Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Microsoft Surface First Impressions

Vidit Bhargava

Filled with gloss, covers, lights and music, Microsoft Surface made an appearance in a pressure sensitive magnetic cover’s ad today. Or was it the other way round? Well at least that’s what I felt when i first saw the Microsoft Surface Teaser Video. It’s evident that they are stressing on a part of the tablet which is neither unique nor uniquely designed. And since one generally tries to highlight the best of a device in his video, we may safely presume that this is the best they can offer us.

So, lets start with this new pressure sensitive keyboard attached to a smart cover like polyurethane (or a similar substance) ‘cover’. At first glance this pressure sensitive keyboard cum smart cover looks amazing. Some way even think that it’ll be their best typing experience on any device. But the final product may just act opposite to what you think its going to be. Microsoft’s protective cover is a razor thin keyboard. It’s razor thin and its flat. Which means, that it is more than likely that you’ll get a sprain in your hands than type comfortably for hours. This thing is quite ergonomically unfit. Moreover, you are going to need to touch the screen for any assistance while typing. And using multitouch on any screen which is perpendicular to your hands is a cumbersome experience. That’s the  ergonomic issue number 2. The third and the final issue which comes when you try to use this cover is the option to use it as a laptop and start using a track pad. Windows 8 is a dual minded software. It wants to be in your tablet as well as at your desk. History tells us, that its a bad idea. Microsoft itself has created and failed at this task. They’re trying again. My experiences with Windows 8 so far, tell me that its going to be a uphill task to actually stay at one UI and work efficiently. You can’t use the old UI efficiently with a Tablet and there aren’t many apps for Metro UI on the Windows Marketplace / Store.

In terms of hardware, Surface provides just about what all other tablets do. Its got a Tegra 3 Processor and 32GB and 64GB of Storage options + an SD Card Slot. There is also a USB Port which is a slight stroke of brilliance, since it may allow you to use your controllers and keyboard and mouse and everything and convert it into a notebook, if you get too annoyed with the touch experience or want a slightly better gaming experience. But then its just one USB Port and games that run on traditional PCs might not run on Windows 8 RT tablets. Also unlike as advertised, charging your phone on a tablet might not be the best idea if its own battery life is short (Microsoft is still to give a word on battery life). While the Magnesium casing is new and on first impressions looks sturdy, The back of the tablet is particularly uninteresting and slightly clumsy on design. There is a “Stand” that you can kick to put it at a good angle for watching movies, which is a good tool (only if its strong enough to not keep flapping every-time we hold our tablet), but it seriously harms the over all feel of the device since now you are left with a very bad looking back, with screws and stands all over. The tablet is just as thin as the new iPad (9.3 mm) and it weighs about 603 grams. A lot depends on how this hardware will eventually perform.

Surface runs on Windows 8. Windows 8 RT to be precise. While its a nice experience with the metro UI placed on the screen, its not going to be as good when you try to run some of the old UI software. Its going to be a little annoying. Having said that, there are a lot of pre-installed apps on the Metro UI too, and they look beautiful. Since I haven’t used the tablet my self I might not be able to tell you exactly how good or bad it is. (My experience with Windows 8 on a laptop was quite miserable)

The Microsoft Store however, is  yet to take any flight and with Microsoft’s ultra-strict app approval policies, tedious development standards and slightly inferior SDK and APIs its going to be tough to lure new developers to create apps solely for Windows 8. As of now iOS remains their preferred choice.

Well that’s pretty much it about the Microsoft Surface. We don’t have any pricing details or launch dates or even battery life quotes. All we have is a promo promoting the Touch Type Cover.

Microsoft Surface will have quite a task at eliminating internal competition with other tablet developers who are creating Windows 8 Tablets. Of what we have seen today at the unveiling the Microsoft Surface is not even close to be in competition with the iPad. The iPad sits firmly at the top with a well grounded operating system which is in its sixth edition and a huge developer database, Something which all other tablet Operating Systems lack.  Also Its got a massive head-start and Apple has so-far only improved the Tablet experience per upgrade. Which has left no-room for the aping competitors to step in. Surface is hardly a killer to the iPad.

Having said all that, we are still to get our hands on a Microsoft Surface Device, and it isn’t coming before Fall (That’s when Windows 8 is likely to be unveiled for Consumers), till then its hard to say if its going to be a success or not. I have given my impressions on the Tablet, the numbers will do the talking now.

And Did I forget to mention that there is going to be a second variant of this tablet, too. Its going to be called Surface Pro. They are adding an Ivy Bridge Quad Core i5 Processor into it, A USB 3.0 Port and a Mini-Display Port into it. There is also going to be a stylus for that tablet. And its going to be heavier and thicker. And it’ll have Windows 8 Pro (These names still remind of the prank Jobs played at them, at the launch of OS X Leopard)

P.S. I may have been  a little harsh at Microsoft Sometimes but seriously the first impressions were taken without being affected by previous experience with the Software Firm.

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