If you’re struggling to decide between a laptop and a tablet in the never-ending push to update your technology, Microsoft has come up with a logical solution: Microsoft Surface, a hybrid cross of both laptop and tablet. But does it successfully combine the two, or does it promise something it can’t deliver?
Tablet with a Twist
At first sight, Microsoft Surface looks like the conventional tablet: Simple design, clean lines, no fuss. What sets it apart from all the rest is the simplicity in which you can transform the tablet into a laptop-style device. All you have to do is clip the tablet onto the Touch Cover – a pressure-sensitive keyboard – and you have a laptop of sorts. However, initial impressions of using the almost impossibly thin 3mm Touch Cover as opposed to a traditional keyboard suggest it takes quite a bit of getting used to. Gizmodo gave a no-nonsense review of Surface, stating that there’s “zero that’s intuitive about the Touch Cover” – so unlike when you wrote your first text message on a touch screen smartphone and picked it up in an hour or so, typing on Touch Cover will more likely take a couple of hours, days - even weeks to become second-nature. The barely-there keys of the Touch Cover lead to numerous and annoying typos, doing little for the technological ‘breakthrough’ that Microsoft has so optimistically promised.
The integrated kickstand on the back of the tablet means you don’t have to worry about holding it in an upright position when in ‘laptop-mode’, and, when not in use, the kickstand folds neatly and unnoticeably away into the unique VaporMg material. This works best when in landscape, however, and proved to be quite unstable when the tablet was in an upright position. The kickstand also means that when you want to use the tablet as a laptop, you can only do so on a solid surface, making it less of a laptop and more of a ‘table-top’.
Surface has a 10.6 inch LCD screen – a little bigger than the iPad 4 at 9.7 inches – yet it fails to reach Apple’s far superior display quality. At just 1366 x 768 pixels, Surface doesn’t live up to the dizzy heights of the iPad 4’s 2048 x 1536 pixel display. However, innovative ClearType technology on the Surface tablet means that the resolution appears sharper than it actually is, although it’s highly doubtful that it will be anywhere near that of the iPad’s Retina display.
One of the most important features of any portable device is its internet connectivity. You want to be able to check your emails or browse online wherever you are, and with Surface you’ll be able to do just that – as long as you’re in a Wi-Fi area. Unlike Apple’s 3G and now 4G enabled devices, Microsoft Surface is currently Wi-Fi only, meaning you won’t be able to connect to the internet in the middle of nowhere, but in central urban locations you’ll be fine.
Windows RT: Concise or Confusing?
Microsoft Surface is the flagship device of the new Windows RT mobile operating system, which sees Microsoft finally playing catch up with the likes of Apple and Samsung by making the move to apps and a touch-screen interface. Windows RT is the OS specifically built for use on mobile devices like the Surface tablet, and features the tiled Metro user interface originally seen on the Windows Phone 7. The new set-up is a complete change from the old desktop, and may suit new users better than those who have years of experience using Windows software.The absence of the start button will inevitably cause confusion amongst those who are familiar with ‘old’ Windows - it almost feels as though Microsoft has made something that was once so simple overly-complicated in an attempt to prove itself in the competitive tablet industry.
One aspect that Microsoft is being suspiciously quiet about, however, is the difference between Windows 8 and Windows RT. On the surface, Windows 8 and Windows RT seem to have little, if any, differences. Both greet you with the Metro 'live tile' interface - but underneath the brightly coloured facade are a few major differences. Windows 8 is able to run all software from the Windows store as well as any third-party programs, such as browsers or games, whereas Windows RT only supports apps from the Windows store and does not allow you to download any third-party software that is made to run on a desktop. Because Windows RT is closed off from all outside intervention, as a business tool it is nowhere near as useful as Windows 8. Microsoft seem to be deliberately coy when questioned about this - perhaps a sneaky attempt to make consumers think that Surface comes with the fully equiped Windows 8 platform.
The selection of apps available on Windows RT has received a tepid response at best. Microsoft claims it will have 100,000 apps ready for the tablet by January 2013, yet even this expected number pales in comparison to Apple’s 275,000 iPad apps that are already up and running. Among the most obvious absences from Windows app store are the big social networks, meaning you'll have to post that witty tweet via Internet Explorer which, while it will work fine, is a bit of a nuisance when you could simply open an app and go direct.
At £399 for the 32GB tablet without any extras, Surface's price puts it in the premium range along with the iPad - perhaps a little ambitious on Microsoft’s behalf. The basic tablet price doesn't include the optional hardware, which will cost £479 when purchased along with the Touch Cover, and £599 will get you the 64GB version bundled with the Touch Cover, regardless of whether or not you actually want it.
Surface claims to be the best of both worlds - an interchangeable laptop and tablet – but doesn’t quite live up to either. If you decide to trade in your laptop and tablet for Surface, you might find yourself missing both of your old devices.