I’ve been using a Microsoft Surface RT tablet for about a month and I am very impressed. While things like the kickstand and keyboard get all the fanfare in ads and whatnot, I’m a little surprised by how little attention the other features of this device are getting, and while this information is out there, I wanted to surface (ahem) some of the coolness that is outside of the main spotlight you might not know about. Admittedly, many of the features will appeal most to what are sometimes referred to as IT Pro or power users.
1. Connecting to Windows File Shares on my network. While it might be expected for a Microsoft device, this is not something that other tablets are capable of doing. It’s a feature I use quite a bit, accessing shares on my Home Server or home PCs to copy files. You can also enable file sharing on the Surface, so other PCs can access shares on its drive. Of course, there is also SkyDrive for saving files to the cloud.
2. Print. It was seamless to connect and print to my HP Color LaserJet (CM1312)printer, and it is not a Air Print printer, nor did it require installing separate apps. This worked like a champ for me, and should work with the printers out there that are certified for Windows RT and maybe some that are not. Coolness.
3. Microsoft Networking VPN and Remote Desktop clients. Windows RT has VPN capability built-in, allowing VPN connectivity to a Windows Routing and Remote Access Server. It can also do a remote desktop connection to a Windows PC or Server, including connectivity through Remote Desktop Gateway. Both support Smart Card authentication.
4. USB 2.0 port and a micro SDXC memory card slot. Not only does this allow for removable memory like thumb drives, but I was able to connect a full size USB keyboard or a mouse and use it. You could even connect a phone to Surface RT to charge it, if you wanted to.
5. Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 – Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote for RT are included. These are full-featured applications and work very well. They also run at the desktop and simultaneously with each other or Internet Explorer, so you can easily copy data between the apps, running side by side. (Note that the preview version of these apps are installed but can be updated to RTM for free online.)
6. Everyone knows about the cool Touch Cover keyboard that come in various colors and attach magnetically, but what you may not know is that when you fold the cover back to use the device as a tablet only, the keyboard automatically disables, so you don’t accidentally type something while holding it. Fold it forward and it enables the keyboard again. Cool design. Also, when you close the Touch Cover, it puts the device in sleep mode, as you would expect.
I recently went on vacation with my family and took the Surface as my only computer. The 10 hour battery life was very much appreciated in the airport and on the flight. With the kickstand and keyboard, it fit nicely on the fold down tray table. On this trip, I was able to write, surf the Internet, do email and play games without missing a PC at all. I’m not proposing that the Surface RT is a replacement for a full Windows PC, but it almost is.
As I said earlier, the features that I get excited about may not charm casual users, but these things are pretty appealing to those who are using the Surface RT for productivity and work. It is a very solid device.
For a writer, some of these features are very helpful, such as printing directly from the device, accessing network file shares or being able to run two Office applications side by side at the same time. I also found the Touch Cover keyboard easy to use and type on, as long as I had the audible clicks enabled for a key press. It also has a Type Pad with tactile keys, and as I pointed out earlier, you can connect a USB or Bluetooth keyboard and go old school if you want.
Surface Pro (running the full version of Windows 8) will be releasing soon, and it is a PC with an Intel i5 processor in the Surface form factor. For power users, it just might be the best of both worlds, but RT is proving to be a good work machine. Don’t take my (or anyone’s) word for it. Check one out for yourself when you get a chance.
Mitch Lavender is a Sr. Support Escalation Engineer for Microsoft.