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Microsoft Surface RT: early reviews a mixed bag

updated 07:47 am EDT, Wed October 24, 2012

Surface RT tablet gets snaps for hardware, but not overall experience

Early reviews of the Microsoft Surface with Windows RT tablet have started to hit the web, and the verdicts vary widely. While nearly all have found something positive say about Microsoft's first piece of computer hardware, most of the complaints center on the Windows RT OS and the dearth of available applications for the new platform. The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg found many positives, although The Verge argues that far from being better than the iPad and other tablet competition, the Surface RT tablet is not even on par with them.

Mossberg said that he has been testing text the Surface RT tablet daily for the past three weeks and that he likes it. "It's beautifully and solidly built and it's the purest expression of Microsoft's new Windows 8 touchscreen operating system," said Mossberg. However, he criticized its lack of apps, poor battery life, weak cameras and a very buggy OS. David Pogue of The New York Times argued that as a piece of hardware, "Microsoft has succeeded brilliantly." However, he found it ironic that as a software maker, Microsoft's Windows RT and Office applications let the device down, as "little inconsistencies and bafflements are everywhere."

Joshua Topolsky of The Verge was the most scathing of the reviews in to date. "The whole thing is honestly perplexing. If this device is not as good as (or better than) the best tablet, and not a complete alternative to a laptop -- who is this for? What is it supposed to be?" he questioned. Matt Buchanan of FWD could not recommend it saying "[The Surface RT is] just another tablet. And not one you should buy." Gizmodo was likewise nonplussed and called the Surface RT a "technological heartbreak" and said that it is "in most ways inferior" to the Apple iPad.

The Surface RT tablet pre-orders, which have sold out in the US, are due to ship this Friday to coincide with the official launch of Windows 8 and Windows RT. The Surface RT tablet comes in 32GB and 64GB capacities. It centres on a 10.1-inch ClearType HD display with a resolution of 1366x768 pixels and supports 5-point multitouch gestures. It is powered by a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor matched with 2GB of RAM, while it weighs in at 1.5 pounds. It is priced starting at $499.




By Electronista Staff
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  1. coffeetime

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 11-15-06

    Pre-order sold out? Oh yeah, to their own Microsoft Stores. And $499? Because they realize giving away for free will not work either.

  1. gprovida

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 02-14-06

    Still pre-mature. The important points are solid build quality [its not plastic save a buck junk], its OS is responsive and fluid [the fundamentals are sound], its innovative interface and user experience [not a a copy of Apple's iPad like most Androids - real innovation], a very different business model with single OS [vs Chrome, Android, and a gazillions forks or Apple MacOS and iOs], it will have solid over the net maybe over the air updates, etc. For the first version very nice. Yeah its not an iPad [on Version 4], but a real product that can quickly evolve to add apps, cellular, and get Office team off their butts to think about touch.

    My bet is that MS has worked and is working hard to provide good integration into Enterprise IT management, security, and linkage to Office, Servers, Exchange, and Sharepoint - this will make them the go to product for CIOs and eventually the Gov't. Big market opportunity. Android is a non-player too much of a forked and unsecured or un-curated mess. Apple has a real competitor here.

    I think the iPad iPhone, iPod, etc and their integration with MacOS, iTunes, and iCloud are way ahead of the crowd, but MS looks like a real competitor within 12-18 months. Apple will have to dramatically up their game to handle this challenge.

    I just don't see Android as having the IP unburdened business plan to make them a long term competitor. An interesting question might be, if MS is really successful on its products, why bother with OEMs who have consistently failed to delivery what MS has demonstrated on PCs, Ultrabooks, phones, and tablets. Or if they do, then it will need to make some serious money off of these OEMs.

    Finally, I do not see the business profit model for MS in this new world of phones and tablets or Post-PC world. They seem to be be moving upstream in the value chain within the Enterprise and down stream in the commodity space with Post-PC devices. This was the decision IBM confronted years ago and dumped the PC and HP tried to do last year [but eventually will] so will MS fork or try to be an Amazon/Google where the device is at cost but gets you into buying content, seeing ads, or other value items, e.g., XBox games.

  1. pairof9s

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 01-03-08

    @gprovida: I agree with much of what you've stated. Office is the killer app for Surface (tho ironically is very buggy). This does have the potential to change how tablets operate (as you stated, not an Android iPad-rippoff). Still, Microsoft has a history of taking its good time in getting things fixed and with each month, more competitors are hitting the street. As such, the iOS/Android model will become such a de facto that Surface could seem too "odd" for the general public to accept. The one major factor that Surface has in its corner is the fact that Windows 8 will be a replicate of its OS model...but even there, the jury is out on how successful Windows 8 will be accepted and even so may take 18-24 months before it makes an impact. Much too long for Surface to survive in the tablet world...look no further than Windows Phone 7 and Palm/HP WebOS to see the public's apathy towards arguably better but different devices.

  1. bleee

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 03-28-02

    Originally Posted by pairof9sView Post

    @gprovida: I agree with much of what you've stated. Office is the killer app for Surface (tho ironically is very buggy). This does have the potential to change how tablets operate (as you stated, not an Android iPad-rippoff). Still, Microsoft has a history of taking its good time in getting things fixed and with each month, more competitors are hitting the street.



    I'd be interested to see how much of desktop Office they ported to the tablet RT version, I wonder if things like visual basic macros work. After my first Windows Phone experience, I won't be touching another "newly minted" Microsoft product for a while, they have a history of leaving products in the dust and forcing users to buy new ones. Ask any Nokia Windows Phone owner.... and at this price range I don't think I can afford it.

  1. SockRolid

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 01-21-10

    Originally Posted by gprovidaView Post

    Still pre-mature. [...]



    Then why shove it out the door if it's not ready for market? Just to do something, anything, to try and prevent Microsoft from being crushed by iPad?

    Then again, maybe it doesn't matter whether Surface succeeds or fails. If Surface with Windows RT or Windows 8 Pro (with the red-hot Intel chip) succeed, and somehow manage to drag Microsoft into the post-PC 21st century, then Microsoft's revenues will drop. There's no way for Microsoft to stop that, whether or not Surface succeeds.

    Exhibit A: Windows 7 Ultimate is $284 on Amazon.com right now. Microsoft will most likely be forced to update Windows RT for Surface for free. No retail pricing. Zero revenue from one of Microsoft's big cash cows: their OS. And the Surface hardware can only provide Microsoft with razor-thin margins. Microsoft has zero economy of scale with Surface now, and Apple has firmly established a controlling position in many of the components needed for Surface. Good luck getting deals on NAND flash, Ballmer. Surface hardware revenue may never make up for lost Windows license revenue.

    Exhibit B: Office Professional for Windows 7 is $350 on Amazon.com right now. "Office Home and Student 2013 RT Preview" comes pre-installed on the ARM-based Surface (which, obviously, is the reason why Microsoft can't build a 16GB Surface: the bloatware problem.) The full Pro version of Office will be a free download. That means precious little revenue from Surface from the other of Microsoft's two cash cows: Office. And the Intel Surface with its "Pro" version of Office is so far away that Microsoft hasn't even announced pricing or availability yet. Again, Surface hardware revenue may never make up for lost Office license revenue.

    Therefore, if Surface fails to sell, it will be a relief for Ballmer and company. They will quietly shove Surface down the Zune / KIN staircase after 4 or 5 years of wasted effort and public humiliation. There might even be a Retina-resolution "Surface HD" in a few years, to no avail. No harm, no foul, no impact on Windows 8 desktop and Office for desktop revenues. Microsoft's bread and butter businesses won't be cannibalized by Surface's cheaper software. The problem for Microsoft is that Apple will be doing the cannibalization. Microsoft's Windows and Office revenue will continue to drop. (See last quarter's MSFT earnings report.) But it will be from iPad instead of Surface, just as it is now.

    On the other hand, if Microsoft pulls off a major miracle and Surface actually does succeed in rivaling iPad (and iPad mini), then guess what. Surface will cut into Microsoft's revenues from Windows and Office just as badly as iPad already is. (See Exhibit A and B above.) And iPad will continue to cut into Microsoft's legacy PC revenue along with the (fictionally) successful Surface.

    Surface is a lose-lose proposition for Microsoft from day one. But they feel compelled to ship a pad computer just because that's what the coolest kid on the block is doing. And because it'll make them feel like they're living in the 21st century.

  1. msuper69

    Professional Poster

    Joined: 01-16-00

    "...Microsoft's first piece of computer hardware"

    Hardly.

    They made memory boards many moons ago and have been making mice for quite a few years I believe.

    Perhaps you meant "Microsoft's first computer".

  1. chatman

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 10-28-12

    @ sockrolid

    It's better for MS to cannibalize its own sales than let Apple do it. If the days of the $300 OS upgrade are disappearing, would it not be better for MS to have a product that it can at least sell $25 OS or Office upgrades for? For that reason alone, I can't imagine that MS doesn't want Surface to succeed. They've clearly put some thought into this, and have provided the world with a very different view of what a tablet can be used for; tool rather than toy. That said, RT is a perplexing intermediate... seems to me that the Surface Pro is the device that will really fulfill the MS promise of elevating the tablet to something beyond a content consumption device.

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