Microsoft Surface: Review Roundup

October 24, 2012

Microsoft’s Surface with RT tablet is getting mixed reviews from the first round of folks who’ve seen the device. Overall, reviewers seem to have lots of praise for the hardware, but it is — somewhat ironically — the software that’s earning Microsoft the most criticism.

Here’s a look at what reviewers are saying about the Surface.

The good: The hardware design on the Surface is solid, sleek and sensible, reviewers say, in way that’s all its own.

“Where the iPad is curvy and without any IO expansion, Surface is squared off with 22-degree beveled edges,” wrote Anand Tech’s Anand Lal Shimpi. “The iPad features a light aluminum finish while Surface contrasts with its dark Magnesium surface. Not better or worse, just different.”

As Shimpi hints in that quote, the Surface beats the iPad in one significant way — it has a USB port, expandable memory-card slot and video output jack. As David Pogue of The New York Times writes, “it has ports and jacks that iPad owners can only dream about.”

Even the kickstand — which is so often a weak point on smartphones and tablets — was getting high marks from reviewers.

Engadget’s Tim Stevens said that the kickstand, combined with the keyboard covers, makes the Surface a “surprisingly capable laptop replacement. Or surrogate, at least.”

The bad: Reviewers did, however, flag a couple of annoying features in the hardware that rubbed them the wrong way.

The keyboard covers, for example, are difficult to type on while held in the lap, which limits the whole idea of a “laptop replacement,” when, for example, waiting at an airport gate or sitting in a waiting room. Overall, reviewers said that typing on the covers went smoothly, though they will slow down your typing speed.

(Pogue, quoting a Microsoft rep, says that a person who types 80 words a minute on a normal keyboard should get around 50 wpm on the Surface’s Touch Cover.)

The Surface’s battery life, too, was the subject of some criticism. The Surface claims 8-10 hours of battery life, whereas the iPad reliably gets 10 hours.

“That’s better than many Android tablets, but not what you’d expect from Microsoft’s pride and joy,” writes The Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg.

Mossberg and others also had harsh words for the Surface’s cameras which didn’t measure up to the tablet market in general. Still, reviewers said that the cameras would do fine for video-conferencing, which is probably the main use case Microsoft envisioned.

The ugly: The operating system got the most knocks across the reviews, which is surprising considering that this device is built by, well, Microsoft. But reviewers were almost universally critical of Windows RT, the build of Windows 8 that’s been streamlined for tablets.

Legacy support was one major area of concern.

“The Surface comes with preview 2013 versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint — workable, but sometimes sluggish,” Pogue wrote. “Otherwise, though, Windows RT can’t run any of the four million regular Windows programs.”

Stevens said that the Surface clearly needs more games and apps — something that will come with time, but makes it a tough sell to shoppers this holiday season.

“If those apps arrive soon, then early adopters will feel vindicated,” he wrote. But if it takes “another six months or so” for the app store to fill out, consumers may wish they’d waited.

Which gets us to the most common recommendation: wait. Unless you absolutely have to have the Surface on Friday because you think it could change the way you work, the smart bet is to wait and see if the tablet grows into its own potential.

Shimpi puts it this way: “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 really bridge the content consumption and productivity device, Surface is it.”

Related stories:

Microsoft stores handing out Surface reservation cards

Apple surprises with 4th-generation iPad, faces backlash

Bloomberg: Microsoft profit falls short as weak PC demand hurts Windows

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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