Addendum that iPad?

The only really big problem with annual leave is that at some point you have to return to work. Well, I’m back, and following 2 weeks in Florida, the resulting jetlag is the reason I’m writing this at 5am.  Still, it’s not all bad, as I’m writing this on my new Microsoft Surface RT.  So how is it? Why did I buy one? What will I use it for? And importantly, how does it compare to an iPad?

Before we begin though, let’s start of by saying that I’m not going to discuss the device/hardware and app store, let’s just leave it at ”the external reviews on hardware are all about right”, (it’s beautifully designed and executed), the touch keyboard really is very workable and usable, and far superior to any iPad keyboard, and there aren’t loads of apps yet, (come on, it’s only been out two weeks, give  it 6 months. iPad had no apps for ages either, and up scaled/stretched iPhone apps don’t really count), those that there are beautiful on the whole (think flipboard cool).

So, why did I buy one?  Well, my iPad is just over 2 years old now, and to be honest, it’s not been performing well of late. Since I moved to IOS 5, application crashes are very frequent, and I’ve found it less and less enjoyable to use. Perhaps time for a new iPad then or maybe something else? Well, I checked out Nexus 7 (and they’ve just released Nexus 10), a good product for sure but whilst in US I visited a Microsoft store and well, the rest is history. I was won over by the device after 10 minutes, add in a nice dollar/pound rate and the deal was done.

What will I use it for?  Well, it’s a consumer device, (as is iPad), and I anticipate using it for a mixture of consumer stuff, and some day work usage. When I recount what I used my iPad for, I used it for the same, email at home, and a day trip device, rather than carry a full laptop. What I didn’t use it for was any creation, (I’m not a big fan of iPad keyboard and autocorrect), so as a basic consideration  does Surface do those things well enough?

How does it cope? Surprisingly well…… Surface comes with Office 2013 installed (preview to be upgraded to full version soon), so document creation is easy. (this article was written in Word 2013, then copied into the WordPress RT App). Integration into corporate exchange by ActiveSync is faultless.  Mail and Calendaring application, (it doesn’t have outlook), are as functional as iPad versions and the calendaring function is more reliable than iPads. Integration into Office365 is really excellent, (both Lync and SharePoint document access easy in addition to email) Citrix receiver is also available, though I’ve not tried that yet.

Where Surface works really well is the new combination of Windows 8 RT and the keyboard/touch interface, you end up evolving your interaction with the device, combining the Windows 8 UI and charms and touch/keyboard options.  As an example, when using the browser if you want to move to another page, you touch into the text box and then type.  If you want to go back a page in the browser, well that’s just a sideways swipe. It works really easily and beautifully, though there is a learning curve which is much steeper than iPad.

Keyboard and kickstand make the device lap or desk friendly, stable, and very usable. The really useful piece for a corporate addendum device comes in the fact the device has some really useful helpful features.   Firstly it’s got a USB port, so you can add devices to it.   Although it doesn’t have an Ethernet port, you can add one via USB, a useful feature given most companies in the UK don’t have wall to wireless.  Secondly, when I returned home and added the device to my network, it scavenged the network, found my wireless printer, and automatically installed the drivers for me. Printing without challenges. Try and do that on an iPad.

So, what’s not so great?  Surface is most certainly not a portrait device as it sports a 16:9 ratio screen, unlike iPad’s 4:3, (think old television versus new flat panel ratios).  Designed for watching films and such. It can run in this orientation, but it feels odd. If you’re an organisation that’s invested in MDM products, it’ll be a little while till Windows RT is supported I expect.  Microsoft licensing on RT means in theory you can’t legally use it to create documents in a work environment, (silly idea, I know). Corporate integration fully is just as painful as iPad, it can’t authenticate  against AD, and you can’t just point at your CIFS file servers or SharePoint servers.  The apps catalogue is thin on business tools and whilst it supports handwriting, there’s no digital stylus to actually handwrite into OneNote or Evernote (both of those apps are available already)

Is Surface a better addendum device than an iPad, in many ways, yes!  In some ways it provides exactly the same challenges for corporate integration, though with less MDM integration options in the short-term. It’ll be my new addendum device for a while, (neither iPad or Surface RT could be your only device) and we’ll  see how it pans out, though what’s really exciting is going to be the full Surface Pro (and other Intel based devices), which will be available in Jan/Feb and will come with the same strengths as RT, and fix many of its challenges.

One thing’s for sure though.  It’s going to make for some interesting challenges for selecting the right slates/tablets in 2013 for your business.

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