech wife who is the primary iPad user in our house commented the other day on how poor the quality of the 3rd party iPad apps were and how she didn’t understand what all the fuss was about having so many available. Apparently a closed garden isn’t a guarantee of quality apps…

  • AvoidDroid

    Tip Number Two : Ignore the wishful thinking of Microsloth fanboys and refer to Tip Number One (Return it and get an iPad).

  • Luvmymac butt

    i have 2 Mac’s and 2 iPads at home, and i used to have iPhone. When i talk a non fan boy oriented, subjective look at the new Win phone from Nokia, and the new Win8 touch screens PC’s and the Surface, i took the plunge and upgraded to a new Win8 PC first. Loved it. Touch on a desktop is the new normal for me, and i find myself wanting to touch every screen i see now, including my iMac! Then i moved to Win phone…wow…amazing….and i really don’t miss my iPhone anymore. The Surface was under my tree, and i love it also…Yes, there are some apps that i miss, but they will come in time…..

  • Matt Olsen

    Got nothing under the tree because I didn’t even have a tree. Have never gotten electronics for Christmas.

  • Bill Pytlovany

    Why do iPad people feel a need to comment on articles about the Surface? If I wanted an iPad I would have purchased one. You iPad people are wasting our time with what suspiciously comes across as a sign that you need to reassure yourself that you made the best choice.

    Thanks Todd for posting your diary. I haven’t started to read it so excuse me if you’re already mentioned my favorite tips. Hope you’ll find my blog that includes many Surface articles.
    1) Without a printscreen button you can press Windows button then Volume Down to do a screen capture.
    2) If you’re out in a crowd, attach your keyboard. The commercials have been so effective I’ve had people stop what they’re doing when they hear the click sound and rush over to ask about the Surface.


    • TishTash

      Much more annoying are people who start out with “I use an iPad” to gain anti-Apple credibility but obviously have never used one.

    • John Whitehead

      Agree, we have 6 IPads, a Surface, a Dell XPS AIO and XPS 12.. The IPad is a great device, but the user friendly interface and countless abilities of the windows 8 OS has let our IPads collect some dust.

    • petethegreek

      Well, we don’t really need YOUR reassurance that we made the best choice. We already have it from the 58,230,000 other people who bought an iPad in 2012. By the way, how are sales of the amazing Surface doing at the moment?

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