Review roundup: Microsoft Surface hardware shines, but software is a letdown

Posted:
in iPad edited January 2014
Initial takes on Microsoft's new Surface tablet find the hardware could be a competent laptop replacement, but it's held back by the Windows RT software which can't compete with Apple's iOS ecosystem.

Microsoft Surface with Windows RT will go on sale at Microsoft retail stores and the company's website this Friday. Ahead of the launch, the embargo on reviews was listed, and below is a roundup of what tech pundits had to say.

Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal

Surface is "historic," Mossberg noted, because it's the first personal computer made by Microsoft itself. He found the hardware to be worth the $499 price tag, "made of a type of magnesium with a feeling of quality and care."

The main selling point of the Surface, Microsoft's unique snap-on keyboards, were praised by Mossberg as "better than any of the add-on keyboards" he's seen for Apple's iPad. However, the keyboards are meant for use on a flat surface, as Mossberg found them to be "almost useless on your lap."

Surface WiFi


The main issue with the hardware, in Mossberg's eyes, is battery life, which he categorized as "mediocre." His tests found the device would get about seven hours of usage, which is well behind the 10 hours offered by Apple's iPad.

The cameras were also seen as a disappointment, as Microsoft chose to concentrate more on video conference usage than picture taking.

Microsoft's biggest hurdle to overcome with Surface is software, as only about 10,000 third-party applications will be available at launch, and just 5,000 of those will be in the U.S. Apple announced this week that it has more than 270,000 applications designed specifically for the iPad, while more than 700,000 total iOS applications can run on the iPad.

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

David Pogue of The New York Times

Pogue found that Microsoft "succeeded brilliantly" on the Surface hardware, with "ports and jacks that iPad owners can only dream about," including a memory-card slot, video output jack and USB 2.0 port. And for the $499 entry price, the Surface offers 32 gigabytes of storage, which is twice that of Apple's iPad at the same price.

Like Mossberg, Pogue also dinged the Surface for substandard battery life, and also noted that Surface does not come with integrated cellular connectivity. Its display is also a lower resolution than Apple's iPad Retina display.





The Surface also cannot be charged from a computer's USB jack. Users will be required to plug the device into a wall adapter to recharge the battery.

Pogue also had high praise for the keyboards Microsoft has made for the Surface. He found the Type Cover, with actual physical keys, to be a better method of input than the Touch Cover.

While the hardware was declared "amazing, amazing," the software, Pogue said, is a "heartbreak." In his eyes, Windows RT falls short of its competitors, with far fewer apps, no speech recognition, no application folders, and no automated GPS guidance.

Pogue also couldn't get typing suggestions and autocorrect to function, and said that sometimes the on-screen keyboard would not appear when it was supposed to.

"How ironic that what lets the Surface down is supposedly Microsoft's specialty: software," Pogue wrote.

Ed Baig with USA Today

Baig found the Surface to be an "impressive piece of engineering," but like others, he felt the software is Microsoft's downfall. In particular, applications for Surface "pale next to the number Apple has made available for the iPad."

While the Surface has stereo speakers, they are still not as loud as the single speaker found on Apple's iPad, Baig found.

As for the $499 price tag, Baig said Surface "feels expensive and is priced accordingly." And like others, he too was impressed with the keyboard cover, which he declared to be a "breakthrough in design."

Surface 2


"It barely adds any weight to the machine, but when you prop Surface up with the keyboard in front, you have what resembles a compact laptop," Baig wrote. "If the cover is folded so that the keys are exposed on the outside of the tablet as you carry it around, you need not worry that pressing them will make anything happen ??Surface is smart enough to detect when they're not in use."

Baig concluded that Surface makes for a "good" laptop and a "good" tablet, but not the best in either category. Still, he came away with Microsoft's first attempt at a personal computer.

"Surface RT is a strong first effort," he wrote. "But I'd consider it more of a hotshot if it could run old Windows software."

Other takes

For more perspectives, see additional reviews from Anand Lai Shimpi of AnandTech, Tim Steves of Engadget, Joshua Topolsky of The Verge, and Sam Biddle of Gizmodo.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 122


    Sounds about right. Inside it's basically a slow iPad. Outside, it's ugly, and the software only serves to accentuate that.




    It's a real shame they can't get it together to make something better than Android. I'd really like to see its marketshare split between Apple and Windows Phone #. 

  • Reply 2 of 122
    Aren't there two versions?

    RT and the version running windows 8?
  • Reply 3 of 122
    quadra 610quadra 610 Posts: 6,756member


    OF COURSE it's a big fat letdown. Microsoft's entire computing strategy for the past decade, their mobile music strategy, and their entire mobile strategy at large, has been a letdown, in all its bloated, flatlined stock entirety. 


     


    Wanna know why?


     


    Because the clowns that are running MS today . . . are more or less THE SAME clowns who ran MS years ago. 


     


    What massive, revolutionary sea-change can people actually, reasonably, expect from such a company? 


     


    For all of their purported R&D money, for all their "Microsoft Research" activities, nearly all of the shit they make, and all the flotsam and jetsam it runs on, has consistently ranked way, way below Apple's premiere products in consumer satisfaction. For years now. And this includes operating systems. The only trump card MS ever, EVER had, was universal licensing. A very, very easy ticket to marketshare. When even the lowest form of PC junk can (and is actually *allowed* - LOL) to run the software that is supposed to be your core competency. 


     


    MS does have the Xbox franchise, though. But even *that* was half-assed up until very recently, and they were way, way too slow to exploit all the possibilities of that platform. 


     


    Fact is, the faster, leaner and meaner competition ate Microsoft's lunch years ago. It's now all about a slow burn until the flame reaches the very bottom of the Microsoft candle. It's not a pretty sight. 

  • Reply 4 of 122
    DOA. OS is horrible with the worst interface ever seen on a tablet. Watch for the fire sale Q2 next year.
  • Reply 5 of 122
    Meh. It's a compromised laptop and a compromised tablet.
  • Reply 6 of 122
    ecsecs Posts: 307member
    If you could install Linux on it, this would be a really (I mean _really_) tempting laptop substitution. But being limited to only this special version of Windows, and with few apps, I don't find a real use here.

    By not opening it to Linux, Microsoft has the risk of failing here like with the "Windows Phone". If you could install Linux, geeks would buy this like candy.
  • Reply 7 of 122


    Sounds like a fail at every level.


     


    It'll soon be up there, holding hands and frolicking with its cousin Zune.

  • Reply 8 of 122

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Flash_beezy View Post



    Aren't there two versions?

    RT and the version running windows 8?


     


    Microsoft is trying to make the case that's ALL WINDOWS. It's part of their strategy to confuse consumers.

  • Reply 9 of 122

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by anantksundaram View Post


    Sounds like a fail at every level.


     


    It'll soon be up there, holding hands and frolicking with its cousin Zune.



     


    The really sad part is KIN ONE. It's so f'n obscure and forgotten, it's not even trotted out as a metaphor for FAIL any more.

  • Reply 10 of 122

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by ecs View Post



    If you could install Linux on it, this would be a really (I mean _really_) tempting laptop substitution. But being limited to only this special version of Windows, and with few apps, I don't find a real use here.

    By not opening it to Linux, Microsoft has the risk of failing here like with the "Windows Phone". If you could install Linux, geeks would buy this like candy.


     


    Oh c'mon. You know there are some 1337 ROOT HAX0RZZZ out there who will try to get Android or some other Linux flavor to run on one so they get can geek cred on /. for being the first to do it. And it will of course such a Linux port will have no practical commercial application because Microsoft will never sell Surfaces with Linux supported.


     


    Regardless, there are so many high quality laptops out there, and some really nice x86 ultrabooks. Why dick around with a Surface RT? I think the answer is that geeks have acute gadgetitis.

  • Reply 11 of 122
    apple ][apple ][ Posts: 9,233member


    I still can't believe that they chose to go with those crazy colored keyboards. My eyes would go crazy having such a keyboard in front of me. I mean, they are extremely distracting, to put it mildly.

  • Reply 12 of 122
    The Surface will have free rein in the market unless Apple is able to deliver their products in a timely fashion. It doesn't matter how great Apple's products are if they can't get them into the customer's hands. Having 3-4 week or more delivery time is not going to cut it.
  • Reply 13 of 122
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,951member
    Microsoft is trying to make the case that's ALL WINDOWS. It's part of their strategy to confuse consumers.

    They still haven't learned from the old Windows Phone debacle. One UI rigidly applied to all devices must short change some devices, somewhere. One size doesn't necessarily fit all.

    Meh. It's a compromised laptop and a compromised tablet.

    That's the thing. The only reason it needs a kick stand is because it's supposed to be taking the place of laptop use, but it's not really a laptop device, hard surface required. I get that they're trying to differentiate their product, and they should, but I think they could have made better choices. I think some of the third party iPad keyboards do it better, particularly in allowing portrait mode while typing.
  • Reply 14 of 122
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    Such a mess. It doesn't matter how good certain aspects are if the overall results is confusing. One could argue that Apple's entry into the smartphone and tablet markets were poor in the sense that they didn't have all the features others had, but the features they did have they excelled at and they focused heavily on those core usage needs that customers could identity with.

    We see none of this with the Surface. We see MS trying to have its cake and eat it too. This will appeal to a certain group of user but it won't stave off the trend from Windows to post PC computing.

    What makes this all worse is that the first version is a respectable $499 for 32GB but that's only for the ARM version with no ecosystem and a resolution well below the iPad. Still it comes with 2x the storage so it looks good on that avenue. However, as you go up it gets weird. If you want 64GB — something you might want to so with a notebook replacement — you have no choice but to go with the $699 model. It comes with the Touch Cover capacitance touch keyboard but if it's really a notebook replacement you'll probably want to type so you'll have to invest another $130 for the Type Cover which puts you at $830. You might as well just buy an ultrabook at that point. All that is without even considering the cost of the Intel-based Surface.

    Aren't there two versions?
    RT and the version running windows 8?

    There is, but only the ARM version running RT — which Dick Applebaum affectionately called WART for Windows ARM RT — are available right now.
  • Reply 15 of 122
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    The Surface will have free rein in the market unless Apple is able to deliver their products in a timely fashion. It doesn't matter how great Apple's products are if they can't get them into the customer's hands. Having 3-4 week or more delivery time is not going to cut it.

    What do you mean?
  • Reply 16 of 122
    nagrommenagromme Posts: 2,834member


    It’s not for me—I like my MacBook Air and my iPad (which even has Office via Onlive + bluetooth keyboard)—but someday it could be great for some people.


     


    I wouldn’t want to be an early adopter, but MS has the cash to survive a couple weak generations and eventually turn an interesting start into a very good product. I hope they don’t screw it up, because it has some real innovation. Not a copycat iPad. That’s the kind of competition that's good for all of us.


     


    I can imagine a pretty nice future in 5-10 years:


     


    “Trucks”—mainly Macs. Some legacy Microsoft stuff surviving on the back end, but major decline on the desktop. Macs compete against all tablets more than against Windows.


     


    Tablets/touch devices—the mainstream computer type for most purposes. Apple in the lead, Microsoft thriving too. Google will have abandoned Android by then, but Android will live on in others’ hands, especially Amazon’s. Three-way competition.


     


    And Microsoft may still have Xbox as well, in some form.

  • Reply 17 of 122
    apple ][apple ][ Posts: 9,233member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by JeffDM View Post



    I think some of the third party iPad keyboards do it better, particularly in allowing portrait mode while typing.


     


    When I need to do a lot of typing on my iPad, the Apple bluetooth keyboard works great, and it is a nice keyboard to type on too.


     


    Those Microsoft keyboards aren't even real keyboards, and the keys have no travel, you might as well type on the screen, IMO.

  • Reply 18 of 122
    robbyxrobbyx Posts: 479member
    Too little, too late. But this is Microsoft after all and they're not afraid to pump cash into a loser...until it's a winner. The only reason I can think that anyone would buy this is because that person simply doesn't want an iPad. But give it a few revisions and that may no longer be the case. And let's not forget business customers. Yes, they embraced the iPad but they're almost all still running Windows on the desktop. Once Microsoft gives them a really well integrated desktop/tablet experience, they'll dump the iPad. Android is the real loser. It's never going to crack the business market and I suspect a lot of PC nerds who embraced Android (anything but iOS, gasp!) will make their way back to the Microsoft fold once their tablet hardware and OS mature a bit.
  • Reply 19 of 122
    Ports an iPad owner could only dream of? Personally, I've never felt the need to plug anything into my iPad besides the charger or a set of headphones. I have a computer for real work.
  • Reply 20 of 122
    apple ][apple ][ Posts: 9,233member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post





    What do you mean?


    Oh, I'm pretty sure he or she is talking about the current 3-4 week time quoted by Apple to get an iPhone.

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