Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Microsoft Surface is a Flying Car


Maybe that’s the original Surface. How about this for the Surface Pro 2:


Either works as an analogy. The point is that the Surface is functionally equivalent to a flying car: it drives on the road (badly) and it flies through the air (barely).


The Surface struggles with obvious hardware issues.

As a Tablet

The Surface has poor battery life: the original Surface Pro was under 5 hours, while the Surface Pro 2, if you dim the screen and are careful, manages over 7 hours, and maybe as much as 8. Compare that to the iPad Air, with a stated battery life of 10 hours, and reviewers saying they’re getting over 12. The iPad Air has 25-50% longer battery life.

The Surface is big and heavy: the Surface Pro 2 is 80% thicker than the iPad Air, and weighs twice as much.

As a Laptop

The Surface struggles with, you know, sitting on your lap without falling over. To be fair, the Surface Pro 2 has two different settings for the kickstand, but it’s still less lap-able than a laptop, and much more expensive. You can get a reasonable Windows laptop for less than half the cost of the Surface.

The keyboard is okay if you get the Type cover — $130 and not included in the prices Microsoft shows in the ads, despite the ads almost never showing a Surface without the cover nearby. Further, the Type cover only works when attached to the Surface. If you want wireless, that’s another $60. Finally, the trackpad on the covers is weak sauce.

But the hardware isn’t even the real problem.


The Surface presents two interfaces interchangeably. The touch interface:


And the Windows interface:


This dichotomy is perfectly illustrated by the fact that the Surface has two different Internet Explorers on it: Touch, and non-Touch.

The cognitive dissonance involved in switching back and forth from tablet-use to laptop-use on a Surface Pro 2 can’t be overstated. It’s worse than switching between Windows and Mac OS X on a MacBook using Virtual Box, and I don’t do that unless I have to.

The selection of touch-specific software for the Surface is limited. The selection of regular Windows software is, of course, enormous, but using it with touch is a pain. Here’s Microsoft Excel running on Surface. The rows in that spreadsheet are about an eighth of an inch tall, and the various items in the tool bar are about a sixth of an inch square. Good luck with that.



If you need a laptop, get a laptop. If you need a tablet, get a tablet. If you need both, you can get one of each for roughly the cost of a Surface Pro 2 and then duct tape them together. It would be about as unwieldy to use.

The sad aspect of this is that some people won’t  realize why they struggle with the Surface Pro 2. They’ll gamely try to understand both interfaces and deal with the burden of switching between them, without ever realizing that the confusing mess isn’t somehow their fault.

The worst aspect is that Microsoft presents the Surface as a unifying device. It’s possible that Microsoft’s leadership is part of that sad cohort; they’ve built a two-headed beast, and they don’t even know it.