Surface tablets start shipping ahead of Windows 8 launch


A look at Microsoft's Surface tablet

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Microsoft has started shipping its first Surface tablet computers ahead of their official launch on Friday.

The firm's UK site says it has sold out of pre-orders for the 32GB version of the device, which runs the RT version of Windows 8.

It marks Microsoft's entry into the PC hardware market, posing competition to other computer manufacturers.

Early reviews of the device have been mixed, praising the hardware but criticising a lack of software.

Surface with Windows RT - to give the device its full name - runs on a chip made by Nvidia, based on the designs of British company Arm Holdings.

It is designed to be cheaper and offer longer battery life than products using x86 chips that run the full Windows 8 system.

The caveat is that Windows RT devices can only install third-party software from Microsoft's own Windows Store.

Although they do offer a traditional desktop mode, the only programs that can be run under it are Microsoft's Office 2013 suite and a limited number of the firm's other products.

Until more third-party apps are developed for the touch-interface mode, users face a significantly smaller selection of software than they would on traditional Windows devices and tablets powered by Apple's iOS or Google's Android operating systems.

Microsoft intends to launch an Intel-based version of the Surface offering the full Windows 8 system in January.

But it does appear there is demand for the Windows RT.

Microsoft Surface The Surface tablet features a kickstand to allow it to stand upright on its own

Although Microsoft has not disclosed sales figures, it said that pre-orders of the 32GB version of the tablet - which costs £399 - had "temporarily sold out" in the US, Canada, France, Germany and the UK within a day of going on sale.

A £559 64GB version bundled with a Touch Cover keyboard remains on offer.

Early reviews

Reviewers have given a mixed reaction to the machine.

"This is one of the most of exciting pieces of hardware I've ever used," enthused Wired's Matthew Honan. "It is extremely well-designed; meticulous even."

He praised the ability to type quickly on the machine's Type Cover - the £100 add-on that doubles as a keyboard and screen protector, offering an alternative to on-screen typing.

However, he criticised its cameras as "junk" and highlighted the lack of software.

"I missed apps like Dropbox and 1Password and Rdio," he wrote.

The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg also commended the machine's physical aspects.

"It's a unique tablet, made of a type of magnesium with a feeling of quality and care," he wrote.

However, he criticised its battery life, and highlighted problems with the third-party apps that were available.

What is launching when

24 Oct: Samsung (New York)

Will give details of US launch of Galaxy Note 2

25 Oct: Microsoft (New York)

Launch event for Windows 8 which goes on sale, alongside Surface tablets, the next day

29 Oct: Google (New York)

Android-themed event, may include new Nexus devices

29 Oct: Microsoft (San Francisco)

Launch of Windows Phone 8 operating system

30 Oct: Arm (London)

Mobile device chip designer and "partners" announce news

"Evernote took a long time to synchronise my account, and the Kindle app had to stop every few pages to fetch the next section."

The Verge's Joshua Topolsky also complained some games felt "sluggish" on the machine, however he said Microsoft's own Internet Explorer browser and Xbox Music apps showed "how playful and fresh this version of Windows can be".

But Techcrunch's Matt Burns decided that he could not recommend consumers buy the tablet in its current state, complaining that its 10.6in (26.9cm) size made it unwieldy.

"With its awkward size and incomplete operating system, the Surface fails to excel at anything particular in the way other tablets have," he wrote.

However, he said it could offer an alternative to existing low-end laptops if Microsoft could attract more software developers.

"If properly nurtured, Windows RT and the Surface RT could be something worthwhile," he said.

Competitive market

Microsoft's chief executive Steve Ballmer may unveil more apps when he hosts an event to show off the tablets alongside the various versions of Windows 8 on Thursday in New York.

The devices and software will go on sale the next day.

Microsoft will face competition from Dell, Asus, Lenovo and Samsung, who have also unveiled Windows RT devices over recent weeks.

Steve Ballmer Microsoft's boss holds a Windows 8 launch on Thursday and a Windows Phone 8 event next week

Apple is also attempting to woo consumers with its new iPad mini and revised fourth generation full-sized iPad, and Amazon has just launched its Android-powered Kindle Fire tablet family in the UK.

Google is also expected to unveil further Android tablets built by other manufacturers at an event on Monday, adding to the Nexus 7 it has already launched alongside Asus.

"It is really hard for consumers as the portfolio of products will be huge this Christmas season," Francisco Jeronimo, mobile device researcher at consultants IDC, told the BBC.

"Microsoft is trying to promote its entire eco-system - including its own Office software and the fact it can offer integration between Windows computers, Windows Phone handsets and the Xbox games console - to gain an edge.

"But it faces a huge problem as its rivals are offering cheaper-priced devices."

Other analysts have noted, however, that Microsoft would risk angering other Windows 8 device makers were it to copy Amazon's strategy of selling its tablets at break-even prices.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    Sometimes I just want to shout "STOP! STOP! WE DON'T NEED ANYMORE USELESS CRAP FROM YOU MONEY SUCKING TECHNOLOGY COMPANIES!!!" Spend your money in a more meaningful way, you don't need a computer tablet? And the cellphone you bought 6 months ago is still working fine. And the amount of indecomposable junk all these devices end up to become. JUST STOP!

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    I just don't think there's a market for yet another tablet. Their purpose is unclear. They are not practical enough to be used for serious word processing or business applications. As a browser, they are certainly an expensive toy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    There was something on the news last night about mobile phone networks getting 10 times faster.

    I don't get it. it's madness.

    People aren't talking 10 times faster are they? You wouldn't be able to understand them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    Do we need the tablet?
    No, not really. Very clever bit of technology, yes. Along with all the other bits of clever, smaller technology.
    OK for all the techno-weenies out there. Just another clever exercise in marketing.
    Personally, I like something big, something I can sit in.
    Best bit of technological innovation to come along recently, the 3D printer.
    Now that's well cool!

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    @Spindoctor Win95, etc all had legacy support (your old applications would work on them), so all effectively had thousands of applications ready for use. Windows RT does not support legacy, so they won't work, and you have to download new applications from Microsoft (and pay), if the app your looking for has even been developed for RT.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    This product is work in progress, the Apps will follow as surely as night follows day.
    Just the same as Games for the Consoles and Programs for the new OS's did when they were first rolled out.
    Win95 Win98 Win XP all had the same issues.

    As for Apple, there kit is nothing more than Crippleware supported by crippled software

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    My comment?
    I would love to comment on 'working for pensions' .
    Consumer tat is hardly news.

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    @173 Linux is widely used in applications ranging from appliances with embedded os up to enterprise servers. Also, Android is based on Linux.

    Even if its desktop share of the market decreased (and I don't think it will - I suspect more organisations will look to using it), I don't imagine Linux fading away for some time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    I regularly need to use a broad range of specialist 3rd-party as well as Microsoft PC audio/video software.

    So it will remain my efficient, polyvalent, clunky, ancient (3-yr-old) laptop that does the job, while I do something else with my £559. :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    As a CIO, I have to disagree with Tanglewood and agree with The Bloke. We've had huge success in deploying iPads for our sales teams to be able to produce content in a client-friendly way in meetings. Our real problem is that integrating an iPad to the corporate IT environment is a mess of string and sticky tape. If Microsoft make this work, it will be game changing for the enterprise tablet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    173: If it were not for Unix (1969) and Linux (1991, an open source version) you wouldn't be typing that message here and the internet wouldn't be as it is. There's many developers for Linux kernel and programs (myself included) and unlike with Windows, bugs are fixed much quicker. FYI: Apple OSX is part NeXT and FreeBSD and NetBSD (both Unix) so your notion of Apple taking over is quite funny.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    19: Very simply. Microsoft typically offers evaluation versions for developers. Then there's the MSDN and TechNet subscriptions (a lot of money but corporations pay for them).

    Your point is most likely irrelevant though: why spend the money on something if there's barely any functionality to begin with? It's not going anywhere, after all. That's likely what the reviews are getting at.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    What is this thing going to do to make my life better? In what ways will it make me happier than I am now? How will it make my life easier? How will it affect my health?

    These are the kinds of questions that we should all be asking ourselves before we purchase a new electronic device. If good answers aren't forthcoming, then perhaps we should hold on to our money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    I'm fed up with computers!

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    It looks too big to me, the main point of a tablet is to be portable and easy to handle, the fact that it needs a built in stand to be able you use comfortably seems to defeat the point, might as well get a laptop. I don't see this as something I could carry around and whip out in a cafe or pub. Reading a book on a plane for example would not be comfortable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    One poster here despite being excited about this called the camera 'junk'. Its all junk. Look at it, 2012's version of Apple's Clamshell.
    Win7 is AWFUL it can't even remember where and what size the windows were when you shut down last. You think Win8 is going to be any better? And RT? what does that stand for? I can think of a few candidates.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    It seems many people are unaware that Apple did not invent the tablet computer, they just redefined it as a mostly useless novelty for trendy people who spend lots of time in coffee shops.

    Real tablet PCs have been around in industry settings for a long time, but those were fully functional computers that could run full operating systems. I can't wait for the day they make a comeback.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    So strange, the moment most people have all the software they need for their PC, the new fancy with it latest hardware won't run the old stuff. Anyone would think the public were being conned!

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    Will it connect to a mobile network or do I need to locate a WiFi hotspot or tether my mobile to use it on the move?

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    Microsoft are on the way out as a brand now and Apple are taking over. Few would have believed it a decade or so ago, but in 10 years time it's perfectly possible that Microsoft will be reduced to being one one of a number of minor software developers along with the likes of IBM and Linux.


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