By Joshua Gong
Microsoft Surface was announced in June of 2012 at a surprise event in Los Angeles, California with two models one running the Windows RT Operating system (OS), which is a variation of the Windows 8 OS made for ARM powered devices starting at $499, and another running the Windows 8 Pro OS for the Intel processor in the near future. Microsoft announced this device to be a hybrid of both a laptop and tablet, meaning it will be able to satisfy both functions as a laptop for business purposes and a tablet for leisure.
Hardware & Design
The Microsoft Surface is rectangular, made of magnesium alloy, which gives it a stiff and thin aluminum-like touch. The device is wrapped with black edge-to-edge material on the sides and its sides, bottom, and top have glassy front taper, making for an angular and clean profile. The back of the Surface is prone to fingerprints, but is home to a 720p camera inside a small strip of plastic and to a full width kickstand—something which Microsoft has claimed to be a key feature—perhaps for differentiation in the already crowded market.
Although the screen angle cannot be adjusted in any way, the kickstand allows users to position the device upright on a table and works reasonably well. With the use of a keyboard, users can treat the Microsoft Surface as if it were like a laptop- a unique feature we have not seen before in previous tablets. The kickstand has extremely sharp metal edges, which scratch wooden surfaces and make it very difficult to use on your lap. The front of the tablet screen is home to a small camera, and along the top of the device, you will find a sleep/power button on the upper right edge. The left side contains volume rockers and a headphone jack, while the right side boasts a USB port, Micro HDMI port, and a power jack. Below the kickstand is a MicroSDXC slot.
The Surface is powered by a Nvidia Tegra 3 chip, 2GB of Ram, and either a 32 or 64GB hardwired storage. It includes the requisite Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, light sensor, accelerometer, and gyroscope, but no 3G or 4G radio options. The Surface has two microphones and a set of stereo speakers. The battery in the Surface has a 31.5 watt-hours, which is solid, but not as competitive as the iPad, which has a 42.5 watt hour battery.
Microsoft Surface holds a 16:9 screen ratio, which means it is wide but not very tall. The ClearType technology used in the display allows for better looking graphics. The colors of the 10.6 display are sharp and crisp, but the Surface screen has only a 1366 x 768 resolution, which leaves room for pixilation and compromises the Windows 8 experience and is not competitive against the iPad’s much more gasping 2048 x 1536 resolution at the same price point.
Multi-touch gestures are superb and have a great deal of potential with the Windows 8 tile user interface. A simple swipe from the right opens up the charms bar, which allows you to search, share information and access the devices and settings options in the operating system. A swipe from the left allows you to multi-task through open applications. Swipe from top to bottom allows you to quit the application. These multi-touch motions are simple and effective, but the Surface can only do a five point touch while competitions like the iPad can do eleven point touch.
The Touch and Type Cover snaps onto the bottom of the tablet using a set of pogo connectors and a strong magnet. The Touch Cover is unique in that it’s a physical keyboard with no moving parts. Instead, there is a set of raised keys on the soft, fabric-like surface. And not just keys, but a fully functional multi touch track pad with two buttons. The touch cover is designed to work on a desk or other flat surfaces. It will not replace a physical, tactile keyboard, but will do a good job of reminding where your fingers need to be. Typing rates will increase after long usage, but it will still be prone to mistyping. The Type Cover is like the Touch Cover as it functions as a screen protector and keyboard. Unlike the Touch Cover, however, the Type Cover has a great feel to its tactile keys.
Both covers are relatively expensive ($119 for the Touch Cover and $129 for the Type Cover), but these accessories do indeed make the Surface a more interesting and a more aesthetically pleasing device. The $599 bundle includes the Touch Cover, but you will not be able to choose the color. If you would like to choose your color, you need to pay an extra $20 and purchase the device and accessory separately.
The Microsoft Surface’s general UI of the tile interface and basic OS functionality are extremely responsive. Switching from one application to another is fluid, and organizing and navigating the start screen is snappy, but the overall movement is smooth as expected. The native applications, however, can be slow to update and unresponsive to the touch. Apps, both first party ones like Internet Explorer and second party ones are slow to open and may even crash altogether.
The OS in its core is lively, sophisticated, and fast moving. Yet, when you go deeper into the applications and opened more of them, the device will seem to slow down and lag tremendously. Other problems like video playback in the browser are evident. Flash content does not function too well in the desktop or browser and frame rates drops during playback. Moreover, OS can only run five Office applications: Word, PowerPoint, OneNote, Excel, and Internet Explorer. The Windows application store is also not heavily populated. Applications are not as available as those on IOS and Android. The battery life, on the other hand, is consistent and impressive on the Surface. Microsoft claims it can run eight hours on a single charge in mixed usage.
Should I buy it?
The device is a solid tablet and was designed to be a “do everything device.” Microsoft wanted to create a device where it will serve both experienced users and the generic tablet market. The hardware and software are great compliments, but the Microsoft Surface still is not as competitive as the iPad or other competing 10inch tablets. The lack of applications in the Windows Store, the awkward 16 by 9 screen ratio, and slow and unresponsive applications will make it inconvenient to use in the long run.
So, before rushing out to the store to purchase this device, consider waiting for the Surface tablet with the Windows 8 Pro Intel processor, because this time period may just be like the transition from Windows vista to Windows 7. Just give them some more time.