Scratching the Surface: Microsoft tablet’s gaming potential

Tuesday, 19th June 2012 07:23 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Yesterday’s super-secret Microsoft announce looked at first to be a bit of a wash out, but Brenna Hillier thinks the Surface may have important connotations for gamers.

Surface: At a glance

Weighs in at 576g and is just 9.33 thick, even with a built-in 0.7mm kickstand.

Two core models, each with two memory options.

Surface RT has an nVidia ARM CPU and comes in
32GB and 64GB.

The Surface Pro sports a third-generation Intel Ivy Bridge Core i5 and comes in 64GB and 128GB.

1920×1080 optically bonded multitouch Gorilla Glass display.

Equipped with HDMI and USB 2.0 ports.

Official Microsoft accessories include a magnetically attached cover with a full keyboard, trackpad and system keys.

Pricing said to be comparable to competing products. Launch window TBC.

We’d all heard the rumours and pored over the “leaks”, but nobody genuinely expected Microsoft to announce a new console yesterday. Instead, like every Microsoft announcement since the Internet crawled off bulletin boards and into mobile devices, we all knew ahead of time exactly what was on the cards: a new tablet, presumably positioned to compete with Apple’s increasingly ubiquitous iPad.

We are now at a time when Microsoft cannot afford not to front a tablet; Apple has proven beyond doubt that they can really work. Once considered an also-ran niche between laptops and smartphones, the province of those with too much money and not enough sense, tablets have won out over their clunkier netbook brothers by turning out to be exactly what the western elite was lacking in their lives: a device portable enough to make couch-sprawled viewing comfortable, but versatile enough that you can work from it in a pinch. Tablets have arrived, and Jobs’ heirs cannot be permitted to own an entire category of device. Hence, the Surface – an excellent name Microsoft wisely stole from a far less universal product line, the newly-dubbed PixelSense coffee table touchscreens.

It was inevitable that we’d see yet another entry in this increasingly crowded market, but what was really surprising is just how little Microsoft had to say about the gaming potential of the new product. It mentioned support for the Xbox app, and it’s madness to think the Surface won’t utilise SmartGlass and connect natively with the next Xbox console, but no games were shown – although Cut the Rope was installed on one of the demonstration units. Despite this presentation oversight, the Surface is already exciting commentators.

The mobile gaming scene Apple has helped foster is booming, and while Surface’s “Windows 8 Apps” focus will struggle to catch up with that even with significant effort on Microsoft’s behalf, the iPad has demonstrated that there is a demand for a gaming tablet. The number of calls for (and rumours of) an Apple control pad peripheral or decent third-party standard is proof enough that tablet gamers want to move beyond App Store offerings, too.

The Surface is ideally positioned to meet that demand. Despite Microsoft’s tendency to work in closed systems (not as notorious as Apple’s, but prevalent enough to be the butt of jokes), the Surface does something the iPad is often criticised for failing to do – it works with the gear you’ve already got. The screen runs 1920×1080, meaning there’s no need to convert or scale video media, and for those times when that isn’t enough, the Surface has an HDMI port. No more shelling out an eye-opening amount of money for a glaringly white but exquisitely styled plastic converter which really ought to have been in the box on purchase; whatever you’ve got on there can presumably also go on your TV using cables already found in your home

Stylish marketing? Has the world gone mad?

While we’re talking about ports, get a load of that USB 2.0 logo on the side there. It’s here that things start to get really interesting. Microsoft hasn’t promised anything, but the fact that the musclier of the two models – the Ivy Bridge-powered Pro – runs Windows 8 natively means that you may be able to plug in an Xbox 360 or generic PC control pad. Microsoft may even lose its head and throw in wireless Xbox 360 control pad support.

So now we’re starting to see a compelling picture – you have an admittedly middling spec but serviceable Windows box which you can carry anywhere, hook up to a TV, and plug peripherals into. Will it run Steam, or Origin, or GOG, or that catalogue of indie games you’ve built up over the last dozen bundle sales? Will it be capable of supporting any number of modest browser-based and free-to-play games?

If so, Microsoft will have done something quite amazing. Over the last five years we’ve seen PC gaming explode and diversify as smaller and indie developers led a push to uncover new markets not constrained by the big-budget conservatism of console-driven triple-A development. It might not have the grunt to run the latest and greatest blockbusters with maxed settings, but the Surface could, with very little effort, provide a portable window (I know, I know) into the PC gaming world for all those not interested in shelling out for an uber PC.

That’s something the iPad doesn’t do.



  1. Gheritt White


    #1 3 years ago
  2. DrDamn

    EG is saying the Windows 8 Pro one is thicker and heavier …
    Light(1): 903 g
    Thin(2): 13.5 mm

    #2 3 years ago
  3. Talkar

    This looks really interesting, will definitely keep an eye out for it!

    #3 3 years ago
  4. RandomTiger

    #4 3 years ago
  5. Da Man

    Why would I get a tablet running desktop OS?.. That defies the whole purpose.


    #5 3 years ago
  6. RandomTiger

    I wish it had a full size SD Card reader.
    The Toshiba Thrive has HDMI out and full size USB.

    #6 3 years ago
  7. rrw

    @5 well in case you dont know W8 pretty much Tablet AND Desktop OS in one

    #7 3 years ago
  8. ItsMe

    @5 Because Windows 8 is made for tablets more than for desktops, and the Pro version used in the more powerful tablets means it’s more like an ultrabook than a tablet.

    #8 3 years ago
  9. Da Man

    #7 & 8, why? Because of the Metro? I don’t think so.

    Lion controls similarly to iOS, and Mountain Lion will be even more so, they don’t become less of desktop OS.

    That’s what I’m saying though, why get this instead of an ultrabook?

    #9 3 years ago
  10. DrDamn

    It’s all a bit confused. There are effectively two tablets here each running a different OS. The thinner ARM-CPU based tablet runs Windows RT which is more of a tablet OS. The thicker Intel-CPU based tablet runs Windows 8 and that is designed as a hybrid OS – or at least a desktop OS with allowances for a touch screen.

    The former is more competition for the iPad. I would expect the latter to be more expensive and more useful for business or limited portable PC gaming.

    #10 3 years ago
  11. rrw

    @9 well for pro it have metro and normal desktop one like this

    Pro is using intel chip and nvidia 4000

    #11 3 years ago
  12. manamana

    As a Mac only household, I must admit that it looks good and I kinda like the Metro UI and the keyboard cover. I think it will really shine with the next Xbox and I am glad, that a new Kid’s in town. Will defo keep it on my radar for 2013!

    #12 3 years ago
  13. Anders

    Enterprise will eat this up. Whether regular consumers will follow suit remains to be seen, but I’m pretty happy with my iPad (3rd generation).

    #13 3 years ago

    iPads are amazing until you actually want to do any serious work.

    And intentionally so, I believe.

    Apple start you on the ipod, then you go for the iPhone, then the iPad, then the MacBook, then the iMac, then next thing you know, you’re trying to order a 6 core Mac Pro with 64GB of RAM!

    Their should be no logical reason why you can’t get a decent office app for the iPad, but you can’t. IMO, they just want you to buy a full Mac so that you can.

    This is where the new generation of Windows 8, super slim form factor ultrabooks and tablets that are powerful enough to be full on desktop replacements, come in.

    I don’t see that Apple currently have anything to compete with them. (other than a much more stable OS)

    #14 3 years ago
  15. Da Man

    They have small displays, even MacBooks are poor for working. The gui doesn’t fit in properly.

    #15 3 years ago

    It depends on the resolution.

    I don’t know why so many people love 1366×768. To me, it’s an abysmal resolution. You spend so much time scrolling and zooming.

    I’ve been using a Dell XPS 15z recently, which has a 15.4″ 1080p screen. Other people are like ‘WHY IS EVERYTHING SO TINY!?’, but I’m comfortably fitting two programs on each half of the screen and copy/pasting between the two, which obviously speeds up workflow.

    #16 3 years ago
  17. manamana

    @G1GA actually it was Macintosh, MacClassic, PowerBook, Quadra, PowerBook G3, iMac G3, iMac G4, PowerMac G5, iMac Intel, MacMini, iPod, iPhone, MacBookPro, MacBook Air, iPod, MacPro, iPhone, iMac, MacPro, iPhone, iPad, iPhone, iPhone, iPad

    … *sigh* Yeah, maybe I forgot something but who cares anyways.

    @Da Man MacBookPro’s are formidable to work with, thanks.

    #17 3 years ago
  18. Erthazus

    It’s ok actually.

    It depends on the Windows 8. If it will be good, then this tablet will be successful i think.

    #18 3 years ago



    That’s some serious Apple loyalty right there.

    #19 3 years ago
  20. manamana

    @19 Heh, there was some Commodore, Atari and PCs on the road too but I really dig that Apple stuff. ;-)

    #20 3 years ago
  21. FeaturePreacher

    “The number of calls for (and rumours of) an Apple control pad peripheral or decent third-party standard is proof enough that tablet gamers want to move beyond App Store offerings, too.”
    Correction Miss Hiller, it’s proof of the inadequacy of touch only controls.

    Moreover, if you knew anything about high end PC gaming, you would know how far any tablet would be from matching the power of a discrete, actively cooled modern video card. Therefore you would realize how uninterested any PC gamer would be in companies trying to downgrade their titles to try and work with these inadequate, soft core devices.

    #21 3 years ago
  22. freedoms_stain

    As uninterested in the tablet market as I am atm I’d probably be more inclined to buy a device that ran a full desktop OS with a competent touch interface and the option for hardware controls. Also a standard HDMI output would be very welcome.

    Aside from this the Asus Transformer series is probably the most interesting thing on the tablet market, but is obviously let down by the fact that Android is not an amazing tablet OS yet.

    #22 3 years ago
  23. DSB

    @14 Sounds like a honeymoon hangover to me :P

    #23 3 years ago

    Nah, I had the same opinion almost as soon as I bought one.

    I’m still on it in almost all of my free time.

    In fact, I’m on it right now! lol!

    #24 3 years ago
  25. frostquake

    Yes the Specs are all Nice, but as we all know from the Xbox 360 Dashboard will become Bloated and Clogged with tons of crap that won’t work intuitively and become increasingly frustrating, and the Xbox 360 Dashboard has become, even Developers are HATING the 360 Dashboard!! And you think Apple charges for every little thing, wait until you see what Windows will overcharge for every little thing, ROFL!

    Oh and Don’t Forget the Yearly Membership for $60 to get nothing!! While Sony, while FAR from perfect, actually gives you free and discounted items for belonging to Plus, so your membership vs what you get actually makes sense, unlike Xbox 360.

    #25 3 years ago

    ^ You sure you’re in the right comment section?

    What does the xbox 360 dashboard have to do with Windows 8?

    There are no ‘desktop ads’ or anything of the sort in Windows.

    #26 3 years ago
  27. freedoms_stain

    Windows 8 should be fully customisable in regards to UI.

    #27 3 years ago
  28. OlderGamer

    W/o the rude over tones I agree with the preacher. A PC gamer isn’t going to be interested in tablets as a replacement to PC games. For most of us, we prolly look at tablets like console gamers see handhelds. They are neat little disctractions.

    But no way G1GA is gonna want to fire up COD on a Vita instead of his Xbox Next. No way I am going to want to play Civ V on a tablet when I could play on my 42inch HD display with my desktop. Now if I had to travel and have very little room, that tablet could come in handy. And if I traveled alot, it would have more value. But mostly, meh.

    Tablets are sort of trendy purchases. They are not real game contenders right now. I could see that changing someday. But not for awhile.

    #28 3 years ago

    But how about this, OG…

    How about, instead of having Civ V tied to a big, hot, noisy box under a desk, you just plug your tablet into your 42″ TV?

    Add a wireless m/kb and there’s no difference.

    I hardly know anything about Civ V (correct me if I’m wrong), but from what I know about Civ in general, I’m pretty sure you could run it on max settings on the majority of the new ultrabooks/Win8 tablets that are due out this year.

    But in this scenario, you can take your tablet with you, and work/email/game almost anywhere you want, and quickly connect it to any TV/monitor you want over HDMI or even Thunderbolt.

    I’m sure that for the ultra hardcore over-clockers, and the guys with the water cooled, high end SLI configurations, tablets are a “toy”, just like consoles. but I think most, if not all of these new Ivy Bridge tablets/ultrabooks will run 95% of all software (not just games) exactly the same as any high end desktop can.

    #29 3 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.