The Microsoft Surface: Possible Game-Changer?

by Joe on January 22, 2013 in General, Surface

In the fast-growing tablet PC market, the latest to generate consumer interest is the Microsoft Surface. The tablet, made by Microsoft to accompany the Windows 8 operating system, has yet to hit the markets, but the industry buzz is already talking about the possible impact of the product. Announced by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in Los Angeles on June 18, 2012, the Surface will be available in the market soon in two different versions: Surface with Windows RT and Surface Pro with Windows 8 Pro.

One of the key selling points of the Surface is definitely going to be its versatility: it has been specially designed by Microsoft as a cross-over product that will suit the needs of existing tablet users as well as those of traditional laptop users. This has been made possible by the ultra thin keyboards – the Touch Cover and Type Cover – that can be attached to the tablet with magnetic latches. The former, as the name indicates, is touch-sensitive and is 3 mm thick, while the latter is thicker and is tactile. Both keyboards, when folded, act as protective covers for the tablet and also include multi-touch touchpad. The two keyboards also feature gyroscope and accelerometer sensors that will help to limit accidental input of data (such as when resting fingers on the keyboard or inadvertently pressing against it).

Other notable features of the Microsoft Surface include an in-built and durable VaporMg casing, which features a kick-stand for a better viewing experience. The tablet comes with 10.6 inch HD display (for Surface) and Full HD display (for Surface Pro) which support an ultra-wide viewing angle and auto-adjusting screen intensity. There are also two cameras – front and rear, a USB 2.0 port (USB 3.0 for the Surface Pro), Micro HDMI (a mini DisplayPort on the Surface Pro), a magnetic charging connector, a microSD card slot, dual microphones and two speakers. The battery life – 31.5 watt hour for the Surface and 42 watt hour for the Surface Pro – seem reasonable, as do the storage options – 32 GB and 64 GB for the Surface and 64 GB and 128 GB for the Surface Pro. As for the processors, the Surface comes equipped with the NvidiaTegra CPU, while the Surface Pro runs on the “Ivy Bridge” Core i5 dual core chip. Additionally, the Surface Pro has perimeter venting which allows for free flow of air, even while it is being held, and prevents heating up of the device. The Surface Pro will also support digital inking using a stylus, a definite piece of good news for designers, illustrators and graphic artists.

Although the Surface comes crammed with features, it is a surprisingly easy to use device. This is because it has got its main agenda right: the Surface is primarily a Windows tablet designed to run Windows. The Metro Start Screen and the Metro apps, also found on the well-received Nokia Lumia series, function smoothly on the device. The orientation of the device, while it does function perfectly well, is not too sensitive. That makes it easier to shift position while reading on the Surface without having to worry about a Portrait to Landscape switch or vice versa.

Despite its appearance, the Surface’s magnesium alloy chassis ensures that it is a sturdy little device. It is, however, marginally heftier than the consumer favourite, the iPad. Compared to the iPad’s 652 grams, the Surface weighs in at 676 grams and the Surface Pro is heavier still, weighing in at 903 grams.

But does this rule out the Surface – in both avatars – as an effective tablet? It might not be as easy for it to woo users of existing tablets. Those who have already been seduced by the iPad, as well as Samsung’s Android Galaxy Tab and HP’s Touchpad, will not be swayed by yet another tablet PC. But where the Surface can score over its rivals is the ease and convenience that it’s Touch Cover and Type Cover offer consumers. Not only can the Surface be used for reading, social networking, video streaming and browsing, it can also be used for more complex tasks like creating spreadsheets and presentations or even composing emails and chatting. This is a definite advantage for the Surface. On the other hand, one big disadvantage for the Surface is the limited number of apps: here iPad is clearly the leader of the market, with well over half a million apps available.

To really get ahead in the tablet game, the Surface needs smart pricing and a definite increase in the number of apps that can be used on it. Although many of the specifications of the device were made public knowledge at the LA launch of the Surface, the important question of pricing was left out, although the company has assured that it will be ‘competitively’ priced. Avid gamers will also need assurance that there is some scope for Xbox integration in the device.

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