Surface and iPad mini: Keep or return?

A few months ago, I got over my longstanding objection to buying gadgets just so I could review them. It beats waiting for a distracted or picky PR department to send a loaner unit, and it ensures I get the same hardware any reader might buy.

But unless I’m going to become a one-man stimulus program for the electronics industry, I can’t keep everything I buy to test. When I tried the iPhone 5, for instance, I had to return the phone within Verizon Wireless’s 14-day trial to avoid sentencing myself to a two-year contract.

(Returning used devices usually entails a restocking fee, but it would take a lot of those to equal what I spent on the ONA conference fee alone, much less all the other expenses it takes to stay in business.)

That brings me to my two latest review purchases: Apple’s iPad mini and the Microsoft Surface.

Going into this, I might have picked the iPad as the one more likely to go. We already own an iPad, I’d been leaning towards getting the Nexus 7 as our smaller tablet, and the absence of restocking fees at Apple’s stores would make returning it a cost-free proposition. The Surface, on the other hand, would be a new type of device in my home, and it would also allow me to experience Windows 8’s interface on hardware designed for it.

But now I’m thinking I’ll keep the mini and return the Surface. It’s a great little device, especially for use away from home, and our iPad 2 is starting to run out of space between the apps I’ve put on it for test purposes and those my wife uses for her job. Meanwhile, I don’t need Microsoft’s tablet to test Windows RT apps when my ThinkPad’s copy of Windows 8 also runs them. The Surface itself is too heavy to carry around as a tablet; when I tried using it on my lap, the Touch Cover flexed distractingly with my typing and the kickstand didn’t stop the screen from wobbling back and forth.

Plus, my MacBook Air only weighs a pound more than the combined Surface and Touch Cover but can do a lot more. It also cost twice as much–but that money was spent long before I set foot in a Microsoft Store to buy a Surface.

So that’s what I think I’ll do. If you think I’m making a huge mistake, you have until tonight to talk me out of it in the comments.

11/11/12, 10:34 a.m. Welcome, Loop Insight readers! I did, in fact, return the Surface last night–and found myself next to another Surface buyer at Microsoft’s Pentagon City store who was doing the same thing, for about the same reasons. The clerk apologized for the tablet not meeting our expectations and suggested that the upcoming Surface Pro might be a better fit. He could be right.