No More Cloning: The Surface Supports An Extended Display!
We've mentioned this on multiple occasions, but the reason we liked the Surface so much in Part 1 of our evaluation was that it bridged the space between tablets and notebooks, rather than simply going head-to-head with devices like the iPad and Nexus 7.
One thing you'll commonly see in our tablet reviews is complaints about multi-monitor support. You can hook Android- and iOS-based devices up to external displays, but they simply mirror whatever is up on the tablet's screen. What's the use in that? Giving presentations, perhaps. But we'd much rather see an option to extend the display for productivity-oriented purposes.
Asus' Transformers have those clever docking stations. But they're Android-based, so they can't really be the notebook replacements we'd want. Samsung's Chromebox? Same thing. Although they're light-duty desktops able to support a pair of 30" screens, Chrome OS limits you to mirrored screens.
Microsoft's Surface fixes that maddening limitation by giving you the flexibility to either clone your desktop (yawn) or extend it (yay). In fact, once you plug a monitor into the tablet's microHDMI port, you have all of the options available on a desktop. In reality, there's only so much you can do on the Surface's 10.6" screen. But the addition of a second monitor opens the door to much more efficient multitasking. If you want three instances of IE10, Word, Skype, and PowerPoint all open at the same time, you can do that.
Of course, any trouble we caused by deliberately bogging down performance on the previous page gets exacerbated. Resizing frames and scrolling down a YouTube page are both tasks that suddenly start stuttering.
This seems to be a case where Microsoft is enabling so much functionality on its ARM-optimized operating system that today's SoCs are simply sagging under the load. Don't get us wrong. We like this. Hardware will continue to evolve. And even if Nvidia's Tegra 3 doesn't always serve up the smooth performance we expect in a desktop environment, we'd rather have the freedom to open multiple applications on-screen at the same time or extend out to a second panel.