This week at the Office Preview launch I was lucky enough to receive a new Samsung series 7 tablet that is running the latest and greatest Office and Windows preview builds. I was excited to finally get my hands on one of these devices so I could start to play! I had considered in the past buying one, but decided I really should hold out to get the newest ones coming out later this year. With the testing program that started at the Office Preview I am lucky enough to get to have some hands on time before investing in one of my own.
During the launch event, Steve Ballmer sold this device as one of the many ways that you could be efficient across any device at any time doing anything you wanted. A tall order in my opinion, especially since I am one of those people with multiple devices that I use, based on whatever the task is at hand. Could one single tablet really cut down on the need for all other devices? I can say honestly at this point, I think not. As I type this my tablet is sitting under the seat in front of me as I type away on my netbook. The tablet has had many uses for me over the last week, but I simply can't bring myself to open a blank page in Word and type away. This is the second time that I have had the choice of writing a doc on the tablet or the netbook and both times the netbook has won. If I was just consuming the data or making minor changes than the tablet would definitely have been the tool of choice. For authoring content though, I think there is a good deal of improvement that needs to come before I am excited about using the tablet for authoring large sections of content.
The biggest wins I have seen in the first week are around the use of Office as a tool for productivity in my day to day tasks. The first day I used the tablet I was in a full day, all team meeting. I used the tablet primarily to take notes, using One Note. I used the Stylus in the mode that converted what I typed to text. This method was wonderful! What I loved most was the natural feeling of note taking. It is I much easier to just write and not have to think about typing as I am listening, to me writing is much easier in that scenario. For about 98% of what I was writing the tablet was able to translate into the correct words. The other 2% was pretty easy to fix using the same method and just tweaking some of my writing style. They stylus was what really made the difference for me in this scenario, and had I only had access to the touch keyboard I would have probably stopped using the tablet within the first hour or so.
The second big win for me was the new layout of the Office programs. I was personally shocked at how I enjoyed working with the new tools, especially in a touch environment. If you would have asked me before I started working with the tablet, I would have told you that there was probably no chance that I would even consider having a touch enabled environment as my primary working environment. After seeing the tools in action though, I can see how easily having this available would greatly increase productivity. But beyond that, the thing that I noticed the most was that it was natural and easy to use, especially when it came time to edit things such as Smart Art, Images and styles. I could easily see myself working in an environment where I could be typing away one minute and then interacting with the screen the next. The thing that stood out the most was how natural everything seemed. In my opinion this is a big win because for your typical end users this is what will help them adopt the tools and take full advantage of what is available.
Finally, the thing that I liked the most was the integration with SkyDrive and how easy it was to be taking notes and at the same time have them updating live to my phone. I know this has been available in the past, but the difference in this version is that it just happened so much easier. I think that this alone will be a huge improvement for most use cases.
Areas of Improvement
So the post wouldn't be complete without me mentioning some of the less desirable things I have experienced. The biggest issues I have had to date are with the device itself and how it responds to my touch. I have had many issues working with the screen to make it do what I want it to do. I also have struggled with how some of the commands just seem hidden. I have been using Windows7 phones since the early release and if I were to compare the two on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best I would give the Windows7 phone an 8 and the Windows8 tablet a 6. It doesn't feel intuitive and in many cases when I want to do something that I feel is easy (like rearrange the tiles) I end up opening the program at least 3 times before I manage to "click" it correctly to move it.
For areas that I have to write a lot of text, like an email, I have also struggled with the onscreen layout. In some cases everything on the screen is visible, except for the area that I am adding my text, which is covered by the keyboard. I have hopes though that these are just issues related to the beta. I am basing this hope based on one of the latest blog posts from the Office Next team. I am hoping that with the final release, they are able to get working all of the pain points they address in the blog. I think based on the blog it is clear that they are going in the right direction; I just hope it isn't another full release cycle before we see all the fixes.
My Thoughts to Date
To date my thoughts are very positive. I know people often think of me as the biggest Microsoft Fan Girl that there is, and I won't deny it. The truth of the matter is, I have been waiting a long time for these kinds of tools and I am very excited about getting them to be part of my everyday work experience. If I had to guess right now, this year will be the year of new tools for me. I imagine I will be first in line to get a Surface and who knows how long it will take me to update my personal environment at home and, even though I am not up for a new phone, I imagine it won't take much convincing for me to go for the new Windows8 phones. I have been on the fence about much of the Windows8 hype, but once I got my hands on the new office suite and the tablet I am ready to go! I will say though, that I am still proceeding with caution. In the past I have often run the beta software on my primary machine alongside of the current version of the product. Based on my initial experience with the product I am going with my gut and keeping it only on test machines at this point. I am basing this on things I have heard from others in the community as well as my overall feeling of how the two would work installed together. I may give it a few more weeks and change my mind, but for now this is my stance.
My final thoughts from week one are around my excitement that MS is taking ownership of the hardware and releasing the Surface later this year. I think by them having full ownership of the platform that we will be able to see some great improvement in the overall success of the product. I imagine that it won't be long before partners jump in and offer up alternatives, but I for one am excited to see what Microsoft brings to the table. I just hope that all of my excitement is met with a tool that I find I simply don't want to work without!
That's all for this week! Watch my blog in the next few weeks for some additional posts on my thoughts and feelings. This week I will be using the tablet at a conference and hoping it will allow me to do all I need for a full day without having to recharge. This is a tall order, so hopefully I won't be disappointed!