After visiting Best Buy, I've realized how much hardware matters.
Disclaimer: I live in the New Orleans metro area. We don't have Microsoft Stores anywhere in the Gulf Coast
After reading reports of retail availability of the Surface, I decided to check out the Surface at a local Best Buy to get a feel for the hardware. I've been looking around for a good Windows 8 detachable tablet with a core i5 for a while, and as it stands the Surface Pro is the only device offering that any time soon. However, it won't be out for at least a month, so I decided to get a feel for the hardware and check out the RT version before making a decision on specs alone.
I had called in to Best Buy's customer service to verify the availability of a demo device, and the sales rep informed me that I would have to request to see a demo device from a floor rep. I didn't really understand on the phone, but I went to Best Buy anyway. While there, I managed to mess around with the Vivo Tab RT, the IdeaPad, and a slough of other devices from Windows OEMs. I liked the design of the ideapad, but I didn't like the weight or the feel of keys when I held the device in tablet mode. I then asked a rep to allow me to see a Surface demo unit after he finished with a customer and played with the Surface for a while. I must say I was impressed. I've been using Windows 8 for almost two months now on my five year old Dell Latitude d830 and the HP TouchSmart 320 PCs at my work office, so I'm familiar with the OS on older hardware. Windows 8 is fantastic on hardware built for it.
This brings me to the point about hardware. I think Microsoft was right to make its own device. I usually ignore most of the Windows hardware at Best Buy because it's so bad, and the Android tablets don't do much for me either. I really liked the Kindle Paperwhite, but I feel ecosystem-locked into B&N. I'm hoping they come up with a nice frontlit display to counter Paperwhite so I don't feel like I'm down $300+ dollars in books.
I really liked the Surface. I already use a docking station at home, so I'm completely prepared to improve my "desktop" experience with a Windows 8 tablet by using HDMI out with a wireless keyboard and mouse. The Surface is a nice piece of hardware. I've read about the performance issues, but I couldn't do much with it in the store to verify about the audio problems. However, I was mostly testing the hardware for the release of Surface Pro. I'm excited, though. I'm really looking forward now to purchasing a Surface Pro in January.
However, there is tons of crap at Best Buy. I didn't understand why you had to actually request to see a Surface until I stood there using it next to all of the other low-end hardware. Windows OEMs will probably struggle to sell their own low-end hardware if it demos next to the Surface in a retail environment. The Surface feels really nice when you hold it. If you go from touching cheap plastic to the solid-feeling "VaparMg" of the Surface, you scorn the rest of the hardware around you as a result. After playing with the Surface for a while at Best Buy, the only other device there that managed to catch my eye was Lenovo's IdeaPad. Also, popping over to the Apple table afterwards reinforced why Microsoft chose to build its own device. There is no way cheap Windows hardware can outshine Apple products on pure aesthetics, even if Windows 8 is a refreshing update to the Windows line.
So, after seeing what Microsoft was capable of doing firsthand with hardware, I'm convinced they were right to force the OEMs to step up their game. Hardware matters.