It’s been a very busy fortnight for Microsoft with the launch of Windows 8 and the first ever Microsoft-branded Windows-toting computer, the Surface with Windows RT. Of course, “busy” doesn’t necessarily mean “good” and the Web has been rife with reviews and feedback on the Windows-goes-touch saga.
And so it’s time to turn attention to the Surface launch, what Microsoft are doing to inform their potential customers and the all-important reviews of Microsoft’s foray into first-party hardware. If you’re bursting to get your opinion about the Surface or any of the videos in this article, be sure to add your thoughts in the comments at the end.
There has been a lot of talk on message boards and blogs concerning the confusion that potential customers might run into when asked exactly what the Surface is, what operating system it runs and what you can do with it. So, first up let’s take a look at Microsoft’s advertising campaign to see if it’s at least going some way towards putting those concerns to bed:
The video above sure shows the don’t-call-it-Metro UI, click-happy kickstand and touch keyboard cover, but it would be easy to see why customers would still be confused after watching it. Nowhere does it mention that the tablet isn’t really running Windows, at least not the Windows that your grandparents or non-tech savvy sister would know.
The other Surface commercial doing the rounds is a rather expensive looking advert called “The Surface Movement” which features all manner of carefully choreographed kickstand opening and little in the way of features or unique selling points:
Once again Microsoft haven’t sent out a clear message with this advert either. Nowhere is there a mention of Windows RT aside from perhaps the too-small-to-read print. Never mind, maybe the “Learn more about Surface” video clears things up:
Yet again here we have a lot of information about the kickstand, and how Surface is portable, and how it’s apparently customisable – but only one mention of “Windows RT” with no effort involved to differentiate it from Windows 8.
So, did Microsoft help clear up the confusion? Erm, not quite no. For comparison of other product launches, here is the original iPad advert:
Like it or not the iPad is the Surface’s main competitor, and this video shows how Apple introduced the non-tech-savvy world to the idea of a scaled-down tablet PC.
To contrast with another tablet that was launched by a well-known company with a new OS, developing ecosystem and flashy adverts – the HP TouchPad:
So, how does the marketing stack up? Are Microsoft paying a price for not taking the stupidly simple approach? Save your thoughts for the comments.
The Reviews Are In
The good news (for Microsoft) is that no major media outlet has decided that the Surface is a bad device, with most praising a select few innovations while others remain lukewarm at best. The good news (for Apple and every other tablet manufacturer) is that most reviews agree on a few points, and most of those points are negatives. The ecosystem, the practicality of the touch cover and what, or rather who the tablet is designed for at this stage in the game.
Engadget: Probably the most sympathetic of all reviews, Engadget seem to genuinely like Microsoft’s new tablet complementing both the build quality and the software. The reviewer also hints that the confusion surrounding the included old-style Windows desktop and modern UI isn’t much of an issue.
CNET: Another fairly positive review on the whole, CNET also seem to see a lot of potential in Windows RT and the Surface as a device. The reviewer admits that like many he started out hating the new UI, then deciding he loved it but after a little more time settling somewhere in the middle. Concerns about the ecosystem seem to make up the biggest negative, though this was always going to be a problem for Microsoft.
The Verge: The Verge didn’t shine quite such a sympathetic light on the Surface with Windows RT, and specifically note non-software issues as drawbacks including the “awkward” screen ratio and jarring experience of what feels like two operating systems. Highlights include the UI and helpful nature of the live tiles, though the bottom line concerns the “do everything” nature a the device that doesn’t seem to quite do the job of a tablet or laptop.
New York Times: David Pogue of the New York Times fits his review into less time than most Surface adverts and while there are praises to be had, he doesn’t seem convinced. The biggest gripe here appears to be the ecosystem which has (unsurprisingly) not got the richest lineup of software on the market. Still, if you only have 60 seconds to watch a review this one sums up the main points quite nicely.
Gizmodo: Gadget mag Gizmodo weigh up the pros and cons, and I hate to spoil it for you but conclude that you should most definitely wait before buying the device. Among a list of factors including a still-maturing ecosystem and lack of things to do on the tablet, they cite price as a big concern for potential buyers suggesting that money is better spent elsewhere for now.
TechnoBuffalo: If you want to watch the best detailed overview of the Surface without the comments and criticism of a review then check out this TechnoBuffalo unboxing video. Watch this if you’re interested in how the whole package stacks up against the competition, from the design on the box to the unit itself and first boot. If you’ve bought a high-end piece of tech recently and are interested in how Microsoft have taken to presenting their products, this is the video for you.
Tech magazines have had upwards of a week to evaluate and decide what they think about Microsoft’s Surface with Windows RT, and a few consumers have also managed to get their hands on the new device, among them Brent Ozar. His blog post citing reasons for returning the tablet demonstrated some pretty big problems on Microsoft’s part, though fortunately most were software concerns. Personal preference surrounding the kickstand aside, Brent found a few problems with Office, including text lag:
A rather bizarre issue when saving a file:
The huge Reddit and HackerNews response to the post told him to update Office, though when he went looking for the update he found it in optional components. Similar issues were had with another Microsoft app, the Modern UI email client:
Brent conceded that he’ll be taking his Surface back, and you can read why in the full review right here.
It’s been a bumpy beginning for Microsoft’s first venture into the tablet manufacturing business, and the question of whether or not the Surface and RT is a success or failure will take a few months worth of market data to find out. Public opinion seems polarized, reviewers seem to think there’s potential and there are still questions over where the Surface with RT is meant to fit into work and play time.
What do you think? Will Windows RT float lifelessly to the surface or manage to swim against the current offerings from Apple, Google and full-fat Windows 8 tablet manufacturers like Samsung? Cast your judgements in the comments, below.