I am typing this review on the Surface right now. The Surface is Microsoft’s first computer/tablet hardware to hit the market, and it also marks the introduction of Windows RT to the public. Even for a giant corporation like Microsoft, building a new hardware and a new OS are no small efforts.
While Microsoft has been an undisputed champion in the desktop computing market for decades, it has been late to both smartphone and tablet markets. Microsoft is still struggling in the smartphone market, and they are just starting out on the tablet market. The future of computing lies in mobile, and Microsoft is betting big on the Surface.
Does the Surface combine the best of the tablet and the laptop? Or does it fail to present us with a logical mix of the two different interface metaphors? Read on to find out.
- Windows RT + Microsoft Office 2013 RT
- 10.6-inch ClearType HD display
- 1366 x 768 resolution (148 ppi pixel density)
- Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core
- 2GB RAM
- 32GB or 64GB storage (subtract 16GB for usable storage)
- Full-size USB 2.0
- microSD card slot (up to 64GB)
- 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
I absolutely love the look of the Surface. It's black. It's bold. It's bad-ass. And isn't boring. It is extremely easy to make boring looking tablets, because tablets essentially are just big slabs with a large piece of glass in the middle. You can really see that Microsoft made a conscious effort to make a device that is both unique and functional. The size is just right for most tablet-y things I would do.
VaporMg casing feels solid and sleek. The weight is very well distributed so it is easy to hold the device with one hand or both hands. And the kickstand is immensely useful when typing and trying to get some work done. This hardware is a win.
I also love the design of Windows RT/8. I loved the Metro UI on Windows Phone, but it’s even better on the tablet and on the desktop where more screen real estate allows the live tiles to show more information. Microsoft is taking the right direction with the Metro UI.
I also love the fact that the old desktop is just an app. Unless you are trying to use Microsoft Office or the File Browser, you'll never have to go back to the old desktop view. When you want to, you can use the Surface like a full laptop on the desktop UI. Just connect a keyboard and a mouse to it.
For productivity purposes, the Surface is way ahead of the competition. Microsoft Office 2013 for RT is the best productivity suite that I’ve used on a tablet, because it’s identical to the desktop version of Office. A Metro UI version of the Office may be a better design choice, but I do not think it would be possible to get real work done on that. Inclusion of Office 2013 is the Surface's main selling point, and it's good.
While I like the look of the Surface, I have problems with its hardware elements. I do not like the widescreen aspect ratio of the Surface’s display. I strongly believe that 16:9 is the wrong way to go for tablets. Sure, the widescreen format may be better for watching movies, but it’s simply too tall and narrow for a good reading experience. There is a reason why books and magazines have the aspect ratio of 1.414:1.
The screen resolution is another factor that gets in the way of the Surface being a competent reading device. 1366 x 768 resolution of the Surface may be okay for watching videos and playing games, but it’s not enough for reading. Texts seem blurry and dull compared to my trusty 3rd generation iPad with Retina display. Microsoft gave excuses about the low resolution display, stating that subpixel rendering and reflective rate being more important than resolution, but it simply does not look as good as the iPad. I tried hard to give the Surface a chance as an e-reader, but I found myself going back to my iPad every time.
Well, at least the Surface makes a good video player, right? Nope. Although the display is good enough for videos, the stereo speakers on the Surface are so bad that I cannot use them at all. They are too small and too tinny sounding, lacking any bass or definition needed for a good experience. These speakers are way too quiet, almost to the point of being inaudible when there is a bit of ambient noise around you. I like to watch Netflix on my tablet while cooking, but I could not hear anything from the Surface with all the sizzling around me.
Lastly, I hate the empty ecosystem of Windows RT. It's impossible to install any traditional Windows programs on the desktop side, and the application store does not have many good apps at the moment. Apps are not just programs - they are extensions of the device to the world out there. The better the apps, the stronger these connections are. For instance, when I use a good news app, like Reeder for iOS I can absorb more content I like and waste less time. The Surface comes with well-made stock apps, but that’s not enough.
TOUCH COVER & TYPE COVER
The Surface is a very mediocre product. It’s not a terrible tablet, but it falls short of becoming a viable competitor to the iPad. It’s not a terrible laptop, but the limitations of Windows RT stops it short from being a full computer. Microsoft talked about the Surface as a hybrid of the tablet and the laptop, but it’s mediocre at being both of those things.
That being said, I still look forward to the future of the Surface and other Windows 8 tablets. Once the bugs are squashed and the apps start rolling in, Windows 8 and Windows RT will be an attractive solution for many people.
Of course, you should always buy a product that’s good now, rather than a product that may become better in a year or so. For that reason, I say skip the first-gen Surface.