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Here’s a good sign: For the last couple of mornings, I’ve gone looking for my family’s Microsoft Surface tablet — at one point thinking it had either been lost or left at the office — before finding it under my wife’s pillow or next to the bed.

In other words, she’s using it after I’m falling asleep at night, and finding plenty of things to like.

This has been an evolution. Early in the week, when I asked how she was liking the Surface — which we purchased in lieu of an iPad — my wife’s response was, “It’ll do.” But last night, when the topic of the Surface came up again, she had good things to say about the built-in Bing apps, in particular, explaining how she had used one of the mapping features to take what amounted to a virtual tour of the Egyptian pyramids. She was impressed.

“Bing is their Google, right?” she asked.

Personally I’ve also become a fan of Bing Daily, a built-in app that aggregates content from wire services and newspapers, along with vivid images, to recap the day’s news. I’m finding myself staying upstairs longer in the morning, browsing the latest headlines, rather than going downstairs to my home office and turning on my computer. The editorial choices feel like a digital version of a network newscast. The NBC News app is nice, too, but not as pretty.

I’ve also been spending quite a bit of time with Xbox SmartGlass, the app that turns the tablet into a second screen and remote control for Xbox Live on the Xbox 360 console.

SmartGlass: Browsing on the tablet, controlling the television.

SmartGlass shows a lot of promise, but the experience isn’t yet as smooth or as comprehensive as it should be. For example, after navigating to the search field on the TV screen, the keyboard doesn’t always pop up automatically on the Surface, requiring me to hit a couple of buttons or tap the screen to activate it manually.

There are also odd inconsistencies. For example, I was able to search and find YouTube videos via the Xbox Live search function on the TV screen, using the SmartGlass keyboard to type the search query. However, I wasn’t able to find YouTube videos using the separate Xbox SmartGlass search feature on the tablet screen. Other types of content can be found there, but not YouTube videos. That’s weird, because ultimately the video would be played back on the television, no matter which interface was used to search.

Overall, the third-party app integration with SmartGlass is pretty weak right now. For example, you can access the Amazon Instant Video app on Xbox Live using SmartGlass on the tablet, to control playback, but you can’t search Amazon’s library using the SmartGlass keyboard on the Surface screen, at least not that I could find. In the Amazon app, you’re still stuck scrolling back and forth to pick letters, the modern equivalent of hunt and peck.

However, when SmartGlass works, it’s pretty awesome. I was able to use the SmartGlass app and keyboard to search on the tablet for my daughter’s favorite program, Dinosaur Train, and discover that it’s available for streaming through Netflix. I browsed episode descriptions on the tablet, pressed a button to play one of the episodes on the Xbox 360, and boom, there it was on the TV screen.

Pretty darn slick, and promising.

Another feature of SmartGlass is the ability to use the tablet to control the new version of Internet Explorer for Xbox Live — moving the cursor, typing web addresses and scrolling on the television using your fingers on the tablet. In my experience, this works well from a technical standpoint, but I’m still trying to figure out when and why I would want to use a browser on my television.

Long term, Microsoft needs to smooth out the experience and get app developers on board to realize the potential of SmartGlass. (SmartGlass is on Windows 8, Windows Phone and Android for now, with iOS app coming later.)

Meanwhile, I continue to experience sticker shock over the price of the some of the apps in the Windows Store … but I’m still evaluating this overall, and I’ll leave that for a future post. Stay tuned.

Previously on GeekWire

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