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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  • walkman - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    Did anyone else go back and check the byline for this article? I highly respect Anandtech reviews but this one was written with a glibness and giddiness that seems very uncharacteristic. If it wasn't Anand I would write it off as a MS PR hack, but it is so I'm trying to keep an open mind. Anand review are usually very late so it's also surprising to see this detailed review so quickly. He likes RT so much he makes sound like he will like better than Win 8. Perhaps he has a bias for MS (I do) so he's just excited to see MS get back in the game vs competitors. Reply
  • twotwotwo - Saturday, October 27, 2012 - link

    The Atom/ARM head-to-head is awesome. Noteworthy that the Exynos 5 Dual in the Chromebook got a 711ms SunSpider score (in another site's test) compared to the 714ms for Atom here, and x86 usually smashed on SunSpider in the past because of its wider memory interface. (Of course, I'm implicitly comparing Google's JavaScript VM against Microsoft's too, not just the chips. And someone actually buying a Windows tablet might go Atom just to get Windows 8 and legacy app compatibility instead of RT.)

    Bet I'll hear more about the ARM-meets-Atom thing in your Chromebook review. For me as a user, seems like the big deal is that mobile architecture wars are on like Donkey Kong; only good news for me.
    Reply
  • MrSpadge - Saturday, October 27, 2012 - link

    Wow.. imagine we could get this pixel density, IPS and almost 1:1400 static contrast on any regular laptop display! It may not beat the iPad3 display.. but in absolute terms and especially compared to what we usually get any 500€ or 2000€ machine this is just gorgeous!

    I also can't understand people wanting an even higher resolution stating "but Apple's got the higher dpis". Personally I find 1366 x 768 to be very crisp and borderline too small at 11.6", so there'd be no benefit of going smaller but drawbacks (scaling, power consumption, cost). I don't think the trade-off would have been worth it.
    Reply
  • johnsmith9875 - Tuesday, October 30, 2012 - link

    But does Surface run in Portrait mode? Does the hardware have the position sensors and does the software check for those? I've seen it only being demonstrated in landscape mode. Reply
  • crispbp04 - Monday, November 05, 2012 - link

    Yes, it is beautiful in portrait and landscape Reply
  • bhima - Tuesday, October 30, 2012 - link

    Haswell + Win8 x86 will be epic. I don't care about RT. In fact, it feels like Microsoft is hedging its bets with RT vs its x86 Surface tablets. Here's hoping x86 stays around so you can actually use software you already own, have real application choices and have a truly seemless integration between tablet, notebook and desktop... not just some fancy looking sync software. Reply
  • Silma - Monday, November 05, 2012 - link

    Congratulations on the most informative review of the Surface I read to date.

    Surface seems exciting although a sub FullHD screen and only 2GB of RAM are a big turnoff.

    I am looking forward to reading your review of the Surface Pro when it becomes available.
    Reply
  • ezrasam - Thursday, November 08, 2012 - link

    Revolution of the decade. Reply
  • ijabit - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    I can confirm that I had the exact same problem outputting video to my 42" plasma. The poor quality was very noticable and one of the main reasons I returned it (we watch a lot of netflix streaming from a PC). I never had a problem with my (super slow) Asus laptop and HDMI out. Reply
  • bogieworf - Wednesday, November 28, 2012 - link

    I personally used the new Nook HD + before returning it and replacing it with the Surface. My wife owns the iPAD 3. Here are my thoughts about the devices.

    If the Nook HD+ (9" model) isn't the perfect e-Reader, it is close to it. Anything larger would require two hands. The case that BN offers for the Nook allows standing the Nook either upright or sideways, and the software is great for reading. Unfortunately, BN's tech support leaves much to be desired and I was forced to return the device because they could not find out why one of my daily newspapers was not being automatically downloaded each day. Sad, really, because I REALLY like the device. But make no mistake, this is an e-Reader first and secondarily everything else.

    Going from the Nook to the Surface, the Surface is much more expensive and much more versatile. Windows R/T is a pretty slick piece of SW. Love the Tiles being able to re-arrange them and the updates that appear in the Tiles. Is the Surface as good a reader? No, its too big as you need two hands to hold the device. Is it an more than adequate reader? Yes.

    The Surface is a tablet designed primarily for media consumption and secondarily for productivity. It is currently THE tablet to own if you value productivity. Word, Excel and Power Point come pre-loaded. The keyboard that doubles as a cover is a great design as is the built in kick stand. This device has the advantages of the much touted Yoga in a much smaller, thinner and lighter package. The iPAD simply does not compare as a productivity device and the Tiles with auto updating makes iOS seem dated. Is the iPAD the better media consumption device? Yes. The display and apps place the iPAD well in front of the Surface, but the more you value productivity, the more the Surface makes sense.

    But understand, the Surface offers a light version of productivity for most people. If productivity is your first concern, something the size of a convertible (12.5" or more) would be much better. The Yoga, for example, would be a good productivity device while still being thin and light enough to secondarily offer decent media consumption and portability. But the Yoga is not a device you are likely to pull out during your daily commute, at least not on the subway. It is too big and cumbersome for that, the Surface is not.

    Taken for what it is and what it offers, the Surface is a great device for the right person. You need to appreciate the Surface for what it is and what it was designed to do, not for failing to be something it was never intended to be. If nothing else, MS should be credited for re-thinking the tablet space and not producing another iPAD wannabe. This is a very well thought out and executed product..
    Reply

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