Microsoft gets mobile tech right at last
I CAN'T be the only person who needs fewer gadgets in his life.
Over the last decade, my home has turned into an electrical-outlet battle zone, with family members bouncing one another off the power grid so they can charge their Kindles, iPhones, Android phones, laptops, iPods, iPads, Bluetooth headsets and a flip phone or three.
So, I will put a fat tick next to tech items that let me move one step closer to single-outlet nirvana. Actually, the first such device just hit my hands and, if my eyes did not deceive me, this baby did not come from the Company That Invents Products You Didn't Know You Needed, otherwise known as Apple.
Instead, it came from Microsoft. The device is the Surface 2, a tablet/laptop hybrid that, unlike its predecessor and competitors, may put a dent in the demand for powerstrips in my house.
While everyone was watching Apple's can-you-top-this show and Android's flood-the-zone operation, Microsoft was grinding out mobile software that eventually reached Downright Lovely status.
Why didn't anyone notice? Oh. Right. Microsoft hadn't quite figured out apps or hardware.
Apps remain an open question, but good Microsoft mobile hardware finally arrived, with the release of the Surface in October last year and the Surface Pro in February.
These are tablets that can double as laptops because of a beautifully designed kickstand and a detachable keyboard.
Put another way, these are entertainment machines that could double as workhorses. The Surface runs on the company's basic-level software for desktops, laptops and other devices, Windows RT (version 8.1), while the Surface Pro runs on Windows Pro (version 8.1).
The upsides were significant. Here, at last, were Windows machines that let users experience the company's mobile and desktop software in one device, with a nifty interface, and, most notably, the Type Cover, which enabled a seamless transition between tablet and laptop.
The downsides, sadly, were also significant. Among them: a rigidly designed stand, a battery with a short life and, on the base Surface version, the omission of Outlook, the popular e-mail and scheduling program.
But in the second version of the Surface, which went on sale in late October, most of those downers have been addressedp. The new Surface includes Outlook, an upgraded battery, a kickstand with two viewing angles instead of just one and faster USB ports.
It has roughly the same thickness and weight as the iPad. The company says the battery lasts up to 10 hours, two hours more than the previous version. I tested it by streaming video with the screen at full brightness and had power for 81/2 hours.
The value proposition of the base Surface 2 seems about right. For around the price of an iPad, you get a tablet that's great for watching movies, checking e-mail, browsing the Web and using most of the basic apps you'll need.
The selection of apps is still not what you'll find on Android or Apple devices, but basic apps - like Facebook, Twitter, Flipboard and Slacker - are there, as are many games, including popular Xbox titles.