Microsoft Surface Tablet Review
It may look the part, but the Surface RT has a long way to go before it can compete well.
Woof. After the release of Apple's retina display, and the Google Nexus7 's high PPI display, the Surface had it's work cut out for it, and it just... didn't. With screen real estate of 9.3125" x 5.25" and a resolution of 1366 x 768, the screen of the Surface is easily the worst of the big three by a large margin.
In all fairness to the Surface, if you use it with any of the optional keyboards much like you would a laptop, you'll be more than 17 inches from the screen, at which point someone with 20/20 vision may notice that they can't distinguish between pixels. Still, if you are on an airplane in business class, the screen will be closer to your face than this.
Indoor & Outdoor Use
The Microsoft Surface RT 32 GB has a decently high peak brightness and a very low reflectivity, so users will be able to take their tablet with them no sweat. Most products with an LCD screen have trouble in direct sunlight, but the Surface RT seems to handle it quite well as far as tablets go.
NOTE: The images above are shot with a variety of lighting sources, which may cause some color shift.
Because the pixel density is relatively low, the legibility score suffers here, but it’s still as good as early iPads. You’ll notice some “stair-stepping” in smaller text, which the screen naturally defaults to for some reason when on the desktop. Our best advice is to stick to the Metro interface, because good lord the desktop has a lot of rough edges.
Quite possibly the best thing about the Microsoft Surface RT’s screen is the anti-reflection coating, which is easily one of the better ones we’ve seen in 2012 so far. Reflecting only 8.2% of all light back at the user, the screen does a good job of diffusing light from bright sources for a tablet. Reflection patterns are still sharp and annoying though, so try to angle your Surface RT away from bright light sources if you can.
Screen Size & DPI
Measuring in at 9.3125″ × 5.25″ and with a resolution of 1366 × 768 pixels, the Microsoft Surface RT has a pixel density of ~145, which is the lowest of the current generation of high-end tablets. The Microsoft Surface RT also has a 16:9 aspect ratio, which resembles a TV more than a traditional tablet. Still, it may have the shape of an HDTV, but it definitely doesn’t have the performance of a good one.
Blacks and Whites
If it seems we’re being harsh on the screen performance, it’s because it falls way, way behind the pack in almost every category. Contrast, for example, is damaged greatly by a high black level of 0.5, and a gamma of 1.8. What does all of this mean? In addition to having a bad contrast ratio, there will be a rather perplexing set of errors and loss of detail in shadows; Pictures will often look washed-out or weird when they shouldn’t.
To its credit, the maximum brightness of 376.44 cd/m2 is bright enough to be seen in many lighting environments, and helps bail out the overall contrast ratio when considering the high black level. Be sure to turn the auto-brightness setting off buried in the system settings, as it will ignore the user’s brightness designation.
The contrast was bad, but the color gamut is just abysmal, as it is severely impacted by a bad screen. Blues, reds, and greens are severely undersaturated, and the blue values are shifted significantly towards cyan. Additionally, the maximum red value is so bad, it doesn’t even show up on the area of rec. 709 potential values. You’ll probably not notice this so much in regular web browsing, but it has the guarantee to make movies and photos with deep colors look really weird.
Possibly the best things about the Microsoft Surface RT is the fact that its battery will last a long time, even on full brightness. In our labs, we were able to squeeze out 8 hours, 52 minutes on video playback, and 8 hours, 8 minutes reading an eBook. While it’s not enough to set the bar for all other tablets, it’s better than many of the main competitors to the Microsoft Surface RT, and that’s saying something.
Our tests are conducted with the backlight at maximum, and all wireless/additional programs disabled, so your mileage is almost surely going to vary depending on your usage. For example, if you turn the brightness down, you may be able to squeeze out some more run time, or less if you are downloading huge files and playing games (eating up more system resources).
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