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Microsoft Surface – Cameras and Windows RT

Ardjuna Seghers

By Ardjuna Seghers



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Microsoft Surface Cameras

Let’s not mince words: though Windows RT’s simplistic camera interface is nice, the HD cameras on the Surface are rubbish. This is the only aspect of Microsoft’s tablet that left us genuinely disappointed. Both front and rear units support 720p video that’s fine for video-chatting, but you really don’t want to take any important snaps using Surface.

Microsoft Surface 4

Microsoft Surface 5

Compared to the fast glass, high fps shooting, quick AF, 1080p video and LED flash support on some rival tablets, the cameras here are pitiful. Even relatively well-lit stills lack detail, decent contrast, good focus and all the other essentials for a nice pic. Arguably this is not a big deal as there’s always your phone or dedicated camera, but it’s far from ideal to be so far behind the competition on what is, after all, Microsoft’s only tablet for now.

Microsoft Surface OS: Windows RT

Windows RT is virtually indistinguishable from regular Windows 8, and that’s a good thing. All the advantages over ‘vanilla’ Android and iOS operating systems are present: proper multi-tasking, universal split-screen, a ‘desktop’ Windows interface familiar to those used to Windows 7, and more.

Read the full Windows 8 review here

For example, you know Adobe’s Flash? The iPad has never been able run it, and since Android version 4.1 AKA Jelly Bean, Google’s OS no longer plays nice with it either. But Windows RT still supports it – albeit with some caveats. Microsoft keeps a ‘white list’, to which websites need to apply before they will work on RT. Mind you, this is not totally a bad thing, as it means that all Flash content that’ll work on the Surface won’t crash your tablet.

Microsoft Surface

Then there’s how everything just works. Not just popular Flash websites but pictures and documents in all kinds of formats will happily be read by Windows RT - and if the OS can’t read it, it will present you with apps that can.

On multi-tasking, in the tile interface formerly known as Metro you can view two apps simultaneously with a 1/3 – 2/3 split. It’s not always ideal and obviously it doesn’t work that well for all the Windows Store apps, especially given the Surface’s 1,366 x 768 resolution. However, it’s great for keeping an eye on things like IM, news feeds, twitter, notifications and the like. And if you fancy traditional split-screen multi-tasking, just pop into the Desktop interface.

No other tablet OS lets you do this, though Samsung has modified Android on its Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet and Galaxy Note 2 phablet to allow a semblance of it for a limited number of apps. Microsoft Surface 3

In the desktop mode you can also tinker with Windows’ innards like no other mobile OS, calling up a command prompt and even going so far as to mess around with the registry (simply type ‘regedit’ into Run). This allows you to mess with the guts of the OS, and there are apps that will let you make significant changes too. As mobile operating systems go, Windows RT is a geek’s wet dream.

Perhaps best of all is that you can plug in so many of the same peripherals you’re used to using with your computer or laptop and they just work. No hacks, tweaks, apps, drivers, adapters or any hassle: simply plug in a mouse, keyboard, printer, webcam and the like and, chances are, it will work flawlessly within seconds. The same goes for game controllers.

Microsoft Surface 2

You do need to keep in mind that Windows RT has been designed for ARM devices, and your legacy X86 software for Windows XP/Vista/7 etc won’t work on RT – nor will new apps for Windows 8 until they’re ported. There’s also a major lack of choice on the Windows app store, especially compared to Android and iOS. But with apps being easy to port from Win8 and lots of developer incentives to get behind the latest versions of the world’s biggest OS, we don’t think the app drought will last long.

Our only major complaint with Windows RT itself (and Windows 8 when used on a mobile device) is that there is no way to see remaining battery life in a percentage without going into the desktop, something Microsoft will hopefully fix soon with an update.

Mathieu D

June 19, 2012, 8:51 am

I'd love one of these but at either price it'll be a bit too rich for my blood. I was hoping Microsoft would have at least one smaller model that would compete with the Kindle Fire in terms of pricing, but with full Windows functionality; clearly the two markets they're aiming at instead are iPad/Transformer-level Androids and Ultrabook/MacBook Air laptops. Fingers crossed the forthcoming Google Nexus tablet is more in line with my limited budget...


June 19, 2012, 12:55 pm

FYI, on the spec sheet it says it does have a microSD on the RT model and a microSDXC on the Pro.



June 19, 2012, 3:44 pm

@Mathieu D:
Who knows, maybe my pricing estimates will prove too high, or perhaps Microsoft will introduce a cheaper tablet down the line. With quality sub-£300 tablets coming to market, either/both seem likely enough.

(awesome user name btw :)
Thanks for the comment - amended.


June 19, 2012, 5:29 pm

Wow, the pro version is almost perfect. It's what I have been waiting for; one device to replace everything.

By including a micro-DisplayPort they have done what nearly all ultrabooks have so far failed to do; support 1080p+ resolutions for external displays!

My only concern is the weight. Maybe too heavy for a tablet, for my usage anyway. I already find the iPad 3 too heavy for prolonged use. If it's too heavy then may as well get a laptop and separate lighter tablet.

A couple of unanswered questions: memory does it have and screen quality?


June 19, 2012, 9:00 pm

MSFT has probably decided these form factors are the future of personal computing - hence Windows 8, and it's probably right. But I still want a bigger screen on my desktop and a smaller screen for a mobile/tablet. I don't think I'm alone in this and Win 8 as it stands doesn't effectively bridge that divide. I think the next couple of years are going to be interesting, but tricky ..


June 19, 2012, 9:47 pm

If Microsoft get the pricing right, they could potentially take on Apple and Android. The design looks good and I just hope they don't cut corners. This could finally bring Microsoft into the tablet arena and hopefully design their own phone as well (assuming they have their eye on Nokia as a potential purchase).


June 20, 2012, 1:45 am

I really hate the look and feel of Windows 8. I really like the look of these tablets.

Having just returned my 3rd TF300 tablet (dodgy screens) and been issued a refund, I'm now looking around again for another tablet in future months. A jailbroken iPad 2 or 3 has appeal, but these 2 MS tablets would be preferable for my intended use.

Sadly, with no proper hands on time being given to hacks, virtually no concrete specs (or intended specs), no intended release dates and nothing due for sale for a long time, this has the makings of vapour-ware written all over it.

I hope they get made. And in time to still be relevant in a market that evolves day to day, waiting 4-5 months for availability is just not going to work.


June 20, 2012, 2:12 pm

Indeed, I'm thinking the same - IF that stylus is pressure-sensitive :)

Regarding DisplayPort, actually HDMI 1.4 (which is what the Ultrabooks you mention have) supports resolutions higher than 1080p too - and the Asus Zenbook [http://www.trustedreviews.com/...], for one, had both HDMI and DisplayPort...

As to the unanswered questions, I've updated the article with some speculation regarding those - have a read if you like :)

Let me ease your concerns: these tablets are very far from vapour-ware, they're the flagship product from one of the biggest companies in the world with a proven track record in hardware (Xbox, Zune, Mice, Keyboards, etc).

They've undergone extensive testing and engineering. All specs aside from RAM have been confirmed, as have the estimated release dates - they're in the article. ("a few months" is definitely less than 4-5 btw).


June 22, 2012, 3:08 pm

Good summary of what essentially is an unreleased piece of kit. No one at the briefing actually held/touched one of these- lest touch the keyboards (which may be great). The demo was pretty light on actual software. Reminds me of when RIM released the PlayBook to speculative fanfare. Let's judge these when they ship or when you get a chance to use it without MS's PR flacks hovering.


June 22, 2012, 8:21 pm

@Ardjuna I see this very differently to you.

These two products are nothing but vapourware until they are actually available to purchase. Neither of these products are available for journalists to test today, nothing is for sale, no sales dates have been announced, everything is up in the air. The tablet even froze up and had to be swapped out in the live presentation! I'd view this move more as a market manipulation exercise in the short-term.

In the long-term, these products may come to market...if they can create enough space in the market and generate & maintain a level of hype that as yet, Microsoft has never achieved before, whilst juggling the moods of the OEM manufacturers without annoying them too much to the point where they just ditch W8.

If these products were to both come to market in say, 12 weeks time, then maybe, just maybe they would have enough relevance to gain traction in the market - IF they are priced very competitively.

Then there's the issue of the hardware / apps:

'Surface' will run only Metro W8 ARM compiled apps = None (yet)
'Surface Pro' uses at Full HD display on only 11.6" and supports all older windows programs. I don't know about you, but I think that using a keyboard and mouse and stylus will be necessary to be productive on such a small screen! Preferably using the HDMI out to a bigger screen too.

All they seem to have done is move all the gubbins of an ultrabook from under the keyboard to behind the screen, thus making it impossible to use on your lap. Which is silly because it ain't exactly light!

Interesting times ahead. That's for sure :)


October 26, 2012, 12:16 am

ElectricSheep:"@Ardjuna I see this very differently to you.
These two products are nothing but vapourware until they are actually available to purchase."

Not vaporware... :D

Hans Gruber

October 26, 2012, 6:12 am

Did you mention battery life, Ardjuna? I can't see it anywhere.


October 26, 2012, 3:12 pm

Interesting that the TR reviewer considers this device light in weight - whereas TR has in the past made much of the lighter iPad range feeling heavy!

But moving on from TR's editorial spin ;-)

It still seems to me that Microsoft have completed confused the general population - the number of people who assume Windows RT is just Windows 8 and will run all their normal desktop software may become a significant hiccup or mis-fire for MS.

I'll be watching closely - but certainly your average Joe doesn't understand that and ARM-based device wont be suitable for managing their photo library in Photoshop Elements and their music collection in iTunes!

Perhaps MS should have followed the "Windows Phone 8" precedent and gone with "Windows Tablet 8" to make the distinction somewhat clearer than "Windows RT" does.


October 26, 2012, 3:45 pm

Thanks for the comment, Hans.
I didn't, as I'm hoping to update with the full review soon rather than giving an estimate based on components and capacity.


October 26, 2012, 3:48 pm

Actually I use light in relation to the metal rather than the tablet :)
It all depends on what you compare to too, don't forget the Surface is closer to an 11-inch tablet, while the iPad has a smaller-than 10-inch screen.

As to the confusion thing, you're spot-on there, and the RT suffix isn't particularly enlightening. But yeah, apparently Microsoft wanted to use our initials backwards ;)


October 26, 2012, 7:54 pm

@Arduna - 5 months after my original comment & 2 years late to market with a confusing line up of (not cheap) products & software...no, it's no longer vapourware but this will be a rocky road to success.

I still don't see any appeal in W8. I just can't get passed the Fisher-Price tiles. Horrid. The RT based tablets, whilst a good design, are overpriced considering the limitations of the OS. The Pro Surface tablets are not going to be far off the price and weight of a decent Ultrabook.

I think i'll do a Vista on the entire next generation of Windows products, and sit this one out ;)


November 8, 2012, 11:49 pm

The above comments are all based on the preview, just to avoid any possible confusion :)


November 9, 2012, 4:22 pm

I have seen alot of comments about how windows rt eats into a significant part of you storage space meaning that the 32gb version actually has much closer to 16gb of space. That reduces the value equation significantly vs its ipad and android rivals. How much did you find that to be the case?


November 10, 2012, 1:19 am

As I mention in the review on page 3, Windows RT AND Office 2013 plus the other pre-installed apps use under 12GB, so you'll still have more available free storage than a 16GB iPad or Android tablet. It's also worth remembering that you can expand the storage using microSDXC.

Hope that helps :)

John Parkinson

January 31, 2013, 11:30 am

The big downside for me seems to be the inability to use the keyboard in portrait orientation. I do a lot of text work, so abandonned laptops will their fixation on widescreen for an iPad, which I can use any orientation I like. I'd seriously consider moving back to MS but only if this too has the flexibility to type with it in portrait.


February 12, 2013, 6:20 pm

I don't know of many devices that let you use a (good) physical keyboard in portrait mode...

If you're talking about a virtual keyboard, then the Surface - or rather, Windows RT - will let you use it in any orientation you please, including portrait :)


September 1, 2013, 7:56 am

We have a Microsoft surface tablet, we are in Peru & no wi if connection. We have bought a dongle which apparently isn't compatible with the tablet .. How can we get Internet connection?


January 4, 2014, 11:31 am

I need help with my cover keyboard and I have no idea what I'm doing wrong but it's not working! I've connected it properly, I can assure you that and it's new. It worked for about two days and now for the past week or two, it just stopped responding. Please reply! So frustrated.

Jim J

February 4, 2014, 10:11 am

I had a similar problem and finally 'refreshed' the tablet after which everthing functioned well


August 7, 2014, 11:45 am

And with jump drive (flash drive)

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