Mobile Talk: Why the Surface RT has deflated my enthusiasm for Windows 8
Paul talks about why Windows 8's fancy-pants control interface is so infuriating to use
Before talking about the Surface RT in detail in our full review (coming soon), I feel I should mention that I couldn’t help but approach using the device with some preconceptions.
I’ve wanted some kind of hybrid tablet since Asus’ Transformer Prime tablet showed up last year and demonstrated the potential of a laptop-come-tablet, though failed to succeed in my view due to the limitations of Android.
I have therefore been hotly anticipating Windows 8 hybrid devices since Microsoft first announced the platform, along with the Surface, earlier in 2012.
But there’s a catch, as soon as I learned there would be two distinct versions – Windows 8 for Intel chips and Windows RT for ARM chips – I’ve immediately felt more inclined towards the former as a truer implementation of the laptop-tablet hybrid concept – the power of the PC, the touch control of the tablet and the versatility of both.
So, it’s fair to say I was going into the use of our Surface RT review unit with some prejudices. Ultimately, I’ve found I’m surprised by the Surface RT in a number of ways, some positive and some negative. Some of my concerns were well-founded, some were not, but on the other end some of my faith in Windows RT and Windows 8’s universal features being well-implemented has been misplaced.
And it’s that particular note where the Surface RT disappoints me the most, not just the device itself, but because it tells me that the full-blown, Intel-powered Windows 8 hybrids I’m really interested in are going to handle in the same infuriating way.
What I consider to be the worst element of the Surface RT is not something I was expecting. It’s not the ‘Modern UI’ that’s the problem, I have no issue with scrolling between the various app pages or the Live Tiles. It’s the gesture controls from the various screen edges I have a very big problem with.
To emphasise why this is such a big deal: bear in mind that this is the primary method for interacting with the majority of Windows 8/Windows RT’s features and functions.
Swiping from the left brings in the last app you were using, which actually isn’t as useful as you might think in practice compared to a carousel.
Swiping and holding on the edge will bring up a carousel of recent or active apps, although the tendency for apps I was just using to be missing caused the gnashing of teeth on multiple occasions. I didn’t close them. Where did they go, Windows?
Swiping an app in slowly into an edge of the screen means the app will share part of the display with other current apps – the proportion of the screen taken up can be dragged around but this is highly variable depending on the app. Some uniformity and a bit more flexibility would’ve been nice here.
Word, for example, can’t be shrunk past a certain size and this is very, very annoying because it assumes what I’m trying to do requires Word to be a minimum size rather than letting me, the user, decide what’s best.
Swiping from the right edge brings up the ‘Charms’ menu, which includes a global search function, settings and various other system controls.
Swiping up brings up a large bar with a shortcut to the ‘All apps’ app drawer.
But not only are these controls spread-out and varied, but the context of all these menus changes depending on what app you’re in – which gets tremendously confusing. Not only that, but some controls and menus aren’t logically where you think they should be and the sensitivity to the gestures is temperamental at best.
The result is you might find yourself spamming the various screen edges hoping the right menu comes up for what you’re trying to do.
Worse still, you have to get the gesture exactly right for the various multitasking functions.