Hardware, Life, Root, Windows 8

2 months Surface RT – some thoughts from scientists perspective

There are countless reviews on the Surface RT already, but I consider myself some kind of non-average user, so I’d like to share my experience too.

To understand my argument on the device, you should know:

Who I am

I am a undergraduate Biology student from Germany with some experience in WPF/Multitouch/Kinect/Windows Phone/Windows 8 development using C#. Most software I write is just for personal use, but I published some of my work (WP7, Win8) as well. Since the launch of the first public beta, I‘ve been using and developing for the Windows 8 platform, so I have a reasonable understanding of what’s going on.

The Surface RT is my very first tablet computer. I’ve considered to get other devices (HP ElitePad, Samsung – ARM as well as x86), but decided that the Surface RT was the best fit.

Everyday tasks

Just like my HTC Mozart, I use the Surface a lot. It accompanies me to lectures, in the lab, or when travelling by train. Except for watching my favorite TV series, I don’t use it for entertainment (gaming, music), but for creating, or studying.

Lecture

In a lecture I  take notes and or follow the slides and maybe sometimes even browse Reddit or Facebook. Before the Surface, I used to do this with my phone, usually causing the battery to be dead until 4 PM..

+ taking notes, following slides

+ less smartphone-battery drain

+ charge the phone in the lecture =D

– PDF editing (Reader, PDF Touch) apps need to be improved

Traveling

I travel about 5 hours a week by train and use the Surface to watch my favorite TV series, or to go through lecture slides (aka study). To connect to the internet, I need to use my phones Internet Sharing, but I usually don’t do that, because A there’s almost no connectivity on the train and B due to my 50 MB data contract, it’s painfully slow. (Actually not significant for Twitter/FB/Mail on the phone.)

Sometimes I use the time on the train to write protocols, which involves a lot of Word and Excel. Equipped with a type cover, I can be productive without carrying something big and heavy.

In the Lab

As I mentioned, I‘m studying Biology, so we have a lot of internships/lab work where we do experiments and stuff. We need to write protocols on the experiments – that’s where Surface comes in. Taking measurements and pictures can be a lot of work (and chaotic) if you don’t have the right setup. For that purpose I wrote an app that can be used to manage the data, pictures, videos and files of many experiments while maintaining their context.

The data is not synced to the cloud or something (I’m just not that good..), but stored in either the app, or a folder you can select. In my case it’s a BitLocker-encrypted 16 GB USB key (you can see it in Figure 2 below) drive (8.50 €).

Figure 2: You can make a tree-like structure for your experiments and add fields of data, as well as files.
Figure 2: You can make a tree-like structure for your experiments and add fields of data, as well as files.
Figure 2: You can make a tree-like structure for your experiments and add fields of data, as well as files.
Figure 2: You can make a tree-like structure for your experiments and add fields of data, as well as files.

There are still many things I’d like to improve about the app, but I already use it heavily in the lab.

This is exactly the kind of use case where the Surface RT scores best, because of its long lasting battery, robustness, performance, weight and of course the USB port.

When taking a lot of measurements wich would usually be stored on paper, I can immediately type them into the Excel sheet instead.

The only disadvantage of Windows RT at this point may be that you can’t run the specialized software you usually work with as a scientist (device-specific control software, ImageJ, or other software you probably never even heard of). Technically Windows RT apps are perfectly capable of these things, but most of the time you’re using software which hasn’t been updated for many years, or even decades (no kidding, take a look at Figure 3!) and therefore won’t be ported anytime soon..

Figure 3: I have no idea how old this thing is, but it's frequently used!
Figure 3: I have no idea how old this thing is, but it’s frequently used!

With a Windows 8 Pro tablet one could analyze the data, but for capturing stuff the Surface RT is great and you can still use it as a real tablet as it does “connected standby”, the battery lasts longer etc.!

I love my Surface RT, use it a lot and can absolutely recommend it to anybody else. There are tons of things I didn’t mention and lots of RT apps to come =)

I’d also love to hear your thoughts on non-mainstream use cases^

2 comments

  1. Diego

    hey, very nice what you’ve done hiere. Im alzó a científico researcher (biotech) and Ive recently bought a Surface, too. I agree with you, its a great device, its a pity IMAGEJ does not work. Your App cuold be useful for us in the lab, how can I get it? thank you ver y much,

    1. thecake

      Hey there,
      Even though the Surface RT has it’s limits, I still use it for research. It’s simply so convenient.
      As I did not have the time, I had to stop developing this app.. I still think that such an app can be very useful, but it just got too complicated for me.. Additionally I am not allowed to use my Surface in our S2 lab so now I have to work with pen and paper again -.-
      Something similar might be OneNote, which also exists as a Windows RT app and can do a lot of the hierarchical stuff too.
      best
      michael

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