First looks at the Microsoft Surface and iPad Mini

Last night, my family headed to the Mall of America, where there happens to be both an Apple Store and a Microsoft Store–across the hallway from each other (very close to LegoLand).

My first stop was in the Microsoft Store.  I was very enthusiastically greeted by no less than five workers–and the store was busy.  However, I was able to simply interact with a surface on my own, without any salesperson walking me through a sales pitch.  I knew a few of the gestures that allowed me to interact with the device–but not all–but there is a “Microsoft” button on the bezel of the device that always takes you to the home tile screen.

The Surface is a nice device–it’s well made, it seems to run just fine.  The catch is that the tablet only runs Windows 8 RT apps, and normal Windows apps (such as Finale, Sibeluis, SmartMusic, etc.) won’t run on the device.  Schools running on a Windows environment won’t be tempted by this $499 tablet because it has no crossover functionality other than for Office, which has been packaged by Microsoft specifically for the Surface.

Another “knock” on the surface is that the 32GB surface comes with only 16GB of useable space–everything else is taken up by the operating system and core programs.  So even though the 32GB surface is lauded for having 32GB for $499 versus a 16GB iPad…that iPad will have 12 GB of space, as the OS and core programs only consume 4GB.  Granted, the Surface has a (micro?) SD card slot…but there was a lot of “We’ve got 32GB at this price point” going on that was, in effect, misleading.

I don’t have a listing of the over 10,000 apps for Windows RT, so I don’t know if there is a PDF music reader available.  I did load a copy of the Messiah from IMSLP, and it displayed FULL PAGE on the widescreen Surface.  Yes, I could zoom in, but it seemed funny that the default PDF setting was full page.  The surface is widescreen (could it possibly be wider than 16:10?) so reading music in landscape mode will never be acceptable unless you use a free-flowing format like MusicXML (granted, free-flowing music is acceptable on nearly every tablet).  I turned the surface to landscape mode, and interacted with the score, which ulitmately was not much wider than seeing it on the iPad Mini.

The Surface keyboard seemed to work well, although the “no-give” keys take a little “getting used to.”  That’s a strong accessory, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple come out with something like it in the future (it might even be smart for Microsoft to make an accessory like that for the iPad.  Money is money.).

Ultimately, I can’t recommend the Surface (RT) for schools at this point, and I surely can’t recommend it for music.  The full-Windows 8 version of the Surface…coming soon…may be another matter.  The surface is an ideal tablet for someone that basically surfs the Internet, writes e-mail, and needs Microsoft Office, which was the general definition of computing before the iPad.

As for the iPad Mini, well, it’s the iPad Mini.  I went to the Apple Store with a credit card in my pocket in the event that I used the device and decided I couldn’t leave without it.  Ultimately, I could leave without it, and I did.

I don’t really have any complaints about the iPad Mini, and I could see it fitting into my life in a number of ways.  For example, I read on my iPhone every night before I go to bed, and not the iPad.  The iPad Mini would be perfect for that.  I could also see having two iPads on my piano music stand at school, one open to music, and the other open to things like our attendance system, Class Dojo, and the like.  After all, both iPads together still cost less than a MacBook Pro.    I couldn’t justify the $429 (I wouldn’t recommend the 16GB…it’s just too little storage) knowing that I still have to pay off my new 4th Generation iPad.  Now…if that Mini had the same processor chip as the iPhone 5 and a retina screen, I might be typing this blog post on an iPad Mini at this moment–but that isn’t the case.

I think the iPad Mini is generally large enough to be used for choral scores.  See Loren Finkelstein’s tweet:

I can see how schools could want to adopt the iPad mini just for its size savings alone (It’s way easier to tote around than the iPad).  I can see why a traveler would want the iPad Mini instead of the iPad.  And I could make the iPad Mini work for my students.   That larger 4:3 screen makes a greater difference than I would expect compared to the 4:3 screens of the Kindle Fire HD or Barnes and Noble Nook HD, although both HD screens ARE rather nice.  See Kevin Honeycutt’s tweet:

We’ll see how long I hold out on the iPad Mini once my iPad is “paid off.”

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