The first reviews of Microsoft's Surface are trickling in, and the verdict so far is that the tablet is a promising platform off to a decent start with room to grow, but reading the reviews, there's one person who the Surface may speak directly to that other tablets really don't: writers.
Productivity is obviously a big focus for Microsoft with Surface. For all the criticism tablets take for being content-consumption machines, they still allow designers, artists, musicians and more to do some impressive stuff. However, as a writer approaching tablets, I never felt that I was being catered to.
I'm a writer who works digitally (though I still carry paper and a pen wherever I go), and all I need is an easy-to-tote, no-frills machine that's comfortable to type on. Years ago, I thought this dream machine had arrived in the form of a netbook, but weak processing power gave almost any netbook a sluggish feel, and typing lag makes writing a chore.
Once the iPad hit the scene, I opened my mind to a writing tablet, but Apple's already poor word processing options were only made worse by the iPad's closed app architecture, and typing on the virtual keyboard for long stretches left me wishing I was using something else. Even with a Bluetooth keyboard and most of my writing residing on Google Docs (now Drive), the iPad was more serviceable than exceptional.
Finally, last year the MacBook Air arrived at a sweet spot of price, power and portability, and excellent third-party OS X word processors such as the free-to-use Bean saved me from Apple's mediocre suite. I found a machine I was happy to write on, but it could be better: as svelte and light as the Air is, a tablet would still be more convenient to lug.
I haven't had a chance to check out the Surface in person at length, but from what I'm reading in the reviews, I find myself wondering if this isn't, finally, my fabled writing dream machine realized — or at least the early makings of it. If all I really want to do is write on something that keeps me connected to my digital ecosystem, and still allows me to create full-bodied documents without having to jump through a bunch of app hoops, Surface sounds like it could fit the bill. That, and the keypad covers — of which there are two options, a touch-sensitive, flat keypad and a mechanical board — allay my fears surrounding tablet typing.
While it doesn't sound like this first generation of the Surface gets it quite right (the "software will take away your patience," David Pogue writes), as a writer, the tablet is certainly on my list of one to watch. By all accounts the hardware impresses, and hopefully updates in the future could help bring the software up to equal footing.