Scratching the Surface

Categories: Gadgetry
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Published on: June 19, 2012

So Microsoft unveiled the Surface yesterday:

Unfortunately, the actual presentation was not a whole lot more informative than this dubstep video. ARM and Intel processors, fancy keyboard and display, Windows RT and Windows 8. Great!

Price? Availability?

No and no.

want Microsoft to put out a good product. I may be an Apple fan at the moment, but that’s because—at the moment—I feel Apple puts out a better product. I want to see more competition. I want to see prices start coming down.

I’m not sure the Surface is going to do it.

This seems more pitched toward competing with ultrabooks than tablets, and prices are being speculated as high as $1000. Jason Perlow at ZDNet speculates on why this is a questionable move for a number of reasons. Personally, I wonder if it’s going to be split into a consumer product (ARM/Windows RT version) and a business/power user product (Intel/Windows 8 version).

I’m not seeing a lot to get excited about from a consumer and educator perspective, either. The big deal with tablets right now? Apps. What do you have Microsoft? Do we know, yet? ARM means Microsoft is now asking developers—who, by the way, have already established markets in iOS and Android—to port software to a whole new platform. Did MS not learn a lesson from RIM last year?

Then there’s price. If this makes for a killer notebook, and it’s over $1000, then it’s twice as out of reach as the $500 iPads I couldn’t afford to buy my students. If I’m going to spend my own money on it, iPad still has the advantage for being a known quantity and having a plethora of apps.

Now let’s look at the device itself. The Touch Cover keyboard is a great idea on the surface (see what I did there?). However, I’m anxious to find out if it feels any better than just using an on-screen keyboard. If the biggest complaint is the tactile feel, is the flat, fuzzy keyboard really a big step up from a glossy screen?

Speaking of the keyboard, how do you keep it clean? It’s easy to clean a glass screen. Something fuzzy? Not so much. Now the keys you just mucked up with your greasy fingers, or spilled your Starbucks on, or dropped crumbs onto, is going to press up against the glass and muck it up, too. Now add student carelessness to the mix. Ack.

The Touch Cover is magnetic, just like Apple’s Smart Cover. What’s the chief complaint with the Smart Cover? It doesn’t hold well enough.

It also appears users will be stuck with a keyboard. The built-in prop only goes for one angle, so I’m assuming there’s no on-screen keyboard to use at a shallower angle. I suspect this will be a good opportunity for keyboard and case manufacturers, but now it’s something else the user will have to carry along and making it less tablet and more notebook.

Between the filth and a forced keyboard, casual or student usage is getting less and less convenient.

Finally, let’s talk about that hinge/prop again. A liveblog of the event quoted something about the hinge having the feel of a car door. I hope it’s as sturdy, because it will get a workout. I’m not crazy about the angle because it looks like it could tip easily (at least without the weight of the magnetic keyboard to hold it down). I also see that prop space and hinge as just another place to collect dust and muck.

I do want to get my hands on one of these, hopefully sooner rather than later. But all this big event has done is through further caution onto my cautious optimism that Microsoft could put out a decent tablet.

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