Congratulations! Someone loved you enough to give you the gift of a Microsoft Surface with Windows RT.
I’m imagining you sitting there next to the tree with the package unwrapped, and a gleam in your eye as you consider returning it for a new iPad or several Kindle Fires. Before you check to see if your local electronics store is open today, let me just say that there’s a lot to like about Microsoft’s new tablet.
The built-in news and sports apps are immersive and informative; the People hub is a great way to catch up quickly on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks; and many of the basic apps are there, such as Angry Birds Star Wars, ESPN and Netflix (at least when Netflix is working). The TouchCover or TypeCover keyboard will also be particularly nice if you use your Surface for work. (Hopefully you got one of those under the tree, too?)
Yes, the Surface has its challenges, starting with its dimensions. At 10.81 x 6.77 inches, the Surface is made for use in landscape mode — great for watching movies but unwieldy in portrait mode and generally requiring two hands to hold.
For more of what you can expect, I’ve documented my own family’s high and lows in my Surface Diary posts, in which I convinced my wife to spend our iPad budget on one of the new Microsoft tablets.
Apart from getting comfortable with Windows 8 and learning the basics of the navigation, there are some quirks that you’ll want to understand. I’ve jotted down a list of small things about Surface that I wish I had known from the start.
Multiple User Accounts: One of my favorite parts of the Surface is the ability to set up accounts for each member of the family, essentially giving each of us our own personalized tablet when we log in as ourselves. Swipe in from the right bezel, tap Settings, then “Change PC Settings” and navigate to the Users tab to set up multiple accounts. Be sure to set up picture passwords, as well, to make things easier on everyone.
Family Safety: One benefit of having multiple user accounts is the ability to set up a profile specifically for your kids. As an added bonus, you can then use the Family Safety settings in Windows to control and restrict their access to apps, limit the amount of time they spend on the computer, and get reports on how they’re spending their time. Search for “Family Safety” from the Windows Start Screen to navigate to the setup menu in the traditional Windows desktop.
Finding the microSD slot: One nice feature of the Surface RT is the ability to expand the storage with a microSD card. So where in the heck is the microSD slot? Turn the Surface face down, flip open the stand, and look in the recess beneath the stand on the left-hand side, just above the power connection. Yes, it’s tough to see, but trust me, it’s there.
Yes, you can forward mail: Microsoft’s built-in Mail program leaves a lot to be desired, but the basic functionality is there, if you take the time to find it. One of my biggest struggles at first was figuring out how to forward mail, and I’ve heard similar complaints from others. Here’s the trick: Hit the reply button in the Mail interface, and one of the options that pops up will be forward.
Software Updates: Especially on a newly released V1 product, it’s smart to keep the operating system and applications up-to-date as much as possible. Make sure you’re set to automatically install updates in the Windows Update section of the PC settings. (Swipe in from the right, then hit settings, then “Change PC settings,” and scroll to the bottom of the list.) Also remember to update your apps via the Windows Store.
As a third check, it’s worth navigating to Windows Update in the Control Panel in the traditional Windows desktop. I’ve sometimes found updates waiting there that weren’t being installed via the other Windows Update. (Yes, Microsoft has some work to do to unify all of this.)
Check the charge light! Microsoft clearly paid a ton of attention to the keyboard cover attachment point, with the signature “click” as the accessory snaps in. But the power/charging connection is another matter entirely. It’s very easy to seat the charging connection improperly into the frame of the device, and then come back later and realize that your Surface hasn’t been charging. Make sure that the light at the top of the connector is lit before you walk away.
Those are some minor points, but hopefully they’ll help to get you on your way. Good luck and enjoy your new Surface! At least you didn’t have to pay for it! Here’s an index of my Surface Diary posts for a deeper dive.