Microsoft Surface tablet: First Take

Microsoft Surface tablet: First Take

Summary: Microsoft's first tablet needs to do several things. It needs to push the state of the art, to encourage OEMs to develop better hardware, and it needs to showcase Windows 8.


Microsoft's first tablet needs to do several things. It needs to push the state of the art, to encourage OEMs to develop better hardware, and it needs to showcase Windows 8. It needs to show what can be done with ARM and with Intel processors, in the home and in the office. It also needs to be a PC, not just another tablet device. That's a tough challenge, and one that's going to be hard for a software company.

We managed a short hands-on with the ARM-based Surface at the launch event in Los Angeles, as well as getting a look at some of the components Microsoft has built into its first devices. First impressions are good. The tablet is light, with a good clear 16:9 10.6in. screen. While Microsoft hasn't revealed full specifications of the ClearType-branded screen, at a HD resolution it's likely to be a 1,366-by-768-pixel 720P display (the Surface Pro will have a full HD display, which we expect to be 1080P). There's a USB port for devices, and an HDMI connection for larger screens and projectors. Microsoft wasn't ready to let us spend much time with the Surface, but we were able to get some quick first impressions.

A Surface at work

Perhaps the first impression is just how light it is, and how comfortable it feels. The chamfered sides fit neatly into the hand. The VaporMG magnesium alloy case is rigid, with very little torsion, and the Gorilla Glass 2.0 display lets the fingers glide over the touchscreen. This was our first hands-on with Windows RT, the ARM version of Windows 8, and although we only used a couple of Metro style applications, they were responsive and performed much like their x86 equivalents — something that bodes well for the release of Windows RT later in the year. The touchscreen worked smoothly, as did the capacitive Windows key in the bezel.

The magnesium frame of the Surface

The 10.6in. HD display means that the Surface is a device that's going to work best in landscape mode. Metro-style applications don't work well in portrait mode. Landscape also makes sense for watching movies, and there's a flip-out stand that'll let you watch content without having to hold the tablet all the time. The stand is surprisingly rigid for something so thin, and the 'thunk' as it snaps back into place is reassuringly solid. Microsoft told us that it was meant to resemble the sound of an expensive car door closing…

Keyboard and Surface together

The most innovative feature of the Surface are the two keyboard covers. Both work with either the ARM or x86 versions of the hardware, and have magnetic connectors that both secure the covers and make them easy to fit. If you're using the coloured TouchCover the Metro theme will change colour to match. The TouchCover builds on Microsoft's work on capacitive sensor keyboards, and is pressure sensitive — so won't respond to random touches or a hand resting on the keys. There's also an integral trackpad, although Microsoft wouldn't tell us if it would support Windows 8's trackpad gestures. We weren't able to try out typing with the TouchCover, but we did get a chance to try out the more traditional TypeCover, with switch-based keys. Microsoft has given both keyboards a soft fleece-style feel that makes it easier to grip the tablet and less likely to slip on a desk.

The Surface keyboards

Microsoft is proud of its VaporMG production process for the case, which uses injection moulding techniques to deliver surprisingly high tolerances. We got to inspect some sample case components, and saw a vapor-deposition-treated rear panel. The components are light and extremely rigid — so light that we suspect that the screen and the battery count for much of the Surface's weight.

Surfaces of all different colours — thanks to their keyboards

This, then, is Microsoft's shot across the bows of the PC hardware industry. Surface is giving it fair warning: if PC OEMs don't deliver high-quality hardware that takes full advantage of Windows 8's capabilities, then Microsoft will do it for them. With distribution limited to Microsoft's online and physical stores, this isn't going to be a billion-dollar business — yet. However, Surface sets a high bar for the PC industry, and it's up to the OEMs to jump. Until then, if you're looking for a Windows 8 PC, then Surface is going to be very high on your shopping list — even if it means hopping on a plane to the US.

Simon Bisson

Topics: Reviews, Microsoft, Tablets

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  • Keyboard is a must. Smart phones and tablets took them away from us. This is a big step and hopefully a successful one. Wonder if it will have the same feel as the old Sinclair Spectrum keyboard.

    Not sure it's a good idea to go with Windows 8 given their past track record of operating system faux pas'.

    Why only distribute online? If this is a decent bit of kit and it's well priced it could be a great market seller. Maybe they don't have faith in their own product.
  • Why remove my comment immediately. It wasn't even reviewed????
  • The keyboard's most used buttons will of course be "CNTRL" , "ALT" and "DEL" Bravo Microsoft!
    Whether the Surface Tablet remains buoyant is yet to be seen given the history of Zune et al
  • @karmafunk I don't believe your comment was removed: It appears here in the timeline (unless you posted a third comment?). There is sometimes a lag before a comment appears, and this may be what happened.

    I hope that helps.

    Karen Friar
  • From the released info so far I think this will be an excellent device and I'm really interested to see the entry price. And in response to Hope Dave you don't need to use Ctrl-Alt-Del to lock your machine anymore, Windows Key-L does the same function =P

    I think if the Intel version is competitive enough this could make a significant entry into enterprise. The ARM version not so much due to lack of Active Directory support.

    All in all, very excited to see the progress on Microsoft's new venture.
  • Ctrl-Alt-Del for Task Manager to kill off the unresponsive bloat ware :-)
  • Oops! The excruciating moment Microsoft's Surface tablet crashes on stage.


    I rest my case.
  • Ctrl-Alt-Del? Bloatware? When did you last use Windows?? I can’t remember the last time my Windows PC or applications locked up (especially not since pre-emptive multitasking lol). When they do it’s usually a hardware fault or some crappy software the user has installed. Bloatware is usually installed by unsuspecting users and OEMs, not Microsoft. Microsoft have gone a long way to make Windows 8 cleaner, faster and more compact than ever before. In fact its footprint is not much more than Windows XP which is ancient.
  • Windows 8 is a real change, it will take some getting used to because it is new. However, I remember all the same comments and concerns when Windows 95 introduced the Start menu and Plug and Play. It was so scary!!

    The Surface PC and Windows 8 are going to be awesome. I can see the day where a Surface PC can be my primary device (docked to a full display, keyboard etc.) with the desktop on the big screen, and Metro on the smaller screen all running off the same device. Then when I’m off out I can just unplug it and go about my business. Meanwhile when I don’t have my tablet, I’ll have my Windows Phone with access to all the same stuff automatically via Skydrive. AWESOME!!
  • @smunden26

    I think it's probably just a failure to update his trolling scripts since 1999. People who don't keep up with reality often don't know how out of date they are ;-)
    Jack Schofield
  • @Simon,

    Is it true that all of these so-called "hands on" reviews were conducted with non-working demo models that were never actually switched on the whole time you were testing them?
  • No. They were on, as you can see from my photographs :-)
  • @Simon,

    Then you typed stuff and saw it appear on screen?