How does Microsoft's Surface tablet compare to the iPad?
Microsoft is betting big on its overhaul of Windows and the primary driver of this radical change is the explosion of mobile devices.
Microsoft's vision is to provide its users with the exact same interface on smartphones, tablets and desktop computers.
The Surface tablet is their entry into the very crowded tablet market with this vision and I've had the opportunity to spend a little time using one as my primary mobile computing device instead of my iPad.
For clarification, I wasn't given a review unit by Microsoft; I purchased one in hopes that it would provide me with a better productivity tool when I travel.
The hardware itself is well built and has lots of features that aren't found on the iPad or require you to purchase additional accessories to accomplish.
One of the first things that I fell in love with was the built-in kickstand that allows for easy viewing and interaction when you aren't holding it.
The entry level Surface tablet ($499) has twice the memory of the comparably priced iPad (32Gb vs 16 Gb) and allows for expansion of up to 64Gb via the microSD slot for storing more of your data (apps must reside on the internal memory).
The standard USB port provides an easy way to interface with flash drives, tethering with smartphones, connecting with digital cameras or any number of peripherals that Apple requires a separate dongle to accomplish.
The display in portrait mode is taller than an iPad but not as wide. It's really designed to be used in landscape mode as the operating system, kickstand and keyboard connector are optimized for it.
The iPad's Retina display is superior from a resolution standpoint, but the Surface certainly provides a more than adequate display for everything that I've needed.
The design really emphasizes that this tablet is built for productivity as well as entertainment. The wider screen in landscape mode allows for a wider external keyboard that's much closer to a standard keyboard than any of the iPad accessories that I've used.
There are two specially designed keyboards available that magnetically snap to the tablet and also serve as a cover if you want more than an on-screen keyboard. The Touch keyboard ($119) was all anyone could talk about during the launch event because it's a really thin keyboard with touch keys, but I don't understand why anyone wouldn't spend the extra $10 to get the more traditional Type keyboard
The tactile response that most touch typists are used to only exists on the Type keyboard, so it's imperative that you test out both before making a decision.
If connecting your tablet to an external video display is important, the micro HDMI port will come in handy but when it comes to the speaker system, the iPad's the clear winner.
When it comes to apps, the meager selection currently available via the Microsoft Store is a joke compared to the 275,000 apps that are available for the iPad.
This will change over time, but there is one significant advantage the Surface has over the iPad for Windows users: Office 2013 is pre-loaded.
The Windows RT interface (a subset of Windows 8) is a big departure from previous versions of Windows, but I was surprised how quickly I became acclaimated to it. It was certainly a shorter learning curve than my first Android device.
My opinion is that if you're more interested in entertainment, then stick with the iPad but if you lean more towards being productive with a side of entertainment, the Surface tablet is worth a look as long as you don't mind being an early adopter.
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