Huge and Heavy

Played with a Microsoft Surface for 30 minutes. Unedited thoughts and first impressions:

The hardware is nice, but I think the dearth of quality non-Apple tablets has ruined everyone for accurately judging new devices, because I keep reading tech pundits exclaiming the Surface is amazingly well made and designed. I disagree. It’s very awkward to hold because the 16:9 dimensions make it too ridiculous in portrait mode and it feels too wide in landscape mode. It’s also absurdly heavy. It might technically be lighter than other products on the market in recent past, but it feels far too heavy to use on a regular basis. Microsoft is showing all units in “laptop” mode and really pressing people toward that use case. It’s clear why—holding the Surface isn’t very pleasant. The tapered edges are not particularly comfortable in my hands. On top of that, their “VaporMg” material feels like plastic more than metal to me. And not in a positive way. The kickstand is nice, but it limits the viewing angle in a way that its really only comfortable if you’re sitting at a desk in front of the Surface. I don’t know about other people, but I think the point of a tablet is to be, you know, mobile.

I was most intrigued during the lead up to this launch by the Touch Cover. It’s a great idea, but it doesn’t work well in practice. It’s too hard to type on—you have to hit some keys harder than you’d think (mostly the keys on the edge that I guess you don’t normally touch as hard on a normal keyboard), and I found many touches going completely unused. And it has a trackpad. A trackpad which moves a mouse on the screen. What on earth is mouse cursor doing on a tablet? I guess it’s because…

The software is the serious problem here. Windows RT is a mess. It’s all at once smooth and choppy, thoughtful and boneheaded, and mostly just awful. Trying to combine the niceties of Windows Phone 7 with Windows 7 doesn’t work at all. Imagine if when using your iPad, you could drop into an OS X desktop. Except the desktop resolution makes everything tiny and then it can only open five apps, all of which are designed for a mouse and keyboard and not at all for touch. There’s a mouse and a cursor. Just terrible.

Applications launch fairly quickly, but sometimes it seems like the Surface can only keep two things in memory at once because every app I opened seemed to be launching fresh. When they do launch, they’re boring. I love the simplicity of Windows Phone 7 (I own a Nokia Lumia 900, though I never use it these days), but it doesn’t work on this larger device. There’s a difference between sparseness and lack of UI/UX/functionality. Most apps err on the side of too simple. It feels completely amateur compared to iOS and Android. Combine this with an app store mostly devoid of quality software and the deep integration of Microsoft’s sub-par cloud services and you have a real loser on your hands.

Hey, maybe this is good enough for lots of people, what do I know. But for me, it looks like subpar hardware coupled with terrible software. When it’s that package at $599 (with a Touch Cover), seems like a no-brainer to spend your money elsewhere.