Microsoft Surface

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This article is about the Microsoft Surface series tablets. For the first generation device, see Surface (1st generation). For the interactive touch-display formerly known as Microsoft Surface, see Microsoft PixelSense. For other meanings of the term "Surface", see Surface (disambiguation).
Microsoft Surface logo 2015.svg
Surface Pro 3 with Type Cover.jpg
Surface Pro 3 with Type Cover and Surface Pen
Developer Microsoft
Manufacturer Pegatron[1]
Type Tablet computer
Release date
Operating system

Windows RT (ARM CPUs)
Surface (1st generation) and 2

Windows 8.1 (x64 CPUs)
Surface Pro series
Surface 3

Microsoft Surface is a Windows-based line of tablet computers and laplets designed and created by Microsoft. First announced on June 18, 2012, the most recent models, the Surface Pro 3 and the Surface 3, were released on June 20, 2014 and May 5, 2015 respectively. The user interface is built around the device's multi-touch screen, including a virtual keyboard as well as around traditional keyboard and touchpad. The Surface includes built-in Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity on select models.

Surface tablet computers consists of two lines: Surface which is designed for budget-oriented consumers and educational uses, and Surface Pro which is designed for professional uses. Both are powered by Microsoft's own Windows operating system. With the release of the Surface 3, both the Surface line and Surface Pro line run Windows 8.1. The now discontinued Surface RT and the Surface 2 are the only Surface to run Windows RT.

All Surface models other than the Surface RT and Surface 2 are upgradable to Windows 10.


First announced on June 18, 2012 by the then CEO, Steve Ballmer at a Los Angeles event in Milk Studios, Surface was the first major initiative by Microsoft to integrate its Windows operating system with its own hardware, and is the first PC designed and distributed solely by Microsoft.[5]

Surface (1st generation) launched alongside the general availability release of Windows 8 on October 26, 2012.[6] Surface Pro became available on February 9, 2013.[7] Surface devices were initially available only at Microsoft Stores and online, it was later expanded into other vendors.[8]

Steven Sinofsky, President of the Windows and Windows Live Division at the time, stated that pricing for Surface (1st generation) would be comparable to other ARM devices and pricing for Surface Pro would be comparable to current ultrabooks. According to then Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, the "sweet spot" for the bulk of the PC market was $300 to $800.[9] On October 16, pricing was revealed for Surface (1st generation),[10] and pre-orders opened to ship, "for delivery by 10/26".[11]

In November 2012, Steve Ballmer described the distribution approach to Surface as "modest".[12] On November 29, 2012, Microsoft revealed the pricing for the two versions of Surface with Windows 8 Pro (64GB and 128GB).[13] The tablet would go on sale at February 9, 2013, in the United States and Canada.[14] A launch event was set to be held on February 8, 2013, but was cancelled at the last minute due to the February 2013 nor'easter.[15] The 128GB version of the tablet sold out on the same day as its release. There was less demand for the 64GB version, because of the much smaller available storage capacity, but supplies of the lower cost unit were almost as tight.[16]

On September 23, 2013, Microsoft announced the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2, which feature hardware and software updates from the original. The Surface 2 launched October 22, 2013 alongside the Surface Pro 2, four days after the general availability of Windows 8.1. Later, Microsoft launched a variation of the Surface 2 with LTE connectivity for the AT&T network on March 18, 2014.

Microsoft then announced the redesigned Surface Pro 3 on May 20, 2014, which went on sale on June 20, 2014. The following year, on March 30, 2015, it announced the Surface 3, a smaller version of the Surface Pro 3, and confirmed that it, along with the rest of the Surface Pro devices, will receive free upgrades to the next version of Windows, Windows 10.

Surface series

The first two generations of Surface series devices utilize ARM CPUs and run on Windows RT. The latest generation, Surface 3, uses an x64 CPU and runs the full Windows 8.1, with upgradability to Windows 10 when it is released.[17] On the other hand, all Surface Pro devices use Intel Core processors and run the Pro version of Windows. Surface-series devices generally feature lower specifications and greater portability than Surface Pro-series devices of the same generation.

Surface (1st generation)

Touch Cover 2 attached to Surface.
Surface (first generation)

The Surface (formerly Surface with Windows RT, then Surface RT) is the launch product for the Surface brand of devices. It has a 10.6 inches (270 mm) ClearType HD display with a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels on a 16:9 aspect ratio screen. Surface weighs 1.5 pounds (0.68 kg) and comes in a Dark Titanium "VaporMg" (pronounced "VaporMag") color. It comes in 32 GB and 64 GB variants and went on sale October 26, 2012 (to coincide with Windows 8 general availability). Surface is also touted for its offering of ports. On the right side, it has a full-sized USB 2.0 port and a Micro HDMI port, as well as a magnetic charging port. Surface's unique hardware feature is its 0.77 millimetres (0.030 in)-thick kickstand which flips out from the back of the device to prop it up, allowing the device to be stood up at an angle for hands-free. Microsoft points out that this is great for watching movies, video chatting, and typing documents. There is a touch sensitive Windows key centered directly below the screen.

Surface comes with Office Home and Student 2013 RT which includes Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote, and (as of October 2013) Outlook. Because it is ARM-based, it does not run standard Windows 8, but a cut-down version called Windows RT. Thus, it can only run apps downloaded from the Windows Store[18] and is not compatible with desktop programs designed for older version of Windows.

Surface uses a Nvidia Tegra 3 ARM CPU.[19][20] It uses Microsoft's ClearType HD display[21] technology and supports an ultra-wide viewing angle and auto-adjusting screen intensity. The Surface has two 720p HD front- and rear-facing cameras.[22]

Surface 2

Main article: Surface 2
Surface 2

On September 23, 2013, Microsoft unveiled the second generation of their Surface tablets. The Surface 2 features a dual-stop/dual-position kickstand compared to the single stop in the previous generation. The Surface 2 is thinner than the original Surface at 0.35 inches (8.9 mm), and the chassis is now silver magnesium in color. The rear camera is bumped to a 5 megapixel, 1080p camera, while the front facing camera (used for Skype calls and video chatting) is upgraded to 3.5 megapixels. Surface 2 comes pre-loaded with Windows RT 8.1, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, and 200 GB of OneDrive (then SkyDrive) storage space for two years. A purchase of Surface 2 also included one year of unlimited worldwide calling over Skype.[23]

Hardware changes include the upgrade to a Nvidia Tegra 4 ARM CPU, and the full-size USB port is now USB 3.0. Microsoft also increased the resolution of the display to 1920x1080p while improving battery life, and launching an dedicated LTE-capable version for the AT&T network.[24]

Surface 3

Main article: Surface 3

Surface 3 is the third generation release of the Surface series and was announced March 31, 2015. With a slightly larger 10.8 inches (270 mm) display, it runs the full version of Windows 8.1 (Core edition) with an x64 CPU, a change from the earlier Surface devices which run Windows RT and featured ARM CPUs. This means that desktop programs are usable on the Surface 3, which was not possible with the Surface and Surface 2. Often referred to as "the Surface Pro 3's little brother" (because it shares many features with the Surface Pro 3, including its 3:2 aspect ratio),[25][26][27] the Surface 3 contains an Intel Atom "Cherry Trail" processor, the first Surface tablet without a "Pro" moniker to contain an Intel processor. This new release includes support for the Surface Pro 3's N-trig Active Pen, although it is not bundled with the pen.

Surface Pro series

Surface Pro devices use Intel Core x64 CPUs running Pro editions of Windows. Surface Pro-series devices generally feature greater specifications than Surface-series devices of the same generation, and are branded primarily as laplets, or tablets that are designed to "replace your laptop".

Surface Pro

Main article: Surface Pro
Surface Pro

Alongside the original Surface (formerly Surface with Windows RT, then Surface RT), Microsoft also announced the Surface Pro. The Surface Pro has the same 10.6" ClearType display as the first-generation Surface, yet has a Full HD resolution. It has a single-position kickstand, runs Windows 8 Pro, and has the same Dark Titanium color as the Surface RT.

The Surface Pro includes a Wacom Digitizer Pen with palm-blocking technology. The pen's "Penabled" technology allows the pen to be contacted with up to 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity. To achieve highly precise pen inputs, the display produces a weak electromagnetic (EM) field, which induces a current in the otherwise passive pen, which in turn impacts the EM field. This allows the system to detect the position and angle of the pen starting at a distance of 1 inch (2.5 cm) from the display. During pen use, the touch system rejects inputs from the user's palm. While not in use, the pen can be stored on the magnetic connector that is also used for device charging. As a result, the pen must be detached while the device is charging. The proprietary charging port is compatible with the original Surface's charger.

Inside is 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB or 128 GB of SSD storage. Along the bottom cover port, there are extra ribbon cables to carry charge from the optional Power Cover. Instead of the USB 2.0 and Micro HDMI on the Surface, Surface Pro includes a full-size USB 3.0 port and a Mini DisplayPort.[28] Storage can be expanded through a microSDXC card slot. In a talk, Michael Angiulo said that when Surface Pro is held at 17 inches (43 cm), the eyes will not be able to distinguish between individual pixels. .[21][29][30][31]

Surface Pro utilizes an Intel Ivy Bridge Core i5[32][33][34] CPU and thus can run Windows 7 legacy desktop applications and programs.

Surface Pro 2

Main article: Surface Pro 2
Surface Pro 2

On September 23, 2013, Microsoft announced the Surface Pro 2 alongside the Surface 2. It features a fourth generation Intel Core i5 processor for increased battery life. Surface Pro 2 uses the same 10.6" ClearType Full HD display and 16:9 ratio as its predecessor, and includes a full-size USB 3.0 port as well as an updated kickstand can now be tilted at a 55-degree angle alongside the original 22-degree angle. The Surface Pro 2 went on sale on October 22, 2013, along with the Surface 2.[35][36]

Surface Pro 3

Main article: Surface Pro 3
Surface Pro 3

On May 20, 2014, Microsoft announced the Surface Pro 3. It is notably larger than previous models, with a 12-inch 2160x1440 display and a unique 3:2 aspect ratio (designed to facilitate use in portrait mode). It comes in several variants, including versions with Intel Core i3, i5, or i7 processors, and 64 GB, 128 GB, 256 GB, and 512 GB of storage.[37] It comes with an improved, friction-resistant kickstand and a battery-powered Bluetooth active pen that can instantly trigger OneNote by clicking the cap.

Keyboard covers & accessories

Microsoft Surface keyboard snapping

The Surface features an optional Type Cover accessory which connects to the device via a magnetic strip. The Type Cover serve as protective covers when folded against the device, and function as backlit keyboards when opened. Microsoft has also previously released the Touch Cover that has since been discontinued. The Type Cover has a tactile keyboard with physical keys while the Touch Cover has a pressure-sensitive keyboard. The keyboard has a multi-touch touchpad and includes a gyroscope and an accelerometer sensor.[38]

The Surface also features an active pen that allows users to write directly onto the LCD screen of the tablet. The 'Surface Pen' for the Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2 uses Wacom technology, while the one for the Surface Pro 3 and the Surface 3 uses N-trig technology. The Surface Pen was specifically designed to minimize latency (lag time), eliminate parallax issues (which occur when the point where the tip touches the screen doesn’t match up with the spot where the ink actually appears on the device), and provide a more natural-feeling 'pen-on-paper' user experience.[39]

Model comparison

Surface line

Comparison of Surface specifications
Models Surface[40] Surface 2[41] Surface 3[42][43]
Date announced June 2012 October 2013 March 2015
Operating system Surface Surface 2 Surface 3
Version Pre-installed Windows RT Windows RT 8.1 Windows 8.1
Highest supported Windows RT 8.1 Windows 10
Physical specifications Surface Surface 2 Surface 3
cm (in)
height 17.2 (6.8) 17.3 (6.8) 18.7 (7.4)
width 27.46 (10.81) 27.5 (10.8) 26.7 (10.5)
depth 0.94 (0.37) 0.89 (0.35) 0.87 (0.34)
g (lb)
680 (1.50) 622 (1.371)
Memory Surface Surface 2 Surface 3
Internal storage capacity
32/64 64/128
2 2/4
Expandable storage MicroSD, up to 128 GB
Display Surface Surface 2 Surface 3
Aspect ratio 16:9 3:2
Diagonal size
cm (in)
26.9 (10.6) 27.4 (10.8)
Pixel density
148 208 214
1366x768 1920x1080 1920x1280
Technology LCD
SoC Surface Surface 2 Surface 3
SoC Nvidia Tegra 3 (T30) Nvidia Tegra 4 Intel Atom x7-Z8700
Battery Surface Surface 2 Surface 3
Technology Lithium-ion
Cameras Surface Surface 2 Surface 3
Front camera megapixels 3.5
video resolution HD (1280x720) FHD (1920x1080)
Rear camera megapixels 5.0 8.0
video resolution HD (1280x720) FHD (1920x1080)
Sensors Surface Surface 2 Surface 3
Ambient light sensor Yes Yes Yes
Accelerometer Yes Yes Yes
Gyroscope Yes Yes Yes
GPS No No Cellular version
Magnetometer Yes Yes Yes
Proximity Sensor No Yes Yes
Number of microphones 1 2
Connectivity Surface Surface 2 Surface 3
AV Connectors 3.5 mm audio socket
Mini DisplayPort
Bluetooth 4.0
Cellular Optional Optional Optional
USB 2.0 3.0
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Miscellaneous Surface Surface 2 Surface 3
Pen input None N-trig active pen
TPM No No Yes
Models Surface Surface 2 Surface 3

Surface Pro line

Comparison of Surface Pro specifications
Models Surface Pro[44] Surface Pro 2[45] Surface Pro 3[46]
Date announced February 2013 October 2013 June 2014
Operating system Surface Pro Surface Pro 2 Surface Pro 3
Version Pre-installed Windows 8 Pro Windows 8.1 Pro
Highest supported Windows 10
Physical specifications Surface Pro Surface Pro 2 Surface Pro 3
cm (in)
height 17.3 (6.8) 20.1 (7.9)
width 27.5 (10.8) 29.0 (11.4)
depth 1.35 (0.53) 0.91 (0.36)
g (lb)
910 (2.01) 900 (2.0) 800 (1.8)
Memory Surface Pro Surface Pro 2 Surface Pro 3
Internal storage capacity
64/128/256 64/128/256/512
type mSATA SSD
RAM capacity
4 4/8
type DDR3 LPDDR3
Expandable storage MicroSD, up to 128 GB
Display Surface Pro Surface Pro 2 Surface Pro 3
Aspect ratio 16:9 3:2
Diagonal size
cm (in)
27.0 (10.6) 30.0 (11.8)
Pixel density
208 216
1920x1080 2160x1440
Technology LCD
CPU and GPU Surface Pro Surface Pro 2 Surface Pro 3
Generation Intel 3rd generation
Ivy Bridge
Intel 4th generation
CPU model
i5-3317U i5-4200U
Base frequency – turbo frequency
1.7–2.6 1.6–2.6
L3 cache size
3 3
Intel HD integrated graphics HD Graphics 4000 HD Graphics 4400 HD Graphics 4200
HD Graphics 4400
HD Graphics 5000
17 15 11.5
Battery Surface Pro Surface Pro 2 Surface Pro 3
Max. claimed Wi-Fi browsing time
Technology Lithium-ion
Cameras Surface Pro Surface Pro 2 Surface Pro 3
Front camera megapixels 1.2 5
video resolution HD (1280x720) FHD (1920x1080)
Rear camera megapixels 1.2 5
video resolution HD (1280x720) FHD (1920x1080)
Sensors Surface Pro Surface Pro 2 Surface Pro 3
Ambient light sensor Yes Yes Yes
Accelerometer Yes Yes Yes
Gyroscope Yes Yes Yes
GPS No No No
Magnetometer Yes Yes Yes
Number of microphones 2
Connectivity Surface Pro Surface Pro 2 Surface Pro 3
AV Connectors 3.5 mm audio socket
Mini DisplayPort
Bluetooth 4.0 4.0 LE
Cellular No No No
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Miscellaneous Surface Pro Surface Pro 2 Surface Pro 3
Pen input Wacom passive pen N-trig active pen
TPM No No Yes
Models Surface Pro Surface Pro 2 Surface Pro 3


Microsoft Surface street commercial

Reviews of Surface by critics have ranged broadly. The hardware received mostly positive reviews, while the software and overall experience were mixed. Wired reviewer Mathew Honan stated that while "This is one of the most exciting pieces of hardware I’ve ever used. It is extremely well-designed; meticulous even," the tablets are "likely to confuse many of Microsoft’s longtime customers".[47] TechCrunch,[48] Matt Buchanan at Buzzfeed,[49] and Gizmodo recommended against purchasing the tablet. Gizmodo mentioned issues such as the high price tag and described it as similar but inferior to the iPad, but also praised the hardware saying, "You'll appreciate it every time you pick it up and turn it on. It's a simple, joyful experience."[50] David Pogue at The New York Times praised the hardware but criticized the software.[51] The Verge described the technology as fulfilling the role of a laptop or tablet "half as well as other devices on the market," adding "the whole thing is honestly perplexing."[52] Warner Crocker from Gotta Be Mobile described it as "frustratingly confusing."[53] Farhad Manjoo of Slate noted that the "shortcomings are puzzling" given how much time Microsoft spent developing the device.[54] Neil McAllister has noted the lack of a compelling case to switch from the iPad to a Windows RT device at the same price point, because Apple already has a strong network effect from their app developers and few Windows developers have ported their offerings over to the ARM processor.[55]

It has worse battery life than similar devices.[56] The Surface Pro has shorter battery life than the Surface RT due in part to its full HD screen and Intel Core i5 processor.

Sales of the first generation Surface did not meet Microsoft's expectations, which led to price reductions and other sales incentives.[57][58]


Surface RTs for sale at a Microsoft Store.

In March 2013, Bloomberg reported from inside sources that Surface sales were behind expectations, particularly the Surface RT. A total of 1.5 million Surface devices had been sold since launch, with Surface Pro accounting for 400,000 of these sales. Microsoft had originally projected sales of 2 million Surface units during the final quarter of 2012. However, the more expensive Surface Pro, with its Intel CPU that makes it a full-fledged Windows laptop PC, despite its compromises, was successful compared to other OEMs' Ultrabook hybrids which were larger and more expensive. As a result, the latest Surface Pro 3 has been targeting the premium ultra-mobile PC category including the MacBook Air.[1][2]

The poor sales of the Surface RT had been credited to the continuing market dominance of Microsoft's competitors in the tablet market. Particularly, Apple's iPad retained its dominance due its App store offering the most tablet-optimized applications. Most OEMs opted to produce tablets running Google Android, which came in a wide variety of sizes and prices (albeit with mixed success among most OEMs), and Google Play had the second-largest selection of tablet applications. By contrast there was a limited amount of software designed specifically for Surface RT's operating system, Windows RT, the selection which was even weaker than Windows Phone.[3] Indeed OEMs reported that most customers felt Intel-based tablets were more appropriate for use in business environments, as they were compatible with the much more widely-available x86 programs while Windows RT was not.

In July 2013, Steve Ballmer revealed that the Surface RT hasn't sold as well as he hoped.[59] He reported that Microsoft had made a loss of US$900 million due to the lackluster sales of Surface RT; concurrently, Microsoft cut the price of Surface RT worldwide by 30%, with its U.S. price falling to US$350.[60][61][62][63] This was followed by a further price cut in August after it was revealed that even the marketing costs had exceed the sales.[64] On August 4, 2013, the cost of Surface Pro was cut by $100 giving it an entry price of $799. Several law firms sued Microsoft, accusing the company of misleading shareholders about sales of Surface RT, calling it an 'unmitigated disaster'.[65] In the first two years of sales Microsoft lost almost two billion dollars.[66]

Industry response

When Surface was first announced, critics noted that the device represented a significant departure for Microsoft, as the company had previously relied exclusively on third-party OEMs to produce devices running Windows, and began shifting towards a first-party hardware model with similarities to that of Apple.[67][68] Steve Ballmer said that like Xbox, Surface was an example of the sort of hardware products Microsoft will release in the future.[69]

Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), whose products have traditionally run Microsoft operating systems, have had positive responses to the release of Surface.[70] HP, Lenovo, Samsung, and Dell[71] applauded Microsoft's decision to create its own Tablet PC and said that relationships with Microsoft have not changed. John Solomon, senior vice president of HP, said that "Microsoft was basically making a leadership statement and showing what's possible in the tablet space".[72][73] Acer founder Stan Shih said that he believed Microsoft only introduced its own hardware in order to establish the market and would then withdraw in favor of its OEMs.[74]

However, others believe that OEMs were left sidelined by the perception that Microsoft's new tablet would replace their products.[75][76] Acer chairman JT Wang advised Microsoft to "please think twice".[77] Microsoft has acknowledged that Surface may "affect their commitment" of partners to the Windows platform.[78]

The need for the Surface RT to market an ARM-compatible version of Windows was questioned by analysts because of recent developments in the PC industry; both Intel and AMD introduced x86-based system-on-chip designs for Windows 8, Atom "Clover Trail" and "Temash" respectively, in response to the growing competition from ARM licensees. In particular, Intel claimed that Clover Trail-based tablets could provide battery life rivaling that of ARM devices; in a test by PC World, Samsung's Clover Trail-based Ativ Smart PC was shown to have battery life exceeding that of the ARM-based Surface RT. Peter Bright of Ars Technica argued that Windows RT had no clear purpose, since the power advantage of ARM-based devices was "nowhere near as clear-cut as it was two years ago", and that users would be better off purchasing Office 2013 themselves because of the removed features and licensing restrictions of Office RT.[79][79][80][81]

Reported problems

Users on Microsoft's support forum reported that some Touch Covers were splitting at the seam where it connects to the tablet, exposing its wiring. A Microsoft spokesperson stated that the company was aware of the issue, and would offer free replacements for those who have been affected by the defect.[82][83] Other users reported issues with audio randomly stuttering or muting on the Surface RT while in use.[84] Wi-Fi connectivity issues were also reported. Firmware updates that attempted to fix the problem were released, but some users still reported problems.[85][86] Microsoft has acknowledged a bug in the Windows key that does not always work, but has promised a fix.[87] The latest update, which promised to fix the issue, was not able to fix it.[88]

With Surface Pro, Microsoft acknowledged issues encountered by some users with its stylus pen, including intermittent pen failures, and with older applications that do not have complete pen support due to the different APIs used by Surface Pro's stylus drivers. In the latter case, Microsoft has indicated that it is working with software vendors to ensure better compatibility.[89][90] Issues had also been experienced with slow Wi-Fi connectivity, and the device not properly returning from standby.[91][92]

iFixit has awarded the Surface Pro its worst ever repairability rating, but CEO Kyle Wiens claims that it is due to incompetence rather than deliberate design choices.[93]

Storage capacity

On November 14, 2012, Microsoft was sued for false advertising and unfair business practices due to the fact that about half of the total storage space on its 32 GB Surface RT tablet was used by the operating system, applications, and recovery data.[94] Microsoft responded that the suit was without merit, because it had advertised the discrepancy on its website.[95]

According to Microsoft, the 64 GB Surface Pro tablet would only have 29 GB of storage space and that the 128 GB Surface will only have 89 GB[96] which has been the source of criticism in the technology news media.[97][98] ZDNet editor Ed Bott has pointed out that the storage can be significantly improved by moving the recovery partition to a USB flash drive and that the MacBook Air suffers from the same problems, accusing the critics of holding a double standard.[99] However, unlike the iPad, the Surface will accept microSD cards that can increase their storage capacity by up to 128 GB.

See also


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