Microsoft Surface has potential, still rough around the edges

Microsoft is a software company that minted its considerable fortune producing products that ran on others’ hardware. Its Windows operating system is still ubiquitous on computers the world over, producing reliably high profits for the Redmond, Wash. firm. However, it has perceived a threat to its entrenched market status: mobile devices, specifically tablets and smartphones, markets where Microsoft has a negligible presence.

To rectify this, the company has taken the unprecedented step of creating its own personal computer, though the product that resulted from these efforts, the Surface, is positioned as a hybrid between tablet and notebook computer. Equipped with a kickstand, a widescreen display, and a compliment of productivity applications, the Surface has been released to a mixed reception among technology reviewers. While praising the meticulous design of the product, most writers have noted several flaws in the software and have advised that consumers wait for the app selection and software to improve before purchasing.

Reviewers accented the positive when evaluating the new Surface hardware. Peter Bright of Ars Technica, in a mixed overall review, praised the build quality as “robust” and appreciates that it is “comfortable to hold, feeling well-balanced.” CNET reviewer Eric Franklin noted satisfying details about its construction, including the satisfying tactile nature of the buttons and the magnetic attachment used to connect accessories to the device.

In that same review, however, he also voiced a complaint shared by Joshua Topolsky of The Verge: “while I appreciate the [16:9] screen, it feels a bit too long and awkward when held and works much better with the kickstand engaged.” Many noted that the compromises between the laptop and tablet formats reduced the usability of the device in both areas. Similarly, optional Touch Cover and Type Cover, which act as keyboards as well as simple screen covers, were generally received well but with the caveat that they function less well than traditional laptop keyboards. Significantly, Eric Franklin notes that the thin edge of the kickstand is uncomfortable to place on a lap, which precludes using the Surface as a “lap-top” computer.

Websites oriented toward a more technologically literate crowd have joined with more mainstream sites in noting some significant problems. For the latter, New York Times writer David Pogue criticizes the lack of usable applications currently available from the Windows application store: “Microsoft estimates there will only be about 10,000 such third-party apps available globally, of which about 5,000 will be available in the U.S. That’s a tiny number of apps compared with the 700,000 touch-operated apps that run on the iPad.”

Another concern related to applications is that the Surface is a Windows device intended as a laptop replacement but this version does not support the millions of legacy applications available for that platform. Though the included Microsoft Office applications are run in an environment that looks similar to the traditional Windows interface (another point some reviewers took issue with) nearly all applications with which Windows users will be familiar are absent.

Reviewers, in conclusion, are optimistic about the hardware and the potential of the software, but caution consumers against an early purchase until Microsoft improves the product and ecosystem.