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10 Tips & Tricks for Microsoft Surface Pro & RT Tablets

By Ng Chong Seng - 12 Jun 2013

Tips & Tricks for Your Microsoft Surface - 1


Make Your Surface Experience a Better One with These Handy Tips

June 3 marks the date when the Microsoft Surface Pro started retailing in local stores, such as Challenger, Harvey Norman, and Newstead.

Besides new hardware, the new Windows 8 Pro and Windows RT operating systems on the Surface Pro and Surface RT respectively are going to provide you with an experience that's very different from what you're used to in previous versions of Windows. If you haven't upgraded to Windows 8 yet on your desktop PC, it's wise to get acquainted with it first before you unbox your spanking new Surface tablet. For that, you can head over to our Windows 8 Mega Guide.

In this article, we will share with 10 of our favorite Surface tips and tweaks. Some of them are more Windows 8-specific than Surface-specific; nonetheless, we feel that they're useful enough to list them here, especially if the Surface is your first Windows 8 device.

Without further ado, let's get the ball rolling.


1. Install Windows Store Apps on an SD Card


A simple registry entry edit will allow you to install apps on the SD card.

The Surface RT has limited storage options (32 or 64GB), and useable storage is even lesser when you factor in the space the OS and pre-installed apps take. But the Surface RT makes up for it by having a microSDXC card slot. This provides a relatively cheap way to expand the tablet's storage quickly: for example, a 64GB Class 10 microSDXC card can be had for around S$90. That being said, Windows Store apps are installed on the internal memory by default; in order to install them on the SD card, a bit of registry hack is required. Of course, this trick applies to the Surface Pro too.

  1. Press Windows + R keys, type regedit in the Run dialog box, and hit Enter. This opens up the Registry Editor.
  2. Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Appx.
  3. Find the PackageRoot label and change the text string so that it points to a folder you've created on your SD card, such as D:\WindowsApps.



2. Install Windows Store Apps from Other Countries


Can’t find an app you’ve read about? It’s probably in another country’s Windows Store.

Speaking of Windows Store apps, there will be times when you can't find an app in the Windows Store. There could be many reasons for that, but the most likely one is that the developer simply didn't release it in your country or region. Usually, these are apps for services that aren't available in your country, such as Netflix. In this case, you've to switch to the U.S. Windows Store. The process is easier than you thought, because all you need to do is to change your PC's home location setting. And yes, this works for any Windows 8 device, not just the Surface.

  1. Bring up the Search charm and type region.
  2. Tap or click Settings, and in the results, tap or click Region.
  3. Select the Location tab and change your PC's home location.



3. Take Screenshots Without a Keyboard


The Surface’s screenshot shortcut is similar to what’s available on Android and iOS.

The most basic way to take a screenshot in Windows is to press the Print Screen key, followed by Ctrl + V to paste the image on the clipboard in your desired app. On a Surface tablet, there's another method to do a screen capture, and you don't even need a keyboard. This method also works on other Windows 8 devices, provided they've the required buttons.

  1. Press and hold the capacitive Windows button on the Surface.
  2. Then, press the volume down button. The screen will flash briefly; this means a screenshot is taken.
  3. The screenshot is automatically saved to the Screenshots album in your Pictures library. It's also on your clipboard, so you can proceed to paste it elsewhere.



4. Enable Rotation Lock


Okay, we admit: this rotation lock setting isn’t a Surface exclusive; all Windows 8 tablets have it.

Like most Windows RT/8 tablets, the Surface doesn't have a hardware rotation lock switch. But if you like to read on the bed with your Surface, you can easily lock the screen orientation via the Settings charm.

  1. Swipe in from the right edge to bring up the Charms bar, and select the Settings charm.
  2. You'll see six icons near the bottom of the screen. Select the Screen icon.
  3. The rotation lock software switch is located right above the brightness control bar. Tap or click it to enable or disable the rotation lock.



5. Create a USB Recovery Drive (a.k.a. Remove Recovery Image to Reclaim Space)


When creating a USB recovery drive, it's good to also copy over the Windows recovery image.

The Surface comes with a recovery image (stored on a separate partition) that allows you to refresh the device or reset it to factory condition. Because it takes up considerable amount of storage space (3.5GB on Surface RT and 7GB on Surface Pro), you may want to remove it and reclaim the space for other data. But before that, you should create a USB recovery drive.

The steps for creating a USB recovery drive for your Surface are many but are simple to follow along. Microsoft has actually done a great job explaining how to do it here, so we'll not duplicate them here again. However, what we'll do is to highlight some easily overlooked points.

  1. While Microsoft recommends an external USB flash drive with at least 4GB of storage for Surface RT and 7GB for Surface Pro, we couldn't create a recovery drive for our Surface RT with an empty 4GB flash drive (the tool complained of insufficient space). So, we recommend an 8GB stick at the minimum.
  2. The Surface must stay awake when the recovery image and recovery tools are copied to the USB drive. If the Surface goes to sleep, the copy process will be halted until you wake the device.
  3. Most importantly, if you opt to delete your recovery partition, you will need your USB recovery drive to refresh or reset your Surface in the future. So, keep the recovery drive at a safe place.
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