The Microsoft Surface is an easy target. It is Microsoft’s attempt to get into touch computing and it is easy to see it as a me-too iPad competitor. Microsoft is frankly just so uncool that their products get much greater scrutiny, and people delight at picking everything apart.
But, the Surface RT is good. I’ve owned one for over three months now. And here’s the crazy thing: I use it all the time. More than my iPad.
Why? A bunch of reasons really. But six things really make it stand out.
1. Multiple user accounts
The Surface lets you setup multiple user accounts. It’s actually a feature I never use on a real computer, but it’s convenient to have all your settings there when you pick up a tablet.
Multiple accounts means no logging on and off of apps like Gmail and Twitter for old foggies like me who live with their significant others. Tap on your account and everything is as you left it.
I used to think that as tablets get cheaper and cheaper, people will just get one each. Here’s the reality: “Why is the email, Facebook and calendar on this !%$!$$! thing Sarah’s?”
Yes, this could be the definition of “first world problem,” but as tablets become nearly free, you’re more likely to leave one in the bathroom and wish the one in the living room just worked right.
2. Visual Feedback on Touch
Every time you touch the surface, a very light-grey, transparent circular dot briefly appears on screen and then quickly shrinks into nothing. When you swipe, a faint grey trails your finger and then almost instantly disappears.
Most Surface users probably don’t even notice this detail, but it is super nice. It helps you understand where your touches are registering and makes every touch feel highly responsive — more responsive than an iPad.
3. Two apps at a time
Have you ever tried to paste your favorite three bits of an article into an email on an iPad? Use cases like that make me bring a laptop on trips.
My most common use case is opening a narrow email client and copying and pasting text from a website or copying and pasting multiple URLs. Or: adding stuff to my calendar when I’m in an email app (this is a huge pain on the iPad). Or: taking notes in Evernote with a web browser open.
Flash is dead. Long live flash!
I hate flash as much as the next guy, but if you use the web for work, it’s a necessary evil. Say you’re the CEO of a real estate startup and you want to check in on your traffic yesterday in Google Analytics. Then Flash is like a long lost friend.
5. Left and Right Arrow Keys
On the Surface, I do what I do to write quickly and efficiently on my laptop: get close enough with the mouse and then use the onscreen arrow keys to get positioned just right. Or: Control + Arrow word by word to the place I want to edit.
6. Music Playback
You can play music or podcasts in the background on the Surface — like you’d expect. Here’s what the Surface does delightfully right: When you touch either of the volume buttons on the Surface, it shows you the volume level in the upper left hand corner of the screen along with rewind, pause and fast forward buttons.
This is discoverability done right. The first time you want music or a podcast playing in a background app to pause on the Surface, you turn down the volume and from there find out you can pause it.
This stuff has made the Microsoft Surface something I use on a regular basis. I don’t think it’s enough to make the Surface an “iPad killer” or even to steal a significant part of the market from the iPad, but it’s a strong start. The Surface is an impressive first start with some surprisingly nice features.
As an all-Apple person, I had low expectations for the Surface RT, but it has really impressed.
Disclaimer: Ward’s wife works at Microsoft and their family received their Surface for free. They are also small shareholders in Microsoft.