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Microsoft struggles to Surface in harsh tide of reviews
[October 25, 2012]

Microsoft struggles to Surface in harsh tide of reviews

(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Microsoft's Surface - the company's first tablet computer produced in-house and a crucial part of the software group's strategy to survive the decline of the PC - has been given a thumbs-down by reviewers.

Verdicts published in the US, the first from journalists to have tested Surface at home, have praised its touchscreen interface but slated the machine for poor resolution, being too heavy, using substandard cameras and having a narrow selection of apps that crash. Reviewers are not encouraging their readers to rush out and buy the pounds 399 tablet, which is competing for attention not only with Apple's iPad and Google's Nexus 7, but Amazon's Kindle Fire in high definition.

Wired reviewer Mathew Honan describes Surface as a tablet of both compromises and confusion, a puzzling machine that is designed both for consuming content such as the iPad and for creating it like a traditional PC.

The tablet will be available worldwide tomorrow after its global launch of Windows 8, the most radical redesign of Microsoft's bestselling operating system since Windows 95 some 17 years ago.

Surface, which will only be available to buy online in the UK, runs on a version of Windows 8 called WindowsRT, and its interface is primarily designed for touch.

However, it also comes with a keyboard - starting at pounds 99.99 for the touch version - and the basic Office software such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

"Microsoft should have cleanly pulled the [plaster] off and ditched the desktop metaphor altogether," Honan says.

Surface is delightfully gesture friendly, but it does not compete with the iPad or the Kindle for reading, says Honan, because its long 10.6in screen and 1.5lb weight means it becomes uncomfortable quickly.

The two high-definition cameras are described as "junk", with some reviews claiming their pictures are grainy. But Honan's greatest criticism is reserved for the apps, or lack of them. "You'll find a better selection of apps at your local TGI Friday's," he concludes.

Microsoft's late arrival in the tablet market means few programmers have created content for the Windows 8 interface. There are just under 4,000 apps worldwide, compared with 275,000 for the iPad. Facebook, Instagram, Spotify and Angry Birds are all missing from the US store, according to the New York Times. The paper's reviewer, David Pogue, says: "Surface is a brilliantly conceived machine whose hardware will take your breath away - but whose software will take away your patience." He describes the device as a compromise: "[Like] a stunning mansion on a bluff overlooking the sea - in Somalia." At technology site The Verge, Joshua Topolsky was unimpressed with the Microsoft-designed email service, describing it as slow to update and unresponsive to touch. Other apps, made by Microsoft and by third parties, could be slow to open, then stall or crash altogether.

However, some reviews of the touch interface were glowing and battery life was not an issue - Microsoft's claim that Surface gives eight hours of intensive use was mostly exceeded.

The Verge's conclusion was: "There may be a time in the future when all the bugs have been fixed, the third-party app support has arrived and some very smart engineers have ironed out the physical kinks that prevent it from being all that it can be.

"But that time isn't now - and unfortunately for Microsoft, the clock is ticking." Captions: A Chinese customer tries out the new Surface tablet at a show in Shanghai (c) 2012 Guardian Newspapers Limited.

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