On Friday, Microsoft will make history when it releases not only its first tablet, but its first computer ever. The Remond, Wash. company that became the most valuable company ever by selling software is trying its hand at making hardware with the Surface tablet. As sales of PCs slump, Microsoft hopes to break into the red-hot tablet market.
Surface RT tablets, which run a streamlined version of the Windows 8 operating system, will be available this week, starting at $499. A version of Surface that runs Windows 8 Pro will be coming out in January.
Before the first reviewer got his or her hands on it, we knew the Surface RT would be a very different tablet. In addition to running a version of Microsoft's new Windows 8, the device sports a kickstand and a colorful keyboard attachment (the latter for an extra $100 to $119).
What did reviewers think? Opinion varied greatly, from "incredibly well executed" to "heartbreaking", so we suggest you read the ones below and come to your own opinion. Or better yet: go to a Microsoft store and try out the Surface yourself after Friday.
'It Is Undercooked'
<a href="http://gizmodo.com/5953866/microsoft-surface-rt-review-this-is-technological-heartbreak">Gizmodo's Sam Biddle</a> had plenty to praise for the Surface RT -- for its design, its version of Internet Explorer -- before listing a litany of flaws and recommending not buying it. Wrote Biddle: <blockquote>We're not there yet. Surface is a fantastic promise, and holds fantastic potential. But while potential is worth your attention, it's not worth your paycheck. Surface RT gets so many things right, and pulls so many good things together into one package. But it is undercooked.</blockquote>
'Yes, You Can Use It As Your Only Computer'
Like Biddle, <a href="http://www.wired.com/reviews/2012/10/microsoft-surface/">Wired's Mat Honan</a> complained about typing difficulties and lack of apps, but overall was pleased. <blockquote>Yes, you can use it as your only computer. I would never have made that claim about an iPad or Android tablet. But if you only need to live in Microsoft Office and the web and e-mail, and use your computer for media consumption, you’ll do great with this. I used it as my primary computer for several days. There were applications I missed, and I would never want it to be my only computer (the keyboard and screen are just too small) but it worked. I was fine.</blockquote>
'A Brilliantly Conceived Machine Whose Hardware Will Take Your Breath away — But Whose Software Will Take Away Your Patience'
<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/24/technology/personaltech/microsoft-unveils-the-surface-its-first-tablet-review.html?pagewanted=all&_r=2&">The New York Times' David Pogue</a> laments the "split personality" of the tablet: It's hardware is beautiful, it's software is heartbreaking. "In time, maybe the Windows RT apps will come. Maybe the snags will get fixed. Maybe people will solve the superimposed puzzle of Windows RT and Windows 8," Pogue writes hopefully. "Until then, the Surface is a brilliantly conceived machine whose hardware will take your breath away — but whose software will take away your patience."
'A Slate Upon Which You Can Get Some Serious Work Done'
<a href="http://www.engadget.com/2012/10/23/microsoft-surface-rt-review/">Engadget's Tim Stevens</a> makes another distinction: Between those who want a tablet to create or to consumer. The former, he says, will want to look closely at the Surface RT. From Stevens' review: <blockquote>The Microsoft Surface with Windows RT's $499 starting MSRP means those thinking about making the investment here will be carefully cross-shopping against same-priced offerings from Apple, ASUS and others. Where does this one rate? Very well -- but very differently. While those devices are primarily targeted at content-hungry consumers, the Surface is a slate upon which you can get some serious work done, and do so comfortably. You can't always say that of the competition.</blockquote>
'Surface RT Isn’t A Tablet'
Ultimately concluding that consumers should wait out this generation of Surfaces until Microsoft does some improvements, <a href="http://techcrunch.com/2012/10/23/microsoft-surface-rt-review/">TechCrunch's Matt Burns</a> argues that this really isn't a tablet: "It’s not a legitimate alternative to the iPad or Galaxy Note 10.1. That’s not a bad thing," he says. "With the Touch Covers, the Surface RT is a fine alternative to a laptop, offering a slightly limited Windows experience in a small, versatile form. Just don’t call it an iPad killer."
'Surface Is The Most Flexible Tablet I've Ever Used'
<a href="http://www.anandtech.com/show/6385/microsoft-surface-review/12">Tech blogger Anand Shimpi</a> called the tablet "recommendable" in a generally positive review. He writes thus: <blockquote>Surface is the most flexible tablet I've ever used. Through two seemingly simple additions to the design (but incredibly complex to actually develop and implement), Microsoft took a tablet and turned it into something much more. If you're frustrated by productivity limits of currently available tablets, Surface really seems to be the right formula for a solution. </blockquote>
'It May Give You The Productivity Some Miss In Other Tablets'
<a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204425904578074752984926268.html?mod=djemptech_t">The Wall Street Journal's Walter S. Mossberg </a>argues that if you can look past the flaws (mediocre battery life, poor app selection) buyers who want productivity out of their tablets should consider the Surface RT. "Microsoft's Surface is a tablet with some pluses: the major Office apps and nice, optional keyboards," he writes. "If you can live with its tiny number of third-party apps, and somewhat disappointing battery life, it may give you the productivity some miss in other tablets."
CORRECTION: An earlier headline touted reviews of Windows 8. The reviews in this gallery reflect critics' reactions to the Surface RT tablet.