Microsoft Surface is big. Not literally, as it’s actually a slim and light 10.6-inch tablet, but Microsoft’s Windows 8 RT tablet is a true milestone for the world’s largest software company and creator of the Xbox games console. For starters, this is Microsoft’s first tablet and, more importantly, it represents its first ever PC device.
Does the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 have anything more to offer?
Though MS has a lot of hardware experience with designing peripherals, media players, and of course the aforementioned consoles, the maker of the world’s most popular operating system for computers has never designed one itself. This alone makes Surface a very big deal - though as a replacement for your PC or laptop, Surface Pro, which will be launching early next year with a Core i5/7 processor, probably makes more sense.
Wondering which Windows 8/RT device to get? Have a read of our Best Windows 8 Laptops Tablets Convertibles and PCs roundup
As a tablet, Microsoft Surface is just as important. Unlike the Surface Pro which will essentially offer laptop power in an tablet-like package, the Surface, which starts at £399, will go up against the Apple iPad and Google Nexus 10. Both of these players - with iOS and Android respectively - have had the tablet market virtually to themselves since the original iPad, and now have a strong hardware line-up too. So can Microsoft’s tablet establish itself when it’s so late to the party and costs nearly as much as a (lower capacity) iPad 4?
On the software side meanwhile, Surface is big because it’s the launch hardware for Microsoft’s Windows RT, essentially Windows 8 for ARM devices. Existing separately from Windows Phone 8 and regular Windows 8 for X86 architectures, RT faces an uphill struggle as it doesn’t offer the legacy support of Windows 8 and (for now) its app catalogue is woefully small compared to its main rivals.
Showing the Microsoft Surface box, Surface power adapter and rear of the Touch Cover
However, there’s some big-time compensation in the inclusion of a full version of Microsoft's own Office 2013, which is a major draw for those wanting to use their tablet for productivity as well as entertainment and content consumption. It would also appear that it’s very easy to convert Windows apps to work on Windows RT, so we’re likely to see the Windows Store grow quickly on both of Microsoft’s platforms.
Surface is a beautifully designed tablet with its own unique aesthetic. It has had obvious care put into the details and offers superb build quality – though it does suffer from a few minor niggles.
The first thing you’ll notice when you take the Microsoft Surface out of its nicely presented box is just how thin and wide it is. With a 16:9 aspect ratio rather than the 16:10 of most Android tablets or the 4:3 of the iPad, this Windows RT tablet shares its shape with the average TV or laptop. It also shares its 1,366 x 768 resolution with the majority of laptops and HD Ready tellies, which means content formatted for those platforms (like your favourite series) will fit perfectly without adjustments - but more on that later.
It’s also apparent that ‘angular’ was a definite buzz-word when the Surface was being designed. There’s not a single curve or tapered edge on this tablet, except for the slightly rounded outer corners. It’s a great look that unequivocally sets it apart from its rivals, and for those saying its look is not as clean as that of the iPad, wouldn’t you rather have all its connectivity? Unfortunately, Surface’s slightly unapologetic edges do mean it’s not quite as comfy to hold though.
The Microsoft Surface’s entire chassis is constructed using a unique VaporMg magnesium alloy which is three times lighter than aluminium yet just as durable. This is a good thing, as the Surface already weighs 18g more than the heaviest iPad. However, keep in mind that at 10.6-inches, it’s markedly larger than the 9.7-inch iPad too, so it’s quite light considering. Despite appearances, it’s also nearly as thin, adding only 0.2mm.
Build quality is simply superb. Nowhere on this tablet is there any sign of cut corners, and the matt black metal feels superb in the hand. The entire tablet has been treated with anti-fingerprint coating, which definitely helps as the metal parts only show marks after extensive prodding. The only plastic part is a soft-touch strip at the top which houses the rear camera and improves wireless reception. The entire front is protected by Gorilla Glass 2.