Microsoft Surface: 5 Reasons It's For Gamers and 5 Reasons It's Not


Posted June 21, 2012 - By Matt Swider

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With our recent Surface demo experience, we were able to peel back that thin 9.3 mm layer just enough to come up with pros and cons of placing this device in the hands of gamers.

The Microsoft Surface tablet is poised to take on the iPad and add features like a keyboard, kickstand, and a free (not $50) cover; things Apple-hating trolls always complain when new iOS devices are announced. At this week’s press conference, we got a chance to test out the Surface hardware, albeit Microsoft kept our hands-on time to a minimum so our impressions remain “surface deep.” Appropriate, right?

The Good

360 Controller

A Tablet With A Keyboard And An Xbox 360 Controller Input

The reason iOS games “don’t work,” according to the mobile gaming naysayers, is because there are no tactical controls on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. Enter the Microsoft Surface tablet. Not only does this Windows 8-powered piece of hardware have actual keys, it boasts a USB port. The Surface RT model has a USB 2.0 port, while the Surface Pro model has a USB 3.0 port. In either version, an Xbox 360 controller can be plugged directly into the machine and button-demanding genres like FPS, action, and fighting games can finally be realized on a tablet.

Wrap your brain around this idea: this gaming-capable machine and its 16:9 monitor are going to be the svelte tech, while the Xbox 360 controller is suddenly going to be the bulky item you hate carrying around. That’s quite a switch. On top of that, it’ll certainly beat tapping, sliding, and swiping your way to victory on completely unresponsive Gorilla Glass.

Both RT and Pro Surface models will include 2x2 MIMO antennas so that Microsoft doesn’t fall into Apple’s “Antenna-gate” controversy. Sadly, the press conference didn’t hint at an integrated Xbox 360 wireless receiver, which means that a wireless Xbox 360 controller would still have to use the annoying dongle. Maybe that’s something Microsoft will squeeze into future models.


Game-Changing SmartGlass

SmartGlass wasn’t mentioned once during the Surface press conference, but the team demoing the device behind-the-scenes did confirm that the tablet would make use of the SmartGlass app. A Microsoft rep also said that it’d be used for more than just picking plays in Madden and looking for an actor’s name via IMDB. Those examples are just the tip of the iceberg and developers are “very excited” to make more complex second-screen experiences.

One of the more interesting SmartGlass app concepts, an interactive Game of Thrones map, was just demoed on X-Play by Microsoft Sr. Product Manager, Peter Orullian. We like the fact that you’ll be able to explore the World of Westeros without having to pause the HBO show, leave your couch, and flip open your (by comparison) bulky laptop. Even better is the fact that the map will be automatically updated as the story that you’re watching progresses.

Surface won’t be essential, as even Apple’s iOS devices will be able to get in on the SmartGlass game. But Microsoft may give its own tablets homefield advantage in other ways.

Age of Empires

Achievement Unlocked: RTS-Friendly Touchscreen

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer called the Xbox line “[the company’s] most successful product” and touted the Kinect as a new hardware that is inspiring software developers worldwide. He didn’t use this pat on the back as an opportunity to demo of any video game software designed for Surface, unfortunately, but Windows division head Steven Sinofsky did say we “can play any of the interesting games that are in the Windows Store.”

So far, as of Windows 8 beta, that amounts to games like Hydro Thunder, Ms Splosion Man, and, of course, Angry Birds. “[Surface] has access to all of the Windows apps for music, for video, for Xbox and gaming,” Sinofsky said showing off the 10.6-inch widescreen display and touchscreen capabilities. “I can use Surface for using all of the sensors that are in Windows as well. Surface works for all of those games.”

Age of Empires Online, Microsoft’s flagship RTS game demoed for Windows 8 during a different conference, would be ideal for the Surface tablet’s sensors. Moving your civilizations into new eras with touchscreen controls without losing your favorite keyboard shortcuts would make building and commanding all of your forces a cinch. Maybe, it’d be so easy that using a mouse and keyboard combo for this history-based RTS would itself become history.

Likewise, Digital Ink could inspire drawing game apps along the lines of Draw Something thanks to Surface’s magnetic stylus pen, and it’s 600 dpi handwriting recognition with subpixel accuracy. With two digitizers (one for touch and a separate one for Digital Ink) and a .7 mm layer between the tip of the pen and where you see the ink, Surface can handle a whole lot more than just Scribblenauts.


Take It Everywhere, Designed Like a Forza Car

The best thing about Surface, besides its potential to innovate tablet games, is its ultra-sleek design. The entry-level Surface RT model, shown off at the demo session, is comparable to the iPad in terms of weight and dimensions: 676 grams vs. iPad’s 650 grams and 9.3 thickness vs. iPad’s hair-larger 9.4 mm. But Surface isn’t just about shrinking specs. It’s also about functionality. The Touch Cover acts as both a protective magnetic layer on top of the Gorilla Glass 2.0 screen and adds just 3 mm to the entire body.

Surface’s integrated kickstand, meanwhile, is part of the 9.3 mm body and it flips out for ideal gameplay and movie sessions. The Microsoft Surface team kept comparing the way the kickstand opened and closed to a luxury car door opening and closing. We kept hoping it’d segue into a Forza MotorSport demo, but alas, we have to wait for actual gaming content to “surface” on this tablet.


All The Colors You Could Want

We haven’t had this many color options since the N64 controllers came out alongside Nintendo’s 1996 console. Touch Cover colors observed during the Surface press conference were black, white and pastel blue, red, and pink. Color variety may not seem like a big deal, but with the iPad limited to black and white, Microsoft might strike the right pastel tone with users who want to break free from Apple’s minimalist theme. How many N64 gamers do you know who stuck to standard grey controllers?

The Bad


Maybe Too Portable

Microsoft Surface is uniquely portable, but it may be too low profile for its own good, at least when it comes to the gamer market. That’s because despite the convenient keyboard, it’s not a laptop. Without the kickstand in place, the viewing angle won’t stay at a perfect 110 degrees. Playing a game while sitting on the train or in bed (admit it, you do it) hasn’t been field-tested. We may realize that the Surface tablet won’t always act as a full laptop replacement in every situation.


No Price Or Release Date

Microsoft threw a lot of convincing numbers out there: less than half an inch thickness with the Touch Cover on and 1.5 lbs. total weight. But the company hasn’t announced two key specs: a Surface price or release date. The 32 GB and 64 GB Surface RT models will be competitive with ARM CPU-powered tablets. On the slightly higher-end, the 64 GB and 128 GB Surface Pro models will be competitive with Ultrabooks, meaning that the price point could hover around the $1,000 mark for all we know. The Microsoft Surface release date is even less clear, but we know that the Windows RT model will hit before the Windows 8 Pro model.

Tablet PC

Tablet PC

Apple fans everywhere accused Microsoft of copying the iPad the millisecond Steve Ballmer held up the Surface in Los Angeles for the very first time. Microsoft, however, has been investing in tablets for years, starting with the Windows-based Tablet PC line that started in 2001. To give you some reference, that’s the same year Apple launched the original iPod. These OEM devices ran a special version of the popular XP OS, but never caught on. There were even some nifty-looking convertible tablets with keyboards. Then there was former Xbox honcho J Allard’s interesting Courier prototype that never came to fruition. Microsoft certainly has been down this path before Surface.



There wasn’t a lack of hardware at Microsoft’s Surface press conference, but software was in short supply. We were hoping for at least one game demo on the new HD tablet device. Instead, we got a preview of the Netflix app for Metro. Sliding around the UI makes Netflix for Surface look very functional, but not as fun as a demo of a new Twisted Pixel-developed game.


No Phoning Home

Noticeably absent as well were the cellular capabilities of Surface. The tablet is probably going to be WiFi-only in its first iteration, which puts it at a disadvantage compared to the now 4G-equipped iPad and several competing Android devices. The good news is that you won’t be beholden to AT&T.

The Microsoft Surface press conference left us with more good impressions than bad ones -- most of the cons stem from unhurriedness about this newly announced tablet. The questions that we have will be cleared up closer to the Microsoft Surface launch, and we hope to get a better idea of the gaming capabilities of this Windows 8-powered tablet between now and then.

Tags: Features, Tech
Microsoft Surface: 5 Reasons It's For Gamers and 5 Reasons It's Not


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