Subscribe / Unsubscribe Enewsletters | Login | Register

Pencil Banner

Surface RT, Microsoft's bid for a 'thing' of its own

Jon Phillips | Oct. 25, 2012
Microsoft desperately needs a "thing"—a big thing that transcends the nerdy world of consumer electronics and achieves hero status among mobile-hardware wonks and civilians alike. The iPad is a thing. The Kindle Fire is a thing. Each tablet is a shared cultural experience that's practically effervescent in mainstream consumer appeal.

The point of the kickstand, of course, is to turn Surface RT into an effective productivity machine, and to varying degrees that promise is fulfilled via the system's Touch Cover and Type Cover keyboard accessories. Regrettably, neither cover is included in the tablet's entry-level package, but all Surface RT versions are preloaded with a soph-frosh version of Microsoft Office that includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, helping users realize the tablet's productivity promise.

At 3mm thick, the Touch Cover lacks physical keys, and instead uses pressure-sensitive touch pads to record keystrokes. The Type Cover features real keys with actual key travel, but extends the thickness to 5.5mm. Can the Touch Cover possibly offer rewarding typing? I answer that question in the section titled "Surface RT as a workstation" below. For now, I can share that the tablet's keyboard docking system is as sweet as Microsoft wants everyone to believe.

You never need to worry about aligning finicky connection points. In fact, you don't even need to look at the tablet and keyboard when snapping them together. Just move them toward each other, and magnetic attraction will attach the two sidesperfectly, every time. The connection interface also provides the data link between tablet and keyboard, and just like the kickstand, it comes with its own mechanical soundtrack that Microsoft expressly designed to push emotional buttons.

The build quality throughout Surface RT is sturdy and confident, and exudes the same kind of austere precision we find in German performance cars. VaporMg is silky to the touch, yet inflexible when torqued. And at 0.37 inch thick and 1.5 pounds, Surface RT is essentially identical to the iPad in thickness and weightthis despite the fact that it supports a slightly larger, 10.6-inch, widescreen display.

Quibbles? I frequently worried that the kickstand would scratch wooden tables, and I found the proprietary power connector difficult to insert. But overall I became a quick fan of Microsoft's take on industrial design. The magnesium chassis really does feel like something special, and it's a welcome change from the standard combinations of aluminum and plastic we see throughout the tablet competition. Surface RT is a manifestly tactile device, from its generous (if initially confusing) catalog of touch gestures to its actual moving parts.

Display

I won't mince words: Surface RT's 10.6-inch, 1366-by-768-pixel display doesn't match the clarity and beauty of the iPad's so-called Retina display. Microsoft has provided excruciatingly detailed data that explains why a great tablet display doesn't need a resolution of 2048 by 1536, but my eyes don't lie.

In side-by-side comparisons, the Surface RT suffers from a tangible degree of pixel blur, whereas the iPad makes all content look like a continuous-tone photographic print. The difference in resolution is particularly noticeable in text rendering, despite Microsoft's use of ClearType (a technology that enlists a display's subpixels to smooth out character edges) and optical bonding (a manufacturing process that provides for greater visual clarity and reduces screen reflection).

 

Previous Page  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  Next Page 

Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.