Before we begin, let's consider the official tagline of the product under review _ "This is a tablet in the form of a notebook". But Microsoft's Surface is not a full-featured notebook like we are used to, and if you want this to replace your traditional notebook or want to use it as your primary system, I would take the tagline's claim with some reservation.
Let's start with the design. Microsoft uses a material called VaporMg (magnesium) to make it durable and strong. It works! The look and feel surpasses many plastic-moulded tablets in the market. Its curved design and dark colour made me feel like I was using a premium tablet.
On the front, you'll find a touch-sensitive Windows logo, a 10.6-inch display and front-facing camera. The left and right side come with ports for connectivity, including a headphone jack, microHDMI, USB 2.0 port and microSD card slot.
In the world of tablets, there are two major competitors, iOS and Android. Now Microsoft is trying to enter the arena. Let's compare it with the device that first made tablets popular, the iPad.
It weighs 690g, a tad heavier than the iPad 4 (650g). Of course, it's hard to tell the difference between a mere 40g, but you can be sure that holding it in one hand will not be pleasant. Even though it is heavier, it has the same thickness as the iPad 4 (9.4mm).
As for other geeky matters, the Surface RT runs on a Quad core NVIDIA Tegra 3 CPU, designed specifically for the tablet (Apple use its own chip called A6X). Because of the Tegra 3 power-efficiency, it has been chosen for many tablets like Google's Nexus 7, Lenovo's IdeaPad Yoga 11 and Sony's Xperia Tablet S.
Other specifications are 2GB of RAM, a 64GB SSD, 10.6-inch HD display, two 720p HD cameras and 31.5Wh. No, there's no SIM card for 3G or LTE.
Raw specs can't say which is better, but an internet-centric tablet that has no 3G option? Not a good move.
The 16:9 widescreen HD screen along with its speakers create one of the best movie-watching experiences on a tablet. The picture looked great when I watched the movie Pom Poko and Hannibal the series. Why? There is no letterbox or zoom-in that ruins the motion picture. Although the movie looks great on a 16:9 HD screen, it is too heavy to hold it in both hands for 90 minutes. So often I use the kickstand to lay it down on the table.
On the back of the device, there's a 22-degree stand, an angle conducive to having the Surface RT function like a laptop. Microsoft also sells a keyboard designed specifically for the Surface "Touch Cover" (4,090 baht, sold separately)
Typing on it is a love-it-or-hate-it experience. It takes some time to get used to it. For me, I like the Touch Cover but it always forced me to use it on a desk. That is because it is too soft and has a tendency to bend, so you can't put it on your lap like a laptop.
The operating system and apps define the user experience. Windows RT is a Windows-based OS that's optimised for mobile devices. The desktop interface, imagine the Windows 7 interface, is what we're used to so you'll know how to use it instantly. But in a "Live Tiles" interface, it will take a lot of time for you get familiar with and even requires Google to help you get through the day.
Unfortunately, the device only runs built-in apps or apps that you download from the Windows Store. The killer-app Office 2013 RT is one of the built-ins on the Surface RT. It's a fully-compatible Office suite familiar to all of us, featuring Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The Word app with Touch Cover helped me quickly finish the first half of this review using the Surface RT. Great so far.
In the "extremely unfortunate" category, however, must go the dearth of apps in the Windows store and the inability to install "legacy apps". A legacy app is a program that needs an Intel or AMD CPU to run, it can't run on an NVIDIA CPU. Play a virtual piano, catapult some angry birds and create a Word document is what I chose to do to avoid paying any extra.
Apps like VLC and Chrome, which are free on typical PCs as legacy apps, cost around 100 baht each.
Why should I pay for what I can get for free on other devices? This doesn't make much sense to me.
The Surface's 720p camera didn't impress me that much either. While it is acceptable for shooting videos, the still picture is only 1-megapixel.
A 1-megapixel quality photo in a time that others offer at least 5-megapixels?
In the iPad/Android world, it's difficult for any new player to enter the market. While iPads are at their fourth generation, the Surface RT experience is more similar to the iPad 2. Well, perhaps because it's a first generation, we'll see.
The Surface RT is a tablet filled with paradoxes. When you start to like it, some issues arise to make you doubt if you should really fall in love with it.