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.