Surface: Simply Put

Surface is very well built and extremely well designed. It’s easily among the best built products I’ve had the opportunity to handle, and definitely puts a lot of earlier attempts from far more experienced companies to shame. I wouldn’t say that it looks better or worse than the iPad, it’s simply different. I talked about perspectives earlier, Microsoft’s perspective on tablets is a bit more utilitarian than Apple’s and Surface’s design reflects that reality.

Where the iPad is curvy and without any IO expansion, Surface is squared off with 22-degree beveled edges. The iPad features a light aluminum finish while Surface contrasts with its dark Magnesium surface. Not better or worse, just different.

Surface is both larger and heavier than the iPad, both design decisions on Microsoft’s part to built a device that could better deal with Windows RT’s multitasking capabilities as well as make room for a comfortable typing area when used with one of its two keyboard covers.

The added weight is offset by superb internal weight distribution. Microsoft claims a lower moment of inertia by more evenly distributing weight inside Surface’s chassis. I don’t know that I’d consider Surface light but it is very comfortable to carry around. It’s not quite like porting around a pad of paper, but carrying Surface feels very natural.

The focus on weight distribution results in a device that is honestly comfortable to hold in tablet mode and very comfortable to carry around. The more squared design of Surface actually makes in hand feel more like a book than the iPad, which was an early goal for the device.

The chassis is built out of an injection molded Magnesium, which gives it a very different feel to most machined Aluminum or plastic tablets we’ve used in the past. Microsoft calls this process VaporMg (vapor-mag) and I have to say that I’m pleased with the outcome. Surface’s finish is smooth and lacks the same texture that we’ve come to expect from machined Aluminum. The device feels very durable and doesn’t seem to scratch or scuff easily, although I didn’t purposefully try to mar my review unit over the past week. Striking a balance between robustness and light weight is very tricky business when building mobile devices, Surface easily falls on the robust side of the scale without feeling overly heavy. I never felt that the device was too fragile.

The power of Surface is in its flexibility. Microsoft’s talents not as a software developer nor as a parts assembler are what make Surface great here, rather its design and manufacturing intuition. I would’ve expected Surface to come from a company that had much more experience in designing and building tablets and PCs, not from a company that’s traditionally known for putting stickers all over them.

Surface’s flexibility comes from three areas: the tablet itself, the integrated kickstand and the optional Touch/Type covers. In tablet mode, Surface is Microsoft’s take on the new wave of tablets. It delivers the same intimate content consumption experience that you’d get from other tablets but with the added benefits of Windows RT, such as improved multitasking and better task switching.

Surface also features an integrated kickstand, also made out of the same VaporMg process as the rest of the chassis.

Microsoft wants you to be able to quickly transition between notebook, tablet and display modes. It’s rare that I see a goal so well executed. Surface really masters the art of quick transitions between all three modes. I can be in word, typing out this review and quickly switch to a tablet mode where I’m browsing the web with the keyboard cover folded neatly behind the display. If I need to respond to a comment or answer an email, I can just as easily switch back. The kickstand is a necessary part of enabling these quick transitions, and it does its job well.

There’s only one side of Surface that has a cutout for you to easily flick the stand out from its resting place. The kickstand’s range of motion does take some getting used to. It’s spring loaded enough to pop out at good velocity (and strong enough to pinch your skin nicely if you close it on a part of your finger by accident). When deployed it positions the top of Surface away from you at a 22-degree angle, matching the bevel of Surface’s edge.

With a fixed angle of deployment the kickstand doesn’t always deliver the best viewing experience, although it’s usually good enough. The kickstand is perfect for desk use and even for using while reclined on a couch or even in bed. Where it does fall short is if you’re hunched over Surface on an airplane in coach without a lot of room to move the device away from you. In those situations you’re going to find that you’d wish the kickstand could open at a wider angle.

Microsoft is particularly proud of the acoustics and feel of the kickstand. In my experience I felt the kickstand actuated nicely but I don’t know if I’d go so far as to draw the luxury car door comparison. The best way I can put it is the kickstand never feels cheap and doesn’t rattle, it works and gives you the confidence that it’ll always work and not just break after half a year. It’s not often that I find a substantial moving part on a mobile device that I feel is more functional than gimmicky. Surface’s kickstand is definitely a job well done.

The third element of Surface that makes it a very flexible device is also responsible for the splash of color in the design that gives the otherwise business appearance a consumer twist. I’m talking about Surface’s Type and Touch Covers.

A Different Perspective Thing aka Touch Cover
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  • Mumrik - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Anand - you often keep an eye on the comments section for your reviews. Please get rid of this nonsense. Reply
  • scorpian007 - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Um, I'm an indian and I am not a fan of Apple products at all. I've owned 2 iPhones, an iPod, and a Macbook Air and the only product I was wowed by was the original iPhone. So don't go around generalizing and being a racist idiot. Reply
  • krutou - Saturday, October 27, 2012 - link

    So you've owned a total of 4 Apple products and you're not a fan. Its not like there aren't any viable alternatives out there. Reply
  • PrajithNair - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Yourfather239,

    This is yourmother230 (yes, I had 8 before pushing you out)

    Not sure if you think these comments help you feel better cos your Indian father walked out on you cos you were an albino. You need to vent elsewhere son. This is a tech site - not KKK central.
    Reply
  • Sam_d - Saturday, October 27, 2012 - link

    No possible sentence could be constructed that could possibly express how downright stupid this comment is. your comment fails every single stage of my mental common sense process so thoroughly that I can’t even fathom the type of twisted logic it would take to come up with it. Congratulations, sir. I have never been more serious than when I say that your comment was so mindblowingly moronic that the mere act of reading it has negatively affected my intelligence as a side-effect. It’s like, in trying to comprehend the crazy thought process that would’ve been required to come up with that coment, new paths were forged through my brain in an attempt to mimic your own – horrible paths that lead to logical fallacies and intellectual dead-ends. My head is actually physically in pain. I’m going to go take some aspirin and try to forget I ever saw this. Reply
  • B3an - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    WTF? Anand clearly likes the Surface and theres nothing bias here or forced. Examples:

    "As a device, Surface is incredibly well executed"

    "The chassis is well built and the integrated kickstand is seriously one of the most useful features to ever meet a tablet. "

    "Surface is the most flexible tablet I've ever used"

    "The Windows RT experience, in many senses, is clearly ahead of what many competitors offer in the tablet space today. Multitasking, task switching and the ability to have multiple applications active on the screen at once are all big advantages that Microsoft enjoys. For productivity workloads, Surface is without equal in the tablet space."

    "I’d say in terms of smoothness of UI, Windows RT on Surface is much more like the iPad (or Windows Phone 7.5) than most Android tablets. Jelly Bean does complicate things as it really fixes a lot of the UI performance issues that hampered Android. Even then I’d say Surface’s UI responsiveness is among the best."
    Reply
  • Krysto - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    The difference between biased and objective, is that a biased person would try to make it sound as if Surface works basically as fast as Jelly Bean, as Anand did here, even though it's clear he thinks Jelly Bean works a lot better on Tegra 3 if you read between the lines.

    An objective person would've admitted JB works better not just with animations, but during using it and opening apps as well.
    Reply
  • This Guy - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Reading the review he noted that Surface loading times where far slower but he also noted that multitasking was far better. He backed up his analysis with data.

    How is this not objective?
    Reply
  • The0ne - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Yes, but read the conclusion again. Reply
  • yourfather239 - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    So does any other indian pos, Indians love to kiss Apple's butt because it makes them look better than millions of others in their country who live in slums. Reply

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