Although scheduled for its official release on Friday, the first pre-order customers – and journalists – have been receiving their new Microsoft Surface tablet computers, and the reviews have been mixed.
While the hardware has been widely praised for being well thought-out, the software, including both Windows 8 RT (Windows running on ARM-based microprocessors for the first time) and the apps in the Windows app store, has had a more critical reception.
Mathew Honan, writing for Wired magazine, tried testing it to destruction. How usable is the keyboard, he asked. Does it click on and off as easily as the adverts indicate? How strong is the kickstand?
The answer to all these questions is generally positive. While the Touch Cover keyboard takes some getting used to, there is certainly no lack of responsiveness in use – but the reviewer noted a lot of wrist and hand pain in the first three days as he sought to get used to the new keyboard. A Type Cover, which features actual keys, is a lot easier to get used to and is only a few pounds more expensive. It doesn't, however, make for a very good cover.
The hardware rundown, in many respects, is ordinary for the price. While the 1.3 gigahertz Nvidia Tegra 3 T30 is fast enough, it will no doubt be left standing by Apple's new A6x-based fourth-generation iPad. While Apple acquired PA Semiconductor in 2008 to soup-up its ARM-based designs, Microsoft has to go off-the-shelf for its microprocessors, but the Nvidia chip is a popular choice.
The Surface also features just 2GB of non-upgradeable RAM memory and either a 32GB or 64GB sold-state device (SSD) for storage – of which just 20GB or 52GB are usable. While it has front and rear high-definition cameras, they "are junk", according to Honan. They may be HD, but they are extremely slow.
There are a number of other disappointments, too, according to The New York Times' David Pogue.
"The battery life is advertised as eight to 10 hours, less than the iPad. There's no cellular version; it's Wi-Fi only. The screen is very sharp (1,366 by 768 pixels), but it doesn't approach the iPad's Retina screen clarity (2,048 by 1,536 pixels)."
Back to front
Visually, the front of the Surface is edge-to-edge Gorilla Glass, while the rest of the device is injection-moulded magnesium alloy. The result is a "stiff and robust (and enjoyably flammable)" tablet computer that is also relatively lightweight, reports Peter Bright in Arstechnica.
Like all tablet computers, the Surface has a paucity of expansion ports. It offers just a mini-HDMI, a full-size USB 2.0 port, a headphone jack (which you'll want to use because the speaker is somewhat quiet), a microSDXC slot (behind the kickstand), and a peculiar-looking magnetic power connector.
"I've taken an instant dislike to the power connector. The magnets are so strong that the Surface aggressively grabs the connector, snatching it away from my grasp. It doesn't, however, seat the connector properly within its receptacle, so the system can't actually charge. I have to jiggle the thing and reseat it every time," wrote Bright. Nor can it be charged via a USB connected to a PC either.