Surface 2 Review
Ok, so I am pretty well known for being thoroughly entrenched in the Google system. I have a Nexus 4, use Google NOW everyday, keep my Google mail account for “serious” emails, subscribe to Google Play Music Now, and bought 2 Chromecasts about 35 seconds after Sundar Pichai announced it. However, last month my 6 year old HP laptop gave me blue screen of death. This laptop is on it’s second motherboard, and has been having power issues for about a year now. As a full time student at the Florida Institute of Technology, it seemed pretty important that I replace my computer with a newer, more reliable device as soon as possible.
Being a Google fangirl, I immediately looked into Chromebooks but the lack of an Office suite, and the limitations of the Google productivity software made this a bad choice for me as a university student. I settled on the Surface 2, mainly because of it’s size and access to Office baked into the device. I must admit that it is not a perfect choice for me, but overall, I am rather pleased with the decision.
I did choose the purple type 2 cover over the touch cover, and I’m pretty happy with that decision. Originally, I wanted to save a few bucks by getting the old touch cover that was on sale from Microsoft for $79, but the convenience offered by the type cover when I use the productivity apps seemed paramount. The Type 2 and Touch 2 covers also have added backlighting, which I didn’t think was all that important when I was shopping. However, I find it a mixed bag, helpful at times, and a distraction at others, such as when I’m trying to watch HULU+ or Netflix after dark. Conveniently, there are buttons on the top row to turn the backlighting up or down, and I frequently use them to turn it off completely. A lot of Surface keyboard reviews say that the type keyboard is too small for their fingers, but as a woman with shorter fingers, I find it exactly right. The F and J keys do have nobs on them that give your index fingers a reference point, and they are very helpful. I had no adjustment time to match my laptop typing speed. I did have to figure out where a number of the keys were located however. I still go to the lower right for the end and home keys, which are now located in the very top row.
The trackpad however, does take a little adjustment. You still click on the right or left as you would on other trackpads, but it is very difficult to determine whether you have completed that task. Also, double tapping on the pad doesn’t seem to ever work for me, and I’m not really sure if I’m doing it wrong or if that is not an enabled feature. I find that it is forcing me to use the touch screen more, but for a number of tasks, the precision of a pointer with more precision than my fingers is necessary. I am seriously considering getting a small wireless mouse for detail work. The included 3.0 USB makes this an easy decision to make, and I am grateful for it.
The first thing I really had to adjust to was the change from Windows 7 to Windows 8.1. It took me about a day to acclimate myself to the new OS. I went to all the sites I could find in order to view tutorials and articles explaining how to do the basics, and some were more helpful than others. The device also comes with a sort of tutorial app installed on the Metro screen. While it was informative, it almost tried to give too much too fast. It attempted to explain a complex series of steps but for those who have never played with the OS, it is very easy to get lost. I found the steps to be too intricate to follow without actually doing them myself, and many times I tuned out the instructions when I got confused. Instead, I had to just play with the device for hours on end. This transition was not an easy one, but it was fun and it didn’t take forever so I never felt the urge to give up.
My previous laptop had a 15.6 inch screen, so the 10.6 inch Surface 2 is quite a size difference, and I was concerned about the transition. However, I am happy to say that I am not bothered by it at all. The quality of the images on the screen is excellent. I did a side by side comparison with my Surface 2 and a friend’s new iPad Air, and even the Apple fanboy user had to admit that there were no discernible differences between the two. Screen brightness is very easy to adjust by accessing the charms menu. The screen itself seems to draw fingerprints, more than my son’s iPad, and I am constantly cleaning it. My suggestion is to follow Microsoft’s recommendations and clean it using a soft cloth and water only. I did use an electronic screen cleaner on it a few times, and it seemed to make the smudges worse. Water and a cloth did much better. The electronics cleaner was better on the Type cover. My son touched it with BBQ sauce on his fingers (grrrrrr…) and the plastic keys and soft border came completely clean.
I also began to become concerned that I had purchased the 32gb version, when everything I seemed to download didn’t go automatically to my Skydrive as expected. I really didn’t think this would be a problem, because the Surface 2 comes with an additional 200 gb of Skydrive space. I found myself having to daily move downloaded items off of the device and to the Skydrive. However, I have a little more confidence now, as I have placed a 32gb microSD card in the available slot. Most downloads still automatically download to the device though, and a change to the OS allowing you to choose a different default location would be appreciated.
I had the opportunity to use some of the Office applications this weekend, and I am very pleased with their operation. Word seems very similar to what I used on my laptop. The task bar is minimized, I assume to free up screen real estate. The software does immediately access files stored on the Skydrive and saves them with ease. There are a few obscure features of the suite that are unavailable, but so far as a university student, I haven’t had to use any of them.
The Surface 2 can only access apps from their app store, and the lack of apps in the store has been marked as a negative by many reviewers. For the most part, I have not found this to be a problem, with one major exception. This device only runs Internet Explorer 11, it’s baked into the OS. You cannot download Chrome, Firefox, or any previous versions of IE. As a university student who must use her university’s online software on a daily basis, this is a problem. This browser is extremely new, and many schools, mine included, have not optimized their online presence to work with IE11. For a device that is advertised as a great device to students, this can be a deal breaker. I did discover a work-around however. There is a Google Search App in the store that will open up a Chrome browser single tab when items are selected. I am currently using that to sign into my school. It does not support pop outs, and will not open another tab, so some functionality is limited, but I can access most of my classroom. I can take tests, and post to discussion boards, and check my grades, and go to the online library. It seems like it will meet my needs until my school makes their site accessible by IE11.
Other apps that I use regularly include HULU+, Netflix, My Study Life, WordPress, Skype, Facebook, and Twitter. For me, some of the apps, like Twitter, are more user friendly than the app on my Nexus 4. The side by side dual apps open on the screen is made for such an app. When a link in a tweet is clicked on, the twitter screen becomes smaller, and an IE window is opened showing the content. I spend a lot more time in Twitter now than I ever did on my smartphone. However, the HULU+ app is difficult to navigate, and it’s hard to locate specific episodes of any series. The recently aired episode is easily located, but try not to get behind, because it is hard to find any you have missed. I am also irritated that I cannot send episodes to my Chromecast. I know, that was a trade off of going with this device, but I would really like to access that functionality through the app for HULU and Netflix. Apps that I regularly use that are missing from the store include PULSE NEWS, Candy Crush, Simple Banking, IKEA, and Walmart. The lack of PULSE, however has led me to discover Flipbook, and I have been using that extensively on the Surface.
The Surface 2 also has many baked in apps that are extremely useful, and I am quickly becoming dependent upon them. The News reader app is helpful, though it does not survey all of my favorite websites (please add Cracked… I need to get my giggle on!). The Sports app lets you select specific teams and pin them to your Metro start, and it does a pretty good job of displaying articles about my under reported upon New Orleans Saints. But the star of the bunch is the Food & Drink app. I love this app! It allows you to search for random recipes, and also specific recipes. Once you pick a recipe, you can add it’s ingredients to a shopping list. You can also remove things from that list that you already have a home before you share that list with One Note. Then when you go to the grocery store, you can use your One Note mobile app to pull up that shopping list, and click off the ingredients as they go in the cart. This is the best recipe to shopping list system I have seen so far, and I highly recommend it. I also like the Health & FItness App, but as I’m all about integration, it would be better if there was a way to link it to a pedometer app or a fitness watch. Skype integration is also baked into other apps as well. I clicked upon a phone number in an email, and it immediately opened up a side by side screen in Skype, and asked if I wanted to dial. The call came through clear without any lag. As someone who regularly used Google Talk on my laptop, I would have to say this was an easier process than the copy and paste I usually used. The gift of a year of Skype Unlimited that came with the purchase of the Surface 2 makes using this functionality a no brainer. My only concern is what I will do next year when my subscription expires.