Microsoft is fiercely fighting to be the new King of Cool in the consumer tech world and from the initial battles I’ve seen so far, they are doing quite well. The Surface RT is a shot directly over the bows of both Google and Apple and if they don’t take notice, Microsoft may become the hipster brand of choice.
I am one of those lucky people that has a Microsoft pop-up store open within a half-hour drive of my home. Ever since it was announced, I’ve been itching to get my hands on a Microsoft Surface and play with it for a few minutes. This is by no means a comprehensive review of the Surface RT, however, I did play with it long enough to get a feel for its capabilities and limitations.
First off, like everyone else has already said, the hardware on the Surface is top-notch. It definitely matches and dare I say it, arguably bests the venerable iPad. It feels very sturdy and well balanced when you hold it. While at first I thought Microsoft was drifting too far into hyperbole when they were describing the sound of the kickstand closing, I have to say it is very satisfying hearing it close.
I also had a chance to a chance to play with both the Touch and TypeCovers connected to the Surface. Honestly, as cool as the technology is, the TouchCover came off as gimmicky to me. I have pretty big hands and I felt that I had to be almost dainty when I was trying to type on the TouchCover. Not because I was afraid I was going to break it. It was the fact that I wasn’t getting any sort of physical feedback. I felt that I had to be super accurate in order to be able to type anything. I am sure that I could get used to it over time but my first time playing with it left something to be desired.
The TypeCover on the other hand was very impressive to me. Yes, the keyboard is a more cramped than a full sized keyboard but if you can type on a netbook, you can type on this. I was also impressed with how thin it actually was despite being thicker than the TouchCover. In fact, the slight bit of extra thickness on the TypeCover was barely noticeable. If you are worried about how thick it will be when it is folded over the screen of the Surface, don’t be. You won’t notice it. I promise you.
The key travel on the TypeCover is admittedly shallow. But like I said before, if you can type on a netbook, you can type on this. Also know that this keyboard is better than any bluetooth keyboard that I have ever used paired to a tablet. There was no delay between my input on the keyboard and what was showing up on screen.
Now to the software. Everyone of you that is whining and complaining about the new Windows 8 interface, stop it. You sound like a bunch of Luddites complaining about the upgrade from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95. Yup, people complained then too.
The Modern UI of Windows 8 is pretty fun to use. It is hard to describe. It is something you have to do in person. The updating tiles can be very useful to get information at a glance. There is a little bit of a learning curve, but it’s not steep at all. In fact, the learning curve is shallower and more intuitive than someone trying out Android for the first time. Trust me, you’ll pick it up quickly enough.
Switching over to the traditional desktop view, which by the way, I predict will be dead within 2 more generations of Windows, is just that. Nothing fancy. If you’ve used Windows 7, you’ve used this. There are a few things, like the Ribbon showing up in a few more places and the lack of a Start menu button but those really are not that big of a deal. For those of you upset about the Start Menu, reread two paragraphs ago. It really isn’t as big a deal as people are making it out to be.
As far as responsiveness of the tablet, I found it to be fairly quick most of the time. There were a couple times that I was able to get the Surface to lag for a moment or two and there was one time that I had to turn the tablet a little bit to get it register on the accelerometer that it was upside down, but it is no worse than any Android tablet I have ever played with.
As far as my impression of overall value of the tablet, I would say that it is worth the asking price. It can do more serious work but it is also a lot of fun to play with. It does include the most important Office apps that most people use and combined with the TouchCover would be a fitting device for people without heavier computing needs.
So am I going to buy a Surface RT. No. I will not. I am waiting for the Surface Pro. I have my own needs for a tablet, and I want something that is primarily a PC and then a tablet. The RT is primarily a tablet and then a PC. I have specific workflow requirements that I feel would not be possible with the RT. Would I buy this over an iPad or a top end Android tablet, like the Transformer Infinity? Emphatically yes!
I like the fact that this tablet would allow me to get some serious work done. It is better built than the Asus tablet and is at least on par with the iPad if not besting it as well. The interface is fresher and more interesting than the offerings from Cupertino and Mountain View.
In short, the Surface RT is an excellent 1.0 hardware device from Microsoft. There are a few kinks in this initial offering but if the Surface is any indication of how serious Microsoft is about hardware design and hardware-software integration, Apple and Google better watch out. A sleeping giant from the north is now awake.