Under the Surface

In the exploding tablet wars, one new entry stands out…and it’s from a familiar name:  Microsoft.

The global computing giant made it’s fortune on software…not hardware.  The most serious hardware offering it had heretofore was a series of keyboards, mice, and webcams.

But with the almost simultaneous launch of it’s newest operating system – Windows 8 -  MS also released it’s first serious hardware/software device: the Microsoft Surface. (manufactured by Asus).

Ive had the chance to put this tablet through its paces.  As context, I also own an iPad, and an Android Tablet, and well…you know me…I’m a geek who gets off on this stuff, so I think I have a pretty fair foundation to comment.

In a word:  AWESOME.

In fact, our Manager of Digital Media here at the TV station — who is even more of a gadget guy than I am (if that’s possible), spent a half-hour with the Surface, and said he was sorry he bought the newest version of the iPad.  He was that impressed.

There are a TON of reviews of the Surface, so I won’t try to add to the chatter, but let me give you a few hilites from a voice-actor’s POV.

  • Incredibly crisp display: 10.6″ ClearType HD Display, 1366×768 pixels, 16:9 (widescreen), 5-point multi-touch.  The first thing you notice is that it’s “longer” than the iPad.  Of course, the screen automatically adjusts to a vertical or horizontal orientation, but in vertical…a LOT more copy fits on the screen…that’s good for use in your VO studio, as you read from the device.
  • Inputs/Outputs: Finally!  A USB port!  Works great.  The device immediately recognizes the input, meaning you can store stuff on an external USB thumb drive or a Terabyte external drive.  You can also run Surface apps from the USB device.  The Surface also has a mini-HDMI output slot, a micro-SDXC slot (accepts up to 64 Gig storage), and stereo speakers.  Completing the package:  rear/forward facing cameras (720p HD LifeCams), a headphone jack, magnetized power cable, and magnetized 3-prong touch keyboard connector.
  • It’s FAST!  Quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3, 2GB RAM.  Noticeably fast and smooth.
  • Extras:  Ambient light sensor, Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Compass.  Nifty “touch” keyboard, and built-in stand, as well as a built-in SkyDrive connection.

No question the Achilles heel of this device is a deficient universe of available apps.  This is growing by the day, but some things you’d expect just aren’t there yet.  DropBox for one.  However, it does have the full Microsoft Office Suite as part of the package…and not just an evaluation copy:  Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.  Fully functional.  Also, since Microsoft owns Skype, the Surface has the most advanced version of this program…it’s a pleasure to use… and works flawlessly.

This tablet — like no other I’ve seen — approximates a laptop.  The touch keyboard even comes with a built-in mousepad, so you can touch the screen, or use the mouse.  Also, with one touch, you can get to what looks for all the world like a Win7 desktop screen.

One other note, sadly, is an absolute absence of any available (decent) recording or editing software (DAW).  There are some rudimentary voice-recording apps…but this void is a drawback for voice-actors using the Surface as a mobile recording device, and especially frustrating in light of the possibilities afforded by the external USB port.

Remember, though…anything you can call up on the internet, you can utilize as a web-app on the internet.  I have yet to explore those options.  Some downloadable Windows programs are not compatible with the ARM processor/Win8 OS available on the Surface.

Final word:  A delight for everyday use.  Perfect for browsing and use as a resource and reading device in  your studio, but a failure as a mobile recording device (so far).






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  1. says

    Way to be on the bleeding edge, Dave! I played with a Lenovo at Staples running Windows 8 and kinda liked the new Metro interface, and the hardware with pivoting touch screen was super cool.

    Might need to hold out/invest in the Surface Pro which is runs full Windows 8 OS, and therefor, legacy apps like Adobe Audition.

    From this article:
    “The general rule of thumb is that Windows 8 RT supports a range of devices “types” out of the box. for example, most USB microphones use the native Microsoft driver. These should work fine. As soon as you need to install drivers, things will go downhill, at least for now.”

    So that means it should work with basic USB devices like the Shure PG42USB, MicPort Pro, things like that… maybe?

    Still wondering though, is it that much better a user experience than a Nexus 7 with a bluetooth keyboard for much less $$, way more apps, and sharper display?

    • says

      I hear ya, George, and the Surface PRO is probably a better machine, but they’re also more pricey, and no one’s seen any demo models yet (at least not retail)…so who knows when they’ll be out for sure.

      …and I hear you about using the USB mics…but there remains the issue of no decent recording/editing software for whatever it is you end up recording…maybe Soundcloud will be first with a decent app, but I’m not holding my breath that Twisted Wave will be doing a Win8 app. :)

      Thanks for commenting!

      Dave C

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