Microsoft has released two tablet PCs called Surface RT and Surface Pro. The Surface RT does not provide features we would suggest for business computing. The Microsoft Surface Pro, in our opinion, could be a viable laptop replacement.

It’s a Viable Laptop Replacement

a review of Microsoft Surface Pro

Image compliments of Scott Akerman on Flikr

The Surface is Microsoft’s newest line of touch-screen tablet PCs and was specifically designed to work with Microsoft’s newest Windows operating system, Windows 8.

The Surface Pro offers powerful hardware matching business class laptops but in a much smaller, travel friendly size. This is a rare combination in today’s market. The dimensions are 10.8 and one-half inch thick. The Surface Pro weighs 2 pounds configured with a solid-state hard drive and comes equipped with wireless connectivity and ports for external USB-3, mini-HDMI video and a slot for a SD memory card. There are third party docking stations which connect to the USB port allowing you to attach a mouse, keyboard, Ethernet, video and additional USB ports when working in the office.

Set-Up is Quick and Easy

Setting up the Surface is the same as any other Windows device. You choose your language, accept the Microsoft Terms of Service, apply a few settings, and you’re good to go. Windows 8 also has the ability to let you log in with a Windows Live ID, rather than a standard local profile. This provides cloud services and allows you to store the profile of your Windows 8 device in the cloud so it’s available, along with specific settings, to any other Windows 8 device when logged into the Windows Live ID.

Two Separate Desktop Environments

Windows 8 provides two separate desktop environments. Upon login, the Surface desktop defaults to the Tiles environment. With a touch screen, you can swipe and click to access programs. There is a Tile for Desktop which will send you to the traditional Windows desktop look. However, in the current release of the product, the All Programs start menu is not available. Programs need to be Pinned to this desktop from the Tiles desktop. Confusing?  Yes, but it gets easier as you work with it.

The desktop environments give you two different ways to use the system:

  • You can use Windows 8 similar to how you would use a smart phone. You have a main tiled screen where you set the programs and shortcuts you want to use. By swiping the screen (again, in a similar manner to a smart phone), you access other screens and menus.
  • Or, you can choose to use the Desktop tile. This brings you to a familiar Windows style desktop. You can have programs and documents saved to the desktop for quick access, just like in past versions of Windows. The missing Start menu and various bug fixes are expected to be added in Windows 8.1, a free service pack from Microsoft due out in October.

Usability Tips

The Surface tablet works extremely well with Windows 8. When undocked and used as a tablet, I would recommend getting used to the Tiled mode. Having large clickable tiles is much easier to work with when compared to the small icons.

The keyboard is one accessory highly recommended for office work. Although the onscreen keyboard is very responsive, it is still difficult to use for your everyday needs such as typing a Word document or an email. The keyboard magnetically attaches itself directly to the bottom of the device, giving you a full QWERTY keyboard. It also flips over the screen to act as a screen protector when you are on the go.

At the current price of $999 (September 2013), the Microsoft Surface Pro can be considered a replacement for a laptop for a user who wants to lessen their travel load while maintaining computing performance. Since many of us use tablets such as the iPad already, the cost justification is that this is two devices in one, at a similar cost point. But this tablet runs real software; not just apps from the AppStore.


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