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Microsoft Surface Fails to Impress

/ Oct 30th, 2012 25 Comments

Microsoft Surface

The Microsoft Surface is the latest gadget touted by Microsoft as they enter a marketplace that’s already saturated and dominated by the competition. Instead of a shoddy MP3 player (see ZUNE), it’s the Microsoft Surface tablet being sold at a price point that is only rivaled by the best-in-class iPad (4th generation), coming with an unproven operating system plus a completely unknown marketplace for apps. The Microsoft Surface fails to impress on many levels, from the interface, to the available apps, to the size and much, much more. The Windows RT edition of the device just doesn’t measure up at all, and the Windows 8 Pro edition has yet to have a price or availability announcement to date.

[adsense250itp]Taking a look at the specs behind the Microsoft Surface, we see an underwhelming list of features for the Windows RT edition (the one you can buy now) that is worthy of hardware that came out years ago. It ships with Windows RT which has impressed on the mobile phone platform. However, its massive size at 10.81″ long makes it the the biggest of the mainstream full-sized tablet devices – a piece of hardware that’s supposed to tout mobility. The weight is 1.5 lbs, which is close to but certainly over what the iPad has at 1.44 lbs. The screen is touted to be a “ClearType HD Display” which runs at 1366×768; meanwhile the folks at Apple have their units running at 2048×1536. That’s not even close, folks. The “better” version of the Surface will run Windows 8 Pro, have 64GB of storage, offer a 1080p resolution screen and even have an Intel Core i5 processor. The only problem with all that stuff that made you start salivating is that Microsoft hasn’t announced when that version will be out, nor what it’ll cost. You can bet your backside it won’t be offered at the $499 price point the Windows RT edition is selling at currently!

Other specs from the currently released edition of the Microsoft Surface include two 720p cameras, a full-sized USB port, a microSDXC slot (nice) and included home productivity apps like Microsoft Office Home and Internet Explorer. There’s some integration for us gamer folks (Xbox Music, Video and Games) but the power behind all of the Xbox integration has yet to be realized.

What’s really surprising about the Microsoft Surface after reading the specs is that it’s clearly a notch below what Apple is offering with the iPad, which is the established leader in the space. If Microsoft wants to make waves and take on the best-in-class, they need to offer more with their entry-level tablet compared to the competition while also pricing it lower. While I might be a little critical of the Microsoft Surface, Microsoft is at least giving it a try, but in the end, fails to measure up when digging deeper.

One competitive advantage, to some people at least, is that the Microsoft Surface offers a Black Touch Cover that doubles as a keyboard for the unit. It’s a neat idea that can be duplicated rather easily once others catch on, but Microsoft is asking for a whopping $100 on top of the cost of the Zune – WHOOPS – I mean Microsoft Surface for this special cover. Let’s take a look at a sample order to try to compare apples to Apple.

Microsoft Surface (RT Model), 32GB model, no cover = $499.
Apple iPad, 32GB model, no cover = $599.

Kudos to Microsoft for offering their unit $100 less than the Apple iPad. But – and this is a major but folks – there’s no comparing the processing power. The Apple iPad runs off of the much heralded A6 processor while the Microsoft Surface runs off of the quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor.

If that Surface processor sounds familiar, it really should. It’s the very same processor used in the Google Nexus 7 (16GB) model that runs for half of the cost of a Microsoft Surface at $249. On various respected tech websites the comparisons aren’t close at all – the A6 is the clear winner. So while you might be saving $100 by going with the Surface, you’re getting a product with an inferior amount of processing power and speed.

Regretfully, the announcement of the Microsoft Surface fails to impress. What I had hoped to be a nice entry into the market was instead replaced with an entry-level device that really doesn’t measure up at all. The more prestigious unit that has all the right specs hasn’t been officially released or announced, or really had much information about it released, forcing it to miss a critical holiday shopping window. It’s clear when looking at the specs of the currently released model, plus considering the much more exciting model isn’t out or has its price known, that the announcement and launch of the Microsoft Surface comes as a letdown and fails to impress this tech savvy consumer.

Sean Gibson

Sean Gibson

Founder, Featured Contributor at Gaming Illustrated
Sean Gibson was the founder of Gaming Illustrated and served as Executive Editor and lead reviewer from 2002 to 2014. He no longer is affiliated with Gaming Illustrated, but remembers his time with the site fondly.
Sean Gibson
Sean Gibson
Sean Gibson

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25 responses to “Microsoft Surface Fails to Impress”

  1. Anonymous says:

    This “review”, if you really want to call it that, is terribly, terribly, misguided. This isn’t a review unless the reviewer had at least one week experience with the device. Since all he talked about what the hardware and not the software we all know that, in fact, he jut pulling this crap out of his “bunghole” and never even touched this device. I had an ipad since it first came out and I’ve been playing with the surface since the first day it came out and its far superior than the ipad. There is no competition whatsoever; surface wins.

    • Sean Gibson says:

      This wasn’t a review -it’s an impression article. And I have spent plenty of time with the Surface. I’d put it in another category compared to the iPad completely. My problem is that the Surface isn’t a real tablet IMO nor is the “right edition” of the product even out yet, nor do we even know the cost.

      • Harley says:

        You obviously went in with a very closed mind. What do you mean it isnt a real tablet? How is it NOT a tablet?

        • Sean Gibson says:

          Because it acts more like a laptop than anything. Don’t think I degrade it in that sense – for a mobile flat laptop, it’s pretty awesome and Windows 8 is the perfect platform for this device.

  2. mark says:

    your “impression” article also fails to impress any reader

  3. Dan says:

    But lets talk about gaming. Sorry, but to run Hydro Thunder smoothly, you have to turn the graphics quality all the way down. PinballFX is has the worst frame rate ever on the Surface and thats just a pinball game!

    I love Windows 8 and I think it really does shine on a tablet…unfortunately I feel like gamers should either wait for the Surface Pro or just find one of the touch-screen laptops or hybrids that run Windows 8 Pro.

    My Surface is going back…I’ll probably just pick up a Lenovo Ideapad. I saw a review where they were playing Left 4 Dead on it without a problem.

  4. Michael says:

    If you are just reading specs, I can see how the Surface mught be unimpressive, but after owning it now for 4 days I really like it. I did not like it the day I got it, maybe because everybody gave their opinions before even using it, but after using it a bit, it has a strong feature set. Specwise the display maybe lacking, but I now believe it is just as crisp as an Ipad 3. Once you dig into the unit and go beyond the Start screen it is very powerful behind the sceens. I am hooked up to both my work and home networks, streaming movies, music, printing wirelessly to my printers. Way more than can be done on any other tablet. RT may not be full blown windows, but the OS is very strong.I am able to actually do work on it.

    Yes it has glitches, but what new product doesn’t usually (aside from Apple). Give it some time and it will become even more stable.

    The biggest issue MS has is that it is not easy to use out of the box – you need to dig into it, but once you do, you will unleash the power. Win8 will succeed because of the existing install base and developers will be forced to release apps if they want to continue in business.

    • Sean Gibson says:

      Not just reading specs, Michael, had some good hands-on time with an RT unit. I agree with most of your points, all new stuff has glitches – even Apple. That’s forgivable if it can be resolved via patch. I am looking forward to checking out the Win 8 edition, but who knows when that’s coming out or what it’ll cost?

  5. David Taylor says:

    But the editor is not thinking of the target market. I talked to my mother and my wife about the Surface and *both* wanted one, after I explianed its strengths and weaknesses. We pre-ordered two (in Australia) which are due to arrive next week. We would consider the price a bargin and it also should be considered the machines come with 2 GB RAM and the iPad is not even close. Sure Windows needs more RAM – but RT probably only needs around 256 MB more than an IPad and it comes with *lots* more memory.

    Gaming engines like Unreal engine have the *full* version running on this device rather than a cut-down mobile verison. Plus the optimization for Direct X should make for awesome games on the Tegra. The web browser also appears to perform significantly faster when fairly judged. Obviously don’t compare performance of a version where surface loads flash…..etc.

    • Sean Gibson says:

      It might be true that I am not thinking of the target audience… but what *is* the target audience in your opinion? I’m not being snarky, I genuinely think that’s up to debate. Tech heads that want to enjoy the advantages of a laptop, in the form factor of a tablet? Perhaps.

      • Kevin says:

        The opposite actually. It does just enough more than the iPad that it can replace a non power-user’s laptop.

        USB – camera/printer support. Keyboard – easier email and forum trolling. Office – for those rare occasions when I need it. Charms – searching/sharing random things is just a swipe away, no matter what you’re doing. Multitask – skyping while looking up directions/googling/wiki etc (and lots of other possibilities).

        You can go on a trip and leave the laptop at home, and you’ll still be able to get your computing necessities taken care of. That’s something you can’t say about the iPad (at least in my experience).

  6. devarie says:

    ipad this, ipad that, surface pro etc, the pro is not out, stop comparing it. MS is always playing catch, I feel that this is a nice try for them to get into it. the surface will appeal to some and if MS does things right, it will be a hit. Will it displace the iPad? who knows? have you seen apple’s stock lately? SJobs is not around anymore. Anyways, MS’ best attempt so far, the product moves OK anad this, ipad that, surface pro etc, the pro is not out, stop comparing it. MS is always playing catch, I feel that this is a nice try for them to get into it. the surface will appeal to some and if MS does things right, it will be a hit. Will it displace the iPad? who knows? have you seen apple’s stock lately? SJobs is not around anymore. Anyways, MS’ best attempt so far, the product moves OK and displays things fine. It works well as a tablet, clear and easy integration to microsoft structures and native productivity applications. I think it is cool and different. Some dont like different, I guess the ipad is the standard. I seem to remember when the ipad was the “different” thing in town.d displays things fine. It works well as a tablet, clear and easy integration to microsoft structures and native productivity applications. I think it is cool and different. Some dont like different, I guess the ipad is the standard. I seem to remember when the ipad was the “different” thing in town.

  7. Jason says:

    I like it. so much better thin the Apple OS witch I never was too crazy about.The Surface gives you every thing that IOS gives you and more. Like productivity for work and school, using Words, PowerPoint and Excel.

  8. Mark says:

    It is a media fad lately to trash Microsoft and kneel to Apple. It’s too sad this “review” does not even pretend to try or to be a useful honest or competent review. “zune oops surface” does not cut it. The whole text is a glorious “I did not like it before I even saw the specs and now I will work hard to prove my pre-conception”. Oh well. I thought only “political” media stopped trying to be journalistic or objective, looks like the same plague reached technical media too.

    • Sean Gibson says:

      Please Mark, just because I wrote an editorial that didn’t fit the mold of your opinion doesn’t mean I’ve been bought away by someone else. Sorry, I just didn’t like the Surface and think it’s fate will be similar to the Zune. I won’t make apologies for trying to make it funny, either.

  9. Thom says:

    I can see why you are disappointed in the Surface, bashing the Zune, really? You have no explanation for your biased hatred. I have had a Zune since day one. and let me tell you. It was $50 cheaper than the current Ipod with video. That id right, remember when you paid extra for something Microsoft offered to us Zune users free? On top of that, lets talk about the durability. My friends with ipods went through then like candy. I sold mine to a friend and it still works, a FIRST gen Zune… I saw an ipod crack and become usless after a fall off of a couch onto a carpet. My original Zune was dropped down a flight of stairs many a time and as I pointed out, it works to this day. You are just as bad as my friends who called the Zune a “wannabe”. It does everything an ipod can do and used to do it cheaper until Apple was forced to reduce pricing AND offer video standard with their devices.

  10. Kevin says:

    The specs are comparable to iPad, better in some respects and worse in others.
    At $499:
    Less CPU
    More RAM
    More disk space
    Higher contrast display
    Lower resolution display, but with ClearType which helps a bit
    Larger, 16:9 screen – almost 20% larger movies, better laptop-centric experience. Approx. same height.
    Larger, 16:9 screen – 0.06 lb heavier (really? pick on a 4% difference?), more awkward to hold
    Thickness – SAME
    Bonus: Kickstand

    Ultimately though, specs only matter in how they affect the experience. It’s fast and fluid, and has both hardware and UI capabilities that the iPad doesn’t come close to matching. Compare with the Nexus 10, at the same price-per-GB.

  11. Kevin says:

    1 more note… Based on an article at, the A6 gets a score of 1601, vs. the Tegra 3 at 1591. That’s an advantage of less than 1%. Explain to me again how “there’s no comparing the processing power”?

    • J Baker says:

      That’s what I thought was funny too. If the reviewer seriously thinks that the A6 blows the Tegra 3 out of the water, he really needs to do some more research.

      • Sean Gibson says:

        Again – This was NOT a review. I feel like a broken record saying that in the comments here. Anyways – J, I’d love to see some metrics you’ve found that say the Tegra 3 and the A6 are close competitors. I haven’t found that myself.

  12. Christopher says:

    This article fails to impress and the author clearly failed to understand the product.

    Comparing with iPad on CPU, memory or display resolution is less relevant, the Surface is not here to beat iPad in those categories and it does not even try to. IPad is a fantastic product, no doubt, and if you are 100% happy with iPad, you should look no further. However the iPad does not offer functions that Windows based devices do offer (the list is too long to be included here) and this is where the Surface should find its customers.

    • Sean Gibson says:

      Hey Chris – you have a good point. First though – this was NOT a review. I’ve said that over and over. Sigh, people don’t read I guess. Anyways – I think the consumer base DOES (in reality) conflate both the iPad and the Surface together and they do compete, to a degree, for the same “consumer dollar” so to speak. So from that perspective, I think it’s fair to compare the two. That said, I agree with your point that the Surface is probably intended for more traditional “laptop” use cases, rather than more mobile stuff that the iPad does.

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