| Thursday May 26th 2016

Microsoft Surface reviews are out

Apple iPad vs Microsoft Surface

AnandTech brought up a point I hadn’t considered.

The Surface RT is theoretically capable of working with a wide array of peripherals, but they need special ARM drivers for it. Essentially, you’ll be able to plug in anything to a Surface Pro though. (Printer, scanner, etc)

Reviews after the jump…

The Verge:

Maybe I say this too often, but I wanted to love this device. Actually, I wanted to love the Surface when I first saw it, before I even got my hands on the review unit. It made Windows 8 make sense in a way other products had not, and I could see a world where this kind of device was the only one I carried with me. Once I did get the review unit, I wanted to love it even more. And truth be told, there is a lot here to love. Plenty — but not enough for me right now.

The promise of the Surface was that it could deliver a best-in-class tablet experience, but then transform into the PC you needed when heavier lifting was required. Instead of putting down my tablet and picking up my laptop, I would just snap on my keyboard and get my work done. But that’s not what the Surface offers, at least not in my experience. It does the job of a tablet and the job of a laptop half as well as other devices on the market, and it often makes that job harder, not easier. Instead of being a no-compromise device, it often feels like a more-compromise one.

There may be a time in the future when all the bugs have been fixed, the third-party app support has arrived, and some very smart engineers in Redmond have ironed out the physical kinks in this type of product which prevent it from being all that it can be. But that time isn’t right now — and unfortunately for Microsoft, the clock is ticking


Microsoft’s Surface is a tablet with some pluses: the major Office apps and nice, optional keyboards. If you can live with its tiny number of third-party apps, and somewhat disappointing battery life, it may give you the productivity some miss in other tablets.


Should you buy it?

No. The Surface, with an obligatory Touch Cover, is $600. That’s a lot of money. Especially given that it’s no laptop replacement, no matter how it looks or what Microsoft says. It’s a tablet-plus, priced right alongside the iPad and in most ways inferior.

That could change. Maybe there will be a new Touch Cover that retains the original’s terrific physical qualities while actually allowing good typing. Maybe the quasi-vaporware Surface Pro, which eschews Windows RT in favor of the real-deal Win 8, will make all the difference, opening itself up to the open seas of PC software (for several hundred dollars more). Maybe the app store will look different in a month, or a year, and have anything to offer. Maybe. But remember that Windows Phone—which has swelled from mere hundreds, to tens of thousands, to over a hundred thousand app offerings over the past two years—is still a wasteland compared to iOS and Android. Poor precedent. Maybe Windows RT will be different. Maybe.

But those maybes aren’t worth putting money on. As much as it looked (and even felt) like it for a bit, the future isn’t here quite yet.


Microsoft is the biggest software company in the world, but its first piece of Windows hardware is a beauty.

The company sought to reinvent the PC with the Surface, and to “bring all that goodness to the kind of device you can carry with you at all times,” according to Windows boss Steven Sinofsky. In this regard, Microsoft has accomplished its goal. The Surface is light and portable, and the battery gave me a full day of usage without a problem. Functions such as streaming video will obviously cut into battery life, but you’ll still go longer in between charges than you would with any popular Windows or Mac laptop.

Oh and by the way, there is absolutely no bloatware, crapware or whatever else you want to call it on the Surface, which is yet another point in Microsoft’s favor as it enters the Windows hardware market and competes against the very vendors that perfected the practice of ruining user experiences with unwanted garbage.

While Windows 8 is the version of Microsoft’s new OS that has split personality disorder, the Windows RT-powered Surface truly is a tale of two tablets. On one hand, it is an engineering feat with a design that is novel and functional. It really is the perfect combination of a tablet and a notebook thanks to the Touch Cover and the Type Cover, and I felt right at home with the Surface the moment I turned it on. On the other hand, the software experience does not feel like home. It’s new, and for many it will be scary.

But we are not Luddites. We can handle this.

The move to separate Windows 8 and Windows RT this way was a necessary one in the context of Microsoft’s interface unification strategy. And in order to build a lighter-weight OS that could power less expensive devices and compete with the likes of Apple’s iPad, Microsoft needed a “Windows Lite” solution. Some concessions could certainly have been made in order to better distinguish Windows RT and Windows 8, but this is the path Microsoft chose.

Windows RT has a lot of growing to do. The faster Microsoft can get developers on board, the better — and the early days will be slow-going in some respects as a result of this lack of apps. But even as it stands today, the Surface provides a terrific experience right out of the box and it will only get better over time.


Pro. Clever keyboard cover accessory. Touch-friendly operating system. Light, sturdy, good-looking.

Con. RT version is incompatible with older software. Apps offerings are relatively slim. Windows 8 requires a learning curve.

Thought of separately, Surface would be a good, but not the best, laptop. And it would be a good, but not the best, tablet. The promise was that by fusing these together with Windows 8, you’d end up with a portable computer that just might make Microsoft cool. Surface RT is a strong first effort. But I’d consider it more of a hotshot if it could run old Windows software.


Yes, you can use it as your only computer. I would never have made that claim about an iPad or Android tablet. But if you only need to live in Microsoft Office and the web and e-mail, and use your computer for media consumption, you’ll do great with this. I used it as my primary computer for several days. There were applications I missed, and I would never want it to be my only computer (the keyboard and screen are just too small) but it worked. I was fine.

This is a great device. It is a new thing, in a new space, and likely to confuse many of Microsoft’s longtime customers. People will have problems with applications — especially when they encounter them online and are given an option by Internet Explorer to run them, only to discover this won’t work. But overall it’s quite good; certainly better than any full-size Android tablet on the market. And once the application ecosystem fleshes out, it’s a viable alternative to the iPad as well.

WIRED Fast to charge, slow to die. Amazingly fluid gesture-driven interface. Kickstand + Type Cover + Office applications mean it can pull double duty as a functional laptop. Type Cover is the phattest skinny thing since Mike D. OMG, a USB port on a tablet! I’m totally charging up my iPhone with this thing.

TIRED Programs can be slow to load. No 3G or LTE? But I want my internet everywhere! If anything, Touch Cover is too sensitive. You’ll find a better selection of apps at your local TGI Friday’s.


The Surface is a nice tablet. The design and aesthetic are pleasing, the feel in the hands, particularly of the kickstand and magnetic cover connection is excellent. But is it worth buying on the day of release?

The big problem Microsoft has is that right now it doesn’t matter how good Surface is. The decision on whether or not to buy depends not on Surface itself, but on Windows RT. The only third-party applications that will run on Windows RT are those that use the Metro interface and are distributed through the Windows Store. At the moment, there just aren’t that many applications, and many of the ones that exist are mediocre.

If you are confident that the ecosystem will flourish—and fast—and don’t mind the inability to use legacy desktop applications, then Windows RT is worth considering.

If you are a home user who really needs Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or OneNote, and don’t intend to use any of those programs in any capacity that could be regarded as “commercial,” then Windows RT is worth considering.

But if you’re not confident that the Windows Store ecosystem will flourish, or if you think it will be several years before it does, then Windows RT is not for you. You should be looking at the iPad and iPad Mini, with its large selection of tablet software, or Windows 8, with its compatibility with a huge body of desktop software.

If you want to use Office in a commercial setting, and hence have to buy a separate Office license anyway, then Windows 8 is almost certainly the better option.

If, however, Windows RT is the operating system for you, Surface certainly has a place.

For $499, you get a standalone Surface; no Touch Cover. I was surprised when Microsoft announced this. The company’s previous marketing material had said the Touch Cover was included, and the advertising puts the Touch Cover front and center—it’s almost more prominent than the Surface itself.

If you don’t buy any cover at all, you’re missing out on a large part of the Surface experience. I would argue that you’re also missing out on a large part of the Windows RT experience: Office RT really needs a keyboard and pointing device to be useful. You’ll be almost entirely dependent on Metro-style applications built using WinRT.

But if that’s something you’re happy with—if you’re certain that the Windows Store will be good enough, and you’re not especially interested in Office—Surface looks like it will be the cheapest way to take advantage of that ecosystem. At $499, it seems that Surface will undercut the other Windows RT and Windows 8 tablets that have been announced.

For $599 with a bundled Touch Cover, things become a bit trickier. On the one hand, yes, you get the full Surface experience, and Office becomes useful. This is Surface the way it’s meant to be used. On the other hand, the Asus VivoTab RT also costs $599 with its clamshell cover. The VivoTab RT isn’t as attractive as Surface, and when paired with its clamshell cover, it’s a bit bigger and heavier than Surface, but the payoff is that it’s more flexible than Surface, it’ll have better battery life than Surface, it’ll have better cameras than Surface, and it’ll have better connectivity than Surface.

Final pricing on Atom-powered Windows 8 tablets could squeeze Surface even harder. Though they won’t include Office, that shouldn’t faze corporate buyers, as they’d need to buy an Office license even for Surface. Against that deficit, they’ll offer substantially greater software compatibility, making them much less of a gamble.

The $699 unit, which bumps the internal storage up to 64GB and also includes a Touch Cover, seems hard to justify to me. The extra $100 gets you an extra 32GB of usable space, but with a 64GB microSDXC card costing just $60 that makes the extra storage feel very expensive. I would avoid it unless I had absolute certainty that I’d need every last byte of disk space.

This puts Microsoft’s tablet in an awkward spot. The Surface that has a clear place in the market, the $499 unit, isn’t the best model. The Surface that’s the best model, the $599 unit, doesn’t have a clear place in the market.

This evaluation will also change over time. It is very early in the life of the Windows Store—Windows 8 and Windows RT are not even generally available yet. It’s inevitable that the Store will expand, even if there is some uncertainty about how fast it will do so. And as the store grows, so too will the value of Windows RT systems, and so too will the value of Surface.

The Good
Top notch build quality
Touch Cover really does work
Type Cover is a good solution for high volume text entry
Clear, bright screen with good viewing angles
First-rate Wi-Fi reliability

The Bad
Touch Cover and Type Cover alike have poor touchpads
No NFC, no GPS, no 3G or 4G
There’s no escaping that 1366×768 is a low resolution
$499 unit lacks the all-important Touch Cover
For $599, the Asus VivoTab RT gives you a package that’s more versatile and better connected

The Ugly
Windows RT is a gamble at this point in time


More impressive than the fact that Microsoft brought competitive parity to the Windows tablet usage model is the fact that power efficiency doesn’t seem to be an issue for Windows RT. Microsoft has built a mobile OS that is capable of, at least based on what we’ve seen today with Surface, being competitive with Android and iOS solutions when it comes to battery life. With lower power silicon inside, Microsoft could do even better.

I don’t believe Surface is perfect. I would have liked to have seen faster hardware inside, and there are some rough edges that could use smoothing out (e.g. the power connector and HDMI output come to mind) and Windows RT likely needs another round of updates (app launch times are far too long) but overall the device is easily in recommendable territory. The biggest issue I have with recommending Surface is that you know the next iteration of the device is likely going to be appreciably better, with faster/more efficient hardware and perhaps even a better chassis.

If you’re ok being an early adopter, and ok dealing with the fact that mobile devices are still being significantly revved every year, Surface is worth your consideration. If you’ve wanted a tablet that could begin to bridge the content consumption and productivity divide, Surface is it.

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