Is It Hot or Not? Microsoft Surface Review

Microsoft Surface Review -- Tablet

As of October 26th, the first Microsoft-branded PC hit the market: The Surface RT tablet. Running a stripped down version of Windows 8, the Microsoft Surface comes in around $570 for a 32-gigabyte version, or just under $700 with the Touch Cover (a touch-sensitive keyboard). Finally, it also comes with a price tag of $850 for a 64-gigabyte model that also comes with the cover. How does Microsoft’s newest device stack up against other tablets?

Microsoft Surface Review: What’s the Big Deal?

First off, the big picture in this Microsoft Surface review. The company wants to compete in a market already filled with tablets, including the lower-priced Google Nexus 7 and similarly priced (and extremely popular) iPad. There are plans for two versions of this tablet — the already released RT and the coming soon Surface Pro, which will run a full version of Windows 8.

The difference is that the RT runs on smartphone-type processors built by companies like Nvidia. They offer low power use and therefore longer battery life, but aren’t able to run “standard” Windows applications. Microsoft sees the RT as more of a consumer-friendly device for reading, gaming and light work tasks, and the Pro is geared toward small and midsize businesses.

What Does it Look/Feel Like?

Microsoft Surface Review -- Touch Covers

As pointed out in a recent Computer World article, customer and website reviews are “all over the map” for the Surface. However, they do seem to agree that the look and feel of the device is high quality, with praise for its magnesium case and slick design, as well as the Touch Cover, which is “super thin and clicks on in a jiffy,” according to Tech Target.

Its 10.6-inch display is among the biggest on the market, and the ClearType display has received solid reviews, but its 1366×768 pixels can’t really compete with Apple’s Retina display and 2048×1536 pixels. Some users also say text isn’t always easy to read, even when zoomed in, and image clarity could be better. It does have two 720p cameras, but they can’t live up to Apple’s 1080p rear camera or Samsung’s 5MP.

What’s Under the Hood?

The new Microsoft Surface RT has an Nvidia Tegra 3 T30 quad core processor running at 1.4Ghz and 2GB of onboard RAM. It also includes microSD slots for memory expansion. All solid stats, and all comparable to other tablets on the market. Nothing so far has it as a clear winner or loser, but certainly no slouch in the sheer power department.


No Microsoft Surface review is complete with an overview of the apps available at launch, but right now, there aren’t that many — especially from big name providers. This is perhaps the single biggest complaint about the new tablet from both websites and user reviews. Without a robust app ecosystem, the Microsoft Surface can’t really live up to its potential.

Consumer reviews note that the app store is small but growing, while reviewer Sam Biddle at Gizmodo says the Surface ecosystem feels like “the software equivalent to a barren Soviet grocery store.” Also worth mentioning is that the Surface RT can’t run standard Windows applications, which isn’t such a big deal if users just want the tablet for gaming and reading, but might be a problem if you’re looking for productivity.

You, I and the UI

Much has also been made about the new Windows 8 UI, once known as “Metro.” For the most part, the new OS is well designed for a touch interface and responds naturally, but there are times when it seems to be looking for the pinpoint touch of a mouse instead of the stubby touch of a finger, leading to odd mis-clicks. In addition, some of the flash is gone from the original Metro UI, including a few slick animations that helped give the whole experience more style.

The occasional app is a problem as well — Office 2013, for example, drops users back into the classic Windows desktop and forces a change in interface, something many users aren’t expecting.

Its Touch Cover and Type Cover — a flat keyboard and more traditional peripheral, respectively — have received almost universal praise. Both work just as advertised (but not so well on laps) and the biggest complaint heard from users is that they don’t think any version of the tablet should be sold without one, since several functions almost necessitate keyboard interaction.

The Big Pros

For the Surface RT, the big draws are a powerful OS under the hood, which trades well on the Windows name, coupled with the ability to connect with thousands of USB peripherals. Still, most review sites give the tablet a “wait to buy” rating rather than “buy right now.” But with a few months to shake out the bugs and get a better app ecosystem, this tablet might be worth the wait.