So I travelled 600 km from Warsaw to Berlin to see Surface myself...

Actually it was only one of many highlights of our trip (mine and my wife’s), but I have to admit that it was one of the most important and interesting for me. Berlin has 4 Surface exhibition centers, but only two of them were opened at that time.

What are my impressions? I will start with general, organizational matters. The stuff was UNINFORMED. I asked them about some details about screen, performance issues, portrait mode, multitasking and heard in response some basic slogans like "beautiful cleartype display", "it’s fast", "yes, it looks good in portrait" etc…

It was my first disappointment.

After series of brief answers I asked if I could play with the device. Staff member asked me if I’m a guest of the hotel in which MS installed the exhibition. I said "no" and asked if it is a problem. (It is not the nicest thing to hear after 7 hours in the bus, by the way...) After explaining him my situation, he just lent me the device without any further problems. Happily, the disappointment time for me was over.

Now I will try to present my (totally subjective) brief impressions and scores of the device after about a 45 minutes of playing with it. (Oh, one more thing: I was the only person the visit the exhibition in this timeframe and… forgive me for my poor language skills, I’m not the native speaker.)

BUILD QUALITY (8.5)

"It feels like jewelry" as Josh would say. Almost. I like the materials used (magnesium, gorilla glass II), the weight distribution and the precision of the kickstand. Physical buttons seem to be very solid as well as the whole device. Touch and type covers looks durable, but we all heard about some issues with that, so my 45 minutes with the device are definitely not enough to judge the quality. I’m sure Microsoft will do their best to fix all the problems, but early adopters have to get use to some inconveniences.

+ magnesium case

+ gorilla glass II

- issues with covers and logo

DESIGN (9.0)

Minimalistic, elegant, industrial. Me like it. I know that it is very (or veeeeeeeery, to be precise) subjective, but I prefer the design of Surface to the design of iPad or Nexus 10. As an iPad user (I love the design) I have to say that Microsoft did their homework and bring its best. The consistency between software and hardware is remarkable. Rectangular interface and rectangular device. It just looks and feels great (just like round corners of iPad and iOS).

I have to admit that Surface with cyan touch cover looks fantastic. The integration of the tablet and cover/keyboard feels very natural. Now I understand what Panos Panay meant when he have said that you would never want to detach it.

The lack of Microsoft logo is worth noticing. The only symbols on the device are windows home button and windows logo on the back. Very minimalistic – even more minimalistic and clean than iPad.

SCREEN (7.5)

I really thought the screen will be worse - after using iPad 3 and reading all the reviews. However it was a nice surprise. The display was sharp, full of colors and contrast. In my opinion, Microsoft did a good job with cleartype technology and Surface’s HD display is enough for me. On the other hand I do agree that Full HD (1920x1080) would be perfect for a "flagship" it times when the competition have almost twice the resolution or ppi.

I was also skeptical about 16:9 ratio and the portrait mode. Again – a nice surprise. Even after using 4:3 iPad, Surface in portrait mode is quite natural for me. I tried some web browsing, book reading and ordinary navigation through the OS and it was more than ok in portrait. I agree than 4:3 is better for web and e-books, but after watching a video on 10.6’’ screen without letterboxing and running some apps in multitasking split mode I would say that some minor inconveniences connected with web browsing and reading are totally acceptable. 16:9 is the best ratio for Windows RT. Period. Is it the best ratio for tablets? I don't know...

+ colors

+ contrast

+ text rendering

+ great for videos and multitasking

- resolution and ppi

- 16:9 is not perfect for web browsing and e-books

TOUCH AND TYPECOVER (9.0)

Great invention. After few minutes with touch cover it is hard to believe that no one came up with it before. Type cover is slightly more convenient, but I’d rather go with 3-mm-thin touch cover. It’s thinner, colorful and after +10 minutes with it I think I reach 70% of my regular typing speed. For people typing with 10 fingers, finding home position will be easy – the keys never fired when I was doing it. Combining screen cover with a keyboars is one of the Surface strongest points. "Is it a laptop? No. But it is a best laptop I’ve ever use." Steve Sinofsky exaggerated big time, but with a touch/type cover your Surface is rather a netbook/ultrabook than a ordinary tablet. It is much mor than a tablet. For me, at least...

SOFTWARE (8.5)

Windows on ARM? Good idea, but only because of battery life issue. I’m not sure what happen when Atom x86 processors will match ARM's power consumption levels, but I think it is close. If A15 architecture won’t bring some significant improvements, I’m a little skeptical about Windows RT future.

There are however many positive things about Windows RT. I like the design and the interface. I like IE10 – it’s very fast and stable.

Many reviewers claim that desktop on Windows RT is "only Office". Bullshit. It is a great file explorer. It is really useful home network configurator. It has full desktop IE10. It has full control panel. It has PowerShell and command prompt. Remote Desktop Connection is here. So is VPN connection.

One more thing… I’ve checked for updates and then I noticed that the exhibition device was not updated (?!). Come one Microsoft! You did a good job bringing a fast update with lag issue fixes but didn’t updated your exhibition devices?! And yes, after running many desktop and metro apps, some lag and losing of frames were noticeable. I asked if I can run the update. They didn’t agreed to do so…

ECOSYSTEM (7.0)

For me, ecosystem is not only software. Third party hardware and hardware possibilities are as important as range of available apps. What I mean by Surface ecosystem? Simply: Office, Skydrive, Outlook/mail, Bing, Maps, …, mice, second displays, mass storage devices, printers, and all range of USB devices… I agree – Windows Store is almost "empty". Will apps come? Probably. Apps quality? Hard to say at the moment. Potential? Huge.

Why not 8.0? "Potential" is not enough. Why not 6.0? Lack of Instagram or Facebook is not an issue for me. With IE 10 I’d rather stich with full version of twitter, facebook, etc…

+ massive USB hardware availability

+ Office

+ Microsoft ecosystem (mail, cloud, maps, etc…)

- lack of apps

- apps look very similar (metro design may become a little boring if every app looks almost the same)

- medicore quality of apps

OVERAL (8.5)

My overall score is not an average or even a weighted average of the partial evaluation. For me Surface as a whole device is much better than the sum of its parts.

In this review I made many comparisons of Surface and iPad. Shame on me! Surface is not the iPad competitor! …Actually it is, but what I meant by that is that Surface is much more than a tablet. For me it is more like a ultraportable laptop than an ordinary tablet. To illustrate that I’ll show you a picture (that is worth more than thousands of words, as people say), so here we go:

Microsoft-surface-connected-to-apple-ipad_medium

via dl.dropbox.com


In my humble opinion, surface is a great device with some minor issues. The most important thing for me is that issues are mostly software related and Surface may become better and better after each update. It’s a good thing. I have the opposite experience with my iPhone iOS updates. My phone have been slower and slower after upgrades.

Greatest advantages?

+ build quality and design

+ full USB port

+ touch cover

Biggest disadvantages?

- no 3G/LTE (in my country, Wi-Fi is not that common and pre-paid data plans are cheap)

- lack of some apps and small Windows Store in general