Microsoft Surface Review RoundUp
October 24, 2012 7:00 AM
A few early reviews from around the Web
The long-awaited Windows 8 OS is almost here, and while it will make its way into consumer's hands through various devices, the most intriguing is Microsoft's new Surface RT tablet -- which also happens to be
What's Under the Hood?
The Surface is a
Windows RT-based tablet
, which is a variation of Windows 8. The Windows Pro version will be released at a later date, but for now, only the RT is available. Some Surface RT specs include a 10.6-inch display, an ARM-based processor (NVIDIA quad-core Tegra 3), 32GB or 64GB storage options, 2GB of memory, 1366x768 resolution, 720p rear- and front-facing cameras, a USB port and a microSDXC slot. Also, the tablet has a VaporMg magnesium casing and a built-in kickstand.
Touch Cover vs. Type Cover
The Surface is especially unique in that it offers a keyboard accessory, but not just any keyboard:
keyboard options that double as protective covers. There's a touch cover, which is a thinner (3.25 millimeters) pressure-sensitive keyboard, and a type cover, which feels more like a laptop keyboard at 6 millimeters and physical keys.
On to the Reviews!
The Surface isn't due for release until October 26, but of course, tech blogs like
have gotten their hands on some Surface tablets for review purposes. So, before you run to the store and drop $499 for the 32GB, $599 for the 32GB with touch cover, or $699 for the 64GB with touch cover, here are a few reviews from those who've spent some time with Microsoft's new baby.
The Surface's design has been a popular topic with varying opinions.
Anand Shimpi compared it to the iPad's design, saying its heavier and larger than Apple's signature tablet, but is more comfortable to carry.
The added weight is offset by superb internal weight distribution. Microsoft claims a lower moment of inertia by more evenly distributing weight inside Surface’s chassis. I don’t know that I’d consider Surface light but it is very comfortable to carry around. It’s not quite like porting around a pad of paper, but carrying Surface feels very natural.
The focus on weight distribution results in a device that is honestly comfortable to hold in tablet mode and very comfortable to carry around. The more squared design of Surface actually makes in hand feel more like a book than the iPad, which was an early goal for the device.
However, one part of the Surface's design that could use some work is the built-in kickstand, which is meant to sit the tablet upright on a desk. Shimpi and Tim Stevens from
both had pretty much the same complaint: the kickstand is durable, but not adjustable.
With a fixed angle of deployment the kickstand doesn’t always deliver the best viewing experience, although it’s usually good enough. The kickstand is perfect for desk use and even for using while reclined on a couch or even in bed. Where it does fall short is if you’re hunched over Surface on an airplane in coach without a lot of room to move the device away from you. In those situations you’re going to find that you’d wish the kickstand could open at a wider angle.
Its hinge is complex but feels durable, though we do wish Microsoft had put a notch on either side of the stand, instead of just the one on the left. Flipping it out with your right hand can be a little tricky at times.
David Pierce from
added that the kickstand would be better with more adjustable options, but serves a great purpose since the Surface is "awkward" in both landscape and portrait mode and "just wants to be on a desk."
A convenient feature that is appearing in more and more tablets is the
ability to turn into a laptop or a tablet
via keyboard docks or covers. In the Surface's case, it has two keyboard cover options that are winning the hearts of many tech reviewers. Shimpi praised the Surface for its transformation capabilities.
Microsoft wants you to be able to quickly transition between notebook, tablet and display modes. It’s rare that I see a goal so well executed. Surface really masters the art of quick transitions between all three modes. I can be in word, typing out this review and quickly switch to a tablet mode where I’m browsing the web with the keyboard cover folded neatly behind the display. If I need to respond to a comment or answer an email, I can just as easily switch back.
Pierce, on the other hand, said the type cover is responsive but a bit odd feeling when folded into tablet form. He added that the touch cover and track pad are very responsive and comfortable as well.
On a last design note, Shimpi said the colorful options of the Surface cases gives them a "consumer twist," helping Microsoft appeal to more than just business folks.
As far as software goes, Pierce had a few complaints. Namely, apps took awhile to load, games were sluggish and Flash video was subpar compared to HTML5. However, Pierce did say the Windows RT user interface was "inventive and useful."
Avram Piltch from
warns, however, that Microsoft fans are in for a whole new experience with Windows 8.
If you've never used Windows 8 or Windows RT before, you're in for a shock, because Microsoft has completely redesigned its OS to be more touch-friendly
The touch-friendly environment is meant to create a convenient mobile platform, and with mobile devices of course comes applications -- and the reviewers have a beef to pick with Microsoft over some app-related issues.
One of the top complaints was that the Microsoft Store isn't heavily loaded. Piltch was happy to elaborate.
At present, the Windows Store has less than 5,000 apps, with few truly compelling titles available. We saw many casual games, but only a handful of graphically intensive titles. Other than the built-in Internet Explorer 10, we did not find any Web browsers, nor did we see many useful utilities or, apart from the built-in Microsoft Office,
any good productivity apps
Another app-related complaint was that Windows RT doesn't have legacy support for Windows software. Stevens shared his experience with legacy apps on the Surface, but has high hopes that new, useful apps will make their way to the Windows Store.
There's nothing stopping you from downloading legacy apps from the browser, but none will run on Windows RT. As we discovered, you can go so far as to create desktop shortcuts for apps. But when you try and load them, a banner will stretch across the screen, telling you the app won't run on your device. As for apps you can run, the selection is small, but growing. Netflix, for instance, just arrived in the Windows Store, and we expect plenty more soon (including our own app). So far, there's a comforting group of heavy hitters, including Skitch, Box.net, Associated Press, Evernote, eBay, StumbleUpon, Pandora and Slacker Radio. We'd like to believe that bodes well for other major apps that still haven't arrived on the platform.
But the Surface's power seems to make up for the lack of app selection (for now.) Piltch said it's a great multi-tasker.
With its 1.3-GHz, quad-core Tegra 3 processor and 2GB of RAM, the Surface with RT had enough power to take on all the tasks we threw at it, from viewing HD videos and using Microsoft Offfice to video chatting and playing demanding games like "Dredd vs Zombies."
However, serious photgraphers might want to steer clear: the cameras haven't received the best reviews from the likes of Pierce or Stevens. Steven, specifically, said the cameras won't be used for much more than video chatting.
The Surface has dual 720p cameras, but unless you're in the mood for video chatting, you probably won't be using them much. Even by tablet standards, the image quality here is pretty poor. Our full-res, 1,280 x 720 shots look awfully pixelated, even in brightly lit environments that shouldn't have yielded any noise. You'll also notice a good deal of color saturation (take a look at those fire-engine-red peppers in the sample gallery to see what we mean). As for the Surface's 720p video recording, we noticed some motion blur, but we were pleasantly surprised by how gentle the audio rendering was. Too often, our clips taken with tablets have a buzzing, distorted quality. In this case, the tablet didn't pick up any stray gusts of wind that might have otherwise spoiled our recording.
An important mobile question is, "How long does the battery last?" Shimpi answers that question with a little over 9 hours.
To measure battery life I put Surface through our 2012 tablet battery life suite. All tests were run with the display calibrated to 200 nits and with Surface, its Touch Cover was attached. Overall battery life is pretty competitive with the iPad. In lighter use cases Apple pulls ahead slightly, but if you look at our updated web browsing test the heavier CPU load pushes Surface ahead of the third gen iPad. It’s not clear how the 4th gen iPad would stack up in this comparison.
One final, but absolutely important factor in considering a Surface purchase is cost. Many complained about the Surface's high price tag of $499-$699, saying that it's as much as a new iPad. Also, a touch cover or type cover can cost an extra $120-$130.
Whether or not Surface is priced appropriately really depends on how much you value Windows RT and getting Office 2013 for free. I suspect if you’re already a big Office user, you’ll see a lot of value in the bundle. On the Windows RT side, whether or not that platform has value really depends on how frustrated you are by the multitasking, task switching and lack of screen sharing (two apps on the screen at once) of other mobile OSes. Depending on your feelings on those two issues Surface will either feel like a bargain, or too much.
As a device, Surface is incredibly well executed. It makes sense that Microsoft’s OEM partners are feeling the pressure as there’s very little that I would change about Surface from a design perspective. The chassis is well built and the integrated kickstand is seriously one of the most useful features to ever meet a tablet. The optional Touch and Type Covers complete the package. While a full sized notebook is going to deliver a better typing experience, when paired with its Touch/Type covers Surface results in a more productive platform than any other tablet.
and music and movies and reading are what you're looking to enjoy, then we might advise sitting this one out for a few months just to make sure that all your bases will indeed be covered. If, however, you're looking for an impeccably engineered tablet upon which you can do some serious work, a device that doesn't look, feel or act like a toy, then you should get yourself a Surface with Windows RT.
The Surface with Windows RT proves that Microsoft can beat its own partners on hardware. Between the build quality, kickstand, and truly innovative Touch Cover, this is a tablet whose design and fresh interface will turn heads away from the iPad. But for how long? For a flagship product with a premium price, Microsoft compromises on too many things by including poor cameras, weak speakers, slow internal memory and a screen that, while better than most, isn't as good as the iPad's Retina display.
If all of the above sounds like a good deal, you can preorder the Surface to your specifications
. The tablet goes on sale October 26.
"Young lady, in this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!" -- Homer Simpson
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