Touch Laptops

I'm a little embarrassed to admit how much I like the Surface RT. I wasn't expecting a lot when I ordered it, but after a day of use, I realized this was more than Yet Another Gadget. It might represent a brave new world of laptop design. How can you not love a laptop that lets you touch Zardoz to unlock it?

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

Why is the Surface with Windows RT ‘only’ 1366x768 while the surface pro will be 1920x1080? Perhaps the higher screen resolution contributes to the shorter battery life?

If the Surface uses Corning glass (and it probably does), your password is hackable because after you login a few times your greasy fingers will leave telltale streaks that are visible when your screen is reflecting light. The streaks by themselves are not sufficient, but they generally narrow things down a lot.
Notwithstanding, I agree that the touchscreen laptop is an idea whose time has come, but Asus has been doing similar things with Android tablets for a while already.

Don’t underestimate Intel. They are now competing in smartphones with the Motorola RAZR i which achieves measurabely better battery than its ARM counterpart in the otherwise identical Motorola RAZR M whilst seemingly sacrificing almost nothing in performance.

I too have a Surface RT and I would say that its performance is the biggest problem I have with it. It is not quite there yet and I actually think the Tegra 3 CPU is the problem. Having had Tegra 3 based smartphones (and a Nexus 7) I can attest that other ARM CPU’s are more powerful by some margin.

I love my Surface too and being able to use it for long periods with no battery concerns and no heat coming from it is great. It is the future, but isn’t quite there yet.

Can you give a short list of some of the benefits that touching the monitor can bring to a developer?

I disagree that widescreen portrait is awkward. I remember myself rotating my desktop display into portrait, which worked great for longer reading sessions.

Quote: There must be a reason the standard letter page size is 8½ × 11", right?

Actually, the diagonal of a standard letter page is 13.9", which makes it bigger than even the Yoga’s screen.

Hats of to Microsoft, I am no fan-boy but I want to touch the Yoga… suggests with the right tools developers would be at home in this tactile environment, I find the combination has a lot of potential, I have not yet found a context aware editor with built in sftp and ssh client that I can run on a Nexus 10 so Surface Pro beckons, also they have stylus support which appeals… The two screen Asus Taichi another interesting approach, good to see some innovation in form factors even if not every attempt is a win!

There are several tablets using the Clover Trail version of Intel’s Atom that appear quite promising. Don’t write off Atom yet, because Intel isn’t.

Many thanks for the interesting post.

I just measured a Surface RT screen with a ruler and the diagonal is definitely 10.6 inches, not 11.6 inches! :wink:

It doesn’t take a lot to get the password out of a Windows 8 picture password. Microsoft stores your password as plain text if you decide to use the picture password:

Great review and lots to help those thinking which way to go with their next purchase. Windows 8 definitely needs to be used on a device with some form of touch screen for users to ‘get it’. I also think version 1 of the Surface RT just needs a few tweaks alongside the Windows App ecosystem maturing to become the definitive next generation computer but will it get long enough to fulfil it’s potential?

Friday I played with a Surface RT at a nearby MS Kiosk.

I fired up IE and tried loading the – it took forever (maybe a minute), to the point that I was suspecting that either the Surface wasn’t connected to the Internet or The Verge itself was down or slow. Just as I hit the back arrow in IE the site started loading. I hit the forward arrow, and had to wait every bit as long for it to reload. (Upon leaving the booth I fired up The Verge on my LTE iPad (3). It loaded essentially instantly, so there was no issue with the website itself. )

The MS minder (there was one for each of the 4 Surfaces at the Kiosk) says to me: “It has Office!”

So I fired up Office (Word), which took a long time to load, and typed a sentence on the attached keyboard. I had one typo hitting the letter N instead of the space bar between two words – something I do a lot on the iPad virtual keyboard. I tried moving the cursor using touch to where the N was to fix it – couldn’t do it, it kept selecting the entire word. I asked the MS minder who had been standing next to me the entire time for help – she couldn’t figure out how to position the cursor either! Finally I saw that it could be positioned by dragging one of the edges of the whole word selection to where I wanted to go.

I realize that the slowness of the web could have been due to a very poor a Internet connection to the MS Kiosk. But that points to another glaring Surface flaw – no cellular option – you are stuck on WiFi whether it is good, bad, or non-existent. And what does it say about Microsoft to have such a poor demo setup?

tl;dr: Did Jeff try the same device I just did? There is something something one of us is missing.

I went with an Asus VivoTab RT instead of the Surface because I wanted GPS and NFC and so far have had a similar experience to Jeff. I’m still waiting on the (temporarily) free keyboard dock but just as a bare tablet it’s kind of amazing. It’s not the fastest device that I use, but I can’t think of any reason to expect it to perform identically to my 3rd-gen i7 with SSD laptop. For what they are, both the Surface and VivoTab RT are fantastic little machines.

That all said, I don’t see “ultra tall” being a problem. Holding my tablet in one hand I actually prefer to read most websites in portrait mode and kind of like the extra content that I get by NOT having a 4:3 screen. It’s possible that might just be a preference thing between different people though.

BTW - My one complaint about the VivoTab RT: The Windows button on the bezel is capacitive so it’s frustratingly easy to hit it when you don’t intend to. It only took me an hour to train myself out of that though.

You start off saying how much you love the Surface, but the whole article is about loving a completely different piece of hardware and OS. Because, apparently, the Surface isn’t good enough. In fact, it’s so not good enough that “I wouldn’t blame you for waiting for the Surface Pro.” Which also is another completely different OS. But I do love this thing :slight_smile:

Can you tell me what you like about the Surface? If you were going to sit down and do some work on it, what would you do? You couldn’t run Visual Studio, Dreamweaver, your standard FTP client, Photoshop. I mean, I don’t know what kind of developer you are, but are you running any of the tools you normally use to get work done on it?

If you were a business professional, none of your apps will run on the Surface either. Even Outlook. So if you were traveling you need to bring the laptop.

I mean, people rave about being able to connect a usb camera or a laser jet printer to this thing. But what are you going to do with a camera without your image editing software? What are you going to print without quickbooks or acrobat or publisher or project.

The portrait screenshot you posted looks infinitely more usable than the landscape one; I’m surprised you prefer portrait? Look at all the extra text that’s on it too.

Even with multiple widescreen monitors on my desk, my browser window is still “portrait shaped”, because reading long text is easier with narrow columns, like a newspaper.

I use computers mainly to develop software. Anything less than a 15" display is unusable. I got a 15" touch laptop to test my Win8 apps. I truly hate the win8 touch interface and enormous waste of screen real estate to maintain the “metro” aesthetic. Windows 8 makes things even worse with the constant flipping between sane mode and metro mode. Using 2 monitors for Win8 dev is almost tolerable as it allows you to keep visual studio from flipping out to tiles. Sorry Jeff, but I don’t understand your attraction to the SurfaceRT. It’s Windows 8, but worse and that’s not saying much. Maybe I’ll change my mind about Metro, but I doubt it. The more I use it, the less I like it. Metro and Windows 8 seem like a lame excuse on Microsoft’s part to show that they’re innovating. Change for the sake of change. The user experience is terrible, the use of touch is unnecessary and the display real estate is completely wasted.

There must be a reason the standard letter page size is 8½ × 11", right?


“The American Forest and Paper Association argues that the dimension originates from the days of manual paper making, and that the 11-inch length of the page is about a quarter of ‘the average maximum stretch of an experienced vatman’s arms’.”

Plus, the real ISO standard is A4.

“Way more than I would have ever believed, because I lived through the terror that was Pen Computing.”

I never understood this position. I have a convertible tablet, and I think it’s great. I have not really used a touch laptop and to some extent I don’t want to knock them, but it seems that the places where they’re good differs quite a bit.

For instance, with a pen I get both precision and not aiming with a mouse (as opposed to “if you need precision, you switch to the mouse or touchpad”). It’s active, which means that if I want to see a tooltip or hit a webpage that requires you to hover, I can actually use that web page. (I’m not sure what the story is with something like Win8, but my experience with the iPhone and such sites is that you use such sites by hoping you can find a different one that you can actually use.) And for taking notes during class it can’t be beat: it writes mostly like pencil & paper, but gives you something that you can back up (without a photocopier) and search. I whine incessantly about 99% of the software I use from Windows to Linux to every web browser to command shells, but OneNote running on my tablet is a piece of software that I honestly think works really well and I actually mostly enjoy using.

“Actually, the diagonal of a standard letter page is 13.9”, which makes it bigger than even the Yoga’s screen."

And not only that, but my impression is that in most of the rest of the world, the “standard” page is A4, 8.27"x11.69" (as also mentioned by ceejayoz), which gives a 14.3" diagonal, which is even bigger than letter.