Microsoft Surface with Windows RT tablet review
What is it?
Microsoft’s first venture into computer hardware to go with its software, and this one runs the new Windows RT operating system.
Snazzy Modern UI tiles, slick, responsive touchscreen and full Windows environment. It has a cool built-in kickstand, too.
Limitation to apps from the Windows Marketplace and occasionally confusing overlap between old and new.
The bottom line
This is a handsome, powerful piece of kit that grows on you. Add a keyboard and it’s a highly competent, light and portable alternative to a regular laptop.
At last, the much-anticipated Surface is here. It’s the first time Microsoft has built its own hardware, apart from numerous mice, keyboards and accessories. It’s quite a debut.
Solid, well-built and attractive in its black glass and metal finishes, the Surface has a screen bigger than most other tablets at 10.6 inches. It’s an HD display, at least its 1366 x 768 resolution will be familiar to anyone who had an HD-ready, rather than a Full HD TV. That means it has 148 pixels per inch, proportionally lower than the new iPad mini, and a bit more than the iPad 2. That may not sound that impressive, but when it comes to playing back video, say, it’s more than reasonable. And the built-in kickstand means it’s easy to prop the screen up perfectly to watch this.
Microsoft Surface: User Interface
Anyway, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Turn on the Surface and log in to be greeted by the Modern UI. This is what you see on Windows 8 computers and is similar to the ribbon of tiles on Windows Phone devices. It’s bright, attractive and enticing.
In some ways it’s not as intuitive as, say, Apple’s iOS. You need to be told, for instance, that swiping the screen from the right bezel launches the Charms menu – the charms are five essential shortcuts to take you to Search, Share, Start, Devices, and Settings. Once you know it, it’s a cool and enjoyable way to navigate the screen, but you probably wouldn’t guess it without some help.
The Start charm takes you to the tiles screen, though the Windows logo on the front of the Surface will do that, too. It’s not a clickable button, but a capacitive one and works well to wake the screen.
The tiles can be coloured any which way you like, and they can be dragged round the screen so News is before Weather or whatever. Just don’t lose the Desktop tile as that’s the easiest way to get to the traditional Windows computer environment. This is what you’ll need if you want to write documents using Office, for instance. Unlike the iPad with its cut down version of Pages, this is a full office suite, though cleverly optimised for touch interface.
Microsoft Surface: Windows Marketplace
Apart from the programs like Office 13 that come installed already, the only way to put apps on the Surface is by downloading them from the Microsoft app store, called Windows Marketplace. So don’t go trying to install Windows 7 compatible programs. This Marketplace is still under populated, though it is growing fast.
See also: Top 10 Windows 8 all-in-one PCs
The Modern UI tiles work splendidly and for many users, especially those familiar with tablets as media consumption devices, will work so well they may rarely need to nip across to the more traditional environment. The more apps there are, the more satisfying the live tiles will be, updating independently to give you the latest headlines, sports results, Facebook updates and so on.
Microsoft Surface: Accessories
There are optional accessories for the Surface, though one of them – the keyboard – is pretty essential. You can choose between a Touch Cover and a Type Cover. Both attach magnetically to the screen, protecting it when closed. The Type Cover has physical keys with decent travel and this is definitely the better option. The Touch Cover, though colourful, is less enjoyable to use at length.
There are the same neat features you find on other touch-enabled Windows 8 machines, like swiping from the left bezel to bring up previous apps or the facility to split the screen to have two apps side-by-side.
The Surface is new: Microsoft’s first hardware and the first outing for Windows RT. As such it takes some getting used to. The tablet effect with Modern UI tiles are striking and enjoyable, the full-blown computer element of Office 13 is useful and recognisable. The two halves don’t always fit together seamlessly but this is a well-built, slick machine with an operating system that’s largely successful and will grow as it becomes more familiar.
Video: 720p @ 30fps
Display: TFT capacitive LCD touchscreen, 1366 x 768 pixels, 10.6-inches
Dimensions: 274.6 x 172 x 9.4 mm
Internal Memory: 32GB storage, 2GB RAM
Card Slot: microSD up to 64GB
Audio playback: 3.5mm ear jack & speaker
Processor: 1.3GHz quad-core processor
Operating System: Windows RT
Battery Life: 360h standby time
Keyboard: virtual or add-on accessory