When Microsoft introduced its Surface tablets with a fancy, top secret Los Angeles event, it didn't just tag the beginning of a new and utterly crucial phase for the history of the company. But can Surface remain competitive?
The Surface is Microsoft's first attempt at a general-purpose pc. In the past, it made the software and left it to other companies to make the machines. But to catch the tablet wave led by Apple's iPad, Microsoft felt it needed to make its own device. The Surface tablet is the end result of three years of development, and Microsoft sees it as the perfect stage for its new Windows platform.
Windows 8/RT represents a departure from the Windows operating system that users are accustomed to, and more than a few feathers will be ruffled as a result. The Surface's price tag starts at $499, the same as the latest full-screen iPad, but if you are going to buy one, you'll want to spend the extra $100 or more for an optional cover that comes with a working keyboard.
Microsoft prefers to do hardware. Microsoft has to do killer hardware if it wants to play in that arena. Microsoft achieved that objective, so tick off that check box. The Surface RT is a lovely gadget in and of itself. While I have never been a fan of the widescreen Tablet form factor, the size, weight, fit, finish, and general feel of the Surface RT are something that Microsoft has every right to be proud of.
Powered by a 1.3GHz Nvidia Tegra 3 chip, Surface has a few ports peppered around its sides, notably a USB 2.0 socket and a microSD card slot, which supports up to 128GB of extra space. This is a major benefit -- neither the Google Nexus 7 nor any iPad offer expandable storage. The Surface RT is a nice piece of hardware engineering and design.
There's no doubt that Surface has a split personality, steeped in its very external design. It's a tablet, but transforms into a personal computer with the keyboard cover, snapped on using its magnetic spine.
The front of the tablet is all screen, save for a small camera and light embedded beneath the display at the top and a capacitive Windows home button that sits centered (in landscape, the preferred orientation) at the bottom. Along the top of the device, you'll find a sleep / power button on the upper right edge. On the left side is a set of volume rockers and a headphone jack, while the right side boasts a USB jack, Micro HDMI port, and the odd and difficult to use proprietary power jack.
The resolution of the 10.6-inch screen is 1,366x768 pixels, which isn't Full HD, but its 16:9 aspect ratio makes it ideal for watching most movies. Its pixel density is 148 pixels per inch, significantly lower than the retina iPad's 264ppi or the Nexus 7's 215ppi.
The Surface's optional keyboard cover is possibly the most hyped and unique element of the tablet. It attaches to the bottom of the Surface with a satisfying snap, effectively turning the device into a laptop, mouse pad and all.
Overall, Microsoft has designed a beautiful tablet that's unfortunately more functional as a laptop... on a desk. The styling and components are incredibly well made and high quality, but the form factor isn't svelte or small enough to really come across as a true hybrid.
The Surface is powered by Windows 8, specifically Windows RT, the tablet-centric version of Microsoft's new operating system. That implies a standard, old-fashioned Windows desktop; where you have to go to launch Office, but you can't install anything else lurks beneath the Windows Phone-inspired tile-based Metro interface.
The device has two 720p cameras, which have surprisingly good low-light performance, but are otherwise grainy and unremarkable. Microsoft also has its own fleet of Apps that include Mail, Weather, Store, Messaging, Camera, Games, Music, Video, Stocks, Sports, and a few others.
Battery life, on the other hand, was steady and impressive on the Surface. Microsoft claims that users can nab somewhere in the vicinity of eight hours on a single charge in mixed use. My experience bore those numbers out, and then some.
The Surface is a mixed bag. As I alluded to above, there are a lot of elements scrambled into the device, but they don't all add up to a perfect product, especially when compared to other tablets out there. If gaming, music and movies and reading are what you're looking to enjoy, then i might recommend sitting this one out for a few months just to make sure that all your bases will indeed be covered. If, nonetheless, 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.
Jennifer Ramirez, known as Jenny, has reviewed and edited for 5+ years. Originally from Toronto, she grew up performing and competing in rhythmic gymnastics. Jenny enjoys reviewing movies, books and music albums. She describes herself as funny and righteous, with a 'go that extra mile' attitude. Her philosophy is quite simple: try to live life to the fullest Jenny writes that hr passion is books. She reads and reviews current and back-list literary fiction, crime fiction, thrillers, occasionally science fiction, and narrative nonfiction. She also loves music. She's a huge fan of The Maine and All Time Low! Joy is her favorite word and creativity is something she can't live without.
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