I am going to put the truth out there right from the start. I went into an evaluation of a product completely biased. I totally believed that within two days of using a Microsoft Surface, I would be able to declare it was junk, and happily go back to my iPad. I guess the best I can say to correct that now is: Boy, was I wrong.
From the moment I turned on the Surface my experience was excellent. The screen is bright, large and renders colors nicely. The computer ran fast even with applications that typically drag down my two year old laptop computer. Note the language in the last paragraph. I did not call this device a tablet, because that would simply be a devaluation of it. It is a full fledged computer, but carries all the benefits of the tablet.
So, why am I writing about a computer in an AV publication? Well, first if you ask that question, you need to take a look around at your industry. However there are recent experiences that have given me a new perspective on technology in the educational market. Specifically, I am a student again. I have enrolled in an Executive MBA program and am beginning to look at everything from a different perspective.
The surface is the absolute best tool for a student. I use OneNote to take all my in class notes. I use the pen, and hand write my notes. OneNote gives the options of switching from a grid template, for my statistics class, to a college lined paper for my Organizational behavior class. Being a full computer it also allows me to use the learning management system the way it was designed to be used, through a web browser. Yes, the apps for tablets are useful, but they do not provide the same ease and functionality that the full browser experience does.
In my accounting class, the instructor gives out his slides in advance, via the LMS. I download them onto my Surface, because I am running a full version of PowerPoint, and I can take notes directly on the slides. Oh, and I can sit with the device in my lap (comfortably) while taking the notes.
When I need to present in my organizational behavior class, I can grab just the surface, leave the keyboard behind and hold it like a piece of paper. I can then quickly refer to the display to read my notes.
The device has a DisplayPort output which is very handy. It also features a built in microphone and speakers. The speakers are excellent considering the small device they are contained within. The Microsoft dongle for the DisplayPort is surprisingly (because it comes from Microsoft) aesthetically pleasing. The case for the dongle is even angled so it matches the design of the Surface. It has a USB port, which other tablets will tell you is a waste of space, but I use it constantly. For web conferencing, I plug in a lapel mic and I use it to stick files on a USB drive.
Finally, for work purposes I have all my important apps installed on it. That includes all of the Crestron titles I use, from ToolBox to SIMPL Windows. They run flawlessly and fast. Having the surface with me at times, also makes troubleshooting and programming of spaces that much quicker and easier. Having Visio available at a moment’s notice allows me to review drawings with customers. Yes, this can all be done on a traditional laptop, but let’s face it, who wants to carry one of those around?
An AV tech’s biggest problem with the Surface will be the lack of an Ethernet port and the lack of a RS-232 port. The only use of the Ethernet port would be those systems that still require you to cross-connect in order to initially program. It seems like those systems are few and far between now, but we do have legacy systems to deal with. For the RS-232 port, I find it frustrating, but I blame it on manufacturers that did not start putting USB on their systems years ago. Just about no laptop has an RS-232 port today, so that can not really be a hit on the Surface.
My last note on the surface is the built in wireless video display. But, that is just a teaser. It is powerful enough to deserve its own column. Check in next month for that. In the meantime, drop me a tweet or comment on the article. Have you used the Surface? Are you surprised or disappointed?