Microsoft Surface: Impressive design crippled by software
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Microsoft Surface: Impressive design crippled by software

Redmond : WA : USA | Oct 25, 2012 at 7:37 PM PDT
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The Microsoft Surface RT is surprisingly durable and well designed, but sadly crippled by the dumbed-down version of Windows RT. The highly anticipated Touch Cover fails to deliver, and is tacky at best. The Surface isn’t the productivity powerhouse that Microsoft hoped it would be. It’s definitely not a laptop replacement, nor is it a ultra-mobile device due to its heft. It’s different – but not in a good way.

Meticulous Design

You can tell Microsoft took great care when designing the Surface RT. The build quality is far superior than most plastic Android tablets, and the Vapor Mg bonding mechanism is quite impressive. A classic example is the Surface RT’s built-in kickstand. It makes the perfect “click” sound to satisfy your inner-nerd and make you want to use it.

Given the Magnesium Alloy construction, the Surface RT is durable – debatably more so than Apple’s beloved iPad 4. According to initial reviews, you can drop the Surface from table-height and barely notice anything. Nonetheless, the durability comes at a cost to the Surface’s weight. At 1.5 lbs. it isn’t the lightest tablet on the market.

Touch and Type Covers

The Touch Cover was marketed as the Surface’s bread and butter. Sadly, it sucks. It certainly doesn’t work as well as advertised. Many reported a plethora of typos and a steep learning curve that seemingly never went away. Moreover, it didn’t work that well as a cover, either. Apparently, the cover doesn’t stay closed, resulting in a random “glow” coming from your bag while traveling.

Despite the shortcomings of the cloth-based Touch Cover, the Type Cover is a different story. It’s the keyboard the iPad should’ve had. It is responsive, tactile, and offers a pleasant typing experience. But it doesn’t work well as a cover, unfortunately. Berceuse of the size, it’s easy to inadvertently press the wrong key, but this is to be expected on any tablet keyboard.

Screen

The Surface RT’s screen definitely doesn’t oust the iPad’s Retina Display in terms of quality. I’m not sure what those analysts were thinking. At 1366 x 768 pixels on a 10.6-inch screen, the PPI is far less than the iPad’s. And it shows. Viewing text on the Surface RT is a huge disappointment compared to the Retina screen on the iPad. Video, though, was a clear winner for the Surface because of the 16:9 aspect ratio. Plus, the kickstand is almost designed with watching movies in mind.

Battery Life

One of the main reasons Microsoft opted for the lower resolution was because of battery life. Perhaps this was a marketing ploy, but it pays off. You can get a full 11-hours of use with the Surface RT fully charged. Your day-to-day usage may vary, but the bottom line is you can use your Surface all day without having to carry your charger… or keep a spare at work.

Camera

The front and rear camera on the Surface RT was beyond terrible, but who’s going to use it to take pictures, anyway? The front camera is barely acceptable for video conferencing, and Microsoft could’ve done much better. It will work fine for individual Skyping, but image quality degrades quickly when multiple people are in the shot.

Microsoft Office

The Surface RT includes specialized versions of Microsoft Office 2013, excluding Outlook. Microsoft missed a huge opportunity here. For a tablet designed with businesspersons in mind, it’s unthinkable they could not include it. Nonetheless, the included email program isn’t horrible, but certainly not going to cut it for big-time corporate moguls.

The other applications PowerPoint, Word, and Excel perform as expected, granted testing was limited. The Metro UI was pleasant to look at, and the productivity applications seemed fine for small to medium-sized files. Although, I’m curious to see how it reacts to large presentations or media-rich documents. There wasn’t any lag while typing on the Touch or Type cover, which is promising.

Windows RT

The Surface RT cannot run traditional Windows 8 applications. You are limited to the anemic selection of the Windows Store. This lack of software availability is the tablet’s Achilles heel. Perhaps Windows RT app selection will expand, but you should go into the experience knowing app selection will always be the Surface’s biggest flaw.

Windows RT itself isn’t bad, but it is almost too dumbed-down for some users. Power users will definitely want to wait for the Surface Pro that runs the full version of Windows 8. That said, it offers a clean – albeit boxy – interface that makes consuming content a breeze. Unfortunately, Internet Explorer is, well, Internet Explorer. Performance isn’t great, but here’s hope we’ll get Google Chrome on it one day!

Final Thoughts

The Surface RT is an incredible engineering feat, but is hindered by the lackluster software. Some apps are slow to open, and given you can only install Microsoft-approved apps, selection will be limited. It is not the tablet for corporate minions, given the lack of Outlook. Don’t bother with the Touch Cover, shell out the extra $10 for the Type Cover – it’s well worth it. Plus, with a USB port, you can charge your iPhone – err Windows Phone 8 – while using the Surface.

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Microsoft Surface RT Tablet
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Joseph Thomas is based in Redwood City, California, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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