10 Tips and Tricks for Your Surface

By Andy Rathbone

With the Surface, the hard part is limiting to only ten tips. After paring down the list from 20, here are 10 essential tips ’n’ tricks to get more out of your Surface.

When lost, swipe in from the screen’s left edge

When you finally close the app you’ve been using, the Start screen jumps in to fill the void.

But what were you working on before you went off track by tapping the link?

To find out, slide in your finger from the screen’s left side. Your finger pulls your original app back onto the screen, bringing you full circle to where you were before the distraction.

Search for items by typing directly on the start screen

If you’ve attached any type of keyboard to your Surface, you have a special perk: To search for something, begin typing its name directly onto the Start screen. Windows automatically fetches the Charms bar, enters your search into the Search box, and begins listing matches.

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Don’t have a keyboard attached to your Surface? You can do the same thing by tapping the Search icon in the Start screen’s upper-right corner. When the Search pane’s Search box appears, tap inside the Search box to call up the onscreen keyboard. Then start typing your search term.

Select onscreen items within apps

The trick to selecting difficult items is to slide your finger across them in the opposite direction that they scroll.

Mail normally lets you scroll through e-mail by sliding your finger up or down the list. So, select a single piece of e-mail by sliding your finger left or right across it. This “slide in the opposite direction” trick works when selecting many other seemingly difficult-to-select items.

Take screenshots

To take a snapshot of what you’re seeing on the screen, hold down the Windows key below your Surface’s screen and press the Volume Down button. The screen dims, and a screenshot appears in your Pictures library’s Screenshots folder.

Taking screenshots comes in particularly handy when an error message pops up. You can e-mail the screenshot to a techie to deal with the error.

Stop the screen from rotating

You may not always want your screen to rotate — perhaps you’re reading a book or browsing websites.

To keep the screen from rotating, open the Charms bar and tap on Settings. When the Settings pane appears, tap on the Screen icon near the bottom right.

When the brightness bar appears, look at the Rotation Lock icon atop the bar; tap that icon to toggle autorotation on and off.

Tweak your app’s settings

Every app offers a way to fine-tune its behavior through the Charms bar’s Settings area. When something about an app irks you, see whether you can change it: Fetch the Charms bar by sliding your finger in from the screen’s right edge and tapping the Settings icon. If an app can be changed, the Settings pane offers a way.

Make a recovery drive

Creating a Recovery Drive isn’t very difficult. If you have a flash drive, dedicate it as a Recovery Drive for your Surface. If your Surface won’t start someday, that Recovery Drive just might be the only thing to bring it back to life.

The Surface RT and Surface 2 need a USB drive of at least 4GB; the Surface Pro and Pro 2 models need a USB drive of at least 8GB.

Find a lost start screen app

Can’t find an app on your Start screen? Then check the All Apps area; from the Start screen, slide your screen upward until the All Apps area appears. Look for your app in the alphabetical list. When you spot it, launch it with a tap.

Or, if you want it on the Start screen, where it’s easier to launch, hold your finger down on its icon. When the App bar appears along the bottom, choose Pin to Start.

Don’t see Pin to Start? Then tap the App bar’s Find on Start icon instead. The Start screen returns with the formerly missing app’s tile highlighted with a white border.

Increase your Surface’s storage space

The biggest challenge when moving from a desktop PC to a Surface is the amount of storage space. Most Surfaces offer from 32GB to 128GB of storage; the Surface Pro 2 offers up to 512GB.

The easiest, fastest, and best way to maximize storage on your Surface is to insert a microSDXC memory card into its memory slot.

Don’t have a memory card? Then follow these steps to delete any unneeded files:

  1. Run the desktop’s Disk Cleanup program.

    Type free up disk space into the Charms bar’s Search box. Then tap the similarly named link that appears beneath the box. The Disk Cleanup program appears.

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  2. Tap the Clean Up System Files button near the window’s bottom.

  3. Select the boxes next to the items you want to delete.

  4. Tap the OK button to delete the files.

    When you delete the files, they’re gone for good. Unlike most desktop files, you can’t retrieve them.

Add your contact information to your Surface

If you’ve chosen a secure password for your Microsoft account, nobody can move past the Lock screen.

But if a Good Samaritan finds your Surface, how will the finder know how to return it to you?

For a quick-and-easy solution, grab a permanent magic marker and write your name and phone number on the back of your Surface. That not only ensures that the finder will see your contact information, but it will raise suspicions at the pawn shop.

If you want to preserve your Surface’s resale value, though, there’s another way:

Use the desktop’s Paint program or another graphics editor to write your name and phone number onto the wallpaper you use for your Lock screen. That makes it easy to update if your phone number changes.

Then whoever finds your Surface will see your contact information every time your Surface turns on.