Last Friday, pretty much on impulse, I decided to go to the Microsoft Store in the Park Meadows Mall in Lone Tree, Colorado at 8AM to see what kind of line they had for the new Microsoft Surface RT. This is a relatively new, attractive mall that is only about six miles from my house. Since the Microsoft Store is inside the mall, very close to the Food Court, there would be no shivering in the cold and no camping overnight, so this was not a radical move that required any great commitment on my part. Of course, this makes it harder for me to tease my Apple-loving friends about standing in line on release day!
When I got there slightly after 8AM, there were about 25-30 people in line, so I decided to get in the line (after getting a blue paper wrist band and a couple of silly pieces of paper). During the next two hours before the store opened at 10AM, the line grew to about 150 people. During this period, they had drawings for two XBOX 360 systems, they gave everyone a sack/backpack with a Microsoft t-shirt, a pen, and a magnet, and they also gave everyone a bottle of water.
There were also small teams of Microsoft employees going through the line showing us the Surface RT, the different keyboards and the available accessories. They were also trying to get us to fill out a little card that specified what exact Surface RT model we wanted along with any accessories, service plans, or personal training. This was all fine, since we were stuck in line anyway, and luckily they were not too aggressive about pushing the $99.00 “Microsoft Complete” service plan. They also told us that there was a purchase limit of five Surface RT units per customer, which reassured me that they had plenty of stock to handle the line.
Once the doors opened at 10AM, there was the obligatory cheering and high fives from the Microsoft employees going down the line. My assumption (which turned out to be wrong) was that they would let a few people in the store at a time, where you would present your filled in card, and then they would go get what you wanted and simply let you pay and take your stuff home. Unfortunately, that was not Microsoft’s plan…
What they wanted to do was have each customer assigned to an associate, who would give a short demonstration of the device, answer any questions, and then guide you through the purchase experience. After you bought the device, they wanted to do an “Out of Box Experience” where they would open up your box, fire up the system, and help you get it configured, and also give you some quick training on how to use it. I am sure that some people appreciate this level of “hand-holding” (especially people who normally go to an Apple Store), but I had absolutely no interest in that whatsoever. They did have about 10-12 associates setup for this whole dog and pony show, so it was a parallel operation, but it was taking 20-30 minutes for each customer.
As I got closer to the front of the line, I could see what they were doing and I figured out why people were going in, but no one had come out yet. Some of my neighbors in line came to the same conclusion, and we all agreed that we did not have time for that nonsense. When I was assigned to my hand-holding associate, I politely told him that I just wanted to buy what I had selected with no demonstration or box opening. This seemed to blow his mind at first, and his initial response was that they “had to make sure that everything was working properly”. I responded “I am sure everything is fine, and this will save you a lot of time”, which caused him to confer with a supervisor to see if this rebellious behavior would be permitted. Luckily, after much whispering, they decided that this unplanned departure from the plan would be allowed, but it still took nearly 15 minutes more after that for me to simply buy my 64GB Surface RT with a bundled Black Touch Cover and an HD Digital AV Adapter. I am such a troublemaker!
The Surface RT
The available choices are a 32GB device without a Touch Cover for $499.00, a 32GB device with a Black Touch Cover for $599, or a 64GB device with a Black Touch Cover for $699. You can also buy a separate Surface Touch Cover in a variety of colors for $119.99 or a Surface Type Cover for $129.99. This makes the bundles a decent deal, saving you $19.99 over the separate pieces (as long as you like black). It would have been nice to have been able to buy a 64GB device without a Touch Cover for $599, but that is not an option.
The Surface RT uses a quad-core 1.3GHz NVidia Tegra 3 CPU, and it has 2GB of DDR3 RAM. It has 54.1GB of formatted space in the 64GB model in a device that is listed as an MMC Memory Card in Device Manager. It has a single, full-sized USB 2.0 port, that I quickly discovered works great with my Logitech Unifying Receiver for my Anywhere MX mouse.
The Touch Cover keyboard works just fine for me, especially since I am merely a glorified hunt and peck typist. The kickstand works as advertised, and it feels like a tiny laptop when I am using it. The battery life seems like it will easily hit the advertised 9-10 hours of usage. The Wi-Fi system has better range than my regular Toshiba Portege laptop, judging by the number of networks it can pickup in my neighborhood. It seems to stream movies from NetFlix and HuluPlus with absolutely no issues on my Wi-Fi 802.11N network.
I did go into Windows Update and install Microsoft Update, and then I pulled down all of the available updates (I think there were four or five updates including one for Office 2013). This process was not so difficult as to force me to give up on the Surface RT and write an angry blog post, but your mileage might vary.
On the downside, the magnetic connector for the charger is a little hard to get connected, and the cord is a little too short. Application startup time is slower than what I am used to, but I am spoiled with very fast 6Gbps SSDs and Ivy Bridge processors in my regular machines. Once you are in an application, everything seems pretty snappy. There are fewer applications than I would like to see in the Store, but I am sure this will improve over time. The ones that I have downloaded and tried so far all seem to work pretty well.
The contrast and brightness on the screen are excellent, and it does not have a huge problem with glare or reflections. It would have been nice to have had higher resolution, but that would have affected the battery life and performance, and would have pushed the cost even higher than it already is. I think Microsoft would have been better off to come in at a lower price point, even if that caused them to sell them at a loss for a while.
I am going to be keeping my Surface RT, but I may end up giving it to one of my nieces after the Surface RT Pro comes out in a few months. The Pro will have an Ivy Bridge Core i5 processor and will be running the regular Windows 8 Professional, so it will have a lot more horsepower at the cost of less battery life and a few ounces more weight.
I plan on taking it to the SQL PASS Summit next week as a backup presentation machine and for carrying around on the days when I am not presenting. My biggest problem is simply getting used to the Windows 8 user interface, but that is something I have to do anyway since I have to work with Windows Server 2012.