At today’s Windows 8/Surface launch, I got to lay my hands on Surface and its two keyboards. If you are considering picking one up, I’d recommend you visit your local retailer and do the same. It’s a very solid device although its lightness or kickstand feel didn’t immediately stand out. As the ads clearly show, this product is about the keyboards, so that’s what’s worth zooming in on.
It is easy to look at the reported overall inferiority of the typing covers’ suitability for a fast typist and dismiss them, but the controversial touch cover is a pretty impressive achievement. The keys require a bit of natural pressure to activate., but it’s a far better experience than mushy membrane keyboards. Contrary to what some reviews have reported, I had almost no learning curve and felt no discomfort. My immediate accuracy could have been improved, but it was still far beyond and far more comfortable than typing on glass. Speaking of which, the trackpad is comically (even compared to a netbook) small and oddly proportioned, but it will mostly be used for tweaking broad navigation on the touchscreen
That said, for a small premium in thickness, a relatively larger one in thickness, and some jeopardy of gunking up the space between the keys, the tactile touch cover offers an even more improved typing experience,
Also, one word on the hold between the cover on the cover and the Surface. I tried several times to forcefully shake the Surface loose holding it by its cover and could not. That said, it’s good to know that the Surface can survive a spill if dropped.
Apple devoted a good chunk of the iPad mini introduction doing a direct comparison with the Google Nexus 7 (by ASUS as everyone has clearly forgotten). It was at once necessary and wasted, depending on the audience. For those open to comparing the two, the less convincing focus on the increased screen real esate and the more convincing (if oft-trotted out) focus on tablet app superiority helps to justify the 65 percent price step-up from the baseline. But for many, the availability of a capable $200 tablet is basically the end of the story. Apple’s messaging is of the iPad mini in of the smallest, least expensive iPad, not a relatively big and expensive “small tablet.”
The sad truth for Android tablets is that there have already been two tablets from major manufacturers released at close to the size of the iPad mini — the well-received Galaxy Tab 7.7 and the Motorola Xyboard 8.2. Neither was priced close to the $200 asking amount for the Kindle Fire HD or Nexus 7. In fact, most or all distribution of those models was through carrier stores, which have not been successful in moving tablets to date.
Yesterday’a revamping of Apple’s MacBook product line resulted in a product portfolio curiosity. Apple’s notebook lineup now varies about as much by girth as it does by screen size. MacBooks remain available in three screen sizes but the 13″ model is also available in three thicknesses — the ultrathin MacBook Air, the slim MacBook Pro with Retina Display, and the classic MacBook Pro with SuperDrive (unbranded as such). Of course, there are other differences among these models such as storage options, ports and screen resolutions. Still, the MacBook line now can be thought of as having three sub-lines: Air, Pro and Pro with Retina Display.
Making them even more like product lines, they tend to have similarities across the screen sizes. While the Air and Retina lines both lack optical drives, the former is obviously engineered for the ultimate in portability and a cloud-friendly lifestyle while the latter is for the leading-edge power user, with the non-Retina Pros playing very much in the mainstream. As Phil Schiller noted, the 13″ MacBook Pro is Apple’s best-selling notebook and seems likely to remain so after its Retina-equipped sibling.
The potential of this seems rather murky. Obviously, there are several office suite alternatives already for the iPad as well as remote desktop solutions. And even if there were a more concerted effort between Apple and VMWare to offer hosted Microsoft Office, there would still be a place for the popular office suite on the iPad, even in the enterprise.
Of course, such a native version would have to closer to a Windows 8-style app implementation than the current “touch-optimized” but fundamentally desktop-style version. The next version of Office will likely be offered in a Windows 8-style version as an option, much like Internet Explorer.
Most coverage that we’ve seen of the rumored iPad mini notes that it won’t have a Retina Display. There is, however, a counterargument. Clearly, Apple has been on a Retina tear (although hopefully without any actual torn retinae) as it has become a defining and increasingly anticipated feature crossing many product lines: MacBook, iPhone and iPod. If Apple was willing to put a Retina Display on the iPod touch, why wouldn’t it put one on the iPad mini? The technology is clearly available. The display on the imminent Barnes & Noble Nook HD is Retina-sharp. Adding credence to this is rumors that the iPad mini may start at $329, which would be relatively high for the sub-8″ tablet category even given that Apple is profitable (and quite) on hardware. Pulling off a Retina Display iPad mini at $299 would be a coup.
Companies keep trying to affix touchscreens to our refrigerators and develop more infomercial-friendly variations of the blender, but the kitchen still remains a relatively low-tech sanctuary. Even as we hurtle toward a Wall-E-era existence of complete automation and leisure, the simple joys of preparing a meal in one’s own kitchen can be invigorating.
My latest Backed or Whacked column for TechCrunch examines three Kickstarter funding campaigns for kitchen gadgets.