Microsoft Surface Review

Like almost all articles on DisplayBlog I will be focusing on the display. Microsoft’s Surface sports a 16:9 10.6-inch 1366×768 IPS LCD that is optically laminated to the cover glass. Surface RT, the version powered by an ARM CPU, starts at US$499 for the 32GB version. That should be enough to raise a lot of eyebrows for folks who expect a lot more pixels for that kind of money, though to be fair that’s double the storage you get with the iPad (3). Josh Topolsky, The Verge:

The display on the Surface is — as mentioned — a 16:9 screen, which means wide but not very tall. The display uses Microsoft’s ClearType technology, which supposedly produces better looking graphics and typography, even against displays with a much higher resolution (hello new iPad). The colors and blacks on the 10.6-inch screen do look stunning, but all the technology in the world can’t make up for pixels that aren’t there. At the size of the Surface screen, 1366 x 768 resolution leaves much to be desired — and even though things are sharp, text and some of the starker elements of the Microsoft’s new UI would clearly benefit from a higher res display.

1366×768 pixels on a 10.6-inch LCD equals to 147.8 ppi. Not that ppi is everything, but a bar has been set for premium tablets and it’s a resolution of around 200 ppi. Microsoft Surface falls way short of this. Without a doubt ClearType will help makes things prettier, but it cannot overcome such a large ppi deficit. If Microsoft wants to charge $499, Surface needs 1920×1080. Look at where things are going: The HTC J Butterfly, a 5-inch smartphone, packs 1920×1080.

Anand Lai Shimpi, AnandTech:

Rather than focus on pixel density it focused on improving contrast and reducing glare. Surface laminates the cover glass and LCD panel together, removing an annoying air gap that’s responsible for some reflections/glare and a reduction in brightness.

Optically laminated LCD and cover glass combined with a 200-ppi display would have been perfect. Even Apple hasn’t optically laminated the cover glass with the recently updated iPad, so credit is due Microsoft.

According to AnandTech Surface has a black brightness of 0.31 nits, beating all other tested tablets including the iPad (0.45 nits). White brightness of 433 nits is only mediocre, but is still better than the iPad’s 394 nits. Incredibly dark blacks is what takes the Surface right up to the very top when it comes to contrast: 1384, way higher than the iPad’s 934:1. Contrast is great, but color accuracy is merely good, and not as good as the iPad.

Peter Bright, Ars Technica:

So while there are certainly situations where Microsoft’s screen looks better than Apple’s—and these situations might even be commonplace if we were comparing laptops—as a tablet screen it would be better served with a higher resolution. If that means that battery life is worse, the solution is to enlarge the battery. After all, Apple manages to cram a 42.5Wh battery into the iPad, and the iPad is ever so slightly lighter than the Surface.

Surface as a notebook, meaning the display is farther away from you, is comparable to the iPad in terms of the visual experience; Surface as a tablet, up close and personal, falls flat compared to the iPad. You can’t compensate for the significant lack of pixels with software tricks.

It isn’t that Microsoft did not focus on the visual experience of using Surface; it’s just that Microsoft didn’t go far enough. Optical lamination is one important step, but Surface falls short of what seems an obvious expectation. We are just moving past the inflection point where to be competing at the high end the bar has been set for 16:9 10-inch tablets at 1920×1080. Microsoft promised a no compromise user experience, but in my opinion I only need to look at the display to know that Microsoft failed to deliver.