Computing discusses the leading tablet contenders, including the iPad and iPad Mini, Nexus 7, Surface and Kindle Fire
Apple's family also has the advantage of lacking the hardware fragmentation of Google's rival Android system. Android is, by most counts, the most widely adopted mobile platform, but with devices from the likes of Samsung, HTC and Asus all with their individual quirks, it can be a network adminstrator's nightmare.
Microsoft's Surface is a magnesium alloy beast that is neither light, nor cheap, but it is well specified. It retails at £399 for the 32GB memory model – or just 16GB after Windows RT has had its chunk of memory.
You need to fork out an extra 100 quid if you want Microsoft's Touch cover-keyboard hybrid, that attaches to the tablet using magnets, or £110 if you want the Type one, that feels less like fingering a wet beer mat.
Technically, the Surface is impressive, with a 1.3GHz quad-core microprocessor and more memory (2GB) than most tablets it is fast and responsive, and the screen looks sharp and attractive. The keyboard cover clips reassuringly to the tablet with magnets and a handy "kick stand" props the tablet up for laptop-style use. The magnesium alloy case is supremely robust, but the whole ensemble is somewhat chunky – and heavy.
We showed our review hardware to a number of business users to see what they thought. Initial opinions were positive: the Modern UI interface looked good, the keyboard was a welcome addition and it was easy to navigate and launch apps. The Office applications suite, meanwhile, made the whole package seem better value.
But after an hour or more, opinions changed. Unlike iOS and Android, the interface seemed illogical and unintuitive. Swipe the right-hand of the screen to reveal the "charms" interface – why? Swipe down from the top of the screen and a bar appears at the bottom – again, why? Once you started to use it, navigation proved illogical, at best, and infuriating at worst.
The touchscreen nature of the device, overall, seemed only skin-deep, hiding what is basically a Windows 7 machine uneasily beneath, which often worked in the opposite manner to the Modern UI start screen.
User interface guru Jakob Nielsen has criticised the Windows 8 interface for providing two disparate working environments, hiding features and inadequately signposting options. We have to agree. We also found multiple bugs in the operating system – affecting Wi-Fi and the loading of apps – and the Windows 8 RT store, meanwhile, is so bare there are virtual tumbleweeds casually breezing through it. Many of the apps that there are, meanwhile, seem hastily thrown together and simplistic.
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