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As many of you predicted, my decision to spend my family’s iPad budget on a Microsoft Surface is causing some friction around the house. But not for the reason you would expect. My wife has actually developed a fondness for the Microsoft tablet — so much that she gets exasperated when I take it downstairs or to the office to test features or try a new app.

Netflix on the kitchen counter.

Yes, I’m prepared to declare victory in my risky little experiment. My wife is happy. We won’t be returning our Surface.

But this doesn’t necessarily signal a broader win for Microsoft in its attempt to make a dent vs. the iPad with Surface and other Windows 8/RT tablets.

Here’s why: It turns out that the bar with my family is relatively low. We’re satisfied with basic functionality.

For example, the app that gets the biggest use, by far, is Netflix. My wife has been discovering new television series, and the Surface is a good way to watch on the couch or in bed (although the distribution of weight makes it a little unwieldy when fully reclined.) Especially if our daughter is napping or sleeping, it’s nice to be able to plug in the headphones and have a more personal (and quieter) viewing experience than possible in our living room.

We also are continuing to use the built-in Bing News app regularly. Personally, I like the fact that it provides access to selected Wall Street Journal stories without a subscription.

And yes, it was a very good sign when Angry Birds Star Wars was available at launch for Windows 8.

The problem, for Microsoft, is that these things represent the basic expectations when comes to tablets these days. They make the Surface a viable alternative to the iPad, but it’s difficult to make a strong case for the Surface as a better choice than the iPad in a family situation like ours.

The biggest selling point, for me, is the built-in support for multiple user accounts, which lets each of us treat the tablet as if it were our own, but that’s not the type of thing that will make the Surface fly off the shelves.

A few more notes and updates since my last installment …

Finally able to use Surface to Skype with my mom.

I have tried plugging the Surface into an external monitor at work, along with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, with the idea of using the traditional Windows desktop via the Surface on the big screen, and using the Surface itself as a secondary screen on my desk. I like this in concept but the Surface screen is constantly switching from the Start screen to the traditional desktop whenever I click on the traditional desktop on the external monitor, which isn’t what I want. I haven’t figured out how to fix this in the settings — if anyone knows the trick, please let me know.

A firmware update this week seems to have made the Surface run more smoothly overall and also addressed some of the ongoing problems I was having with the Skype app. I can now connect to my parents reliably for video calls, although the app isn’t always as responsive as it should be. This seems to be an isolated problem, not widespread, and I’ve been in touch with Microsoft to try to figure out what’s going on.

Speaking of software updates, Microsoft needs to clean this up. There are at least three places where users need to check for updates — in the Windows Store, in the Windows 8 interface and in the traditional Windows desktop. After installing all the available updates for the Surface this week, I found yet another update via the traditional desktop. This experience is in need of some serious unification.

Battery life needs improvement. I haven’t done any precise measurements, but each morning I’m finding that I need to recharge the tablet. Yes, all the video we’re streaming takes a toll, but my sense is that we should be getting considerably better performance on this front.

That’s it for now. I’ll keep posting updates periodically as we continue to use the Surface. But I’m going to stop for now and get this thing back upstairs, just to be safe.

Previously on GeekWire


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