Microsoft Surface launch hands-on review - I liked it!

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I had the opportunity to spend hands-on time with the Microsoft Surface tablet and the Microsoft launch team when they opened the St Louis pop-up store a few days ago. They took the time to allow me to explore the device and answer any questions as we went along. In summary I was pleasantly surprised by how much I Liked the Microsoft Surface. From the capabilities, ease of use, multitasking and expansion it all made sense right away.

The store itself was a kiosk style in the middle of a major St Louis mall, the Galleria.  I was originally thinking Microsoft would take over one of the few vacant stores until I realized there were none in the middle of the mall where the kiosk was strategically placed. This gives them a square with about 12 devices placed around and plenty of staff to help out.

So let's look at my experience with the device and we can talk specs as we go.

-The Desktop-

While the iPad kicks the Microsoft Surface ass in resolution, the ability to work more with the desktop on the Surface was a win. The bezel and screen were all touch enabled allowing you to gesture and swipe for different interactions.

  • Swiping down closed an application
  • Swiping in from the right opened the menu
  • Swiping down and left docked the open application
  • Swiping from the left opened a running application
  • Swiping from the left and quickly right opened the entire list of running applications

The new tiled interface seems daunting to some but after playing with the capabilities and customization the tiles offer I love it.  The ability to totally control the groupings, sizing and if the tiles are live allows any user to make it their own.  As shown in the video above, I was quickly shown how to resize and group tiles. I was able to use the tile as a living widget, grabbing data like email, as it came in. Make the tile static or even shrink it down to group them tighter.  Imagine this for media that is playing or things like Twitter, stock or Facebook activity.

Docking one app while you work in another totally beat the way iPad and even the Playbook work as tablets. We tested with an open web browser once and an open Skype call once to show the ability.  You could then swipe from the left and throw other open apps into the larger area to work at the same time. They also mentioned they launched their application store with over 150,000 apps.

Hidden below the Windows 8 tiled desktop is the old interface, for those that must work with files and like the old windows look. Even with Windows RT running things, which isn't the point of this review, it is all there.

Another piece I almost forgot to mention was the incredibly simple sharing with the XBox. If you have media on the Surface, a cick sends and shares this to stream on the XBox. reverse this with the Smartglass software technology that allows the Surface to be used as an enghanced second display for games and TV shows. Imagine seeing social community and character information about shows on the Surface as you watch streaming content or play games on the XBox. Using the Microsoft Surface as a remote control is a given.

-Hardware, Look & Feel-

The weight is almost equal between the Microsoft Surface and the iPad I kept next to it. You won't feel a difference. I did mention the resolution difference above and it is clearly seen with the 1366 x 768 versus the iPad 2048 x 1536. If you get past that things start to compete.

The Microsoft Surface has an abundance of ports and expansion ability.  With a HDMI, full USB 2.0, and micro SDXC slot for added storage the iPad cannot touch it. Being able to add portable storage through the SD card or even an external drive via USB is needed in today's market and the iPad didn't even get it with the new iPad 4 release.

The cameras on the Microsoft Surface are both 720p which makes for excellent Skype calls.  The iPad does 1080p on the rear one but has a very weak VGA front facing camera making the Surface better.

The battery is up in the air.  Microsoft would only say "it lasts a day" when asked about battery life.  They cited too many things make a difference like video, brightness, online time and more.  I don't buy into it but the battery is a bit smaller with 31.5 Wh versus the iPad 42.5 Wh. We also have the iPad retina display that eats into that battery life so only some heavy testing will see a good battery life comparison.

Now this was an interesting fact provided by the onsite team I have not seen on most reviews.  The Microsoft Surface has two wifi cards inside that bond together.  Both it and the iPad cover b/g/n but I could see way more networks with the Microsoft Surface when testing side by side. I am sure that will eat more battery but it will also give more range for picking up wifi.  Keep in mind the Microsoft Surface is only available in wifi right now with no 3G or 4G ability. Microsoft has said, according to PC World, that 80% of iPads never leave the home or office networks.  I find that hard to chew on but I see a Surface with 4G in the future. Plus with sharing phone data as hotspot or mifi's it is fine.

There is a built in kickstand that only sits at 22 degrees in landscape mode.  While it is cool to have a built in kickstand, that also hides the SDXC card slot behind it, I would want the ability to angle it and also do something in portrait mode. I constantly arrange the angle on my iPad case to best suit lighting, how I am sitting and how far back the person in front of me on the plane reclines. Having a fixed angle wasn't a how stopper as I think new cases that come out will take care of that.

Now let's talk about the Microsoft Surface provided covers/keyboards.  They attach so simple that you would imagine they pop right off.  That was far from the truth.  While magnetic, the covers latched right on and held the weight of the device when holding it upside by the cover.  The thinner and lighter Touch cover worked well but if you love a bit of real key feedback when typing the Type cover is the one for you. However, I did not like the cost of either one.  I think they should both be under $100. I was taken back a bit when they described the bundles showing keyboard costs up to $129.  the keyboards both come with an integrated mouse trackpad which was cool.

One last thing I did like was the ability for the cover/keyboard to understand what position it was in. When it is closed against the device there is a sleep mode. When opened it becomes active and an input for both keyboard and mouse trackpad.  But when folded back behind the Surface it acts like a folded cover and goes passive.  The keyboard and trackpad become inactive so there is no accidental bumping or typing.


I liked this enough to say it out loud.  I cannot say I love this device until I get more time with it in my hands but it is a strong contender from everything the 30 minutes gave me. The keyboards/covers worked well but need to be cheaper. The interface was simple to learn and easy to use.  Multi tasking ability kills the iPad with docked running applications and flicking others into play. The live bezel, much like the BlackBerry Playbook, makes interacting more flexible.

If Microsoft sees this, feel free to send a demo model over for more time to fully test it. But at this point I am sold on saying pick one up.

Also,  make sure you keep up with all the product reviews from Spiked Studio on YouTube.