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Scratching the Surface: Microsoft's Tablet Gets Mixed Reviews


Days before Microsoft's big event, reviewers are unsure about Surface's ability to compete.

MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL It should have been good news for Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) when rival Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad mini debuted to lukewarm reviews and pricing criticisms yesterday.

Unfortunately, the Windows maker is caught in a similar situation concerning its Surface tablet's less-than-flattering reviews, which may dissuade customers from even trying it -- let alone adopting it.

The criticism is by no means overwhelmingly negative, but only a handful of reviewers believe that the tablet is the breakout hit the company needs. The majority of reviewers believes that the Surface's features are not enough to give the brand a head-start in the tablet wars. In short, reviews are mixed.

The Positive

According to CNET, the Surface's Windows RT interface is as sleek and powerful as it is innovative. Although it doesn't offer the full version of Windows 8 that will be included with the Surface Pro, the Surface RT makes use of a free preview of Microsoft Office 2013, which will help showcase the best of the tablet's functionality. With an optional Touch Cover keyboard, the tablet is almost a replacement for a laptop. It is easy to type and maneuver the cursor with precision. Indeed, Microsoft may have made a misstep by not offering the full version of Windows for free since that alone might have justified the Surface's price.

Those who praise the tablet point out its physical design and capabilities. Walt Mossberg writes, "It's a unique tablet, made of a type of magnesium with a feeling of quality and care. The Surface starts at the same $499 base price as the large iPad, albeit with 32 gigabytes of storage, twice Apple's entry offering."

Most reviewers see the kickstand as a considerate add-on, noting that it alleviates neck tension when watching movies and TV shows on the device. In his review for Engadget, Tim Stevens writes, "[W]hen combined with either of the keyboards that Microsoft offers at launch, the $120 Touch Cover or $130 Type Cover, this becomes a surprisingly capable laptop replacement. Or surrogate, at least. Its hinge is complex but feels durable."

The Negative

The new software has been said to perform sluggishly, and RT can't run the majority of Window's programs. Perhaps even worse is that the OS is considered to have a steep learning curve -- unless you are an Xbox owner, you'll likely have some trouble with it. While this was expected to some degree, it's possible that Microsoft's radically different operating system might scare off potential adopters of the product.

The tablet's lack of apps is viewed as a major strike against it. Unbelievably there is no access to staples like Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and the New York Times (NYSE:NYT). In his article for Gizmodo, Sam Biddle writes, "The app selection, overall, is worse than the already pathetic Windows Phone app fare, looking like the software equivalent to a barren Soviet grocery store... At the moment, there's just not that much to do with Microsoft's über-tablet."

Other criticisms include the tablet's relatively short battery life of eight to 10 hours (less than the iPad's solid 10 hours) and a camera that doesn't measure up. In his article, Mossberg stated, "The cameras were a disappointment. They took only fair pictures. The rear camera has a mere 1 megapixel in resolution. Microsoft says it tuned the camera more for video, but in my tests videos were only OK." The software is also lacking in the games department; features like Angry Birds and Temple Run may be a long ways off from hitting the system. Many observers openly wonder how successful Microsoft will be at stealing market share from previously established products like Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Kindle and Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Nexus.

The Bottom Line

The Microsoft Surface tablet appears to be a unique device that has the potential to make its mark in the tech world (if competitors do not follow suit). However, it seems that Microsoft failed to consider how the system would compete with the iPad, Nexus, and Kindle brands, which by most accounts outmatch the Surface in price and presence.

Although Microsoft die-hards can probably be counted on as Surface purchasers, other potential buyers will probably wait until Microsoft expands the tablet's apps and functionality.
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