Live from CES: A Review of Microsoft Samsung SUR40

No, we haven’t managed to get our hands on the new Samsung SUR40 Surface yet, but as multitouch hardware manufacturers ourselves, we took a great interest in the redesigned SUR40 Surface, unveiled yesterday at CES. Looking over the specifications, we found many improvements and a few potential pitfalls . . .

Pro: It has a new 4-inch form factor.

This is huge. For one, visitors can actually get their legs under it, like a real table, and two, it makes wall-mounting the SUR40 Surface an option, if you can break it out of its casing or if Microsoft plans to sell it in an open-frame format as well as an integrated solution.

Con: The included computer is kind of wimpy.

The Samsung SUR40 Surface 2.0 ships with a AMD Athlon™ II X2 Dual-Core Processor 2.9GHz, which is a perfectly fine processor for a single-user computer, but in our experience will probably have some trouble handling multi-user or media-intensive applications. And if a 40-in high definition screen isn’t designed for multiple users and rich media, what is it designed for?

Pro: It has a lovely new Full HD LCD display.

Samsung is now manufacturing the Samsung SUR40 Surface 2.0, and the SUR40 Surface has a full HD LCD display, which is a significant improvement over the last model. If you’ll let us nerd out for a moment, we suspect that they are using a “fourth pixel”-type technology in the LCD to emit infrared light and then a paired receiver to detect when it bounces off something (like a finger) on the surface, which is a pretty darn cool and very elegant way of tracking touch points. The only problem is, it might be hard to upgrade the display as resolution continues to improve on other devices, which was also a sticking point for the last Surface.

Con: The screen is only 40 inches.

Only 40 inches, you say?! That’s huge! . . . Yes, for a single-user system. You’ll notice that even in the promotional video the actors looked a bit squashed around it, making it difficult for this to be a true multi-user system.

Pro: It finally uses Windows 7.

The last Surface needed a keyboard and mouse to handle its Vista-based operating system. The new Samsung SUR40 Surface uses Windows 7, making the entire system fully-touch enabled. And it also supports Windows 7 64-bit, which is great.

Con: That darn bezel.

The Samsung SUR40 Surface ships with a bezel around the edge, which may not seem like that big a deal at first glance. BUT. A lot of touchscreen manufacturers have begun to advertise as “bezel-less” and if you’ve ever used a touchscreen with a bezel on the edge, you begin to understand why. It’s disconcerting to be happily dragging along a virtual object and have your finger hit an actual physical limitation. Not to mention, if you wanted to put this in a bar or museum or other high-traffic place where liquids could get spilled on it, that bezel will ensure that all the soda or coffee or whatever just pools on the screen, potentially damaging the device and creating a cleaning nightmare.

Pro: The price just got cut in half.

The Samsung SUR40 Surface now ships for a mere(!) $7,600 (at the time of writing), which is about half of its old purchase price, making it a much more affordable option for museums and other organizations looking for relatively inexpensive interactive solutions.

Con: Not hardened for public use.

The problem with many commercial touch tables, including the new Samsung SUR40 Surface, is that they simply aren’t hardened enough for long-term, high-traffic use. If you want to throw this thing in your living room, it would probably be fine. If you work at a science center and want to let hundreds and thousands of kids use it every day, it probably won’t. One example: The glass they’re using doesn’t handle load very well, so someone trying to sit or even lean on the table could damage the LCD screen, making the table unusable. Not to mention the problems with the weak CPU that can’t handle intensive multi-user apps and the bezel.

Regardless, this is a major step forward for the Samsung SUR40 Surface and Microsoft, and we look forward to seeing how people use it, especially in educational or museum contexts.

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