The Bottom Line
Oct 30 2012 - On the hardware side, Microsoft's Surface with Windows RT is certainly a top rate product that equals what Apple has achieve both in terms of finish and feel. They aren't just following the lead of other companies either thanks to their innovative keyboard cover design. The software is also a big change that is well suited to the touch interface of the tablet but is also flawed in its current state. With its limited applications, inability to be used with legacy applications and performance issues launching programs, it still has some way to go before it can truly compete with the entrenched Android and iOS platforms not to mention Microsoft's of Windows 8 platform.
- Solid Design With Excellent Build Quality
- Included Office Software
- Innovative Keyboard Cover
- Windows RT Software Not Suited Yet As Standalone Computers
- Applications Slow To First Launch
- Keyboard Cover Is Expensive And Requires Hard Surface To Function Properly
- 1.3GHz NVIDIA Tegra 3 (Cortex-A9) Quad Core Processor
- 2GB Memory
- 32GB Storage
- 10.6" WXGA (1366x768) Multitouch Display
- 1.0 Megapixel Front and Rear Webcam
- NVIDIA Tegra Graphics
- 802.11a/g/n Wireless, Bluetooth
- USB 2.0, Micro-HDMI, Micro-SDXC, 3.5mm Audio
- 10.8" x 6.8" x .4" @ 1.5 lbs.
- Windows RT, Office Home and Student 2013 Preview
Review - Microsoft Surface With Windows RT
Oct 30 2012 - Microsoft is typically a software only company expect when it comes to peripheral devices, but with the Surface it marks their first foray into the world of being an all-in-one software and hardware company similar to that of Apple. Their new tablet is of course going to be directly compared to Apple's product because of how the market is changing because of this new style of computing device. Just based on the exterior appearance and feel, Microsoft certainly has taken their time and build a first-class product.
The Surface with Windows RT is slightly larger than most of the 10-inch tablets primarily to handle the keyboard of the Touch Cover I will talk more about later. It is also heavier at one and a half pounds that while noticeable is not uncomfortable or unwieldy to carry thanks to a nice weight distribution. While many of the tablets on the market use plastics to help keep the weight and costs down, Microsoft uses a VaporMg process that creates a surprising sturdy and nice feel. One unique aspect of the device is that there is an integrated kickstand that spans the lower half of the tablet. It isn't the first to do this but it has done it such that it works very well. Overall, this is certainly one of the best built tablets on the market and clearly on par with Apple's products.
When you power on the Microsoft Surface, the Windows RT software is going to feel and look exactly like the standard Windows 8 operating system with its modern UI and tiles. This is going to help ease users between a desktop and tablet device as they share the same basic interface but they are not the same. Buyers are not going to be able to install or use their old desktop applications on this tablet. Instead, they are limited to the roughly five thousand or so programs available in the Microsoft operated store which is far less than a traditional computer or Apple's gigantic Apps Store. Booting up the operating system was speedy and so is navigating around the interface. The big problem though is when you first launch a program. When you select the web browser, mail or media program for the first time, you will have to wait for a noticeably longer time than similar apps would load either in Android or iOS. Hopefully this is something that can be corrected by updates to the operating system as it certainly detracts from the experience.
The heart of the Microsoft Surface with Windows RT is the NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad core processor. This is an ARM Cortex A9 based processor rather than your traditional x86 from Intel or AMD found in a laptop or desktop. In fact, it is similar to what is found in pretty much any tablet on the market except that it is a quad core processor and features a surprisingly high 2GB of memory for the processor compared to 1GB that most use. This is likely necessary for the more graphically intense Windows RT operating system with its Modern UI. All of the applications seem to run smoothly under other than the aforementioned launching slowdown.
The touchscreen panel for the surface is a slightly larger 10.6-inches in size compared to most screens that fall between 9.5 to 10.1-inches and features a 1366x768 resolution. This falls short of the amazingly high retina display of the latest Apple iPad's or the 1920x1080 of the ASUS Transformer Infinity. While this does not offer as crisp or detailed image than these other tablets, it still fares better than most that stick with a 1280x800 resolution. It also features a ClearType HD which is essential a style of sub-pixel rendering to help smooth out text to be easier to read. The brightness is certainly good for the display such that it is functional in bright sunlight outdoors even with the reflective glass coating and the viewing angles are quite wide. In terms of color rendering, the black levels are quite surprising but it just doesn't have the same range or color accuracy as Apple's retina displays.
Of course the big selling point for the surface is the Touch Cover that integrates a keyboard into the soft magnetically attached cover for the tablet. It connects together fairly easily thanks to very strong magnets and won't just fall off easily which is reassuring if you happen to pick it up by the cover alone. The interior of the cover has a set of keys that are slightly raise off the cover similar to what one might see in a traditional laptop design along with a small trackpad space. In terms of typing, the experience is very different from a laptop keyboard as it is a pressure sensitive pad and it obviously has keys that are smaller than your average 13-inch laptop. Heaver typists will generally not have many issues but those with a light touch will find keys periodically don't register. In addition, it will take some time to get used to the layout and feel of it. The trackpad area is very wide but short which gives it somewhat less functionality that a standard laptop. With the touchscreen it also isn't all that useful. The biggest problem is that this is a soft cover that is pressure sensitive which requires that the Surface rest on a hard surface like a table or lapdesk to properly function. Don't expect to rest it on a couch, bed or even your lap and have it work. Finally, the touch cover adds $100 to the cost when the Surface is purchase or $119 separately which means it is quite pricey.
Microsoft has been very keen to push the Surface as a tablet that is able to be used for producing content, not just viewing it. With this in mind, it has included the Office Home and Student programs that include Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. This is certainly a selling point for the tablet but it should be noted that the current versions of these programs feel very much water down from what the desktop versions are. Sure, you can create these documents but just not to the same degree as you would with a laptop or desktop. It should also be noted that Apple has made its Pages and Numbers programs available for just $10 each and there are many more overall software programs available in its store that could be used to create and produce as the Surface is marketed to. If the tablet is to really succeed, Microsoft is certainly going to want to bring more software companies on board to produce apps.
For the battery of the Microsoft Surface, an internal battery with a capacity of 31.5WHr is used. This is between the capacity of the iPad 2 and the New iPad but is slightly higher than your typical 10-inch Android tablet. In my digital video playback test, the Surface was able to run for just under nine and three quarter hours. This puts it at a typical level of running time but short of the over ten hours that the Apple iPads are able to achieve and of course well below the nearly sixteen hours that the Transformer Prime with its dock was able to achieve. Another thing worth mentioning is the power connector. Microsoft uses a magnetic connector similar to the MagSafe used in the Apple laptops but with a longer connector and magnets that don't seem to drop from the tablet with very little force which can get annoying.
Pricing might be a big issue for Microsoft on the Surface with Windows RT. Priced at $499 without a cover, it is essentially the same price as the Apple iPad but with 32GB instead of 16GB of storage. Compounding this is Microsoft pushing it as an alternative to a traditional laptop. To really achieve this, one would also need the Touch Cover which drives the price up to $599 and as much as many budget laptops and even in the range of some of the ultrabooks. In its current state, the Surface isn't quite able to completely replace a laptop computer. Microsoft will eventually release a Surface with Windows 8 Pro which will essentially be equivalent to a full laptop but in tablet form not to mention the large number of hybrid laptops coming out from its various partners. These alternatives will undoubtedly cost more but it is certainly something that consumers need to consider before purchasing a Surface with Windows RT.