Surface with Windows RT: Dislikes

After an agonizing wait, I finally got a chance to play with my new Surface with  Windows RT, or simply,  Surface. It has been a few days, and I thought instead of writing a full-fledged review, I’d focus on some key likes and a long list of dislikes. Nits that I picked. I discussed the likes in an earlier post. This post goes into the small annoyances and issues that I have encountered in my daily use of the device.

Mind you, I really love the device. It has almost replaced my iPad and the kids love it too. With that background/disclaimer, here are the issues, in no particular order or priority:

Speakers: One of the things I have done quite a lot of on my Surface, is play music and video. Xbox Music with unlimited streaming and on-demand playback of not just my music but anything from their huge catalog is nice, but the speakers are not loud enough. Either it is their placement (they point out from the sides towards the top of the device) or just the lack of good amplification, but regardless the sound output is not good. I don’t mean the “quality” of the sound, which may actually be good, but just the volume.

Volume buttons: Speaking of volume, I have inadvertently pressed the volume button so many times as I try to type in landscape mode. When you hold the device in landscape mode, as it is clearly built to be used, the volume buttons are on the left near your index finger. As you reach out to type (or tap), there is a good chance you will hit the button by mistake. It may be that my hands are big (long is more appropriate), but still doesn’t take away from the fact that I have to constantly be aware of the buttons so that I don’t press them mistakenly.

Placing the cursor in a word: Windows Phone has a neat feature to place the cursor inside a word (to correct typos, for example) where you long press anywhere and then navigate to the letter you want to change. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a way to get to the middle of a word. A long press in Windows 8/RT results in a context-sensitive menu (copy/paste for example). Try as I might, I simply couldn’t get the cursor to be placed exactly where I wanted it to be. I am sure there is a different way, but I could not discover it myself and that is a problem.

Update: Thanks to JPG in the comments, I know how to get to a part of the word – the small arrow keys next to the spacebar. Nice. Thanks!

Screenshots: It is great that Windows 8/RT has the ability to take screenshots natively. It has helped me quite a lot when capturing what I see on the screen and share with others. However, the key combination on the Surface (Windows key + volume down button) involves a capacitive key which makes it hard to synchronize the simultaneous press of those buttons. Invariably I end up touching the Windows key before pressing the volume button, or vice versa, ending up in frustration. I don’t know how this can be fixed, to be honest, but it is a cause for unnecessary pain for me so far.

Update: As Williams mentions in the comments below, I can keep the Windows key pressed for however long I want and be able to register a screenshot by pressing the volume down button. Thanks!

Soft keyboard launch: While the Surface works quite well with the keyboard cover (I have the Touch Cover), I tend to use the device mostly without the keyboard, in a pure tablet form. So I depend on the on-screen keyboard a lot. I have noticed that in certain cases, even though it is natural to launch a keyboard for data entry, like a URL field or a text entry form, the keyboard does not launch. I have to tap in the field once before the keyboard launches. On the desktop side, the keyboard has to be forced to launch by clicking on the keyboard icon in the system tray. Both of these should be automatic when the Surface does not detect the external keyboard connection, but they are not.

Mail app: While this is not a specific “system” or “device” issue, I do use the mail app quite a lot and am extremely annoyed that the selected message automatically gets marked as read. Now, I understand why that happens – the mail is after all “opened” in the reading pane – but I don’t want that to automatically happen. In Outlook for example, there is a setting that will mark the message as read after a certain number of seconds, or when moving from one message to the other. If such a setting does get into the app in a future update, I would be a happy camper.

Grouping apps, restoring Start Screen layout, Windows Store web: These items are sort of related to the “management of apps”, so I clubbed them together. I find it a pain to group apps and keep maintaining those groups as I install new apps. I have already installed 100+ apps and especially the first time around, it is very difficult and time-consuming to move the tiles around, and set their shape (wide or narrow) on the Start Screen. More importantly, if I have done it once on one PC, I find it hard to understand why it is not a choice at least, when setting up a new PC, to replicate the layout. One of the beautiful features (as I noted in my “likes” post earlier) of Windows 8 is the ability to sync settings across PCs via the cloud and if “Start Screen layout” is added to the list of settings, it will go a long way in reducing the pain.

Secondly, whenever a new app is installed, it should offer a choice of which group to add it to, if at least one group is created (and named). That way, whenever I install an app I know I am sending it to the right group rather than drop it at the end and then make me move it.

Finally, I personally discover a lot of apps when I read about them on Twitter and websites that cover apps. It would be nice if I got a chance to remotely install these apps from the Windows Store web page that each app gets. If I am browsing the page on one of my Windows 8/RT devices, I get a chance to go to Windows Store from that web page, but I am not always at a PC with Windows 8 (my work PC, for example, is Windows 7) so it would be nice if Windows Store worked like Windows Phone Store.

I care about the device a lot, which is why I went through the trouble of listing things that need to be fixed, so that my experience with it goes from awesome to super-awesome. Do you have any suggestions or any other annoyances besides these? Let me know!

Published by

Romit Mehta

Romit writes about mobile news and gadgets, and is currently a Windows Phone owner (Nokia Lumia 920).Find him on twitter @TheRomit. Personal site is

  • ninjacut

    Good review, I like genuine experiences. Keep writing, very few writers are objective nowadays

  • TheRomit

    Thanks, ninjacut (#128522#)

  • I doubt it would be different on the Surface; but on PCs, the Windows key is kind of hybrid: it would open the Start Menu when ‘released’, but acts as a modifier key (like [CTRL] or [ALT]) while ‘pressed’, giving you all the time you need to press any other key part of your combination (like the volume key in your case). If they changed that, it would clearly sound as a bug or design fault to me.

    • TheRomit

      Thank you very much, that is very helpful. Will add the tip in my post later.

  • JPG

    To get to the middle of a word with the onscreen keyboard, I just use the arrows to the right of the spacebar.

    • TheRomit

      Thanks! I guess long press is not the right gesture I meant to say, just dragging the cursor, like we can do in WP. Regardless, glad to see there is an easier way!

  • Do you think apple ipad is better? I don’t think so. Microsoft with windows 8 rules on tablet market. Android Tablet is suck. Sound is perfect guys. WTF? Surface is perfect machine. Why do you say ALL LIES????