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Microsoft Surface Critics: Come for Hardware, Tolerate Software


Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer shows the new Surface tablet during a news conference at Milk Studios in California

Photograph by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer shows the new Surface tablet during a news conference at Milk Studios in California

Surface, Microsoft’s first foray into building its own computer hardware, is a bold attempt to stay relevant in an increasingly post-PC world. From early reviews of the device, Microsoft (MSFT) must work to make Surface a competitive replacement to iPads (AAPL), Android tablets, and laptops.

Microsoft gets a lot of good marks for its hardware, which includes a keyboard cover and kickstand, though many question the usability of Surface when placed on a lap. The bigger questions revolve around the Windows RT software, which is buggy and limited and isn’t able to run old, legacy Microsoft applications the way Windows 8 devices can. Surface Pro, which will run Windows 8, will make its debut in a few months and may get a better reception.

Here are some comments from reviewers:

“Look, here’s the thing. You’d have to be fairly coldblooded to keep your pulse down the first time you see the Surface: its beauty, its potential, its instant transformation from tablet to PC. How incredible that this bold, envelope-pushing design came from Microsoft, a company that for years produced only feeble imitations of other companies’ fresh ideas. And how ironic that what lets the Surface down is supposedly Microsoft’s specialty: software,” said David Pogue in the New York Times.

“For all Microsoft’s claims to hardware perfection and software revolution, Surface RT is undone by too many little annoyances, cracks, and flaws. After the initial delight of an evolved tablet wears off, you’ll groan—because Surface brings the appearance of unity, but it’s really just the worst of both worlds. Instead of trading in your laptop and tablet for Surface, a cocktail of compromises that fracture the whole endeavor, you’ll miss them both urgently,” wrote Sam Biddle in Gizmodo.

“The big problem Microsoft has is that right now it doesn’t matter how good Surface is. The decision on whether or not to buy depends not on Surface itself, but on Windows RT. The only third-party applications that will run on Windows RT are those that use the Metro interface and are distributed through the Windows Store. At the moment, there just aren’t that many applications, and many of the ones that exist are mediocre,” wrote Peter Bright in Arstechnica.

“For a device that’s supposed to feel more like an appliance, with seamless and beautiful software, there are a number of weird moments that scream “computer!” like black-and-white nightmares bursting into rainbow dreams. In general, the desktop environment feels like a trick, a kludge, because Microsoft didn’t have a fully touch oriented version of Office ready to go—so every time you want to use Word or Excel, you’re launched into Windows circa 2000-whenever,” writes Matt Buchanan of BuzzFeed.

“This is a great device. It is a new thing, in a new space, and likely to confuse many of Microsoft’s longtime customers. People will have problems with applications—especially when they encounter them online and are given an option by Internet Explorer to run them, only to discover this won’t work. But overall it’s quite good; certainly better than any full-size Android tablet on the market. And once the application ecosystem fleshes out, it’s a viable alternative to the iPad as well,” said Mat Honan of Wired.

“By supporting an ultra-thin, feather-light full keyboard accessory, the Surface instantly becomes one of the best tablets on the planet in terms of productivity without adding any bulk. Typing on a soft polyurethane keypad is not the same as typing on a regular keyboard of course, but I got pretty good with it after a few days of practice,” BGR,” said Zach Epstein of BGR.

“Overall, Microsoft has designed a beautiful tablet that’s unfortunately more functional as a laptop … on a desk. The styling and components are incredibly well made and high quality, but the form factor isn’t svelte or small enough to really come across as a true hybrid,” said Joshua Topolsky in the Verge.

“While (other) devices are primarily targeted at content-hungry consumers, the Surface is a slate upon which you can get some serious work done, and do so comfortably. You can’t always say that of the competition. It’s in the other half of the equation, that of the content consumption and entertainment, where the Surface is currently lacking. It needs a bigger pile of apps and games to make up for that and, while we’re sure they’re coming, we don’t know when,” said Tim Stevens of Engadget.

Stay tuned for our own review of Surface, in which we look at Microsoft’s latest attempt at post-PC technology.

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Ryan has covered personal technology and wireless for the San Francisco Chronicle and now writes for GigaOM.

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