Yep: That's Windows RT
Arriving home from New York after yesterday’s festivities, my own Surface and covers have arrived from the Microsoft Store. So now I have two Surface devices to play with and days’ worth of usage notes. Here’s what I’ve seen so far.
First, some unboxing photos. Be sure to use the little widget to view the photos in a bigger format. My own purchase was a 32 GB Surface with Touch Cover, plus a separate Type Cover. (The Microsoft loaner, which I’ll need to give back in the near future is a 64 GB version with every Type Cover, the Touch Cover, and the two video-out adapters.)
A few notes barely 24 hours into my Surface journey, in no specific order…
That MagSafe thing
Microsoft uses what looks more than a bit like an Apple MagSafe connector for the Surface power cable. (It’s just called a magnetic power supply.) If you’re used to the easy stickiness of the Apple part, the Microsoft version will underwhelm. Its nice looking, and obviously high quality. But I continue to have a hard time getting the magnetic end of the power cord to actually latch onto the tablet. I really have to concentrate to make it work.
Even more problematic is the huge brick at the other end of the cord. It renders the adjacent port on my power strip unusable due to its bulk. This is unacceptable.
Aggressive power management
If you’re familiar with Windows 7/8 on a portable computer, you know that you have a variety of power management modes from which to choose and that Windows comes with the Balanced power plan enabled by default. You can access a second plan, Power saver, through the system tray power icon, and a third, High performance, through the Power Options control panel.
Not in Windows RT. This system comes with exactly one power plan, Balanced. And it is super-aggressive, much like power management on an iPad (which makes sense). So the screen dims in just 1 minute, and the device goes to sleep in 2 minutes. And that’s true whether you’re plugged in or on battery power. On a Windows 8 PC, these figures are configured for 2 minutes and 15 minutes, respectively, on battery, and 5 minutes and 30 minutes on wall power.)
You can of course customize power management, as with Windows 8. And I've changed mine so that the settings when plugged in are less aggressive.
Fun fact: You can tap the keys or trackpad on the Touch Cover or Type Cover to wake up Surface.
On a silently added disclaimer for Windows RT, Microsoft has published a list of Windows 8 desktop applications that are not included with Windows RT. Their list is pretty good, but it misses a few things, like WordPad. But I’m almost more interested in some of the more curious applications that are included in Windows RT, like Mobility Center, Steps Recorder, and XPS Viewer.
Many people have asked me about my opinion on Windows RT performance. So far, it’s been fine, and while I’m aware of reports elsewhere about slowdowns, I’ve not yet experienced this. Now that I’m home for a couple of days, however, I’ll try to push it around and see what happens.
Hardware compatibility first look
Windows RT works just fine (and immediately) with USB-based storage devices (memory sticks, hard drives), USB keyboards and mice, and Bluetooth keyboards and mice. Plug in a keyboard and it just works, no wait, no fuss, no bother.
OK, that’s level one stuff. What about more a complex range of devices. I’ll dive more into this topic in the future, but here are two edge cases to consider. I have a network-attached Dell 3130cn color laser printer … And not only did Windows RT detect it, but it downloaded drivers.
More to the point, the drivers work pretty well, and you get a basic set of options from the Print panes in Metro-style apps.
And when I tried printing from a desktop application—Word 2013 RT—it also worked, even though I had installed the printer drivers from the Metro PC Settings interface. That’s exactly how it should work.
A second, even edgier edge case: A Nokia Play 360 NFC- and Bluetooth-capable speaker I purchased for NFC testing with Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8. Surface found it quickly and it works perfectly. Wow!
The trackpad on the Touch Cover and Type Cover does not support two-finger scrolling. It’s a fine pointing device for casual use. (Note: My bad, I originally wrote that this didn't work.)
I’ve not done a lot of network testing yet, but I was able to very easily connect to my desktop PC from Surface using Network Explorer, copy files as expected, and so on. So far so good.
As you can see, I have a number of Windows RT screenshots in this article. Yes, WINKEY + PRTSCN works just fine. But you’ll need a real keyboard to make it happen: The Touch Cover and Type Cover do not have a PRTSCN key.
Update: Ed Bott tells me that Surface RT (or any UEFI-based Windows RT device) can take screenshots without an external keyboard. Just press and hold the Windows hardware button and then press Volume Down (on the left side of the device). As with the method described above, screen captures go in the Screenshots folder in the Pictures library. Nice!