For every army, there’s a leader. In this case, Microsoft has the Surface to lead the waves of the Windows OS to battle. Something tells us that it is a perfect epitome of what the rest of the Windows devices should be like – but should we trust that right away? Read on our full review to find out.
Design and Construction
To be honest, it’s hard to review something such as the Microsoft Surface. It’s basically a tablet that transforms into something like a laptop. The first time we wrapped it in our hands, we were amazed. Yes, the design is quite uninspired – but sometimes it’s not about that; it’s about the polishing.
The Surface is made out of Microsoft’s VaporMg casing, and we don’t think it’s a gimmick. It feels more solid than any device we’ve ever held – but of course, that doesn’t mean you should drop it or push it to the limits as it is quite heavy. It’s all glass and screen on the front along with the Windows button and the camera.
On the right side, you’ll find the USB port, the magnetic port for charging and a micro HDMI port. On the left you’ll find the 3.5mm audio jack and the volume rocker. Up top is the power button and down below is the magnetic port for the keyboard. Speakers are found all around the left, right and top parts of the device.
The back attracts some fingerprints, but regardless of that, it’s a beauty. You’ll find the angled camera on the upper part while on the lower part you’ll find the Windows logo and the signature kickstand. Under the kickstand, hiding are the labels and the micro SD card slot. The kickstand isn’t flimsy by all means. The only problem that we encountered was that the angle of the tablet couldn’t be changed – which is why you can’t really use it on your lap. It needs to be on a table or some sort.
A lot of you will probably be disappointed when you hear that the Surface has a 10.6-inch 1366 x 768 display. Well, we are here to tell you that you shouldn’t be. Even at a pixel density of 148, we didn’t see much pixilation. Colors are vibrant and bright, and viewing angles are exceptional.
Microsoft did a very good job with the screen of the Surface. It may not match the iPad’s Retina Display nor the Nexus 10’s, but we have to say that this is one breathtaking display on a tablet.
OS, UI & Apps
On the other side of things, this runs Windows RT, not full-blown Windows 8. This is all because it is running on an ARM processor, and not one of the x86 breeds. There is one tricky part however; Windows RT can’t run your good-ol’ desktop apps. All that you have is Microsoft Office & Internet Explorer. That means no ‘.exe’ files, no traditional plug-ins and no apps that every consumer would expect to be downloadable on a Windows platform.
Windows 8 and Windows RT are very similar on the brighter side of things. There is the Start screen, some Modern UI apps, the desktop and the things you’d expect. No bloatware and the like are included. Microsoft’s Store for apps is improving through time, and you should really pay attention to that since this Surface, RT, will rely on the apps in the Store. Game selection is quite good and some apps just need polishing.
Camera and Multimedia
There are two cameras on the Microsoft Surface and they are both of the same quality. These are 1.2 megapixel cameras capable of 720p video (no flash). The one on the back is angled upwards. So basically, when you are using the kickstand, the camera will still take aligned photos/videos. They aren’t much of an improvement over the common webcam.
Low-light quality is bad along with the rest of the elements such as color and depth. To put it simply, Microsoft isn’t encouraging users to use the Surface as a primary shooter. However, it’s good enough for common needs like having video calls over Skype.
Speakers are clear and they produce amazing sound quality – it’s just that it isn’t loud enough. A smartphone playing audio at an average volume will still defeat the Surface’s speakers even on maximum settings. The microphone does exceptionally well too, as it captures clear and crisp audio.
Video playback is simply a joy with the device. Matched by the wonderful display of the Surface, it doesn’t suffer from any playback issues and the aspect ratio of the screen helps in viewing any kind of content. If you’re the type who reads e-books however, it isn’t really advisable to use the Surface in portrait as it is very awkward and hefty.
When the Surface was announced, we were wowed by the innovation brought by the touch cover. It’s basically your average cover… with a keyboard.
It’s amazingly thin, and the magnetic contraption for docking the Surface works well. There are control keys on the upper part which prove to be very useful at times, and the rest is history. Typing takes time to get used to, since there is no tactile feedback when you actually hit a key (the Surface just makes feedback sounds).
The trackpad is quite small as well and we barely used it. We actually preferred wireless mice over the trackpad since the left and right click controls are hard to make out. It’s better than the on-screen keyboard by a long shot, but it doesn’t quite replace your average physical keyboard. We have not tried the extra-costing type cover, which is made out of physical keys.
Performance & Battery Life
The 1.3 GHz quad-core Tegra 3 works well, although it is starting to show its deficiencies. Performance is very similar to how other Tegra 3 devices work. There are some lag here and there at times, but they happen mostly on heavy tasks. The Surface RT comes with 2GB of RAM so there’s plenty to go around for multiple apps to run.
Windows RT runs pretty smooth most of the time although some apps load a bit slow at times.
We were somehow disappointed with the battery life of the Microsoft Surface. About 4 hours of internet browsing brought a full battery to 30%, which is something slightly better compared to what you’ll get on a full Windows 8 laptop. That computes to just around a total of 6 hours when connected online and actively surfing the web but could give more juice if you’re offline and doing some productivity work.
In many aspects, the Surface RT works flawlessly. It has a solid build quality, an amazing display, a clear set of speakers and a great touch cover accessory. Yes, it’s a bit chunky — but what other device out there can run Microsoft Office and has a full-size USB port? Besides the tablet itself is actually just the same thickness as the iPad 3.
The problems lie underneath the surface (pun intended). The average consumer might think that it can function like a full version of Windows 8, then sooner or later, will find out that it can’t run legacy apps – and that you’ll have to rely on the Microsoft Store. Asides from that, we can’t say that the Surface can replace your desktop/laptop just yet. We have to see how that fares soon with its bigger brother running Windows 8, not RT.
Choosing to buy the Microsoft Surface for $599 (32GB, tablet with black Touch Cover) is both a gain and a compromise. It’s about having the bests and worsts of both a laptop and a tablet.
Microsoft Surface RT specs:
10.6-inch ClearType display (1366 x 768, 148 ppi)
1.3 GHz Nvidia Tegra 3 CPU
32/64 GB internal storage, micro SD up to 64GB
Full size USB 2.0 port
1.2 megapixel rear/front camera, 720p video
274.6 x 172 x 9.4 mm
31.5 W-h battery
$499 (32GB, tablet only)
$599 (32GB, tablet with black Touch Cover)
What we liked about it:
- Polished design & solid construction
- Vibrant display
- Fast and smooth UI/Performance
- Clear audio
- Innovative & unique kickstand & covers
What we didn’t like about it:
- Weak speaker volume
- So-so battery life
- Needs more RT apps