Microsoft has launched two version of the Surface tablet - Surface Tablet for Windows RT using an ARM-based chip, and Surface Tablet for Windows 8 Pro using a more-powerful Intel chip. Only the RT version will go on sale this week, with the Pro version going on sale 90 days later according to Microsoft.
The Surface Tablet for Windows RT starts at £399 for the 32GB model, without a cover; this particular option however is already sold out on the UK website. It is worth noting the Surface is WiFi only and will not accommodate 3G or 4G mobile broadband.
If you want a Touch Cover to go with your tablet, you can get the bundle for £479.
The 64GB version of the Surface for Windows RT is still available to preorder for £559, which includes a Touch Cover. You can also buy the cover by itself for £99 or upgrade to a Type Cover, retailing at £109.
The Surface is a first for Microsoft because it marks the first major step the brand takes in the hardware world. Up until now, Microsoft has focused on bringing software products to other brands' hardware products - PCs, laptops and phones - and with the Surface, it is finally building something from the ground up to work in tandem with its new operating system.
The frist raft of reviews have been published this week ahead of the tablet's launch, bring decidedly mixed reactions.
The Surface blurs the lines between tablet and PC, forging its own category in which to be judged. While the design of the device has been applauded , it has yet to win the hearts of most.
Microsoft Surface RT: Review of Reviews
Matt Burns at TechCrunch
Burns believes calling the Surface a tablet is an error, and it is in fact a PC. This seems to be the biggest message he wants to convey through his review, even going as far as making it the title:"It's not a mobile device and it's not a tablet, it's a PC."
One feature Burns identifies as being problematic and essentially rendering the Surface as not that portable is its size.
"When holding it properly, that is, in landscape, it's a bit too long to be held with one hand. Likewise, when holding it in portrait, it's too tall to be held comfortably one-handed." So essentially, there is already one problem with the portability of the Surface as Burns sees it - it's not meant to be a hand-held device.
Another issue he calls out is the lack of true functionality without the additional keyboard.
"Without a Touch Cover, the Surface RT feels incomplete in design and function."
While other tablets don't have the need for an extra piece of hardware, the keyboard is essential to the Surface. And to Burns, this is just another proof that the Surface is not a true tablet.
Burns concludes that the Surface does not have its place in the current tablet market and doesn't bring anything to the table that makes it really worth buying.
A pass from TechCrunch then.
Joshua Topolski at The Verge
"The Surface hardware is handsome indeed," starts Topolski about the design of the Surface. "Microsoft seems to be focused on clean, simple lines both in Windows 8 and its recent product designs, and the Surface reflects that in spades."
But just like Burns from TechCrunch, the size is also a drawback for Topolski. Size is not the only issue Topolski has with the Surface, mentioning the screen as another feature that is lacking.
"At the size of the Surface screen, 1,366 x 768 resolution leaves much to be desired - and even though things are sharp, text and some of the starker elements of the Microsoft's new UI would clearly benefit from a higher res display."
He is pleased with the overall speed of the tablet:
"In terms of general UI responsiveness, touch response, speed and framerate of the tile interface, Windows desktop, and most basic OS functionality, the Surface felt incredibly speedy" - but notes that some of the apps can be a bit of a hit or miss, even with some first party ones.
Apple's iOS maps and the response it got from the public is a good indication of why first party apps cannot disappoint, and at this stage, there is no excuse.
The Verge gives the Surface a 7 out of 10, a score that reflects some of the flaws the Surface is still suffering from.
Mathew Honan at Wired
Honan delivers one of the most positive reviews of the Surface. Instead of simply dismissing the Surface as not being a tablet, he appreciates its peculiarity and works with it.
"Microsoft's new tablet is an altogether curious device. It's something completely new and different."
Honan is particularly excited about the design:
"This is one of the most exciting pieces of hardware I've ever used. It is extremely well-designed; meticulous even."
Overall, there is a lot of excitement coming through this review. Honan calls the touch cover keyboard "quite fantastic", though he does highlight a slight flaw that makes it fail its role as a cover. "It folds over nicely, but doesn't stay closed as well as I'd like."
Throughout his review, he is rather favourable to the arrival of the Surface on the market, so long as you realise it is meant to be in a category of its own, not quite a PC but not really a tablet either. And while he points out to a couple of weaknesses in the way the Surface operates, his review doesn't condemn buying the Surface altogether.
Walt Mossberg for All Things D
Mossberg's review is another positive one for the Surface, calling it, like Burns for TechCrunch, the "purest expression of Windows 8 touchscreen operating system."
He also highlights the quality feel of the tablet, noting "it's a unique tablet, made of a type of magnesium with a feeling of quality and care."
While Mossberg does note he likes the tablet, he also concedes there are some issues right now that draw it back from being a leading product in the market. The battery life is one. The operating system the Surface is running on is another.
"If you can live with its tiny number of third-party apps and somewhat disappointing battery life, it may give you the productivity some miss in other tablets," concludes Mossberg, highlighting the fact that the way the Surface runs can bring something different to users.
Eric Franklin for CNET
Franklin's review starts off very positively, with him going as far as saying the Surface "excels thanks to its thoughtful design, sensible implementation of its keyboard accessory, and the innovations brought about by the interface formerly known as 'Metro'."
He also gets to the core of the issue many people seem to be having with the Surface: it's different and it isn't there to replace an iPad or a Nexus 7.
"Surface isn't for everyone. Those looking for tons (or even several pounds) of apps should look elsewhere; however, it takes a legitimate swing at replacing your computer and gets closer than any tablet before it at hitting the mark."
And while it takes some getting used to, Franklin actually believes the operating system with its new user interface is actually quite good.
"This is obviously different from other tablet interfaces and it's a lot of new stuff to learn. [...] those who stick with it will discover that's it's actually an elegant tablet interface solution."
Although he also notes there are still a few kinks in the interface that don't make it the most intuitive OS to use.
Considering all of the changes the Surface bring to the market, in terms both of hardware specifications and user interface, it is a device that needs getting used to. And as Franklin points out, if you are after a pure tablet experience, you may want to look elsewhere. But if you take it as it is, it can be an interesting new device.
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