Like any other consumer, Ive been conditioned to expect certain things from certain companies.
With tablets, I expect Apples to look and feel amazing, Googles to seamlessly blend online services such as Gmail and search, and Amazons to have easy access to its online store.
So when Microsoft came out with its first tablet computer, the Surface, I wanted and expected a machine that is good for work.
The Surface is Microsofts first attempt at a general-purpose computer. In the past, it made the software and left it to other companies to make the machines. But to catch the tablet wave led by Apples iPad, Microsoft believed it needed to make its own device.
The Surfaces price tag starts at $499, the same as the latest full-screen iPad. But youll want to spend the extra $100 or more for an optional cover that comes with a working keyboard.
After several days with it, I think Surface comes close to becoming a replacement for my work computer, but not all the way.
Some elements designed for play make Surface surprisingly good, while others verge on being frustrating.
Trying hard to be both a tablet and a personal computer means compromises. For instance, a kickstand lets you prop up the screen on a flat surface so that it feels more like a laptop with the keyboard attached, but the setup is clumsy for typing on your lap.
On the other hand, you can flip the keyboard cover upside down and use the kickstand to form a supportive triangle for the screen. In this position, the device is a comfy companion while watching TV.
A big aspect of the split personality comes in the software. Surfaces start screen has square tiles that represent apps. One touch, and an app opens full screen.
But theres also a tile that takes you to a very different operating system called the desktop. Presumably, this is where the work begins.
Because the desktop interface takes on the old Windows style of boxes and icons, your fingers become less well-suited to navigating. I had to give up on touch and use the keyboard cover with its trackpad.
Swiping around on the covers built-in trackpad quickly brings up the mouse pointer, whose precision youll both need and appreciate.
The Surface that went on sale Oct. 26 comes with Windows RT, the slimmed-down version of Microsofts newest operating system, Windows 8.
RT makes the device clearly not a PC.
Although Surface has Microsofts latest browser, Internet Explorer 10, third-party plug-ins that have helped power the Web for years dont work correctly.
I couldnt get behind my companys firewall because a Juniper Networks plug-in couldnt be installed.
Devices with the full version of Windows 8, due out in a few months, wont have the same plug-in problem, Microsoft says.
Surface gives you free copies of the Office programs Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, which is a big bonus. The RT versions of Office operate much like the full versions, but they lack some meaningful conveniences, such as the ability to email files as attachments with a couple of clicks.
Part of the play element of Surface should have been the joy of just getting around using the touch screen, but some things make it confusing.
At first, I didnt have a problem with the need to swipe in from the edges to make certain options appear.
Swiping in from the right brings up several buttons, including ones for searching, changing settings or returning to the start screen.
You hold the device with both hands and the screen lengthwise, and you do the swiping with your thumbs.
Swiping down from the top lets you either discard an app completely (by swiping through the bottom of the screen) or create a split screen for multitasking (by pushing the app to the left or right until it snaps in place). Swiping up from the bottom brings up app-specific options.
The problem is swiping in from the left. When you do so, it takes you back to the previous app you had open. I got confused sometimes with websites.
I wanted to go back a page, not leave the app completely. The difference between these two functions is swiping in from beyond the edge or swiping in from just near it. I often found myself in places in applications without knowing how to return easily.
One big thing Microsoft got right was music.
Xbox Music gives you a really clean interface, with beautiful moving graphics and a Smart DJ feature, which plays entire songs in a genre in rotation, much like Pandora.
You can also play songs or albums from a catalog of millions; its free, with ads.
I like how Xbox Music plays in the background. When you toggle the physical volume rocker, a little box with pause, forward and back buttons pops up in a corner and fades away quickly. That works with whatever happens to be using the speakers, including iHeart Radio. It allowed me to easily catch up on the mornings news and my email inbox at the same time.
The software is far from flawless, but Im hopeful it will get better over time as apps are developed and software bugs are discovered and fixed.
Whats important is that Microsoft got the hardware right, creating a light portable computer that has an ample number of fun features and a decent work environment.