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March 7, 2013

Traveling with Windows RT

by Darren W Baker

I just returned from traveling through Europe for business over the last two months. It has been the longest trip I have taken in quite a while. During the last two months I visited Amsterdam, Brussels, and Paris but I spend a large amount of my time in London.

Before I left, it occurred to me that it would be a great way to really put my Windows RT devices through the rough mobile life that they were designed for. I have a Samsung Series 7 Slate, originally designed for Windows 7, which is now running Windows 8 Professional, but to really put Windows RT to the test, I had to try and use them as my primary device and only rely on my Samsung when I couldn’t accomplish what I needed to with Windows RT.

I have two Windows RT devices, the Microsoft Surface, and the Asus Vivo Tab RT. Let me tell you first, I purchased the Asus Vivo Tab RT with my own money, just like I did with my Samsung. The Surface I received from attending Build 2012.

The majority of what I did with my device is email and PowerPoint as you might expect. I did do some basic excel work, keeping spreadsheet to track my expenses so I could put them into our expense tool (which is a web based application) when I had the time. Nothing to complex. I am not an excel power user by any means.

I also used Remote Desktop to connect to my home system to download recorded TV shows to the tablet when I had downtime. The only time I had an issue watching shows on the Vivo Tab RT or Surface were when the show was recorded in the MKV format, which Windows RT doesn’t currently have a codec for. Most of them were MP4 format, and worked just fine.

The battery life was very good on both the Surface and the Vivo Tab RT, with a slight advantage to the Vivo Tab RT, which I found myself using more than the Surface. The Vivo Tab has an extra battery in the keyboard, so I found myself needing to plug in less. I tended used the Vivo Tab RT more for research and reading as it is lighter than the Surface and I had both the Amazon Kindle app and Barnes & Noble Nook app for Windows RT. I have an extensive library on Nook, and the Asus was just the right size for holding and reading on the London Underground (The Tube).

I tended to use the Microsoft Surface most when I would go to meetings. When the Asus Vivo Tab RT is attached to its keyboard, it looks and behaves like a little netbook. While this is great on the go, I didn’t want to appear like I had a smaller version of laptop when everyone else in the boardroom was using large Windows 7 machines. Here it was great to set up the Microsoft Surface, not have to struggle to find a free power outlet that the large laptops needed and the Surface took up much less space and was somewhat of a conversation piece while the meeting was getting started.

One of the great things about Surface and the Asus running Windows RT, besides having Office, was I could connect to Microsoft SkyDrive and have access to all of my documents. Office 2013 will save directly to SkyDrive, so as long as I have Wi-Fi, I have access to all my files.

This does bring me to one of the biggest complaints I have regarding all these devices. Broadband. Devices sold in the US come without it, or lock you into a specific carrier. There were many times where Wi-Fi was just not an option for me. My Asus Vivo Tab RT has broadband, and I used it sparingly as it is locked to AT&T.  AT&T would not unlock it before I left for my trip, and wanted to charge $120 for 800Mb per month international. In most of Europe carrier lock is illegal. I purchased a 3GB 90 day SIM from the UK carrier THREE for about $30. My Samsung Series 7 is not carrier locked so when I used it when I had to. Several of my colleagues in the Netherlands have the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T (and its Intel i5 processor) and unlocked 3G GSM, which you can’t get in the US.  Being able to switch from laptop with a touch screen to tablet is very cool. It’s like the Asus Vivo Tab’s big brother.

After using a mobile device or tablet, you come to realize that it’s all about the apps. Windows desktop devices had their apps, which we used called programs. Whatever tablet, phone or “post PC” device you choose, the apps are what make you productive. Sogeti actually wrote a book about this called “The App Effect” in 2011 and published at the beginning of 2012. The thing about apps on Windows 8 and Windows RT that makes it different from those other devices, is application virtualization. Apps running on Windows 8 and Windows RT are actually virtualized in app packages. These app installations are isolated from each other and prevent the app from stepping on another apps memory space or on the OS. From a consumers point of view, virtualized applications help make your device more stable and reliable. From a corporation’s point of view, virtualized applications help make their devices more manageable and make it possible to for easier transitions from one OS to the newer OS or service packs without interrupting the user productivity.

Overall, I was able to do 90% of what I needed to do on the Surface and the Asus Vivo Tab RT. Mail and Calendar were OK, as long as I didn’t need to write a complex email (which I have been known to do) and the Skype and Lync apps for Windows RT worked perfectly for communicating with home and the office. My only wish is that Windows RT had OUTLOOK. I found myself wishing for the calendar view, and detailed mail view of the Outlook client. For example, I can create a meeting, select attendees, view their availability and schedule a Lync meeting. The Windows RT components are just not able to do that, especially with no connection to the Exchange GAL calendar function. I saw an article from Mary Jo Foley that Microsoft might be working on Outlook for RT, but hasn’t decided whether or not to release it. I hope they do, because then Windows RT can be the real productive no compromise tablet OS that we want it to be.

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