Surface Tension: The Niggly Bits of Microsoft’s Taptop

“The devil’s in the details,” they say, and some time I recently spent with Microsoft’s Surface taptop* demonstrated that to me.

Microsoft very kindly left a full-kitted Surface Pro in my inquisitive hands for a very long period of time so as to provide me the opportunity to experience the company’s post-PC vision. Overall, it was an incredibly positive time. But there are some scratches I have to itch here, so bear with me.

Battery

This week, as Apple boasted about the tremendous battery longevity in its latest generation of MacBook Air notebooks, I couldn’t help but reflect on how much the battery in Microsoft’s Surface, well, sucked.

It’s truly awful. Whether you view this taptop from the perspective of its capacity as a notebook or as a tablet, the battery’s ability to sustain charge is inexcusably brief.

So brief that you would be a fool to ever leave your home or office without its power cable. Despite the fact that’s exactly what you’d want to do.

For cursory comparison’s sake: with my iPad I can expect 8 to 10 hours of use; my MacBook Air will give me about 6 or 7 hours of service; meanwhile, the Surface would generally turn itself off after 2 or 3 hours.

Power Cable

Look at this picture:

The MacBook Air's power cable runs circles around the Surface's.

The MacBook Air’s power cable runs circles around the Surface’s.

The white cable belongs to the MacBook Air, the black to the Surface.

Considering the fact that the Surface has such awful battery life – yet it’s designed to be a mobile device – you’d expect its power cable to be really, really, really, really, really, really long so you could still move it around while it’s plugged in and use it like some latter-day Robert Plant belting out a Monster Truck rendition of Stairway to Heaven (don’t tell me you can’t picture that).

Nope.

Many times, as the Surface battery lay dying, I couldn’t reach a power outlet with that cable from where I was using the device. Instead, I had to move myself to suit the Surface’s short, crappy little power cable, then work in some odd position on a floor somewhere.

Yeah. Imagine Plant anchored to his amp, trying to sing with a two-foot mic cable. He’d knock himself out.

Power Cable Connecting

Continuing on the subject of power, watch this video:

That’s me hooking up my MacBook Air’s MagSafe power adapter.

Now watch this video:

That’s me hooking up the Surface to its power adapter, and that’s a comparably smooth, easy motion to what I experienced most of the time.

Again, if your device’s battery sucks and needs to get plugged in to power often, make it easy. Microsoft hasn’t done that.

Heat

The Surface gets hot. Really hot. Hot enough to make me worry. My iPad never gets that way. My MacBook Air never gets that way. It was distracting, disconcerting.

Position

Recently, I suffered a back injury. Or so an excellent physiotherapist in Macau told me. Anyway, the damn thing hurts – especially when I’m sitting down using computers or tying my shoes – so making sure the tools I use have a respect for ergonomics is suddenly important to me.

The Surface flies in the face of my back. It ignores ergonomics. It demands I slouch. It hurts to use.

Look at this video of the many positions my MacBook is capable of:

Look as this video of the many positions the Surface is not capable of:

Again, as with the power cable, you’re stuck with the device’s limitations.

And that can sure make your back hurt.

Laziness

When I want to use my iPad, I pull open the Smart Cover and it’s awake.

When I want to use my MacBook Air, I lift the lid and it’s ready to roll within a second or two.

When I want to use the Surface it’s an entirely different story.

Here’s me getting my MacBook Air going:

Here’s me getting the Surface going:

You see, the Surface doesn’t automatically detect when you open it. You have to push a button to get it going.

Painful.

Simply put, the Surface is a lazy, lazy little thing. Lazy.

Again, why am I doing all the work?

Miscellany

I’m sending the Surface home today and, honestly, I’m sorry to see it go. Overall, I enjoy it. But not as much as my iPad or Air. Still, it has a certain je ne sais quois.

All the same, in addition to the aforementioned experience-killing annoyances, here are a few for the road:

The Boot

You’re constantly kicked between “Metro” apps and traditional Windows desktop apps. It hurts.

Dimwit

The screen will abruptly dim and/or brighten for no apparent reason.

Pardon?

I couldn’t hear you just then because the fan in the Surface is too loud.

QETu

When you’re not using it on a flat, level surface (like in bed, writing late at night) none of the Surface’s many-splendored keyboards consistently register your keystrokes.

NoGlow

Microsoft makes a lot of keyboards to go with the Surface, but none of them are backlit.

Enough, Already

The MacBook Air I used for comparison in this post is worth around $1000, about the same price as the Surface Pro, so I figure my comparisons here are reasonable. The iPad I mention is worth about $600.

Would I recommend anyone purchase a Surface Pro? No. If you absolutely require a Windows 8 taptop, there are better options out there at the same price point. Like the lovely, also-imperfect Lenovo Yoga.

Still, I admire Microsoft’s adventurous spirit. But the current Surface is one of the device iterations Apple would have famously said “no” to. It’s an interesting design idea that hasn’t been fully worked and really should never have left the lab.

But Microsoft is close, so very close. I can’t wait for Surface 2. And I sure hope the company is still willing to loan me a unit to try after this post.

* NB, “taptop” is a portmanteau of my own manufacture, derived of “laptop” and “tablet,” to represent those mobile notebook computers with touchscreens that Redmond’s Hero, Inc., so badly wants us all to own.