Microsoft keeps swinging, but keeps missing

Why won’t Microsoft let me buy the ideal Surface tablet?




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For a brief while, I owned a Surface tablet.

I got a really good deal on one, almost a year or so back now. My Surface was an original, 32GB Surface RT tablet, the one that Microsoft is still happy to sell you for a now-outrageous $299.  The original Surface has always been something of a mixed bag – too heavy and unwieldy to use to be a particularly good tablet, with no real desktop application support and a slow processor holding it back from being a good laptop replacement.

Barely six months after purchasing my original Surface tablet, I sold it. I found that, for my use case, the Surface just wasn’t good enough at doing the things I wanted to do with the tablet form factor. It was awkwardly shaped, so I didn’t really enjoy holding it to watch movies, or reading books; it was slow, so it was frustrating to browse the web with – and it didn’t work at all on my lap, so there goes my using Microsoft Office with.

I sold that Surface, and instead I bought – after a couple of weeks of deciding on what my replacement would be – an iPad mini with Retina Display. I had owned an iPad mini before, an original generation, that I used mostly to read books on. While using my Surface I often longed for the convenience of the iPad mini’s form factor; the small, light frame that was a perfect companion to Netflix and the Kindle application. And while the original iPad mini was no speed demon, it was definitely faster than my Surface RT.

And ever since, I’ve been extremely happy with my new iPad mini. While I do sometimes long for the ability to plug in a keyboard and get access to a real trackpad – even a bad one – the benefits of the iPad mini’s form factor far, far outweighs the negatives. That’s why I was so excited this month when Microsoft issued invitations to the media to attend a “small” gathering, one that we all – myself included – took to be the introduction of the elusiveelusive 7-to-8″ Surface tablet. Such a device, I thought, could be my ideal Surface tablet – one small and light enough to read comfortably on, yet powerful enough to do actual work on with that keyboard attachment. It could have easily replaced the original, aging Surface RT in Microsoft’s lineup as a $299 device actually worthy of the price tag if given beefier internals.image-024-cyan-e1400563534859

But that device never came. Instead, we got the Surface Pro 3 – a device that, again, aims to be more of a laptop replacement than an actual tablet. That’s fine, of course. There’s nothing wrong with such a tablet, and though I haven’t gotten my hands on a Surface Pro 3 just yet, I would be interested to give it a try and see for myself how it does. But I know that, based on my experience with my original Surface, that it’s not the tablet I’m looking for. It’ll still be too heavy for me to read a book on, too inconvenient for me to hold as a book in bed – though that 3:2 aspect ratio is a blessing, and an aspect that I would love to see trickle down to other Surface models, including that elusive Surface Mini if it ever comes.

And boy, do I hope it comes. I feel strongly as though that could be the perfect tablet for me, and I would absolutely spend $300 of my hard earned money to pay for it. But until Microsoft realizes that they’re ignoring – either intentionally or unintentionally – such a huge segment of the market, I don’t think I would go out of my to buy a Surface product ever again. I gave them a shot, and it didn’t work out. Are you willing to go the extra mile, Microsoft?


  • There’s no such word as ‘illusive’. You write professionally- use a frigging dictionary. The word you want is ‘elusive’. And don’t claim it was a typo- you used this non-word twice.

    • ChinatownBeverage

      Errrrrrr. If you’re going to blast the guy at least do it where he isn’t actually correct. Illusive is not only a word, it is contextually correct. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/_/dict.aspx?rd=1&word=illusive

      • You moron. Did you even read your own link?
        You’re clearly as ignorant as this writer if you think that’s contextually correct. Clearly the word he wanted was ‘elusive’.

    • Thanks, fixed! :)

    • Zephyron

      Regardless as to whether the author made a mistake, there are far more constructive ways of giving feedback!

  • zombiefighter

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but you complained about “no real desktop application support” on the surface and then turned around and got an ipad with absolutely “no real desktop application support”.

    • gopher652003

      I’ll hazard a guess as to what the author meant since they didn’t expand on that thought:

      An iPad is without doubt a toy. It has very little workplace functionality. The sales reps who come to see us at my work often bring out their iPad, and all it does it slow down the conversation while they try and do some magic to make it a workhorse – something it clearly is not.

      The Surface RT suffers from that same issue, but it was marketed as a full laptop replacement – something it also clearly was not. The Surface Pro 2 comes *much* closer, but still isn’t quite there. We’ll have to wait and see if the Pro 3 manages to be a real work tablet and not a toy.

      In summary, iPad has no real utility, but it (apparently) isn’t suppose to. RT has no real workplace utility, but they marketed it like it did. It’s just a perception difference.

      • Very well said – I completely agree.

      • zombiefighter

        I actually don’t agree. I don’t recall MS ever trying to pass the surface RT as a laptop replacement. God knows, I can’t run visual studio on it.

        By trade, I am an engineer. Part of my job is I have to show up at job sites and do inspection work to make sure the contractors are doing what they’re suppose to be doing. Sometimes, I manage construction work representing my client. And sometimes, I need to adjust designer’s plans because of unforeseen difficulties out in the field.

        Traditionally, all of it is done by hand. Believe it or not, the engineering community is very far behind when it comes to technology. Most computers in the industry still run on xp.

        My previous profession was a computer programmer/app developer. When the ipad first came out, I saw an opportunity to modernize my work as an engineer. But I quickly ran into several stumbling blocks (like the extreme difficulty to print a generated report) that eventually forced me to abandon that project. You see, most engineers are tech dummies. I needed my app to be super user-friendly in order for it to be marketable.

        Same problems I ran into with android. So, I kinda gave up on coming up with a versatile and mobile app for engineering field work for a while. Then windows 8 came out.

        Unfortunately, I was a java programmer. So, I had to learn c# and all that good stuff. When I finally came around to working with c#/xaml platform, I started working on the app. It’s been 5 months and the app has gone a long way. Been field testing it and so far it’s worked wonderfully. Pretty much halved my time working.

        The point is when people say productivity, most people think of facebooking and blogging. I don’t agree. Desk jockies like the writer of this article has trouble understanding why windows 8 platform is great. All he does all day is write on twitter various blogs.

        My experiences as an app developer and a structure engineer tell me iOS and android are nothing more than toys. They are popular because they are cool. But when it comes to real productivity in the STEM fields, nothing beats windows.

        With the introduction of universal app, I will be updating my app to work on the windows phone as well.

        By the way, this entire post was written using a surface rt with a type cover in bed. No complaints here.

        • gopher652003

          What do you find are the main differences between trying to make the Surface RT productive and an iOS/Android device productive?

          • zombiefighter

            Before I start, keep in mind that I am speaking from a professional engineer’s perspective, not a blogger or facebooker.

            (1) Print. In order for computing on your feet to be truly useful, you need to be able to print out your results in a federally pre-approved format. It’s simply impossible to have a decent printing experience with an ipad or android device.

            (2) I would be in the field with my tablet computing and inputting data into a specialized app. When I get back to my office, I want to be able to just sit down and continue my work on my desktop. In other words, the data that I’ve been inputting all day into my tablet automatically syncs with the laptop or desktop in the office. Again, this is simply impossible with an ipad or android device.

            (3) Speaking of transferring data, when I’m out in the field with my colleagues and someone wants a file from me, I want to be able to give it to him via USB jump drive. At this point, an ifanboy would jump in and start lecturing me on some sort of paradigm shift away from physical jump drives. Well, too bad. Most people I know don’t want to deal with the hassle of connecting to a network or bluetooth to transfer data. They want to physically move data around.

            Even when I was a developer in the tech industry, people in my company would be transferring data via usb jump drives. The only people I know who insist on this supposed paradigm shift away from usb drives are bloggers, facebookers, and people-who-have-too-much-time-on-their-hands.

            Those are just 3 things off the top of my head at the moment. There are many others that caused me to abandon my development project with iOS and android for my engineering app.

            And despite people’s popular belief, the tablet CAN be productive. I went to work today. I’m one of the few guys in my office that didn’t travel for this holiday weekend. So, I went in to manage some rush construction. Using my original surface, I quickly input some values, the surface made calculations, automatically saved data onto my company server so that anyone can access them, and I simply hit print and out came a dozen pages of generated report for today’s work with graphs and everything else necessary. Everyone else I know who does this same thing the traditional way (by hand) would have taken at least 1.5 hours to do. Took me a mere 20 minutes.

            I am in the process of creating a universal app from what I have so far so that I can input data with my windows phone and have the printer back at my office spit out results in real time.

            Added by edit.

            The writer of the article even admitted that he got the ipad mini to watch netflix. In other words, he thinks watching netflix is being productive. Excuse me, but some of us actually do honest to god real work. The project I am currently involved with is a $700 mil project. Don’t know why MS keep insisting on inviting bloggers to their events. They really should start looking toward people that do real work for a living.

            …Watching netflix?

          • gopher652003

            Interesting. Thanks for the reply:).