Windows on Chromebooks will Burn Microsoft?

Android Central has this piece on why allowing Microsoft Windows to dual boot on Chromebooks will end up ruining, uh, Windows’ reputation.

The touted advantages of a simpler, faster and smoother Chrome experience on inexpensive hardware not optimized for Windows may be exaggerated when Windows is "unfairly" assessed in a "side-by-side" on-device comparison. One can imagine users' complaints as Windows drags on such hardware as Chrome zips along "proving" Google's claims.

I mean, maybe this happens, and considering how poorly lower end hardware can run Windows 10 today, this very well may play out. But the impact on Microsoft will likely be very minor. I suspect the few people who use this feature will feel like it’s a bonus feature. And if they find that they can do all of their work on Windows, including all the things they can on the Chromebook simply by running Chrome in Windows, then it could also hurt Google.

Not to mention that there is aa very good chance that people blame the Chromebook for Windows being slow. It is the hardware’s fault, after all. If one’s computer runs slow, whether the person blames the hardware or the software is a bit of a toss up.

It’s also worth remembering that Macs have allowed dual-booting into Windows for years and it hasn’t hurt Microsoft at all, as far as I can tell, almost no one does it even though it’s pretty easy too do. Maybe it’s just not knowing about it. Maybe it’s about no normal human being wanting to dual-boot anything. Maybe it’s the $100+ entrance fee to get a Windows license? It could be a million different things, but I don’t see dual booting Windows and any other operating system something that’s going to move the needle much for any company.

Surface Go and iPad (2017 model) Speed Test

https://youtu.be/P-werjTSYGs

My biggest concern with the Surface Go so far has been it's overall performance. Things have sped up a little bit since I first got this, but it's still not a very zippy computer. To see how it stood up to something more my speed, I compared it to an 18 month old iPad (non-Pro), which goes for less than $299 these days. The two devices are closer than I expected them to be, but if a speedy tablet is your goal, the Surface Go is not the best option for the price, unless you really need Windows on a Microsoft-made device.

OneDrive Now Syncs Your Desktop and Documents Folders

OneDrive just rolled out a feature called "Known Folder Move" which might be the worst possible name for the best possible service. This feature has OneDrive backup 3 of your most important folders: Desktop, Documents, and Pictures.

If that sounds familiar, it is of course exactly in line with what Apple added to iCloud Drive a couple years ago, and while Apple did indeed have this first, I think it's fantastic that Windows users have access to something like this as well.

The Desktop especially, is where a lot of stuff ends up living for a bunch of users, and being able to have all of that backed up and synced across devices is a big deal. There are a few restrictions on what OneDrive will back up, but it's not the end of the world.

I do have to go back to that feature name, though: Known Folder Move. What the hell is that? 😂

Oh, Hello

I'm just a normal guy with an iPhone 8 Plus, not an X, so I'm not used to having a device that unlocks just by looking at my smug mug. But Windows has a feature called "Windows Hello" that does exactly that. Of course I turned it on as soon as I got my Surface Go.

What I Like

Windows Hello works...fine. It's not a life-changing way of unlocking my tablet, but it's convenient enough that I'm keeping it active on the Go and have intention of switching back to a regular old passcode.

I like that I can just turn on the screen, wait a few seconds, and then be into the device. It's minimal effort and feels relatively effortless.

When it doesn't recognize you, it will show a notification that says something to the effect of "we didn't recognize you, please let us scan your face again to get more data." Ideally it would automatically do this when I entered my PIN, but I still like that it's trying to get better.

I also like that, like Touch ID, Hello can be utilized by third party apps, so 1Password will let me access my passwords via my face and not with my long, secure password. Note that all entries shown in the GIF below are bogus.

Finally, this works in the dark. I turned off all the lights in my office at night and held the screen in front of me: it worked. The screen was on, so it provided a little light, but for all intents and purposes there was not light. Love this.

What I Don't Like

The experience is inconsistent enough that I can't get totally on board.

First, and this may be the slower device I'm using, but the recognition takes too long sometimes. A few times it's quick, but often it takes 3-5 seconds to recognize me. After 3 seconds, the seconds start to feel like days, and you start to wonder if it's going to work at all.

It's also not wildly reliable. I'd say about one in ten tries doesn't recognize me at all. It's not a ton, but combined with the sometimes slow response, makes me think it's not going to work, even if it usually does. Knowing that it will fail a couple times per day plants the seed of doubt.

While it's mostly reliable indoors and works well in pitch black, it's less reliable outdoors. I've had more failures outside than anywhere else. If the success rate is 90% indoors, I'd say it's closer to 40-550% outside.

Inconsistent behavior is the final hurdle for me. On the lock screen, sometimes the device unlocks and takes me to my desktop without me needing to do anything besides look at the thing. Other times, it tells me it recognizes me, but needs me to swipe up on the screen to unlock the device. I'd prefer it did one or the other every time. This carries over to third party apps, where apps like 1Password will recognize me for authentication, but then require me to click a button to continue. Why not continue as soon as you see me?

Takeaway

I like Windows Hello a fair bit. It's not a complete gamer changer that makes me want to throw my iPad Pro out the window, but it's a nice feature that makes me enjoy the Surface Go a little bit more.

I sincerely wish I had an iPhone X to compare this to, because I'm really curious how this stacks up, but it seems slower and less reliable overall. I'd be very curious to see if that's the case.

Things This Apple Fan Loves About the Microsoft Surface Go

I've made my concerns with the Surface Go clear, so let's talk about some of the things that just make me happy when using this thing.

The Surface Type Cover

Microsoft knows how to make keyboards, and this mini version is no different. As someone who uses an iPad Smart Keyboard most of the time, the slightly compressed size is not a problem for me, and I was comfortable typing on it in just a couple hours.

The keys are regular old chicklet-style keys and are very satisfying to type on. There is 1mm of travel, and it feels perfectly fine to me. It's more than the Smart Keyboard, and feels very similar to my 2015 MacBook Pro.

Then there's the trackpad, which is smaller than a laptop's, but is by far the most responsive trackpad I've used on a Windows machine. It's still not quite as nice as the MacBooks' but it's right there.

The fabric on the keyboard is nice and soft, and is generally nice to rest your palms on.

Moreover, the keyboard is fully lit as well! The caps lock and "fn" keys have lights to let you know when they're active, and the whole thing lights up if you want so you can type in the dark. If Apple added this to a new Smart Keyboard, I'd buy it in a heartbeat.

And finally, it snaps into the Surface's connector with a strong snap that would make any iPad Smart Cover lover happy.

The Kickstand

Having a kickstand built into the body of the Surface Go is an unabashed win in my book. The iPad stands up, but only with a case or cover. That's fine for the most part, but it's even better to be able to stand up the tablet whenever I want, case or not. The fact that the stand is infinitely flexible and can go from closed to a full 165 degrees (basically flat the other direction) means I can always get an angle that works for ever situation.

You might think this would be annoying to have on the device at all times, but I find the way Microsoft has integrated it into the body of the device to make it basically disappear.

My only problem with this is that it is so thin, the edge is sharp and leaves a mark when using it directly on my lap. It's generally fine on jeans, but I definitely notice some irritation when it's on exposed leg.

Connecting to an External Display

I keep asking for Apple to allow this on the iPad, because the ability to plug this into my 27" screen and use it at that higher size and resolution is wonderful. This wouldn't work on the iPad of course unless you had a larger touch screen, but it would totally work if you had one of those (not that this is impossible, of course).

Timeline

Windows has this cool feature called Timeline that shows you things you were working on or looking at in the past. You get to this by pressing Windows+Tab, which will show you the currently running windows, and you can scroll down to see previously-closed documents and websites.

Apps have to opt in to have their content display here, but if your apps support it, it's great. They even have a search box where you can search for whatever you want and it'll show you things in your timeline that match your query. This is really nice for those "wasn't I just looking at that?" moments.

Takeaway

While I have things that bother me about the Surface Go, there are things that are really nice about it.

Microsoft Surface Go Design Details

The design of the Surface Go is currently my favorite part of the device. It’s not quite as nice as the iPad Pro, but it’s certainly a compelling product by any other measure, especially when you consider this is a $399 tablet (plus $129 for the keyboard).

The Go has more ports than the iPad (and many MacBooks!) but they’re nicely built and each port results in a snug, fit when you plug something in. This is a problem on basically every non-Apple device I use, so it’s nice to see Microsoft ensuring the port situation is on point.

My only concern is with the alignment, as the spacing is weird all around, with only one centered port on the whole thing.

The Surface Go comes with 64 or 128GB of storage, depending on the model, so you very well may want to get additional storage, and you can do this via the built in, and tastefully hidden micro-SD card slot, which Microsoft says can use up to 512GB cards. I’m looking into getting a 128GB one for mine. You can also use the USB-C port to plug in any external hard drive you’d like, but that’s not really a full time solution for a portable device like this.

I really wish Windows was more like iOS in terms of how much space things take up. I have never felt like I needed more storage on my 64GB iPad Pro, but my 64GB Surface Go already feels mostly full after installing just a few apps. The OS itself is the real culprit here, filling up almost half of the hard drive out of the box.

I’m in love with the kickstand that’s built right into the tablet as well. This blends very well into the back of the device so you don’t even notice it when using it handheld. This kickstand has infinitely tweak able angles, so you can go from anywhere from closed to 165° open. Whatever you need it to be, it’ll do for you. This is much more convenient than the iPad Pr’s Smart Keyboard’s single angle.

The keyboard wraps around the back of the device as one would expect, and it actually doesn’t go quite to the edge of the device. This is a little weird because it makes it feel a little bit wrong, but it also makes sure that the camera is open at all times and can be used for taking photographs, even if the keyboard is still connected to the device. I don’t know if this was worth it, since one almost never takes pictures with a tablet, but if you do want to do that, this case design has you covered…or not1.

And finally, here are a couple videos showing the rotation on the Go (yuck, slow, and ugh)…

https://youtu.be/QJPBFANVfJo

…and another showing the keyboard connection (awesome) and a quick demo of basic performance…

https://youtu.be/EDQlBRmYSsM


  1. I couldn’t resist the pun. 

Surface Go: Touch UI and the Type Cover

My first day with the brand new Microsoft Surface Go has been an interesting jump into a whole new world. I got this device because I wanted to see how it matches up with the iPad Pro in terms of productivity, as well as fun & games.

My initial impressions are that this is not the iPad-like experience I am used to. This is full on Windows 10, and it feels like almost zero effort has been put into making this operating system touch friendly. Everything about this operating system feels like a PC living in a tablet body, not necessarily an operating system that was built for this form factor.

The very first thing I've noticed is that everything on screen, even at the 150% zoom the device defaults to, leaves all UI elements far too small. I'm often squinting to see things and navigating the interface with touch is an exercise in precision. I need to play with the zoom settings a bit, but this feels like a struggle, while everything on the iPad is an appropriate size for touch interactions.

It's a small thing, but I think it's worth noting that Windows shows a little "blip" animation whenever you touch the screen, showing you where you tapped. This is the sort of thing that's nice for demoing touch interfaces on video, but in person it really feels like something tacked on and made me feel like taps were mouse clicks, which is not the feeling I want from a touch UI.

This feeling of being not touch-first continues when it comes to the on screen keyboard. The keyboard often takes a couple seconds to come up, and typing on it exhibits more lag than I'd expect. Some of this may have to do with the fact I'm using the most affordable Surface out there, but I use an iPad (2017) for a lot of my work at my day job and it has a far better typing experience than this.

This has all meant that I use the Surface Go in laptop mode most of the time, using the Type Cover from Microsoft. This keyboard really is excellent, with keys that travel more than they do on some laptops (you know the ones I'm talking about) and feel really good. It's not quite full size, but as someone who does most of his computing on an iPad with Smart Keyboard, this is pretty normal for me. I don't know how much I'll like this in the long run compared to the Smart Keyboard, but it definitely one-ups Apple's offering by having a full function row with media controls, brightness, and even home, end, print screen, and delete keys.

In addition to a nice keyboard, the Type Cover has a very nice track pad. It's smaller than most modern trackpads, but it's about as big as it could be and is quite responsive. I don't think it's as responsive as a MacBook trackpad, but it's far and away the best I've ever experienced with Windows.

Oh, and did I mention that the keyboard is backlit? Yeah, pretty sweet.

I have a lot to uncover in the coming days and weeks, but the early signs are already pointing to this being a journey with many highs and lows. I'm encouraged by the Type Cover, as well as a few other features I'll be talking about in later pieces, but there are also some major concerns I have in terms of how this will work as a tablet interface, and not just a tiny PC.

Microsoft’s Surface Go: iPad Killer?

I’m going to spoil the question in the headline1 right up front: no, I don’t think the Surface Go is going to “kill” the iPad. Will it outsell the iPad? No. Will it be just as niche a product as the other Surface computers? Probably.

Too often, people view products as dollar signs first, and products second. Yes, price is a factor when making any purchase, but I don’t think that Microsoft is going to move the needle much by releasing this product. Yes, with it’s similar size, build, and price tag, it absolutely is a direct competitor to the iPad, but I don’t see how this solves problems for real people. At least, not in a way that a multitude of other Windows machines are already doing. I see 2 major problems with the Surface Go.

Problem 1: Software

This is the biggest one, and it’s a major reason I’m not even pondering one of these things. As one would expect, the Surface Go runs regular old Windows, which means you’ll be running Windows 10 with Windows apps.

I work in an office where almost everyone has a touch screen laptop that folds into a “tablet mode”. The number of times I have seen someone purposely touch their screen to do something is close to zero, and the number of people who ever go to tablet mode is exactly zero. Even the one guy who has a Surface uses a keyboard and a Bluetooth mouse because he “hates the trackpad and touch is just too imprecise.” He likes how it looks, though.

I don’t blame my co-workers at all, Windows is not touch friendly. Yes, it has been designed for touch input, but I wouldn’t say it’s enjoyable to use that way.

And I’m just talking about Windows 10-optimized apps, most apps people actually use on Windows is still the old style app that hasn’t been optimized for touch at all.

Problem 2: Price

Despite these issues, Microsoft isn’t even beating Apple in the price war. In fact, when you add the things you will probably want to get with the Surface Go, the difference is more striking.

At $399 starting, the Surface Go is $70 more expensive than the iPad already. If you want to get the official pen(cil) for each device, that’s going to drive you up another $99 each, and the Surface Keyboard is another $129 while you can get a pretty good iPad keyboard for like $69. For those keeping track, that’s:

  • iPad only: $329
  • Surface Go only: $399

And if you get the keyboard and stylus:

  • iPad: $477
  • Surface Go: $627

In fairness, the iPad comes with 32GB of storage and the Surface Go has 64GB. How much storage each OS needs aside, that’s a definite difference. That said, if you want to go up to the 128GB model of either device, that will cost an extra $100 for the iPad and $150 for the Surface Go.

I know price isn’t everything. God knows, as an Apple fan, I get it. But the fact that Apple is still lower cost in every way here than the Windows option is notable.

Takeaway

I’m not the target audience for the Surface Go, I totally get it. But as a product, I don’t quite see who this is going to appeal to. I certainly don’t think it will appeal to people who are buying iPads today, as one of the big things that makes people get iPads is that it is not a traditional desktop computer (often, specifically that it’s not Windows). I also don’t see how it appeals to Windows fans, as it doesn’t really do anything that windows fans are typically drawn to (cheaper, more customizable, desktop-style software, etc.)

It feels, much like the early Surface tablets did, that this is a product where Apple is trying to be Apple more than they are trying to be themselves. I think this product could carve out a niche in 2018/19 and I hope people find some cool uses for it, but I don’t see how this becomes a wide success with its current feature set and pricing.

I like Microsoft overall, and I do wish them the best, but this product just isn’t doing it for me right now.


  1. I wish I could remember who I heard this from originally, but it was something to the effect of “if a headline ends in a question mark, the answer is no.”