Microsoft Surface – An EdTech Smack down

168 hrs on the Surface…

The Final evaluation of the Surface RT

10 Year old



“Where is the iPad?”

“I’m using it right now, do you want to use the Surface?”

“…. I’m going to go read”

14 Year old

“Dad, where is the surface?”

“Sitting on my Principal’s desk”

“Didn’t like eh?”

“No, I was just done with it.”

“Well I didn’t like it… Where is the iPad?”

Grumpy Old Dad

Well a week has passed and I am done with the Surface. Not that it is a bad device, just that it doesn’t give me anything that I don’t already have with my Macbook, iPad and iPhone in hand but don’t take this as an endorsement of apple products. This just happens to be the device combo I am working with. Last year at this time I had an Android phone, a PC and an iPad in my bag of digital tricks but when you are not paying for 2/3 of your devices, one does not get picky.

The Surface RT is a nice device. It looks good, well made, has some great social and entertainment features but unfortunately, its draw backs kill it as a device for the classroom.

What follows are the three things I feel, make the Surface an inadequate device for the classroom.


As I said early on in this review the Surface is not Fisher Price Simple like the iPad is. Although I managed to get the surface set up to suit my needs in the classroom, it was by no means a plug and play exercise. If the surface were my own personal device, it would fit the bill right out of the box. The list of usability positives are thus

  • Cover Keyboard was handy – Was getting use to typing on in
  • A fully functional browser (even if it is IE)
  • Because you have a fully functional browser you are not anchored to apps
  • Great integration with XBox Live
  • Runs Flash
  • Mail client is clean and efficient

Unfortunately, with all that said… If Microsoft was trying to get the upper hand in the tablet wars by making a simple user-friendly tablet for the classroom, the Surface RT is not it. I will say it once again. Setting up the Surface RT so it could be useful in the classroom, was a difficult and time-consuming endeavour.

This brings me to what I would suggest is “the only thing” that would make the Surface RT, the go to device in a School setting over the iPad, at this juncture.


One of the first things I did when I got my hands on the Surface, was investigate its compatibility with our School District’s SharePoint Network. One would assume that Microsoft would play nice with Microsoft but alas the Surface RT isn’t “really” designed for multi user networks, like a school.

Yes you can set up multiple users and connect to work groups and it is possible to map to a network drive with some effort and a little technological know how BUT! Even though the Surface RT offers multi user login capabilities, you can’t set up proper network logins that would map to a personal home drive, the way a multi user networked device is set up.

This brings us to the Surface Pro, which CAN be set up as a multi user networked device (apparently). Unfortunately this device comes in at $899, a price-point for which, you could you can pick up two CPU’s for your computer lab that pack much more computing power than the surface.

This is the crux and this was my hope, when the Surface came out. If I could have a class-set of tablets, which were properly networked… THAT would be money… THAT would be a potential iPad killer. The missing link with the tablet so far, has been the inability to properly network them. The bane of my existence is that the iPad simply does not allow for proper workflows. You cannot use it as a collaborative tool without constantly looking for workarounds.

If I were a high falutin – all-powerful – omnipresent administrator making purchasing decisions, I am limited in my choices. Why would I want to purchase a device that is difficult to use and can’t be networked, when I can buy a device that is easy to use and can’t be networked? Obviously, I am going to choose the device with the least number of grievous faults…. The iPad

This leads us to the final nail on the Surface of the coffin.


The Surface RT is coming in at $599 for the 32G with cover keyboard and $699 for the 64G with the cover keyboard. The iPad 4th Gen with 64G comes in at $699 with no keyboard and no cover.

Now some might say the addition of the keyboard/cover makes the Surface a better choice but here is the deal breaker. As I said numerous times, the iPad is Fisher Price Simple and for education, that is what you want. From a user perspective and an administrative perspective, if I am paying $700, I want plug and play and the Surface is not giving me that out of the box.

To get the Surface Pro, which can be networked, which would make the Surface a better choice for the classroom (in my opinion), it will cost in the neighborhood $899. In a world of shrinking education budgets, the cost/ benefit ratio is just not there.

To conclude

I liked the Surface RT, I really did! It did everything I needed as personal digital device but it was just too clumsy as a device for the classroom.

If Microsoft wants to have any hope of breaking into the education field with the Surface RT, they have to make it completely Network friendly. That includes making it possible for the network administrator to push down a universal image for each device. In my opinion, that is Microsoft’s only hope of competing with Apple in the Education market at the current price of the Surface RT. If they fail to do this, the Surface RT will never see the artificial daylight of the classroom.

The whole idea is to get usable devices in the hands of students, without breaking the bank to purchase them. You would think someone could figure out how to do it.

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#1 Reema Faris on 02.03.13 at 10:31 pm

Look forward to team’s continued investigation and reports. Wary about the results though given the number of iPads which currently grace our school system. The thought of potentially having to switch devices given the volume of PAC dollars already invested in the digital environment is … ummm … nerve-wracking.

#2 Kelly Egilsson (@KEgilsson) on 02.08.13 at 9:38 am

Great review! I have the same concerns with iPads. If it was your own money and personal use, would you a.) have an iPad/Laptop b.) Surface RT or Pro?

#3 krispin on 02.08.13 at 6:12 pm

You know what Kelly? I think if I had to spend my own nickel on two devices it would be an ASUS laptop and an iPad. I know “GASP!” but they serve two distinct purposes, one for work and one for work(ish) and play. The reason that I wouldn’t get a Surface is that everything it gives me over the iPad would be in the laptop, so it would be redundant in many ways.

I wouldn’t get another MacBook because it simply isn’t any better than any Windows product I have ever had. It freezes up as much and is as slow as the two year old PC I have sitting in the basement and it is $500+ more. That is a big chunk of change to be an Apple Fan Boy.

I also think Apple has lost its focus when it comes to their computers. The iPhone and iPad is their bread and butter and their computing products are suffering from benigne neglect.

#4 MichaelK on 08.22.13 at 8:49 pm

I think you hit the nail on the head. Surface RT doesn’t work with the most basic network communication technologies, including Microsoft’s own. Active Directory, SharePoint, Cisco VPN, the list goes on and on. The app selection is pathetic and expensive, and all the major MDM solutions (Good, Airwatch, etc.) hardly support it. This is simply unacceptable at $499+. Apple’s iPad is so far ahead in useability and compatibility, while it plays so much better with other consumer electronics. This is where the years of experience are so cruticsl in understanding what the end users need and want.

Microsoft can’t expect to just jump in right before the finish line and hope to win this race. The one thing Apple has figured out and that Microsoft just can’t seem to wrap its head around is that one’s products need to work with each other and work to promote sales across the product line. Ironically, I can’t help but see the history of another corporate giant that Microsoft humbled in those days when it was a nimbler company: IBM (MCA, Token-Ring, OS2…) – one would hope that they would know their own history. Balmer, are you hearing this?

#5 MichaelK on 08.23.13 at 12:30 pm

Well it seems like someone at Microsoft heard it:

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to retire:

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