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Microsoft Surface – Screen, Speakers and Performance

Ardjuna Seghers

By Ardjuna Seghers



Our Score:


Microsoft Surface Screen

Its 10.6in IPS screen is probably the most controversial part of the Surface, thanks to the iPad, Nexus 10, Asus Transformer Infinity and other premium tablets eliminating those pesky pixels from sight with insanely high resolutions, a phenomenon Apple calls “Retina Display”. For its non-Pro Surface, however, Microsoft went with a ‘bog-standard’ 1,366 x 768 pixels (that’s around 148ppi).

Microsoft Surface 6

However, it’s important not to make too much of this. Keep in mind that as recently as 2011, 1,366 x 768 was the standard resolution on laptops with screens as large as 16 inches, and generally the Surface’s display looks nice and sharp.

Text also appears clearer than on most tablet displays with a similar ppi, thanks to Microsoft’s ClearType fonts tech (which has been available in Windows since XP). This can access individual colour-stripe elements in every pixel to display text details a fraction of a pixel wide, smoothing out the appearance of fonts considerably. Naturally the iPad/Nexus/Transformer win out on sharpness but it’s not too dramatic.

Microsoft Surface 1

Surface above, iPad below, showing the difference in aspect ratio

Contrast on the Surface’s screen is pretty good, with a lot of dark detail visible without compromising whites too much - here the Microsoft tab outperforms most rivals including the iPad. As with most premium tablets, viewing angles on the Microsoft Surface’s screen are pretty much flawless, and reflections are minimised by the display being a single layer, similar to the Cell screens found on recent high-end smartphones.

Combined with no noticeable backlight bleed and only slight lighting unevenness, this makes the Surface a great little tablet to watch movies on, where its 16:9 aspect ratio also comes into its own. However, we do really miss those extra vertical pixels for web-browsing and reading. Though it’s probably on the way out, 1,280 x 800 (or 1,920 x 1,200 if you’re talking Full HD plus) is still the tablet ideal in our books.

Microsoft Surface Speakers

Microsoft Surface 18

Let’s face it: most tablets sound rubbish. Some of them don’t even have stereo speakers, and with most that do you wouldn’t notice. It’s also often the case that holding the tablet in a certain way covers the speakers.

Thankfully, we’re seeing more and more tablets that are worth listening to, like the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 with its front-facing stereo efforts. Surface joins this crowd with some seriously impressive sound from its tiny side-facing speakers, positioned where you’re unlikely to accidentally cover them. Good volume, plenty of clarity and a decent mid-range mean we’d use these for entertainment in a pinch – just don’t expect them to match a laptop or earbud headphones.

Microsoft Surface Specs and Performance

Its specifications are probably the least exciting thing about the Microsoft Surface tablet. It sports a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor (though if we’re being accurate there are actually five cores thanks to a fifth ‘companion’ core for light use), specifically the T30 SKU where the four main cores run at 1.4GHz. This is the exact same chip found in the Asus Transformer Prime and only a small step up from the one used in the £150-ish Google Nexus 7, but it’s more than powerful enough for what is, after all, primarily a tablet.

Thanks to its 12 graphics cores you get decent 3D gaming performance, and Microsoft has backed the Tegra 3 SoC with 2GB of RAM which makes for smooth multi-tasking and gives a little wiggle-room to demanding applications. These specs will be identical on the first wave of Windows RT tablets from other brands that we’ve seen, meaning developers have a stable platform to work on.

On the storage front, as mentioned you can get the Surface with either 32GB or 64GB. There is no 16GB Surface, which makes sense as Windows RT and Office 2013 combined with the other pre-installed apps take up nearly 12GB. However, keep in mind that you can add extra storage for music, videos, pictures and documents using the microSD card slot, which officially supports 64GB cards and should work with 128GB models.

Microsoft Surface Battery Life

Being an ARM-architecture tablet, you would expect good battery life from the Surface, and it delivers. In a general usage test (productivity, gaming, and browsing, with Wi-Fi switched on half the time) its 35Whr battery managed a full 9-hour day with some left over.

Microsoft Surface 21

We’ll come back with video results but, based on shorter tests, you should see similar figures when watching HD movies or TV shows. This is a good result and mostly competitive with the new iPad. However, it doesn’t begin to match what we can expect from convertible tablets with dual batteries, like the Acer Iconia W510 which claims up to 18hrs on a charge and runs ‘proper’ X86 Windows 8. It would be very interesting if Microsoft decided to get into the convertible game at some stage…

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.c...], 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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