A Different Perspective

A week ago, I sat in an auditorium and listened to Steve Sinofsky talk about the tablet market. He talked about how the iPad was a great device, and a logical extension of the iPhone. Give iOS a bigger screen and all of the sudden you could do some things better on this new device. He talked about Android tablets, and Google’s learning process there, going from a phone OS on a tablet to eventually building Holo and creating a tablet-specific experience. He had nothing but good things to say about both competitors. I couldn’t tell just how sincere he was being, I don’t know Mr. Sinofsky all that well, but his thoughts were genuine, his analysis spot-on. Both Apple and Google tablets were good, in their own ways. What Steve said next didn’t really resonate with me until I had spent a few days with Surface. He called Surface and Windows RT Microsoft’s “perspective” on tablets. I don’t know if he even specifically called it a tablet, what stuck out was his emphasis on perspective.

I then listened to Panos Panay, GM of Microsoft’s Surface division, talk about wanting to control the messaging around Surface. He talked about how Microsoft’s June 18th event was scheduled because Surface was about to hit a point in its production where he could no longer guarantee there wouldn’t be substantial leaks about what the product actually was. He talked about the strict usage and testing guidelines everyone at Microsoft was forced to adhere to, again to avoid major leaks. He didn’t want Surface to be judged immediately and cast aside on someone else’s terms, because of some leak. Panos Panay wanted Microsoft to be the ones to bring Surface to market. Sure some rumors leaked about it before the June 18th event. A couple of weeks earlier, while I was in Taiwan, I even heard the local OEMs complaining about it (a lot of the “surprised” public outrage by Taiwanese OEMs was mostly politics). But for the most part, we didn’t know what Surface looked like and we had no concept of its design goals. Touch and Type Cover were both well guarded secrets.

I started off by recounting both of these stories for a reason. After using Microsoft’s Surface for the past week I can say that I honestly get it. This isn’t an iPad competitor, nor is it an Android tablet competitor. It truly is something different. A unique perspective, not necessarily the right one, but a different one that will definitely resonate well with some (not all) users. After the past week I also understand Panos Panay’s desire for secrecy. From a distance, without using one, Surface is easy to judge. It’s a Windows tablet that doesn’t run most Windows applications, that doesn’t have most of the same new mobile apps that iOS and Android have, and it’s not priced aggressively enough to make those facts disappear. After living with Surface however, I understand the appeal. It’s worth a discussion, perhaps even consideration as it does some things better than any tablet on the market, and it does others worse. Like all tablets (or smartphones even), there is no perfect platform, there are simply combinations of features and tradeoffs that resonate better with some users more than others. There are different perspectives.

Surface is Microsoft’s perspective. With the exception of some technical display discussion, Microsoft hardly mentioned the iPad in our Surface briefing. And when it did, it did so in a positive light. Microsoft isn’t delusional, the iPad is clearly a very well executed tablet. At the same time it believes there’s room for something else.

Surface: Simply Put
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  • Netscorer - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    For a corporate customer RT will never be a solution. And that touch keyboard is non-usable, period. Anand was going round and round about how you must strike with fore and precision to make it count, how you must go through the prolonged learning curve, how you don't have any tactile response. Just trying not to sound too negative on the keyboard. The only positive he said about keyboard (if you remove all the colored words) is that at the end of he day it is better then typing on glass. Big deal. Anything is better then typing on glass.

    As for the Surface being a hybrid between laptop and tablet and how this is a perfect match, let me agree to disagree with you. In concept, taken abstract device that can work for me in my 9 to 5 life and 6 to 10 life, yes it would be great. This particular implementation of Windows 8 RT with strained hardware and lousy screen (in part because higher res screen would strain that hardware even more) - the answer is no.
    Reply
  • xype - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Yeah, it felt a bit that way, didn’t it? But then, AnandTech reviews often feel like they’re written by someone who’s just excited about their newest toy and go a lot into hardware, too. While for other kinds of hardware that isn’t as big of a deal, reviewing smartphones and tablets should go into a different direction, I think.

    That tablet manufacturers can put in decent hardware and that a company like Microsoft is actually competent enough to produce a well designed tablet should be a given by now.

    But a tablet or smartphone are not something you stuff into your PC tower and forget about it, like a graphics card or CPU fan. Is it comfortable to use on the lap, is the lack of USB charging annoying in day to day use, is Excel really usable for something like bookkeeping without being annoying after 5 minutes, does it work well as an ebook reading device, etc?

    To be fair, ArsTechnica’s review is a bit better but still doesn’t go into software _at all_. That’s not confidence inspiring to me…
    Reply
  • phexac - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Agreed. Just look at iPad reviews. They ALL state "it's a pleasure to use" and then go into zillion reasons for why. This review spent more time raving about a kickstand (btw how do you kickstand it in your lap? so this is desktop only portable device???) than about the experience of actually using Surface. Could always be because using it is actually pretty meh and nothing to write about. Reply
  • phexac - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Definitely agree with this. Anand's negative points seemed to be pretty close to deal breakers, and yet they were completely skimmed over. As was the fact that apps take 2.5-5 times longer to start than on a tablet. And a complete omission of actually using software on the tablet. Just looking at the pictures with typical desktop tiny menus in the programs and desktop interface makes you wonder how practical it is to it is as a touch device wen anything bigger than a mouse pointer would be too big for those menus. Reply
  • seapeople - Saturday, October 27, 2012 - link

    So what is it then? Is Anand an Apple fanboi because he made the Surface seem boring, or is he a Windows schill because he glossed over the down falls of Surface?

    It's got to be one or the other, right? It's not possible that this review is actually accurate to the product?
    Reply
  • WP7Mango - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Why should you care who Microsoft are targeting with this device? Think about it for a second...

    If you don't know who it's for, then it's clearly not for you. But it might fit someone else's requirements perfectly, and if it does then that is of no consequence to you - so don't worry about it.
    Reply
  • B3an - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    I had a good feeling about this tablet, and it was right. Surface RT is clearly an excellent tablet.

    But i would have prefered one with Intel Clover Trail. As mentioned, we need to see battery life with this SoC, but i very much expect it to be close to the ARM based Surface.

    Surface would be perfect with Clover Trail. Same form factor, fanless, better performance than ARM, and the full blown Win 8. And yes i know theres the Pro version of Surface in 3 months time, but the Core i5 is overkill for many, it needs a fan too, and obviously will have much lower battery life. Clover Trail would have been the perfect balance for most people.

    Such a shame, so close to my perfect idea of a tablet, but i'd happily still have ARM + Surface RT over a iPad or Android tablet for so many reasons.
    Reply
  • Netscorer - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Completely agree with you. Good and usable Atom-based Intel CPU, which is x86 compatible, married with Windows 8 and all that effort that Microsoft clearly made to make you feel like you own a premium product with Surface - this would have been wonderful. This is what Microsoft should have released at the beginning, leaving Windows 8 RT to the sub $300 bargain tablets from 3-rd party vendors.
    Clearly, Intel could not commit to the Oct.26 release date and it forced Microsoft's hand at developing this half-baked solution. We also don't know how good Clover Trail Atom will be. Because if it's really going to be good, this will be the first actually usable Intel Atom processor. Especially if they will marry it with HD4000 GPU.
    Reply
  • karasaj - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Honestly, if Surface had launched with Tegra 4 (not possible sadly) or S4 Pro (should have been possible) or even S4 Krait, it would be insanely nice. Performance is only barely "below" what it really needs to be to be unnoticeable - a tablet/notebook that runs office, netflix, and the occasional game (and internet browsing). An ARM cpu with better IPC would have been a better choice over 4 cores, imo.

    I wish Surface would re-release with the S4 Pro or something. I would completely buy that. Atm, I'm deciding whether or not it's worth it. I certainly like the idea of it, it just seems like it -might- be a tad under powered.
    Reply
  • beginner99 - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    $699. Thats more I paid for my already overpriced Asus T91 netbook (has touchscreen and can be used in tablet form) over 3 years ago. While Surface sure has better battery life and Win RT is better suited for touch device, I don't see a reason to replace it with surface. but then I hardly ever use it anyway.

    $699 is the price I would pay for the version with real windows and more capable CPU. Wasn't following the rumors so don't know if that actually will be made at all?
    Reply

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