Microsoft Surface: A Brief Review (of sorts)

Technology — By on November 6, 2012 at 7:00 am

Reviews of the new Microsoft’s new Surface tablet suck. There, I said it. Someone had to! Mossberg gives his thoughts on it, David Pogue opines about it, Josh Toplosky reviews it, everybody has something to say about this new piece of technology from Microsoft. They break down this new gadget in every category imaginable: hardware, software, design, build quality, impressions, etc. But these reviews don’t grasp the most important element of using a device, the likeability. Likeability is an intangible that is extremely difficult to quantify or write about. Each reviewer tells you (the reader) whether they like the device or not, but it’s impossible for the reviewer to gauge whether you will like the device. Whether someone likes a device or not is determined by a complex variety of reasons, one that doesn’t just appear if you add up all the factors.

In the Surface’s case, its likeability as a whole is much more than the sum of its parts. As I write this piece on my Surface, each letter I type makes a pleasant ‘pop’ sound. This sound both reassures me that I’ve pressed the key and is also pleasing to the ear. This is one of the many tiny intangibles that go into making the Surface likeable, a joy to use. One of the Surface’s most enjoyable elements is its ‘Metro’ interface. The metro interface is a colorful (http://cdn.splatf.com/w/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/microsoft-metro-ui.jpg) panoply of tiles, tappable squares which essentially allow the user to open apps. But much more than mere app icons, these tiles can be built to display information on their surface (no pun intended) thereby making them live tiles. For example one’s photo tile can be set to scroll through a slideshow of the user’s photos. Live tiles, information at a glance, is where the metro interface shines. Static icons are the way mobile OS’s used to be made, live tiles is how they ought to be made. Why should one have to open up a weather app just to see the current weather? Instead the weather tile bubbles information up to the top, constantly giving the user the current temperature.

The Surface runs a flavor of Windows 8 called ‘Windows RT.’ While the “RT” doesn’t officially stand for anything, what it means to the user is that their tablet can only download and install apps from Microsoft’s app store. With only a couple of exceptions, Windows RT will not run any programs that ran on previous versions of Windows. The benefit of this “limitation” is that any app installed on the Surface will follow a strict design language, a language of side-to-side movement with lovely fonts and a compelling (and likeable!) interface. Tapping on tiles is extremely rewarding even if there is a slight time delay before the app launches. Once an app is open, the experience is extremely pleasant with most apps moving fluidly left to right, filling the screen with modern typography, colorful pictures and informative content.

Marco Arment, a notable Apple blogger, wrote about Microsoft’s approach to the Surface: “Microsoft’s products say, ‘We’ll let you try to do anything on anything if you really want to, even if it sucks.’” This more open approach definitely wont be appealing to some, especially to those who prefer to operate within certain types of boundaries. But for the early adopter, the lover of typography, the connoisseur of a beautiful design aesthetic, the Microsoft Surface is extremely likeable and a joy to use.


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  • http://about.me/dillieo Dillie-O

    I think the best and worst thing about Windows 8 is the reliance upon gesture/touch. I’ve heard most new laptops are coming out with touch screens to leverage Win 8, but it will be the “traditional” desktops and if you can get a likeable experience without touch.

    Who knows, maybe I can get my boss to foot the bill so I can get a Kinect to attach to my system and run Win 8 off of 8^D

  • http://imperfectfornow.blogspot.com/ Mackman

    The components for my new desktop computer get here today, and I have a copy of Windows 8 all ready to go. Maybe I’ll comment here again and let you guys know how it works with no touch capabilities.

  • jamesfarnold

    I wouldn’t mind hearing about this, myself. I went and played with some of the computers at a local computer store, and almost all of them had touch (laptop and desktop). A few didn’t, and Windows 8 felt hindered by it, but it is nice that you can just start typing to do a search.

  • http://imperfectfornow.blogspot.com/ Mackman

    I’m going to install http://classicshell.sourceforge.net/ as soon as I get everything set up. I’m going to try and set it up as much like Windows 7 as possible.

    Missing the point of a new OS? Maybe.
    $100 cheaper? Most definitely.

  • http://about.me/dillieo Dillie-O

    I’ve read that Win+X is the magic key to use that brings a lot of functionality when using it on the desktop. Helps you get to a lot of power features. I was running an old RC that didn’t have it, so I can’t say for sure. Can’t wait to hear your feedback though. Are you picking up that Logitech touchpad that came out and apparently has some extra gestures to help go with Win8?

  • http://imperfectfornow.blogspot.com/ Mackman

    I am using Windows 8 with Classic Shell, and I have yet to run into any difficulties whatsoever. It boots directly into the desktop, and not once have I found the need to stray beyond it into the “standard” start screen. So far, Windows 8 has been perfect for my needs (using Word, the internet, and gaming).

  • http://about.me/dillieo Dillie-O

    But isn’t that cheating… just a little? 8^D