Extremely short Surface RT & Lumia 920 reviews

Palo Alto is lucky enough to have a Microsoft Store, one of just a handful of cities so favored. I’d been wanting to spend a little time looking at the Surface RT and the Lumia 920, both of which are on my things-to-maybe-buy list. I drove over after work and spent half an hour playing with both devices. Herewith my first impressions:

  • The hardware build quality of both is superb. The kickstand is just as good as you’ve heard. The Surface felt great in hand in both portrait and landscape modes; its weight and balance are good. 
  • Despite the fact that neither device has the same resolution as its Apple retina counterparts, the image and screen quality of both devices are on a par with the iPad 3 and iPhone 4 that I currently have.
  • The Touch Cover for Surface is light and thin, but I couldn’t type on it worth a hoot. On the other hand, with the Type Cover I could sit down and rip out text just as I do on my laptop– faster, in fact, than I was ever able to do with Apple’s keyboard dock for the iPad. The weight and thickness of the Surface with the Type Cover was still quite acceptable. It feels a little weird when you flip the Type Cover over to the back, though– I’m not used to feeling keys on the back of my tablet.
  • I didn’t run into any of the performance problems or stuttering I’ve seen mentioned in web reviews but I didn’t play any video.
  • Being able to split the screen in landscape mode and have two apps side-by-side could be extremely useful.
  • My Word 2013 experience was excellent. I may go back tomorrow with some of my book and magazine docs on a USB stick and see how it handles them.

I suppose the biggest problem I have with the Surface is deciding what I’d do with it. I have an iPad which is a great reader, RSS scanner, and so on, but I don’t use it for real work due to its lack of a keyboard. I could add one, but I haven’t. It’s not clear to me that carrying a Surface would be better for my writing-oriented work than just carrying my MacBook Pro (though the Surface is much, much lighter). This will require some further reflection. I love the idea of having a lightweight, go-anywhere machine that can run a full-horsepower version of Word and PowerPoint, but I’m not sure how much I’d use that versus a full-blown laptop that can also run VMs and other kinds of software.

I spent less time on the Lumia 920, though this is arguably my more pressing need; the proximity sensor and speakerphone mic on my iPhone are both dead, so sometimes when I put the phone up to my ear I accidentally press the speakerphone icon, at which point whoever I’m talking to can no longer hear me.

  • The glass and plastic of the case on the Lumia 920 is absolutely gorgeous. I only got to see it in red, but the visual and tactile experience is top-notch.
  • I love the effect that multiple tile sizes brings to the home screen, and I can immediately see how that would give me a much more useful setup than iOS 6 does.
  • WP8 has many innovative touches, like the Lens feature of the camera app. Plus I know several folks on the WP8 team, which is nice. Double plus, 
  • I already have WP versions of almost all the major applications I use. Exceptions include ForeFlight’s apps (which I would run on an iPad in the airplane anyway), AeroWeather Pro, Yahoo Instant Messenger, and specialty apps like those for Safeway and Starbucks stores. I am reminded that the number of apps I have is much higher than the number of apps I regularly use.
  • iMessage is probably the stickiest of all the apps I use– it’s the main way I keep in touch with my kids, for example. I don’t see moving all of my correspondents to Skype as a likely outcome.
  • Because the 920 uses the same size SIM as my iPhone 4 does, so I could just swap SIMs when I needed a particular device.
  • The 920 feels freakishly large compared to the iPhone 4 or the Lumia 800 that I now have. I compared the Lumia 820 and found that it too was larger than I would like. This may yet be a deal breaker.

There are still a few things that I think would hamper integrating these two devices into my workflow. For the Surface, the biggest is probably lack of a native SkyDrive app that can sync from the cloud to the local device. I’m not always someplace where I have Internet connectivity. Since the Surface has a built-in SD card slot, I could keep my docs on a card and then just sync it to my laptop using ChronoSync or similar, but this seems unnecessarily clunky. Jeremy wasn’t crazy about the built-in mail client, and that’s potentially a problem as well.

The problems with the phone aren’t as major– I’ve been swapping between the Lumia 800 and the iPhone just fine, so putting a 920 into rotation should be perfectly feasible. First, though, I need Microsoft’s help in fixing a vexing sync problem that I’m having with my Windows Live ID…

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