Before heading to the annual Microsoft Convergence event in New Orleans this month I decided to pick up a Surface Pro tablet. I wanted a tablet that would be a laptop replacement when I travel. I also have an iPad and a Google Nexus. While they are each decent devices they could not replace my laptop because they cannot run all of the applications I need (like Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Office). Like many people I ended up carrying both a tablet and a laptop when I traveled. The Surface Pro seemed to be the answer as it runs a full blown version of Windows 8 and would allow me to run any application I do on my laptop even connect to my corporate network like my laptop does.
First, a little about the Surface device…there are several manufacturers offering Windows 8 Tablets including 2 models offered by Microsoft directly. The models offered by Microsoft are the RT and the Pro. The RT was the first model released; it is limited to basic use due to the hardware specs. The Surface RT runs on a Quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, which is ARM-based. As such, it can’t run standard off-the-shelf software that typically is made for x86-based processors. However, there is a version of Microsoft Office made for RT, and it comes pre-installed on the device. There are also many apps available at the Windows Store for the RT. Caution, the RT does not run Office very well due to the processor and less Ram than the PRO.
The Surface Pro is a beefy device, it has a 3rd Gen 1Intel® CoreTM i5 Processor with Intel HD Graphics, 4 GB of RAM, and either 64 or 128 GB of available space. It also offers something other tablets lack; USB connectivity. It also has a nice large 10.6” screen & front/rear facing camera. The box includes a power cord with a standard USB dongle allowing you to charge the Surface and a cell phone at the same time, very nice. You also get a smart stylus pen (see handwriting capabilities).
When you first setup the device it requests your Microsoft online account info. This is used for accessing your SkyDrive and other online Microsoft services. It also asks for standard info like Wi-Fi connectivity info, etc. Within a few minutes I was logged into the main Windows 8 interface. The first thing I did was setup Microsoft Office. It comes with Office 2013 pre-installed (or you can use Office 365). Setup was easy, I simply entered my product key for a full version of Office and it took care of the rest. I connected Outlook to my Exchange server and was then fully functional with email and calendaring. Office 2013 has the benefit of a more touch oriented interface so it works well on the Surface.
I also connected to my office network (via a VPN) and installed a few other things I use like Citrix. There is a Windows 8 Citrix client for the Surface which offers a touch interface to all my business apps I regularly use from Citrix. It also comes pre-installed with Lync, Microsoft’s unified communications software which we use heavily at Beringer for overall communication and collaboration.
A BIG plus with the Surface is that I can run the full version of Microsoft CRM. I can use the Outlook plugin or the full browser version. This allows me to be fully productive on the road with all my Leads, Account Management and Opportunities. I must say this is one of the biggest reasons I went with the Surface.
One of the things I love about the Surface is the smart stylus and handwriting recognition. You can use handwriting with the included stylus, as opposed to typing, with any application. I found this to be remarkably intuitive and accurate. As you write it translates even horrible handwriting, like mine, into text and inserts it into the document, email or even the field that your cursor is in. Mistakes are easy to fix. The way I use this is mainly with Microsoft One Note for taking notes during meetings. I then can easily share my One Note document with anyone. In the past I would scribble notes on paper during a meeting only to have to translate into an email or document later; this saves me valuable time and effort.
While I was away at Microsoft Convergence I used only the Surface for the entire week. I found nothing I couldn’t do with this device. I used Outlook, Word/Excel, all my Citrix applications even Microsoft CRM. It would be nice if the device had 3g or 4g and was a bit lighter (its 2 pounds). The only other downside is battery life, I get 4-5 hours but am rarely away from a power source that long so for me it is not that big of an issue.
If you are evaluating mobility platforms I highly encourage you to include the Microsoft Surface in your evaluation. Stay tuned for a separate article on using the Microsoft Surface with Microsoft CRM.
By Dave Buggy, Vice President/Partner at Beringer Associates, a Gold Certified Microsoft Dynamics CRM Partner in NJ & Philadelphia. www.beringer.net; 856-910-7771