By Bill Rigby
SEATTLE (Reuters) - U.S. tech writers have given Microsoft Corp's new Surface tablet-laptop hybrid largely negative reviews, casting a shadow over the software group's hopes to take a bite out of sales of Apple Inc's iPad and MacBook Air.
The latest Surface runs on an Intel Corp chip and features the full Windows 8 Pro operating system, which Microsoft hopes will make the device attractive to people who want to produce as well as consume material.
It also hopes to appeal to businesses who want to give employees lightweight, mobile machines that fit easily into their technology and security infrastructure.
The "Surface with Windows 8 Pro", as it is officially called, is available from Saturday. Windows co-chief Tami Reller said earlier this week it is a key part of revving up interest in Windows 8, launched last October but which has not gripped consumers' imaginations.
The Surface Pro is thicker, heavier and several hundred dollars more expensive than the first Surface RT, which runs on an ARM Holdings Plc-designed chip and is not compatible with old Microsoft programs.
Available in 64 and 128 gigabyte versions, both with wifi-only connectivity, the Surface Pro starts at $899, excluding a $120-plus keyboard. That is $200 more expensive than a comparable iPad and closer in price to the 64 GB MacBook Air laptop at $999.
Microsoft has said the device is the first to bring a full operating system to the tablet format without compromising quality. But reviewers found the device uncomfortably stranded between a tablet and a PC, with many compromises.
"It ran all the software I threw at it - both the new type and the old desktop type - speedily and well," wrote Walt Mossberg on the All Things D tech blog.
"But the Pro has some significant downsides, especially as a tablet ... It's too hefty and costly and power-hungry to best the leading tablet, Apple's full-size iPad. It is also too difficult to use in your lap. It's something of a tweener - a compromised tablet and a compromised laptop."
Mossberg said the Surface lasted less than four hours on his standard battery test, half the performance of an iPad. He also expressed concerns about the usable memory on the 64 GB version.
NOT AS GOOD
"The Pro is definitely snappier and more ‘performant' (to use a bit of Microspeak)," wrote Mary Jo Foley on the ZDNet tech blog.
However, she added: "I keep scratching my head over who Microsoft expects to buy the Surface Pro. It's not as good of a tablet, in terms of weight/battery life, as the Surface RT is. But it's also not as good of a Windows 8 PC as other OEM-produced devices, coming in at lower price points with better battery life and other specs."
Steve Kovach, writing for Business Insider, praised the specifications on the new Surface, but not the experience as a whole.
"The Surface Pro has some impressive hardware specs for such a unique form factor. It can go toe-to-toe with any other thin and light laptop," he wrote.
"(But) you can't rest the Surface Pro comfortably on your lap without it flopping around. You can't adjust the angle of the screen when it's propped on a table with the built-in kickstand," Kovach added.
"You need to spend at least another $100 to get the full laptop-like experience with one of the special keyboard covers. At 10 inches, the screen feels a bit small for traditional desktop computing.
"The cheapest model only has 23 GB of free storage, so you'll have to buy a separate memory card because you'll definitely need more than that."
David Pierce, writing on The Verge tech news site, singled out the high quality of the screen, quick startup time, the USB port on the charging hub and pressure-sensitive stylus.
But he criticized the lack of Microsoft's Office suite of applications - which have to be purchased separately - and its general awkwardness.
"Even a well-executed Surface still doesn't work for me, and I'd bet it doesn't work for most other people either," Pierce wrote.
"It's really tough to use on anything but a desk, and the wide, 16:9 aspect ratio pretty severely limits its usefulness as a tablet anyway," Pierce added.
"It's too big, too fat, and too reliant on its power cable to be a competitive tablet, and it's too immutable to do everything a laptop needs to do. In its quest to be both, the Surface is really neither."
(Editing by David Holmes)
Earlier on HuffPost:
Touchscreen Password To Unlock
The Microsoft team showed off a neat new password system to unlock Windows 8 computers. When your computer is locked, normally you have to type in a text password to regain access to the system; Windows 8 gives the user an option to unlock via a combination of touches and swipes, which might sound familiar to Android users.<br> <br> When setting up your password, you choose a picture, and you select where on the picture you want to tap and swipe in order to unlock the screen. For example, at the Windows Build conference, Windows Corporate Vice President Julie Larson-Green showed off her picture-password: a photo of her daughter (above) standing on a pier holding a glass of lemonade appeared, and Larson-Green tapped on her daughter's nose, then on the glass of lemonade, then drew a line from the edge of the pier to the edge of the glass of lemonade. Voila! The screen was unlocked. <br>
Email Notifications On Lock Screen
Speaking of that screen, Windows 8 has taken another cue from mobile operating systems and will automatically show on the lock screen relevant information like upcoming calendar events and emails received when the user was away from the keyboard. This is a small upgrade, but it eliminates the need to unlock your computer just to see if you missed anything while you were gone: Windows 8 will tell you from the moment you return your screen what happened during your time away. <br> <br> The lock screen also displays battery information, time and any instant messages you may have missed while you were away from your device.<br> <br> You might be thinking to yourself (à la George Bluth in the "Spring Breakout" episode of Arrested Development), "What does that save, like two seconds?" But, if you've used a Windows or Android smartphone with this feature, you know how helpful it can <em>feel</em> to know immediately about what you missed when you were unplugged.
Really Fast Booting
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/13/windows-8-pictures_n_960301.html" target="_hplink">This one was teased ahead of the Build Conference</a>, but they showed it off on-stage anyway, and it is still very impressive. Windows 8 will apparently boot in 8 seconds, thanks to a new process of putting the kernel session to sleep rather than closing it out altogether and having to reboot it completely. See the video (above) for a demonstration of how fast a computer running Windows 8 will be able to boot up from no power to start screen.
System Refresh Without Deleting Music, Movies Or Documents
No, this doesn't mean you can throw away your external hard drive or cancel your Dropbox account. But it may prove to be a convenient and hardware-less way to restore your system without losing all of your precious, precious media, or that novel you've been working on. A push of the button from the Control Panel activates the system refresh, making it pretty convenient for the average PC user.
The New Task Manager
As Sinofsky noted at the Build Conference, it's been two decades since Microsoft redesigned its task manager, and Windows 8 brings a new look and interface to what is (unfortunately) one of my most used Windows utilities. <br> <br> The new task manager looks great--easy to read and use, with all the pertinent information lined up in columns. As a bonus, the task manager also allows you to add and delete which programs you want to automatically load at startup (hallelujah!).<br> <br> Those "suspended" apps you see, by the way? When you are running apps in the tablet-ified 'Metro' view, they stop running when you switch over to 'Desktop' view, saving you CPU usage. Good idea, Microsoft.
Split Keyboard For Thumb-Typers
Are you a thumb-typer? When you hold a tablet, do you type with your thumbs rather than all of your fingers? Or, do you type a lot on the go, where you can't put your slate down for proper Mavis Beacon typing technique?<br> <br> Then the thumb-typing keyboard--selectable from the keyboard menu--might just be for you.
The Share Charm
Sitting on the start bar in 'Metro View' is the "Share Charm," a little button that pulls up a sidebar (seen above) for easy sharing through a number of different apps. Microsoft put much of its focus on interactivity and connectivity--from apps playing well with each other, to the fact that all Windows 7 programs will run on Windows 8, to putting much of Windows Live in the cloud--and the Share charm is no different. It's a handy little utility baked into Windows 8 that allows users to share what they're looking at with anyone in their address book using the automatic Share program. Select what you want to share and who you want to share it with, add an optional message and press 'Send."
More Free RAM
If all of these features, multiple interfaces and visually-striking touch-and-slide systems look like they use a lot of RAM--well, they don't. According to Sinofsky, Windows 8 takes up 281MB to run on startup, versus 404MB for Windows 7 (and this is the Windows 8 Developer's Beta!). Another encouraging sign from an operating system that has historically been accused of memory hogging. <br> <br>