The image Microsoft has concocted for its new Surface tablet is more Apple than Apple, which is not surprising considering it has been devised to compete with the iPad range. The Windows 8 touch operating system on the Surface makes Apple’s new IOS 6 interface look positively antiquated. Even the typography designed by Microsoft for Windows 8 is streets more modern than Apple’s (which is ironic, since the late Steve Jobs was a font obsessive).
So is the Surface better than the iPad? My wimp-out answer is that it is and it isn’t. I still prefer the iPad, but the Surface has a lot of killer features. As with the Windows 8 machines I tried out for Technopolis TV on howtospendit.com recently, the existence of the old-style Windows desktop behind the modern fascia is both disappointing and comforting, but veering towards the latter.
Other good things. The Surface (there are two models, best differentiated on its website) has a 16:9 screen, so you don’t have to view movies in a letterbox format as you do on the iPad. And it has a USB port. This is a big deal. It also has a slot for a microSD card, which is a major advantage. You can buy a 64GB microSD these days – that’s the entire capacity of a top-of-the-range iPad, remember – for £40. It has a microHDMI socket, so you can easily view content on a TV. It has Gorilla Glass, which is tough. And, of course, it runs Microsoft Office, which remains far, far better than anything else, despite its quirks. So with the Surface’s incredibly cool (though not illuminated) keyboard, you have here a business-friendly tablet that converts into a laptop.
Less good things. The Surface doesn’t quite feel superb in the hands. It has sharp edges and, for me, is a bit of a clumping lump of a thing. Its navigation also takes some getting used to, especially if you know iPads. But a technology‑bonding weekend with the manual would sort out these setbacks. Overall, then, so long as you treat it as a practical business device first, a pleasure machine second, the Surface is quite something.