1. Windows RT? What Is That?
Windows 8 is two OSes in one. The Surface has two models with two different versions of that OS. This is confusing! So here's the breakdown.
"Windows 8" is the next version of Windows. It'll be everywhere, just like Windows 7 is everywhere. In it are two distinct interfaces--you can think of one as Tablet Mode and one as Laptop Mode. Laptop Mode is Windows like you all know it. It's slightly updated in the usual ways--a bit prettier, a bit easier to use, a slight shuffling of options and controls--but it is emphatically the Windows we've been using for a decade or so. The other interface, Tablet Mode, is made for touch, and was previously known as Metro, then it was known as Modern UI, and now, infuriatingly, Microsoft is just calling it Windows 8. This is going to be confusing as all hell for Microsoft to explain to customers! Here's what Tablet Mode looks like on a desktop:
If you've used an Xbox or a Windows Phone lately, Tablet Mode will be familiar--it's a bunch of colorful squares with information and pictures and stuff on 'em. If you haven't used an Xbox or Windows Phone lately, this will be wildly unfamiliar. It doesn't look like any kind of Windows that's ever graced a computer before. On touch devices like the Surface (and Microsoft is pushing touch devices very hard; this is what you'll see advertised pretty much everywhere), Tablet Mode is what you'll see. On some of those devices, regular old Laptop Mode will be lurking beneath it, and Tablet Mode will function a bit like a very fancy Start menu. (Actually, you hit the Start button to switch between Tablet Mode and Laptop Mode.) These two disparate OSes use totally different software; Tablet Mode uses apps, like an iPad, and Laptop Mode uses, well, regular Windows programs, in the regular way.
The Microsoft Surface RT, which is what everyone's talking about this week, competes with the iPad. It is not a laptop. It does not have regular Windows. So, unless WinAmp releases a Tablet Mode app, you will not be using WinAmp. Oddly, the Surface RT has, like, a trick version of Laptop Mode. It looks like Windows but only has five programs--mostly Office-related and also Internet Explorer--and you can't use new ones, though there is Windows Explorer (the file browser). This is weird and misleading and confusing, yes.
The Microsoft Surface Pro, which nobody has used because it hasn't been released and in fact, Microsoft hasn't even given us a firm release date yet, does compete with laptops. It'll have the full Laptop Mode in addition to Tablet Mode, so you can use WinAmp just fine. It'll also be more expensive.
2. Try the Keyboard Before Buying
Microsoft has made a huge deal out of the Touch Cover, a super-thin soft cover with pressure-sensitive keys that Microsoft is counting on to make the Surface RT more capable than other tablets. Early response has been mixed; Peter Bright at Ars Technica says "the damn things work, and work well," but notes that there is a distinct learning curve. Sam Biddle at Gizmodo says "the buttons are pressure activated, barely buttons at all, and spaced in such a way that typos are inevitable and constant," and calls it a "letdown." Josh Topolsky at The Verge says it "works reasonably well" but "wasn't a completely pain-free experience." Tim Stevens at Engadget, on the other hand, actually managed to write his review on the Touch Cover, and loved the spacing and layout. So, find yourself a Microsoft Store--they exist!--and try it out. Because the thing costs $100 when bundled with the Surface and $120 to buy it separately. Not cheap.
3. You Can't Hold It On Your Lap
It's a tablet with a detachable keyboard, so it won't sit upright in your lap or on your stomach like a normal laptop. You can discard the keyboard and use it like an iPad, but if you want a laptop experience, you'd better find yourself a table. This is one of those little things that may turn out to be a big thing in the regular lives of owners.
The Surface does have a hyper-designed kickstand--Microsoft has talked about the kickstand almost as much as, like, Windows 8 itself--but it's not adjustable, to the chagrin of The Verge's Josh Topolsky, who found it "usually too upright in most scenarios I tried it in, but not unusable by any means." But a kickstand is no good for a lap!
4. There Are Few Apps
Yes, it's Windows, but the Surface RT cannot, remember, run regular Laptop Mode programs. So Microsoft's starting from scratch and building a completely new app ecosystem, which is, like, really hard. Remember that it took Google years to build out Android's ecosystem, and, worryingly, that Microsoft has had a lot of trouble getting Windows Phone's app selection strong enough to compete with Android or iOS. Gizmodo's Sam Biddle says the "'ecosystem' feels more like a tundra. There's no Twitter or Facebook app, and the most popular 3rd party client breaks often. The Kindle app is completely unusable. There's no image editing software." Eep!
Some folks are saying that, well, this is Windows, after all, so people will definitely rush to develop apps for it, because everyone uses Windows. Those folks are wrong, because this isn't Windows--it's "Windows." Laptop Mode and Tablet Mode are not two versions of the same thing; they're two completely different operating systems. Tablet Mode, the one that's launching tomorrow, is brand new and so far, it is completely unproven as a standalone operating system. I'm not saying it won't catch on, but I will say that it's definitely not a given that this'll catch on as fast as it needs to.
5. It Has A USB Port
This is a bigger deal than most people think. The iPad and the most Android tablets are stuck with super awkward ways to get non-cloud data onto them--expensive dongles and weird importing software and things like that. The Surface has an honest-to-god USB port in it. It'll charge your phone! And you can import documents and videos and photos and music with a hard drive or USB flash drive! Just like a computer! It's weird to get excited about this, since tablets mostly exist in the cloud and are better for it, but it's a small thing that makes the Surface RT behave more like a laptop (even though, you know, it's not).
The author never mentions if they've ever used the surface, and only mentions others who have, specifically negative views. I'm tempted to think they may be reviewing an item they haven't used before.
When the author mentions the lack of apps I can't help but think back to when the Xbox was just coming out. The biggest knock against it was the fact that it was lacking games. I don't think thats an issue at all anymore and they have become a great competitor on the gaming market. All I can say is the Apps will come and they'll be fine. I think they learned from their experience with xbox that "if you build it, they will come". I'm interested to see how these work once they're on the showroom floor.
Another article that makes it hard to believe Apple isn't paying PopSci to write biased articles about every device besides Apple products...
@rubiconn totally agree with you. PopSci always covers every Apple rumor and they are pretty much always positive.
The article mentions a lack of Facebook and Twitter apps. They aren't needed as Facebook and Twitter can be directly tied into the People app. Been using Windows 8 Preview since June and I love the social integration offered in this way. @QuotableRaven is probably right that they never used it otherwise they would have caught this oversight.
For point (2) I'd like to note that the "Touch Cover" is the entry-level model and doesn't fare as well as the more robust (and more positively reviewed) "Type Cover". It offers wider-keys, better touch pad and has more of a feel akin to a ultra-book keyboard than the more awkward, harder to type Touch Cover. In other words, pop-sci bloggers will want switch to the Type Cover over the Touch Cover when bashing an RT device and promoting the next Apple product.
No thanks MS. I'll stick with iOS or Android who have been around for years and have lots of industry support instead of buying your way to late tablet.
@Rubiconnn and BYUDigger
Thank you for recognizing the clear bias pop sci shows to apple it really makes me sick. Shoot back when steve jobs died they had PAGES of information about it but when the INVENTOR of C+ dies well he gets an article...and with out him none of this would be possible...come on pop sci
I am with you man....I want so much to like what MS does and to support it because the company CAN put out some amazing products and tech. Its just so hard given their track record.
Is there a version I can down load and test for 30 days, without buying it?
My knee jerk impression is I do not want it. But in fact I know little about and would like to experience it.
Microsoft totally nailed it with the USB port. My family uses 2 iPads and while they are useful for internet access, I am totally frustrated by their lack of USB ports combined with the horrible abomination of a program known as iTunes.
Try to put a home video of your kid playing with your dog on your iPad. I have a 3rd-party workaround that does the job, but it is amazingly slow. Try copying the same video onto a Windows laptop. Easy. Even using wifi only it is way faster than transmitting to the iPad. With a USB connection it is nearly instantaneous.
@HBillyRufus I had a USB port on my Acer Iconia A500, and it was the most useful port. Nice to know that the new Microsoft Surface will too. Makes it makes it so much more useful with a USB port.
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This is just like the acer W501 but with a more frustrating keyboard and gimmicky os menu. W7 works just fine on W501 tab. I also imagine W8 to be another "windows ME / Windows vista" 'Skip a generation release'.
In reading these reviews, I found myself feeling sorry for Microsoft - to have this nice new form factor to be burdened by a questionable implementation of a confusing dual OS, with a not-ready-for-primetime keyboard that fails to provide the functionality that one would expect - and no apps.
These are all p r e v e n t a b l e _ m i s t a k e s - a Microsoft specialty. How long will it stay on the market before joining the Zune mp3 player?
What a letdown.
"Condemnation without investigation is the highest form of ignorance"
Here's a link to a News Article / Editorial on Microsoft's strategy behind the Surface Tablet.
MS only puts out amazing products when they steal them or buy them from a truly innovative company. This junk is a day late and a dollar short - again. Why can't they dream a little. They will bully their way in again. MS is why computers have not evolved to their true potential. It's kinda like the government saying we're here to help.
The whole USB port thing has puzzled me for a while with the iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch because of this product, straight from Apple themselves:
There also existed a variant for the 30 pin dock connector as well. My family has used these to import pictures and video off of our video camera. I'm fairly certain that is does implement quite a bit of the usb spec, because you can usb keyboards with the camera adapter as well
So my question is, Apple, why can't we browse app documents (like we can in iTunes) and copy them to an external storage device using YOUR usb adapters. Since the cameras work, the storage device drivers are already there.....
There are many iOS apps that allow file browsing. There is a Free App called FileApp. You can publish zip files and use this to unzip entire folders that can then be browsed or forwarded via email or the network.