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Microsoft Surface Review

First impressions

Microsoft Surface is powered by Windows 8 and goes head-to-head with the iPad. The kickstand and keyboard cover are unique features, though a lack of tempting apps could prove troublesome to start with. Here’s hoping the price is low enough to compete with Apple’s tablet.

Good

  • Slick Metro interface
  • Intriguing keyboard cover

Bad

  • Won’t have many apps to start with
  • Heavier than iPad
  • Unknown price

It’s been over two years since the iPad first arrived on the scene, during which time Apple has well and truly dominated the growing tablet market. Finally, long-standing rival Microsoft is ready to try its hand and has shown off the Microsoft Surface, a 10.6-inch Windows 8 tablet.

Our friends have gone hands-on with the Surface, so here’s a look at what to expect based on their experiences, as well as the slew of specs that Microsoft has confirmed.

Design

Microsoft’s gone for a chunky look with the Surface, ignoring the sleek, rounded design that defines Apple’s tablet. Expect hard angled corners, and a sloped, industrial feel to the sides of this slate. Around the back is a fold-out kickstand, so you can prop the Surface up for watching movies or for more comfortable typing using the magnetic keyboard cover (see below).

The nifty kickstand is a technologically more advanced way of watching films on your tablet than propping it up on a cushion.

The Surface is a tad heavier than the iPad. While Apple’s Wi-Fi-only tablet weighs 652g, Microsoft’s tablet is a touch portlier at 676g. It’s ever-so-slightly thinner though at 9.3mm, compared with the new iPad’s 9.4mm.

While the keyboard cover comes in a variety of colours, so far I’ve only seen the Surface sporting a grey-ish hue. I’d be lying if I said the look of this tablet really impressed me, but if it’s comfortable to hold and use, then a slight style deficiency may not matter that much. My Stateside colleagues report that the Surface is “light without feeling airy”.

At 9.3mm, it’s almost exactly the same width as the new iPad.

Touch Cover and Type Cover

Microsoft’s made two magnetic covers, which snap onto the sides of the Surface like Apple’s smart cover. Unlike Apple’s, these folding flaps flaunt functional keyboards.

The 3mm Touch Cover has a touch-sensitive keyboard, which means you can rattle off missives without coming into contact with the screen. Deployed in conjunction with the Surface’s kickstand, this could make for a comfortable typing position.

The risk is that because the Touch Cover is basically flat, you won’t get any tactile feedback as you type. In which case, the Type Cover may be of interest. This 5mm cover is a bit thicker and has a tiny trackpad built in as well.

We won’t know exactly how easy it is to type on these rigid covers until we get more hands-on time. Fingers crossed they prove useful bits of kit though, otherwise yours might end up collecting dust in a cupboard.

It’s not a mind-blowing design but at least there will be a choice of colours beyond utilitarian grey.

Hardware

Powered by an Nvidia ARM CPU, Surface has a few ports peppered around its sides, notably a USB 2.0 socket and a microSD card slot. The resolution of the 10.6-inch screen is unknown. Seeing as it’s marketed as a ClearType HD display, while the beefier Pro model (out 90 days later and likely to be considerably more expensive), is pegged as Full HD, I’d wager this is a 1,280×720-pixel panel. What we can confirm is that it’ll have a 16:9 aspect ratio, making it ideal for watching movies.

Software

The Surface is powered by Windows 8, specifically Windows RT, the tablet-centric version of Microsoft’s new operating system. That means you’ll likely be deprived of a proper Windows desktop. Instead, you get the Windows Phone-inspired tile-based Metro interface.

This colourful patchwork platform has been well received on smart phones, but there’s a big question mark over how pleasant it’ll prove when it comes to tablets. Surface will have far fewer apps than iOS or Android when it launches, which is another reason to be cautious when it comes to throwing down cash.

A spot of good news for potential buyers is that the Surface will come with a touch-optimised version of Microsoft Office at no extra cost. Although it’s about as interesting as a tour of the Dulux paint drying department, Office is one of the biggest guns in Microsoft’s arsenal. Many people need to use it every day for work, so a tablet that offers the ability to get elbow-deep in spreadsheets could find a following.

You’ll likely have as much fun staring at this side of the tablet as you will with Microsoft’s touch-optimised Office suite.

Price and release date

The Windows RT version of Surface will be available for preorder at Surface.com with an actual release on October 26 this year. On the same date, Microsoft’s brick-and-mortar stores also will begin selling the device; however, preorders are only available online. $499 nets you the 32GB version only, while $599 gets you the 32GB version with a Touch Cover keyboard. A 64GB version with Touch Cover will be priced at $699. The Touch Cover will retail separately for $120, with the more tactile Type Cover keyboard selling for $130.

Outlook

Microsoft’s Surface hasn’t blown my mind in terms of the hardware on offer. While the fold-out keyboard and stand could prove useful, exactly how tempting this tablet turns out to be will depend very much on Windows RT.

The Metro interface has proved a winner on Windows Phone but it’ll take a decent app selection to make it work for the Surface. Stay tuned for more hands-on opinions and a full review.

 

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