A Note on the Surface

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Gormash's picture

A little while back I celebrated my 40th birthday, and among the presents I got was a fair amount of cash. I tok a few days to figure out what I wanted to use it on, and decided I wanted a new tablet. I had a rather middling tablet from before, and wanted something better. Unfortunately you can't get much of a tablet without paying exorbitant prices... If you buy from the stores, that is.
So I spent a little time looking through Finn.no which is the largest online secondhand market in Norway. I quickly found something that looked promising, a Microsoft Surface 2. I researched it's speccs and it seemed to be a decent machine. Three days later it arrived in the mail, along with a Touch 2 keyboard cover.

The first thing that hit me was the absolutely gorgeous screen, and how well it responded to touch commands. Unlike my old tablet (a DMtech, some cheap chinese product) I had much better presicion and could hit small icons without having to zoom in first. The sound was excellent too, and it could stream Netflix on without a hitch or lag.
Over the next few days I put the tablet through a lot of games and browsing and experimented with all the things I could think off. So what do I think of it?

As a productivity tablet it's utterly magnificent. It comes with the complete Office suite, and since it runs Windows 8.1RT you can store and organize files just as you can on a regular computer. And since the cover function as a keyboard you can practically use it as a laptop. Heck, there's even plenty of CAD programs in the Microsoft store for the architectually oriented, if that's what you want to use it for.

As an entertainment unit it's also very good. Video and sound plays like a dream, and the image is picture perfect unless you have bright sunlight hitting the screen directly. I also use an app called ComicJolt to read some comics, and the screen was perfectly suited to this.

Gamewise it was also a decent machine, running gorgeous games without any lag or hickups. Heck, a fair amount of games even had support for a wired Xbox360 controller (which I just happened to own), making my gaming experience even better.

And the battery it absolutely wonderful! A day of heavy gaming and watching videos with max screen brightness and sound could easly last me 8-9 hour.

But I was disappointed...

Drawing. Unlike both the iOS Appstore and the Android market there's a veritable drought of apps on the Microsoft Store. And while there are some great games and entertainment apps, it lacks what I wanted most: Some serious programs to draw with.
One of the things I used my old tablet to the most was making quick sketches and paintings, and while the drawing apps on the Android are nowhere as good as desktop drawing programs they still pack quite a punch when it comes to features.

The Surface 2 comes bundled with a program called Fresh Paint, and almost EVERY commercial or review of the tablet pull out this one as a marvelous app. Bullcrap!
I've tested quite a few drawing apps in my day, and Fresh Paint is nowhere near reaching even the middle of the list. Sure, it has a fairly decent flow of paint, but the tool selection is horribly small, it has no access to layers (a must in a serious art app) and the UI takes up well over a third of the screen. That last part in particular is a dealbreaker since it's the top third of the screen. Had it been on the SIDE of the screen I could forgive it. Also, much of that UI is white space, wasted space just there to make things look pretty.
No, couldn't use that one... Too many flaws.

Then there's Sketchable. A rather decent app really, particularly since it's free. It's a direct copy of the app "Paper by 53" on the iPad, though that's not a bad thing really. It's a GREAT app for making quick sketches, but for serious drawing? Nope. Besides, not a single layer to see, no way to change canvas size (also a must have feature) and horrible controlls for changing brush properties.

Finally you have Sketchbook Express. I've used Sketchbook Pro on the old Android tablet and been rather happy with it. The Express version is the lite version with rather many features ripped out of it, among them layers, canvas size and the ability to save your work (WTF?). And not only that, but for some reason it's only available in the USA. I had to change the region in the tablet settings to USA to install it, then back to Norway. Weird shit.
I contacted Autodesk which make these products, asking why they don't have the full product, only the lite version. This is the reply I got two days later:
"Glad to hear you enjoy using SketchBook on your Android device. Regarding Windows RT, we currently have SketchBook Express available on their store. Here is the link.
As far as a SketchBook Pro version, I cannot comment on that....."

And that even after explaining that I was NOT interrested in the Express version, and that it wasn't even available in my country. Guy didn't even bother to read my mail, I guess.

And that's it. Sure, there are about 40 "drawing" apps that I could probably make myself by using only Basic, a bottle of vodka and a big bat to hitmyself on the head with. You know the kind: "Here's a way to make your vacation fotos more festive" And you see a picture of a guy with some pink glasses drawn on with crayon and a fake mustache painted in on his wife.

Bottom line... The Microsoft Store is just too sparse.
Combine that with an absolutely BRILLIANT piece of hardware and you have a serious piece of frustration on your hand. I would most definitely recommend it to someone doing a lot of office work that want something even lighter and more portable than a laptop, but for gaming and drawing? Not so much.

So what did I do?
I listed the tablet back up for sale, and today I met up with a person that was willing to buy it. Heck, I even got 100NOK more than I gave for it, thus offsetting the cost I had to pay for postage.

The past few days I've done some more and better research, and have now contacted another guy on Finn.no and purchaced a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 edition instead. It runs Android 4.3 which mean I can use all my drawing apps that I already own and love, AND it has a pressure sensitive pen that will make drawing with it even more awesome. Every artist I've seen write about this tablet loves it. Now I just have to sit back and wait for the postal office to do it's thing... *start tapping fingers impatiently*


Gormash's picture

Whee! Just got confirmation from postal tracking that it has reached Molde, one of the largest postal centers in mid Norway. That means it'll probably be shipped by train tonight, and will hopefully arrive tomorrow, saturday at the latest. :P

And just to fill this space with a little something extra...

Stigg's picture

Man, I think this is the first time I've ever heard a bad thing about the Surface 2. I was under the impression you could put any windows executable on it? I had no idea you had to use a 'store' to put apps on it. I know I've seen people playing AAA titles on the thing.

I hope your new one works out better!

Gormash's picture

You're probably thinking off the Surface Pro 2 (Note the "Pro" there) which runs a full version of Windows 8.1, not just Windows 8.1RT. That allows you to install ALL windows executables on it.
If I'd gotten a Pro 2 I could have installed Photoshop or the full version of Sketchbook, as well as a lot og games from my Steam library. Alas, no. It was not to be...

I've had the new tablet (Galaxy Note 10.1) for a little while now, and it's an absolute dream to use. And the drawing app I mentioned earlier, Clover Paint, is very nearly as powerful and flexible as Photoshop when it comes to drawing. so YAY! ^_^

Stigg's picture

Ah ok, I was unaware there was a non-pro version. When I bought my laptop, I wanted to get the surface pro, but damn that is expensive. Glad you like your new one!

tanitha's picture

Yup, the Surface RT (1st gen) and Surface 2 run Windows 8 RT / Windows 8.1 RT flavour. That is useful if you're using it as a launching point for remote access, Outlook and standard Microsoft Office type productivity. Anything else ... well. The apps are thin on the ground and half don't run on RT.

You need a Pro 2 / Pro 3 to be able to run Windows 8 / Windows 8.1 and then you have a full desktop type machine in a tablet form factor. They are (roughly) the price of an equivalent laptop and make sense if you're doing office / related work. A few of the people where I work have switched to using a Surface 2 Pro as their main system with a docking station in the office. It works quite well.

I'm waiting for the Pro 3 before I upgrade :)

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