Saturday, December 8, 2012

Microsoft Surface review

Microsoft Surface review


  • Excellent keyboards
  • Useful kick-stand
  • Great for Windows 8
  • Stylish look and premium feel


  • Poor selection of apps
  • Standard display
  • Heavier than iPad 4
  • Sluggish graphical performance

Microsoft Surface review

Microsoft heeds its competitors' lessons with its Windows RT tablet

In tablets, the big guns have big names. Apple has its iPad 4 and Google has the Nexus 10. And, if Microsoft is to take on the might of Apple and Google in the tablet space with Windows 8, it needs a big name of its own.
So welcome Microsoft Surface. The new tablet isn't just the big poster boy for Windows 8, but for Windows RT too, the brand-new version of Windows 8 designed for ARM.
Creating a flagship brand for Windows 8 is a clever move, no doubt a tactic learned from the success of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus that heralded Ice Cream Sandwich, the Google Nexus 7 for Jelly Bean, and more recently, the Nexus 10 for the completely anonymous Android 4.2.
Microsoft Surface review
However, there's no danger of Surface being branded as a clone of rival 10-inch tablets.
It boasts a distinctive design, helped by those unmistakable keyboard covers, enjoys a 10.6-inch widescreen display, and runs Windows 8, the most popular operating system on the planet. But there's a crippling caveat which might be its undoing.
Microsoft Surface review
Windows RT won't run old PC programs, so any trip to the internet to download legacy programs such as VLC Player, or even big-name offerings like Photoshop Elements, just won't work.
Microsoft Surface review
It has the potential to cause mass confusion and the power to sink Microsoft's figurehead before it's even taken off.
On picking up the Surface one single sentiment falls from the mouth of every man, woman or child without fail: "It's thicker than I thought."
That is factually nonsense. At 9.4mm thick, it's exactly the same thickness as the iPad 4, except that instead of masking its true girth with tapered edges, Surface's design looks as if it's been chiseled from a slab of slate.
It's square and boxy, but fresh looking and the magnesium 'VaporMg' coating gives it a cool finish.
Microsoft Surface review
At 690g Microsoft Surface is noticeably heavier than its rivals. The iPad 4 weighs 650g due to shedding an inch of screen, but Surface feels richer for the extra space.
The 16:9 screen is suited to Windows, it enables you to multitask apps and 'snap' them literally side by side. It feels like you're using a laptop and that's a big leap towards a genuine hybrid experience.
Of course, the rear kickstand is an iconic part of Surface. It's also made of metal, and does a good job of propping up your tablet - to an angle of 22 degrees - even when on your lap.
Microsoft Surface review
However, we'd have liked it to be more adjustable – at the moment it has just one position – and a button release would also be handy as you need nimble fingers to pull out the stand.
It's also larger than the iPad - the screen is a 10.6-inch 1366x768 IPS panel, which falls short of the full HD displays of the Sony VAIO Duo 11and Asus Taichi, but still looks clear and crisp.
It's not going to win any awards for screen vibrancy, and certainly never going to challenge Retina, but it's good enough - and helps Microsoft keep the price down to a reasonable level.
Microsoft Surface review
A keyboard-less 32GB Surface costs £399, the same as an iPad 4 with half the storage.
Under the hood is an Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, with the ARM technology that drives this new Windows RT operating system. It's the same you'll find in high flying Android tablets such as the Asus Transformer Prime andGoogle Nexus 7. There's also 2GB of RAM.
We'd love to say that it walked through every task that we threw at it, but in all honesty, we feel that Tegra struggles in Windows.
The system felt responsive to navigate but apps lingered on their splash screens for uncomfortable periods, seconds longer than they should.
Microsoft Surface review
There was no jerkiness or hangs, just a lethargy that frustrates when you're in a hurry.
We tested the 64GB Microsoft Surface, which offers plenty of storage, and even a Micro SDSX port hidden under the kickstand, which enables you to boost storage by another 64GB.
That makes Surface a great deal when you consider that you can get nearly 100GB of storage for the same price as the 16GB iPad. That's also not including the USB port for connecting USB storage, as well as traditional Windows peripherals.
Being able to plug in a memory stick in is especially refreshing, and makes Surface a genuine alternative to the iPad.
Microsoft Surface review
There's currently no 3G option for Surface, and with no dongles compatible with Windows RT at present, that's not an option right now.
Of course, one of the headline features is the Touch Cover, the clip-on keyboard that enables you to use your Surface as either a tablet or laptop. It feels shockingly light, as if it's made of cardboard.
Typing takes some getting used to, and the click sound that's used to denote a successful key press is essential to effective typing, as the lack of tactile feedback can be disorientating.
However, the keys are sensitive and speed typing is certainly possible with a few hours of practice.
What's more, despite the flat keyboard feeling like it's been hewn from old egg boxes, it features a multi-touch trackpad, should you want to use a mouse while in the traditional Windows interface.
Microsoft Surface review
The Touch Cover maybe a triumph of design but we would heartily recommend investing in the Type Cover for comfortable typing.
This offers a much more natural typing experience, and is one of the most spacious tablet keyboard accessories we've used.
It's much more comfortable and can easily be used for longer periods, but it does have an annoying flex in the middle, so the keys tend to bounce if you're a heavy typist.
We'd still recommend it, but it will cost you: the Type Cover costs an extra £110, rather than £80 for the Touch Cover.

Interface, performance

Microsoft heeds its competitors' lessons with its Windows RT tablet

Microsoft Surface runs Windows RT in its purest and most vanilla form.Windows 8 doesn't have the capacity for skinning that we've seen on the likes of Android, although we wouldn't put it past some manufacturers to add their own awful overlays.
If you're not familiar with Windows 8, let us give you a quick synopsis. Windows 8 and Windows 7 are essentially identical, except that the Start menu has been axed in favour of a Start screen, a giant colourfully-tiled HTML 5 overlay, through which everything must be run.
You can drop back to the traditional desktop, but without the Start button, you'll find it extremely limited.
Microsoft Surface review
The Start-screen menu is a big jump even for the most experienced Windows user, but it doesn't take long to show its worth, and it's clear after a few hours of use that it's intuitive, beautifully designed and solidly built.
The big tiles, which push information such as new emails and news headlines to you, are super touch-friendly, which is perfect for tablets such as Surface, and can be moved around to create a custom mix not only of apps, but also pin contacts, books, movies and more.
The only criticism of the Start screen is Windows 8's appearance of 'my first PC', and power users are the most likely to bemoan its introduction.
The same back end is present, but to access it one must use the search charms from the right-hand corner.
Of course, there are already hacks and workarounds to restore Windows 8 to its normal state, but for touchscreen devices like Surface, this would be a disaster.
A common misconception is that the traditional desktop isn't available in Windows RT, but that's not true; it's accessed via the desktop tile on the Start screen, but its relevance is severely diminished.
As Windows RT can't run traditional programs you need to use the old style Windows Explorer less, but it's still on hand for browsing file systems, USB sticks, organising folders and more.
The 'charm' bar to the right also includes search and share buttons and these are threaded through every part of the OS, from files to settings, to the information held within apps.
Microsoft Surface review
Another triumph is the on-screen keyboard, which is large, sensitive and easy to use. It's not as smart as some third-party keyboards on Android, but we typed with two hands quickly and accurately and the extra inch of screen space made it much easier to use than its iOS counterpart.
We had a few problems with the large keyboard panel blocking information we needed, but the icon to show or hide the keyboard is always on hand in the bottom-right corner of the desktop.
As we've already mentioned, performance is a slightly mixed bag. The system is always responsive, with silky smooth transitions and snappy navigation.
However, we found that some apps were slow to load, with lingering splash screens. What's more, 1080p playback was a few frames per second short of perfect.
While we wouldn't say that the Tegra 3 chip performed appallingly, there's certainly no headroom, and it seems to be the graphics core that struggled most.
Multitasking apps never missed a beat, but it was loading the graphically-intensive apps and movies that showed the biggest strain on the processor.
Even some basic games ran at a noticeably low frame rate, so it seems that Windows RT might need some optimisation.


Microsoft heeds its competitors' lessons with its Windows RT tablet

With Windows 8, Internet Explorer 10 comes in two flavours, the traditional desktop version and a 'metro' or 'Modern UI' version that runs within Windows RT's HTML 5 Start screen.
The former is exactly the experience you'd find on any Windows 7 PC, and the pros and cons of Internet Explorer are covered extensively in our review here.
It works well, is snappy and responsive, but the experience is woeful on a touchscreen device, with tiny areas making navigation painful.
Enter the new Windows 8 version, which offers a touch-friendly interface for users of devices such as Surface.
It takes a little getting used to, with tabs revealed by swiping from the top, for example, and the lack of plug-ins and features again will leave power users frustrated.
The experience is enhanced because all superfluous elements have to be toggled, such as the address bar, options and tabs. You have to swipe from the bottom or top to reveal these features, which leaves the viewing experience clean and pure.
Tilt the tablet into portrait mode and IE reflows the page smartly, although the change was far from snappy and sites often stopped responding momentarily.
Microsoft Surface review
Bookmarks, however, are a huge oversight of the Modern UI version of Internet Explorer.
To open a bookmarked site you need to load a blank tab, and then scroll across to one of your favourites. It's unintuitive and unsuited to large amounts of favourites and will certainly cause frustration for people who are used to using large lists of bookmarks.
We also found that compatibility with some sites was lacking, showing that, like the Windows Store, the 'metro' version of Internet Explorer is still a work in progress.
Microsoft Surface review
Some sites became unresponsive and sometimes elements wouldn't load. An example of this is close to home: the comments section on TechRadar doesn't load in Internet Explorer, and there are plenty of these types of quirks, or errors as we like to call them, which make using the built-in browser frustrating.
Hopefully Microsoft can iron out these problems quickly, because it does detract from a smooth, clear and visually pleasing experience.
Pinch-and-zoom was fast and responsive, fonts rendered quickly, and sites filled the 16:9 screen to offer an excellent experience.
Microsoft Surface review
What's more, with flash support built in, Microsoft has the opportunity to provide the best tablet browsing experience on the market.
Of course, you could try a different browser, but as this is Windows RT you can only choose from what's on offer on Windows Store. At the time of writing, Mozilla is preparing a version of Firefox but it's yet to appear, and there's no Google Chrome or Opera yet.

Media (movies, music, games, books etc)

Microsoft heeds its competitors' lessons with its Windows RT tablet

Media is a key part of any tablet, and while Surface puts its emphasis heavily on multitasking and productivity, it's still a media consumption device.
Microsoft has pulled a lot of its services together for Windows 8, including providing two apps which plug into the well-established Xbox Music and Xbox Video apps which are supplied as standard on Surface RT.
Microsoft Surface review
These offer movie purchases and rentals and the Music app even enables free streaming of 30 million tracks, with a Spotify-style subscription model.
If you want to know more about these in detail, then head over to theWindows 8 review, but it makes Surface an excellent media-focused device.
Microsoft Surface review
The 16:9 aspect ratio means TV and movies look great, and Microsoft has also called in favours with the likes of Netflix for great content from third parties, and we hope there will be more to follow.
In terms of the content on offer from Windows Store and the built-in Xbox Store it's clear that Microsoft is still very much in third place in the lead up to Christmas.
Microsoft Surface review
The selection of movies is incomplete, TV shows are too US focused and too expensive, games is a strong area for Windows but it's yet to take off and books are catered for almost soley by Kindle.
As a device for enjoying them, however, Surface works well. The kickstand means you can prop it up to enjoy movies or shows on iPlayer (which work from within the browser in the absence of a dedicated app).
Microsoft Surface review
There's also micro HDMI, which means that Surface can be connected to a TV or external display, and used in presentations much more easily than the iPad.
Of course, Surface has a trick up its sleeve that the iPad can only dream of. The ability to watch media files of all types and be able to load them via USB or MicroSD, rather than the annoying proprietary iTunes software, is a big coup for Surface.

Apps and games

Microsoft heeds its competitors' lessons with its Windows RT tablet

One of the headline features of Windows 8 is the introduction of apps, and the Windows Store is the Google Play and App Store of the Microsoft world.
As many competitors have seen, having a packed app store is the only way to compete with the likes of the iPad, and Google's rapid expansion of its Play store has been a huge driving force of its recent success.
Unfortunately, Microsoft has not been able to launch Windows Store with anything like enough apps to call its store a success.
Microsoft Surface review
We have no doubt that soon Windows Store will be a thriving metropolis of new releases and with a huge install base predicted by the end of the first year, developers should be scrambling over themselves to be a part of Windows 8.
However, we can only review what's in front of us, and at present, the Windows Store is not good enough. The big-name brands just aren't present, and while the store grows every day, the poor selection hobbles Surface's potency as a great tablet.
The staggering part of the problem is that this is basic functionality.
Microsoft is reported to be putting $1bn behind the marketing of Windows 8, but a fraction of this money could have been used to pay for the big name apps to be made: Sky Go, BBC iPlayer, Instagram, VLC, Google Chrome; they're just not there, and it's to Surface's detriment.
There's no shame in putting money behind this kind of project, but allowing early adopters to experience this kind of app abyss is inexcusable.
As a gaming device Microsoft Surface could be potent. While we have highlighted performance questions, there's no evidence of this manifesting in games so far, and as Windows is historically a gaming platform, this could mean an exciting future for tablets such as Surface.


Microsoft heeds its competitors' lessons with its Windows RT tablet

Microsoft Surface is a strong entrance to the world of PC hardware for Microsoft, and as a device it's certainly highly recommendable.
The solid build, kickstand, the associated rage of keyboards and big screen make it adept for both work and play, and it's the closest device we've seen to a true hybrid.
It's not the world's most advanced tablet and performs solidly without excelling in any particular area. A great example of this is the screen is bright and clear, but relatively low resolution compared to new kids on the block like the Sony VAIO Duo 11.
Another is the processor, which noticeably struggles at the highest graphical demand. However, the lack of Windows Store apps means that Surface is still firmly a device for early adopters.
Anyone who forks out the £399 basic price will have to lump the lack of big-name apps for the foreseeable future, and by the time this problem is overcome, we could see a refreshed Surface.
But Surface represents a great value tablet that will get stronger with time, so if you're looking for a superb all-round Windows tablet which can double as a work machine, with bags of potential and head-turning appeal, then Surface should be high on your list.

We liked

The great build and built-in kickstand is a key part of Surface, and provided us with plenty of pleasing moments when we momentarily searched for a place to prop up our tablet before remembering there was no need.
The detachable Touch Cover and Type Covers with their multi-touch mouse trackpads for working in the traditional Windows environment were also some of the best mobile keyboards money can buy, and the lack of hassle in linking via Bluetooth, and the associated power drain with wireless technology makes Surface a true laptop replacement.

We disliked

The Windows Store needs a lot of work, fast. With the potential of Windows 8 being able to run across PC, tablet and the allure of a well-received Windows Phone 8, it shouldn't be hard to attract developers.
However, here we are, with a predictable shortfall in apps which will slow the pace of adoption, which will in turn slow the pace of developer attention. Microsoft needs to break this cycle.
The loading time of Windows apps was also disappointing, as was the drop in frame-rate on our 1080p video tests. While the latter was barely noticeable and wouldn't catch the attention of 90% of Surface buyers, the time spent looking at app splash screens was a cause of irritation.
The interface and navigation of Windows 8 needs to be snappier on Surface, and then consumers will appreciate it.

Final verdict

Surface makes you want to pick it up and play, pleases you with the delivery of Windows RT and the live tiles make it feel personal and alive.
Performance is a real issue, but since Tegra is at the heart of high performing tablets, we hope that RT can be tweaked to iron out slowdown issues.
Microsoft's hardware designers should be applauded for delivering a solid tablet which delivers a great experience, but now it's down to the fortunes of the Windows Store to decide whether Microsoft Surface is remembered in history.

Official gallery

Microsoft heeds its competitors' lessons with its Windows RT tablet

Microsoft Surface review
Microsoft Surface review
Microsoft Surface review
Microsoft Surface review
Microsoft Surface review
Microsoft Surface review

Battery life and benchmarks

Microsoft heeds its competitors' lessons with its Windows RT tablet

Battery life

If you need one good reason for Microsoft developing Windows 8 for ARM processors and possibly creating mass consumer confusion with Windows RT it's battery life - so the benefits need to be immediately apparent.
Fortunately, battery life was a huge success on Microsoft Surface, with fantastic longevity which puts it among some of the longest-lasting tablets money can buy.
We looped a 1080p WMV video in the built-in app that ships with Windows RT until the battery died, a test we run on every tablet that graces the TechRadar testing lab. Under these conditions Surface lasted an impressive 450 minutes, equaling a gob-smacking 7 ½ hours. This is nearly two hours longer than the iPad 3, which suffers from powering that glorious Retina display.
To put the benefits of Windows RT in perspective, the Sony VAIO Duo 11lasted just 2 ½ hours under the same conditions. This is thanks to its power-hungry Intel Core i5 processor, which is the same you'll find at the heart of full-sized Ultrabooks.
It's also impressive in everyday use, with a standard day of use barely making an impression on the meter, and Surface can easily last for three days on a single charge, with moderate use.


In terms of processor performance, the results backed up our initial observations regarding general performance.
Sunspider, which tests Java performance, logged a result of 1060 ms which is strong, but the more graphically-intensive PeaceKeeper returned a score of 337, which puts it way behind the iPhone 5 (907) and Samsung Galaxy SIII (680).
Interestingly, the Google Nexus 7 also stormed ahead with a score of 489 despite featuring the same Tegra 3 chip.
Sound quality isn't great from Surface's in-built speaker, and it's worth investing in a pair of headphones. It's not as loud as the iPad and the sound is tinnier, with the single speaker grill located on the top right, leading to a poor balance of sound.
SunSpider 1060.7 ms
PeaceKeeper 337

Hands on gallery

Microsoft heeds its competitors' lessons with its Windows RT tablet

Microsoft Surface review
Microsoft Surface review
Microsoft Surface review
Microsoft Surface review
Microsoft Surface review
Microsoft Surface review


Microsoft heeds its competitors' lessons with its Windows RT tablet

Tablet cameras are destined to make the user look like a special kind of moron, but in the interests of personal choice Surface is equipped with a 5MP rear camera capable and a VGA front-facing lens. Both can also capture video, both of which can capture 800p video in 16:10 and 720p in 16:9.
This is low spec for a modern tablet, and the result is slightly grainy pictures that are unsuited to proper photography.
We found that close-up shots couldn't focus, and in dim lighting conditions our shots became noisy. What's more, there's no flash should you be snapping in dark conditions.
Microsoft Surface review
However, when there's an abundance of natural light the quality of shots improves, as you can see from our fetching cat in the above photograph, which is available from all good Turkish bazaars.
Video was better and maintained a decent frame rate at 800p, but the bulk of the tablet, the grainy quality and the effort of firing up the app from the Start-screen tile, before switching into video mode is such that we can't see anyone bothering to capture those impromptu memories on their Surface.
We'd have liked to have seen a better front-facing camera which would be used for chatting via Skype or other messaging apps, but it does nearly as good a job as the rear camera, and the quality is good enough for chatting to friends and family on the web.
In terms of modes, there are few options to tweak your settings or macro modes, though there is a timer feature to snap group shots.
Microsoft Surface review
Front-facing camera
Microsoft Surface review
Front-facing video chat
Microsoft Surface review
Landscape in daylight
Microsoft Surface review
Rear camera
Microsoft Surface review
Rear camera
Microsoft Surface review
Rear camera
Microsoft Surface review
Rear camera

Microsoft Surface review

Microsoft Surface review


Microsoft's Surface is for people who really need Office in their life -- the combination of kickstand and Touch Cover works well, although Office hasn't been terribly well adapted for a touchscreen. If you don't need Office, you can get higher-performance, less expensive Android tablets.

It's been over two years since the iPad first arrived on the scene, during which time Apple has well and truly dominated the growing tablet market -- even launching a new, smaller slate, the iPad mini. Finally, its long-standing rival Microsoft is ready to try its hand with the Microsoft Surface, a 10.6-inch Windows 8 tablet.
The Surface is available now, starting at £399 for the 32GB model without the touch-sensitive keyboard cover. £479 bags you a 32GB Surface with the keyboard cover. The higher-capacity 64GB option will set you back a considerable £559, though that does get you the attachable cover too. The optional typing cover is an extra £109.

Should I buy the Microsoft Surface?

If all you want in your life is a 10-inch tablet for swiping around the Internet and poking at colourful apps, then no, you shouldn't buy the Surface. Instead, look towards the iPad or cheaper Android slates such as the Google Nexus 10.
It's not a bad product at all. The tablet itself is very sturdy, has a decent -- although slightly low-resolution -- screen and packs plenty of power for the essentials. Windows 8 is colourful, fun and fairly easy to get to grips with.
It's the tablet-centric RT version though, so you can only use software from the Marketplace app store, which is missing many big-name apps and is currently a low priority for most developers, although that's likely to change in time.
The main draw is Microsoft's Office suite, which is on board as standard. Word, PowerPoint and Excel are in there, making it more useful for work for many people than its iOS or Android rivals. Sadly, Word's interface is fiddly to use, so you'll have to rely on a detachable keyboard, which raises the price significantly.
If you can't wait to get to grips with Windows 8 for work use and you want to join the swiping, poking masses with a new tablet, the Surface is a fair, if expensive, option. The main advantage it offers over its 10-inch rivals is the Office software -- but as that's clunky at best, your money could be better spent elsewhere.
If you particularly want a tablet, the £319 16GB Nexus 10 is a genuine bargain. If Windows 8 is your sole desire, you can find traditional laptops for much less than the £479 you'll have to shell out for the Surface tablet and keyboard.

Design and build quality

Microsoft's gone for a chunky look with the Surface, ignoring the sleek, rounded design present on many slates. Hard angled corners, and a sloped, industrial feel to the sides define this device. It's worlds apart from Apple's iPad or the rounded corners of Samsung's Galaxy Note 10.1 or Google Nexus 10.
Microsoft Surface kickstand
The nifty kickstand is a technologically more advanced way of watching films on your tablet than propping it up on a cushion.
Around the back is a fold-out kickstand, so you can prop the Surface up for watching movies or for more comfortable typing using the magnetic keyboard cover. Flaps are usually embarrassing pieces of tat that snap off within weeks -- I've never found a flap that puts up with any kind of abuse.
Thankfully though, the Surface's flap has more strength, bending only a little when open and closing firmly with a satisfying snap. I put quite a bit of effort into trying to damage the flap -- even accidentally sitting on it when open -- and it put up with all attacks well. I'm sure if you put enough force into it you could take it clean off, but it will put up with most day-to-day abuse without question.
The Surface is a tad heavier than the iPad. While Apple's Wi-Fi-only tablet weighs 652g, Microsoft's tablet is a touch portlier at 676g, but it doesn't feel noticeably heavier. It's ever-so-slightly thinner though at 9.3mm, compared with the new iPad's 9.4mm.
Microsoft Surface width
At 9.3mm, it's almost exactly the same width as the big iPad.
Flappy stand aside, build quality seems extremely high. The chassis is made from a piece of some kind of metal alloy that offers no bending or creaking under my presses. It's strong enough in fact that former Microsoft executive Steven Sinofsky even attached some wheels and used it as a skateboard.
I wasn't brave enough to try that in my own testing, but it seems more than capable of putting up with a rough and tumble life on the road.

Microsoft Surface colours
At least the covers brighten up the utilitarian grey slate.
While the keyboard cover comes in a variety of colours, the Surface comes only in a grey-ish hue. It's not exactly the most fashionable of designs, but it's at least functional and will likely appeal to those of you with a preference for stark, industrial aesthetics.

Touch Cover and Type Cover

Microsoft's made two magnetic covers, which snap onto the sides of the Surface like Apple's Smart Cover. Unlike Apple's, these folding flaps flaunt functional keyboards. Like Apple's, you have to pay extra for them.
The £80 3mm Touch Cover has a touch-sensitive keyboard, which means you can rattle off missives without coming into contact with the screen. Deployed in conjunction with the Surface's kickstand, this makes for a comfortable typing position.
The flipside is that because the Touch Cover is basically flat, you won't get any tactile feedback as you type, meaning you hit the keys harder than necessary. It's much more akin to typing on a touchscreen than a regular keyboard, but the recessed dividers between the keys goes some way to improving the experience.
Microsoft Surface back
Typing on the Touch Cover takes some getting used to but works really well with Office.
I found I got used to the feeling fairly quickly and it's certainly an improvement on the on-screen keyboard -- not least because half the screen isn't taken up by letters. If I was planning on typing for hours on end, I'd certainly prefer to use the Type Cover.
The £109 Type Cover is a step up. At 5mm thick, it's a little thicker than the Touch, but has real depressible keys. They're very similar to using a standard laptop keyboard and make long periods of typing much more comfortable. If you can afford the £29 extra, it makes the Surface much easier to use as a work machine.
Both models click into place with a satisfying magnetic 'snap' and are held firmly in place. They also both feature small trackpads -- the Type Cover's is clickable -- which helps navigate the cursor to the places your finger just can't reach.
As our buddies at ZDNet have reported, some early Surface adopters have suggested that the Touch Cover is liable to split. While this is certainly something to be wary of, I didn't find this to be the case on any of my review samples. If you do find this on your model, contact Microsoft for a replacement.


Powered by a 1.3GHz Nvidia Tegra 3 chip, Surface has a few ports peppered around its edges, notably a USB 2.0 socket and a microSD card slot. This is a major advantage -- neither the Google Nexus 7 nor any iPad offer expandable storage.
It means you're able to expand the built-in storage by up to 128GB. That's going to come in very handy if you opt for the cheapest 32GB model, as almost half of that storage is taken up by the operating system itself. Sadly you aren't able to install apps to the card, but you can keep all your photos, videos and other media on it, keeping all the internal space free for your apps.
The resolution of the 10.6-inch screen is 1,366x768 pixels, which isn't Full HD, but its 16:9 aspect ratio makes it ideal for watching most movies. Its pixel density is 148 pixels per inch (ppi) -- significantly lower than the retina iPad's 264ppi or the Nexus 7's 215ppi. That means graphics don't look as sharp, although Microsoft has optimised the screen well, so text looks nearly as good.
I found it to be perfectly sharp enough for working on documents in Office, or indeed in Google Docs. Videos looked crisp, clear and bold, thanks to the display's good use of colour. It doesn't excel in any area, but it's a decent all-rounder -- good news, as it's likely to be handling a wide array of tasks.


The Surface is powered by Windows 8, specifically Windows RT, the tablet-centric version of Microsoft's new operating system. That means you'll see the colourful live tiles of Windows 8 with the more classic desktop lurking underneath. Unlike the full-fat version of Windows 8 though, you won't be able to install regular desktop software on it. Instead, you'll only be able to make use of apps you download from the store.
This colourful patchwork platform has been well received on smart phones, but there was a big question mark over how pleasant it'll prove when it comes to tablets. That question hasn't been answered entirely to our satisfaction. While it's a slick, clean experience when you're just flicking between apps, go behind the curtain and it alls gets a bit dusty.
Microsoft Surface back
The Metro interface is undeniably very attractive.
There are weird old legacy Windows bits and bobs, like a Programs file in Control Panel that necessarily must always be empty -- you can only install apps from Marketplace. Settings for most things are found in the 'charms' menu opened by swiping left from the right bezel, but some settings are only accessed from the Control Panel on the desktop -- including common ones, like how long your screen stays on.
There are thoughtless annoyances everywhere. If you try to edit a Google doc without the keyboard attached, for example, the software keyboard doesn't pop up automatically, so you have to go hunting for it in settings. Install an app and you can't open it from Marketplace -- head out to the Start screen and open it there. There's no battery indicator on the Start screen either -- there's a graphic on the lock screen if you have charms engaged, but to find a battery percentage you have to go to the crusty old desktop.
Surface also has far fewer apps than iOS or Android, although that's to be expected from a new operating system. If you've used another tablet and found you don't make much use of apps, preferring to surf the Web and watch movies, this won't be much bother. But if you want the latest games, it's a major disadvantage.
The more people that take on Windows 8, however, the bigger the audience will be for app developers, and it will therefore make much more commercial sense for them to bring their apps to the platform. Given that Windows 8 will be installed as standard on every desktop PC, laptop and indeed hybrid tablet sold from now on, it's likely that the marketplace will soon be flooded with new arrivals.
Windows 8 is certainly a lot of fun to play with, but it's a big departure from what you might have come to expect from Windows 7. If you're hoping for a classic Windows experience, prepare to be disappointed. It's well worth getting to grips with though and thankfully we have acomplete review to get you started as well as some handy tips. Check out our How-To section for more helpful tricks.

Office tools

Some good news if you're hoping to get busy with some proper work -- the Surface comes preloaded with the latest version of Microsoft Office. The suite includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, all of which are 'touch-optimised', apparently.
I say 'apparently' as they're not exactly simple to use by touch alone. It doesn't start well when the apps themselves don't open in the usual Metro-style homescreen. Instead, they boot up in the more traditional -- and less touch-friendly -- desktop mode.
Things don't get any easier on the fingers once you get inside Office. The familiar tabs for 'File', 'Home', 'Insert' and so on are there, and are just about big enough to poke with a steady finger, but tapping on any of options held within the menus is extremely difficult. Resizing your font in Word, for example, requires brain-surgeon levels of precision.
It's a lot easier to use with the trackpad on the detachable keyboard, but that's hardly the point is it? The mark of a good touch-optimised app for a tablet is that it should be simple to use with your fingers. Sadly, new Office just isn't.
In terms of functionality, it's the same setup you'd expect from regular Office. Word has the basic layout found on the previous version as does Excel and PowerPoint. The keyboard makes typing in documents a much more comfortable experience than typing on the touchscreen alone.
I'd argue that Office on Surface is better suited for viewing documents, and perhaps making only minor adjustments when on the way to a meeting. I wouldn't want to rely on it as my main work device -- not least because there's sometimes an annoying lag between hitting a key and seeing the letter appear on screen -- but it's fine for quick editing.


In my tests, the Surface was generally smooth, with little to no noticeable lag found when swiping around the live tiles of the homescreen. I didn't detect any delay when switching between running apps using the multi-tasking bar hidden with a swipe on the left-hand side of the screen either.
Opening apps wasn't quite as instant as I'd hope, with a several second-long delay even waiting for the photo gallery or email apps to boot up. If you're in a hurry, that could prove annoying.
Microsoft Surface
Apps sometimes took a tad too long to jump open.
My colleagues in the US reported various software bugs including severe lag resulting in a total reboot and the home button sometimes not registering presses. I didn't find these same complications on my model, so it's possible that they're not widespread issues, or simply teething problems that have been rectified in an update.
It's hard to compare performance precisely against the iPad and Android tablets, because so much of the software we would normally use as benchmarks is currently unavailable for Windows. My US-based buddies found that 3D games didn't hit the frame rates we usually see on Nvidia-powered Android tablets.
A better comparison is Web browsing. Bafflingly, the Surface has both Internet Explorer 9 (very similar to the Windows 7 version) on its desktop and Internet Explorer 10 on the touch interface. IE10 is well designed, and in my testing proved to be extremely swift. It achieved a much faster score on the SunSpider Java benchmark test than the iPad achieved (1,057ms to the iPad's 1,636ms) and casually trounced the Tegra 3-powered Nexus 7 (1,800ms).
While there's plenty of power for the essentials -- email, social networking and tackling the odd office job -- the Surface is definitely not built for tougher tasks. If you plan on editing your photos and videos using any of the new media apps -- or indeed if you hope to install Adobe Photoshop -- you should definitely wait for Surface Pro with its more powerful desktop components.


With a lower-resolution screen than its competitors, the sometimes clunky dual interface and only an acceptable level of performance, is the Microsoft Surface a total letdown? No. If you're inextricably bound to Office, this slim slate and its Touch Cover give you a way to conduct serious business on the move, even if it's sometimes fiddly.
It's well made, and the colourful interface is pretty and has a few useful tricks. It has expandable storage and more big-name apps like Skype are arriving on the app store by the day.
But that's not enough to recommend it just yet -- the iPad's software might be getting long in the tooth, but it's undeniably easy to use. Similarly, the Google Nexus 10 offers lightning-fast performance and a host of software extras for less money.