Microsoft’s Surface reviews start to go out, we round them up

With launch day and general availability of Surface devices set to begin in a few short days the reviews have started to appear. After months of speculation and mountains of questions about price and specs, we’re finally at the end of this saga. Microsoft have dished out Surface devices to the great and the good for some pre-release exclusives.

Surface represents a few key things for Microsoft, firstly it will be the public face of Windows 8, and secondly it is designed to showcase ARM devices and the new WinRT touch interface. From the moment it was announced this was going to be such a critical element for the entire launch of Windows 8. How well it’s received depends on not only the hardware but also the software. Check out our roundup after the break..

Essentially the reviews are broken down in to two distinct parts, the hardware and the software with the wrap up on how well they form a whole, lets see how it breaks down.

The Hardware

The good news here is that the hardware and build quality get some good feedback, here are a few choice quotes from some critics.

“In terms of build quality, it really is top notch, its really one of the most precious things I have held in recent weeks or months” – Dana Wollman – Engadget

“The Surface feels really well made when you’re holding it and I would say the construction is on par with the iPad” Joshua Topolsky – The Verge

Overall, almost everyone seems to agree on one thing, the hardware is top notch with a few reservations here and there about the size or how the kickstand works. These generally seem like minor quibbles and as with all devices much is down to personal taste. Most seem to agree that to use the device with the kick stand and the keyboard it can’t be on your lap, which might disappoint some that were hoping to get more road warrior with this tiny Windows Machine. The Verge found the actual form factor to be a little ungainly in both landscape and not desirable at all in portrait orientations.

The keyboard options too were also generally well received, some being surprised at how well they actually worked. We also see some nice videos of swinging the laptop about on its magnets by holding it by the keyboard. That’s looking pretty solid and will please many.

Battery times on the device are looking very healthy indeed for the Surface, even though they don’t seem to best the iPad we’re seeing 10 hours video playback and 9 hours of internet browsing. Not bad for a device that does a heck of a lot more than other tablets. In one test conducted by Anandtech, the Surface beats out the iPad 3rd gen by a fair margin. Essential stuff for a device that will be doing lots of content consumption.

The Operating System

Windows 8 was always going to be a tricky transition, it's brave and daring. We now have the new WinRT environment with its secure apps and store experience and on the other side we have the traditional desktop which we all know and love (no not as the case may be). Windows RT has these two environments but differs from Intel based designs by lacking the ability to use anything other than the pre-installed Office 2013 applications. There is simply no way to install the vast back catalogue of Windows applications onto the desktop. Lets dive in and see what they thought..

On the new touch screen, WinRT interface:

“The actual interface — the tiled environment — is a joy to use. It's really, really cool. I found myself legitimately delighted by some of its functionality, particularly its multitasking and side-by-side apps concept.” - Joshua Topolsky – The Verge

“Switching between applications is faster on Surface/Windows RT than any competing mobile platform. There’s no double tapping of anything, no pressing and holding, just an edge gesture swipe like you’re flipping through pages of a virtual book.” - Anand Lal Shimpi – Anandtech

To be honest, it’s a mixed bag but on the whole the new touch screen UI is winning out here. Folks are liking the docked apps and being able to quickly swipe between apps. There seems to be genuine pleasure in using this new UI and that is very positive indeed. WinRT is very much a work in progress and we’re going to see many changes are this new concept is fleshed out. In short, looks like Microsoft have given little to the critics to grumble about.

Windows RT comes with Office installed through the old desktop environment, this of course is not meant to be used primarily with touch. As such its going to get used with the kick stand and keyboard, there is some positive traction around this. Office comes pre-loaded, what’s not to like? Some also liked the familiar desktop environment for file management, which really might ease the transition for many users.

The Apps

This part of the reviews section is going to read in a very familiar way to many of us Windows Phone users. Unless Microsoft has lots of announcement at launch time, there will be a lack of first party WinRT apps for Surface available in the Store. The list is quite long right now, there isn’t a Facebook app or even a Twitter app. All of the reviewers are highlighting this and it’s of little surprise, we have been wondering about app support for some time. Let’s hope MS can tidy this up sooner rather than later.

Wrap Up

On the whole reading the reviews it looks to be positive, new UI is getting some kudos and people are liking the hardware and baked in Office. They even seem to like having the good old desktop there for file management when it’s needed. Windows RT Surface is a machine with compromises, how well that works out for people will vary. The Surface Pro machines without the compromises will be available a little later and many will likely need this type of machine more.

We’ll no doubt be sharing our views on the new device and OS soon enough so keep an eye out.

Robert Brand