Microsoft Surface

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This article is about Microsoft Surface series devices. For the first generation device, see Microsoft Surface (1st generation).
For the interactive touch-display formerly known as Microsoft Surface, see Microsoft PixelSense.
Microsoft Surface logo 2015.svg
Microsoft Surface series logo
Developer Microsoft
Manufacturer Pegatron[1]
Type Tablet computer
Release date Surface (1st generation): October 26, 2012[2]
Surface Pro: February 9, 2013[3]
Surface 2: October 22, 2013
Surface Pro 2: October 22, 2013
LTE: March 18, 2014[4]
Surface Pro 3: June 20, 2014
Operating system Windows RT (Surface devices) or Windows 8.1 (Surface Pro devices)

Surface is a series of computing devices, including tablet computers and interactive whiteboards running on Windows operating systems, designed and created by Microsoft.

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] There are two variants of the Surface series of tablets; Surface RT devices which run Windows RT for ARMv7 CPUs, and the Surface Pro devices which run the conventional Windows operating system for IA-32 and x64 CPUs.

At the Windows 10 event on the 21st of January 2015, the brand expanded into the interactive whiteboard industry with the announcement of the Microsoft Surface Hub.


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]

At the June 2012 unveiling event, Steven Sinofsky, President of the Windows and Windows Live Division, 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." In a recent interview with the Seattle Times, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer responded to the question about Surface pricing stating that the "sweet spot" for the bulk of the PC market was $300 to $800, but did not detail any more specifics.[9] On October 16, pricing was revealed for Surface (1st generation),[10] and pre-orders opened to ship, "for delivery by 10/26".[11]

Microsoft outsourced the pre-order process to several different partners, leading to customer confusion about the status of their deliveries.[12] Microsoft responded to the delays by offering vouchers to pre-order customers who complain about the late deliveries.[13][14]

In November 2012, Steve Ballmer described the distribution approach to Surface as "modest".[15] On November 29, 2012, Microsoft revealed the pricing for the two versions of Surface with Windows 8 Pro (64GB and 128GB).[16] The tablet would go on sale at February 9, 2013, in the United States and Canada.[17] Earlier reports were saying sometime in January.[18] 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.[19] The 128GB version of the tablet sold out on the same day as its release. There was much 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.[20] The 128GB version was back and available for order again on February 16, 2013. However, shipments would be delayed until the following March 1.[21] As of March 3rd, shipments would be delayed until March 12, according to the Microsoft Online Store. As of March 7 the 128GB tablet became available again and resumed shipping.

On September 23, 2013, Microsoft announced the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2. The Surface 2 launched October 22, 2013 alongside the Surface Pro 2. Later, Microsoft launched the Surface 2 with LTE connectivity March 18, 2014.

Microsoft then announced the Surface Pro 3 on May 20, 2014 which went on sale June 20, 2014.

Specification and comparison of Microsoft Surface tablet devices

Surface RT devices

Surface Pro devices

Surface RT devices

Surface devices running the Windows RT operating system for ARMv7 CPUs.

Surface (1st generation)

Surface (first generation)

The Surface (formerly Surface with Windows RT, then Surface RT) is the first device in the Surface family of devices. It has a 10.6 ClearType HD display with a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels on a 16:9 aspect ratio screen. The Surface tablet 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. Surface is also touted for the number of ports it has. On the right side, it has a full-sized USB 2.0 port and a Micro HDMI port, as well as a charging port. Surface's unique hardware feature is its 0.77 millimetres (0.030 in)-thick kickstand which allows the device to be stood up at an angle for hands-free, and which flips out from the back of the device to prop it up, which Microsoft points out is great for watching movies, video chatting, and typing documents. There is a touch sensitive Windows key is centered directly below the screen. Surface comes with Office Home and Student 2013 RT which includes Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote, and Outlook. It is running the Windows RT operating system which is ARM-based and runs apps downloaded from the Windows Store.[27] It is running an Nvidia Tegra 3 ARM CPU.[28][29] Both the Surface and Surface Pro use Microsoft's ClearType HD display[30] technology and support an ultra-wide viewing angle and auto-adjusting screen intensity. The Surface has two 720p HD front- and rear-facing cameras.[31]

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 in thin. The chassis is 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.[32] Microsoft also increased the resolution of the display to 1920x1080p while improving battery life, and launching an LTE version.[33] Surface 2 runs an Nvidia Tegra 4 ARM CPU.

Surface Pro devices

Surface devices running on the Windows operating system for IA-32 and x64 CPUs.

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, and has the same Dark Titanium color as the Surface (1st generation). The Surface Pro includes a Wacom Digitizer Pen with palm-blocking technology. This 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. Inside is 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB or 128 GB of 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.[34] Storage can be expanded through a microSDXC card slot. In announcement 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. .[30][35][36][37] Surface Pro utilizes an Intel Ivy Bridge Core i5[38][39][40]

Surface Pro 2

Main article: Surface Pro 2

On September 23, 2013, in addition to the Surface 2 announcement, Microsoft also announced the Surface Pro 2. It features a fourth generation Intel Core i5 processor for increased battery life. Surface Pro 2 brings improvements in display, using 10.6" ClearType Full HD display with 1920x1080p and a 16:9 ratio. The Pro 2 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.[41][42]

Surface Pro 3

Main article: Surface Pro 3
Surface Pro 3

On May 20, 2014, Microsoft announced the Surface Pro 3 with a 12-inch 2160x1440 display, powered by an Intel Core i3/i5/i7 processor.[43] It comes with an improved, multi-stage kickstand and a battery-powered Bluetooth active pen.

Surface Hub

Main article: Microsoft Surface Hub

On 21 January 2015 Microsoft has announced a new device of the Surface family — Microsoft Surface Hub, a 84-inch 120 Hz 4K or 55-inch 1080p multi-touch and multi-pen screen wall-mounted device, aimed for collaboration and videoconferencing use of businesses. It will run a Windows 10 operating system.[44]

Keyboard Covers & Accessories

Microsoft Surface keyboard snapping

Microsoft offers two keyboard covers for Surface devices—the Touch Cover and Type Cover—both of which connect to the device via a magnetic strip. Both serve as protective covers when folded against the device, and function as keyboards when opened. The Touch Cover is 3.25 millimetres (0.128 in) thick and has a pressure-sensitive keyboard. The Type Cover is thicker at 6 millimetres (0.24 in) and includes a tactile keyboard with physical keys. The keyboards have a gyroscope and accelerometer sensor to determine, based on position, whether or not to accept input. Both also include a multi-touch touchpad.[45]

Surface devices also include a stylus for screen input. The Surface Pro 3 is packaged with the 'Surface Pen,' an Active pen developed by N-trig. 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.[46]


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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External links