While attending a conference this week, I had the opportunity for a hands-on experience with the Microsoft Surface Tablet. This new tablet offers the potential for improved productivity. Just how well the Surface moves the needle on productivity is an ongoing question. However, the issue is extremely important for business users and students where text input is as important, and sometimes more important, than mostly consuming information.
The first impression of the Surface was the overall build quality. It was a solid device that suggested great attention to high build quality. The screen resolution was good. If one compared iPad and Surface resolution, the iPad would win, but the Surface has a high quality display that is perfectly enjoyable. There were no concerns about build quality. Microsoft seems to have followed the Apple example where branded hardware sets the standard for competitors.
The interface takes getting used to, but makes logical sense. The tiles on the main screen are much more aligned with current interfaces on phones and other tablets where touching and swiping pictures and graphics to access content is the new reality. Like any new product, a short period of adjustment should be expected. One point of fact is that there is no user manual per se on the tablet operation. It is designed to be intuitive. Whether that goal is achieved will be open for debate, but there was nothing terribly confusing about the interface.
One of the biggest selling features of the Surface is the attachable keyboard. There are two types of keyboards available. One keyboard has imprinted keys, and the other has movable keys as would a normal keyboard. Imprinted keys might indicate a typing experience similar to the LCD keyboard, but that is a misconception. The imprinted keyboard has good tactile feel for touch typing, and was pleasantly responsive. It is a major step up from an LCD keyboard, will still some limitations because of its flatness. Keyboards are usually somewhat graduated in sloping, so the imprinted keyboard remains slightly less efficient. The physical keyboard feels much more like a regular keyboard. Depending on one’s hand and finger sizes, the small footprint may or may not be an issue. The physical keys do indeed promote a more efficient typing experience than does the imprinted keyboard. Both keyboards cost additional, but the difference in price is only $10; $119 vs $129. It comes down to preference, but either choice is significantly better than typing on glass.
If one desires Microsoft Office applications, this is the only tablet on the market. Albeit the version of Office is unique to the tablet, at least it is now available. This is a big plus for the Surface and important to many non-entertainment tablet users.
All in all, the user experience was positive. I often receive inquiries from students about the new Surface tablet because they are always interested in the latest and greatest tools. The single limiting issue, and a major one, is the acquisition price. The initial buzz about the Surface undercutting the competition turned out to be, very sadly, completely wrong. The base tablet is $499, plus the keyboard/cover ($119 or $129). That equates to a device that is about twice as expensive as a laptop. For most students, it is just not a realistic price point. While disappointment abounds at the pricing, it is well known that over time prices drop. The best advice to schools and students is to wait. Surely as competition heats up, prices will fall to hopefully levels of laptops. In the meantime, stick with laptops, but keep a watchful eye on the adoption trends of the Surface tablet. If Microsoft can execute and deliver a quality platform that offers reliability and good user experience, this product could be a real game changer for students.