The Microsoft Surface has perhaps been one of the most talked about tablets as of late. It is of course Microsoft’s first attempt at designing their own hardware, and this of course has caused outcry amongst the OEM manufacturers that build around the Windows platform. In addition to this, it is the first outing of its brand new Windows 8 Operating System. This tablet really needed to impress. Does it live up to it though? Let’s take a look.
The Microsoft Surface boasts a 10.6 inch screen, and runs Windows RT. This was the version of the software designed to run on the slightly lowered powered ARM processors. However, this lower power isn’t any detriment to it, in terms of it’s competition. It runs on the same processor type as both the Apple iPad and a lot of the Android Tablets. This is a significant leap for Microsoft as the majority of their tablets in the past have been based on x86, although we are expecting that to appear at some point next year in the pro version of this tablet. The key thing to note about Window RT is that only metro applications can be installed on the Surface Tablet.
The Windows Surface is available in two different flavors. Both are Wi-Fi only, with both 32GB and 64GB versions available. Keyboard comes as standard. It is priced at a considerably higher price point than either the Google Nexus 10 or the new iPad, but you do need to bear in mind that this is a completely different machine and has different functions. Having said this, the higher price point could be of detriment to Microsoft in the long run.
Its chassis is made from a rather sexy magnesium alloy, which is classed as ‘dark titanium’. This measures 10.81 inches x 6.77 inches by 0.37 inches deep. It is thick, but this adds considerably to the feeling of durability about the device. The tablet weighs 680 grams, which is considerably heavier than some similar tablets on the market, but to be fair it does has a serviceable keyboard. In my opinion, this does help it feel much more solidly built, which is great as you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a device and feel as though you are going to break it.
The design incorporates all of your standard tablet fare. This includes a volume rocker, 3.5mm headphone jack, power/sleep button, Micro-HDMI Port and a USB 2.0 port. There is the addition of two magnetic connectors, one for the power supply and the other for the keyboards. There is a kickstand on the back as well as a MicroSD Card slot to extend the storage space a tad.
There are two different types of keyboard that you can use with your Microsoft Surface. The first is a touch cover, and the second a type cover. The touch cover is simply a flat keyboard and the typing experience isn’t the best, but it does suit its purpose if you are not going to be typing all the time. However, for a much smoother experience it would be wise to invest in the type cover instead. This acts more like a real keyboard and it is very comfortable to use. There are problems however, and that extends from the kickstand in the device which is hard to get ‘just right’ and from my experience, the only way in which you are going to get it perfect is by sitting at a desk. You will not be able to use this in laptop mode whilst it is on your lap.
One of the biggest issues I found with the design is the fact that it is incredibly difficult to find the magnetic power connector on the side. It seemed to me as if the power connector wasn’t strong enough to fit it into place, and I am a bit wary of how flimsy it feels. It really is a whole game trying to fit the power cable into place during those low light situations! Staying on the subject of batteries for a while, there is no real indication of the battery life on the device. It only appears on the start screen and it isn’t really touch friendly having to go to the Windows Desktop to find it. This needs to be sorted out in a future software update I feel.
As mentioned before, this is the Windows RT based surface tablet. It runs on the Nvidia Tegra 3 Graphics Card, one that we have been seeing incredibly regularly on tablets as of late, and that really comes as no surprise considering how well it performs in benchmark tests. This is backed up by a 1.3GHz Quad-Core ARM Cortex-A9 and 500MHz ULP GeForce GPU. This is in addition to 2GB of RAM. In short, these are pretty nifty specifications. However as some of you out there may know, it’s not what you pack, but how you use it.
Let’s move onto the display. The Microsoft Surface has something called ClearType HD Display. It is a 1,366 x 768 resolution. This is a pixel density of 148, which is under half of what the Nexus 10 has. However, I wouldn’t say that it is twice as good. The Surface still packs a decent display, but it could be a bit better.
There aren’t many connectivity options to speak of for this tablet. You have your standard Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4, but there are no other connectivity options. So whilst other devices make use of Wired Ethernet and Mobile Broadband, or even GPS or NFC, the Microsoft Surface has none of this, which causes it to flounder a little. On the positive side, it does have a couple of features which are almost standard on tablets nowadays including a gyroscope, compass and a light sensor. Brilliant!
You purchase various adapters from Microsoft to make use of the Mini-HDMI connector. One is a full size HDMI and the other connects to VGA. These are fairly expensive though, and you may be best waiting for third party versions to be released.
Surprisingly, the camera functions on the Surface are a little lacking. It’s a shame, as Microsoft are starting to really push Skype and we have fairly lackluster connections. There are two 1-megapixel cameras which are 720p. There is absolutely no LED Flash and no other features to speak of. In fact, at the moment functionality is pretty poor. I am hoping the Windows Store adds some at a later date, but I won’t hold my breath. The video quality is ok, just not breath taking like on some of the other tablets I have used.
The Windows RT touch screen is generally easy to use. You should be able to pick it up in a couple of minutes. However, there are a number of complaints. The first is the fact that whilst you are supplied with a traditional Windows desktop (woo!) it can only run Office 2013, and no other apps will run on it. For people that haven’t done their research, they will feel a bit annoyed at this. Of course, you are sensible and have done research and read this article. If you want to run third party applications then you need the pro version of this tablet being released soon. The desktop isn’t easy to use either with touch, and all too often you will be forced to use it, and it isn’t a pleasurable experience. This includes having to change power options etc. The desktop is the only way in which you can use Microsoft Office, which is a shame.
Let’s move onto the Windows Store is, as that is where most of the fun is. At the time of writing there was just over 6,000 applications on the store, with the majority of them being free. This is nowhere near the amount available on the Apple or Google Play stores however, but it can only get bigger with time right? Sadly, many of the big players aren’t in the store yet, Spotify being a good one, so at the moment I have a feeling that many people are going to steer clear of the system, and that isn’t going to be good for Microsoft.
In benchmark tests, the performance of the Microsoft Surface is average at best and it does lag behind its rivals. This perhaps could be down to software issues as opposed to hardware issues, and it will be interesting to see how these are sorted out over time.
Whilst Microsoft claims up to 8 hours of battery life, in my tests, I found that four seemed to be more an average during what I would regard as normal use. This is testing it constantly, so it would be interesting to see what Microsoft based this on.
So conclusions! In my opinion, this isn’t a bad little gadget. Not bad for a first attempt. Microsoft have got the design right in almost all regards, but it does have a few niggly design faults. I am hoping these will be sorted out in time. It feels to be more like a tablet than a hybrid device as Microsoft claim, it is just too hard to type on.
I do urge you to look into other options before you purchase this though. At the moment the Windows Store isn’t the best, and for a tablet this is where your purchasing decision should lie. If you really want a windows tablet and you got some time up your sleeve, then I suggest you hold back and purchase the pro version.