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Microsoft Surface RT Tablet -- Wait for the next version
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Microsoft Surface RT Tablet — Wait for the next version

I have done a lot of whining on these pages about Windows 8 on the desktop with a keyboard and mouse..It is awful..doesn’t know whether it is supposed to be a touch screen tablet..or what. I felt Microsoft had favoured the tablet when designing Windows 8 so it is with anticipation that I start this look at the object of Windows 8’s affections…the Surface RT tablet.

Microsoft hasn’t said what RT stands for but it is the name for the version of Windows 8 designed to run exclusively on tablets with ARM processors…that means it will run only apps designed for it and available in the app store (more on that later)…legacy Windows apps…the ones that run on your PC will not run on this tablet. There is a special version of Microsoft Office for the Surface RT but it doesn’t include Outlook (more on that later too)

Out of the box the Surface RT is one impressive piece of hardware..The chassis is, gunmetal-grey magnesium alloy, The Surface has a USB port on the right, which allows the connection of storage, keyboards, mice and other peripherals, including printers and scanners. There’s a volume rocker on the left, the power button sits in the top-right corner, and underneath the kickstand there’s a slot for a microSDXC card, so you can add a further 64GB to the 32GB or 64GB of included storage. You’ll probably need this slot if you buy the 32GB version…there is only 19GB of space left before you install any apps. All that substance has a cost..the surface RT weighs in at 680gr (1,5lbs) about 40 grams heavier than the iPad.

The Surface RT has an Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core CPU running at 1.30GHz. It’s a similar chip to what’s found in Android phones and tablets, and so it’s pretty battery-friendly still, the performance is sueprisingly snappy. It comes 2GB of RAM with your choice of 32 or 64GB of storage. The display is very good…a 10.6in, 1,366×768 IPS display. Colours pop and the viewing angles are great, with almost no colour or contrast shift as you tilt the screen away from you.. It’s about the same thickness as the iPad  at 9.3mm in depth (the iPad is 9.4mm). For connectivity, Surface RT has WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, and no cellular radio yet. Microsoft put the same camera on the front and back : a 1.0MP unit that can take 720p video. Fine for video calls but don’t plan on taking award winning pictures with it…who uses a tablet as a camera anyway?

Then there are the cool covers…Microsoft offers two..the touch cover, thin as a whisper with a touch sensitive keyboard  in a bunch of vibrant colours and the Type cover more substantial with a proper keyboard which is a good size and surprisingly easy to type on even though the key throw is short. If you plan to use the Surface RT as a tablet..mainly a consumption machine for surfing, playing games or watching videos then the touch cover is the one for you. If you plan to use it as a low density production machine for sending emails, working on documents or spreadsheets and working with Powerpoint..almost a notebook replacement…then you will want the Type Cover. Oh yes I almost forgot the cool kickstand on the back makes the Surface RT stand up like a baby laptop.

Now to try it out..I really like the tiled desktop..it works well on a touch screen and the active tiles provide important information at a glance. Performance is pretty good the tiles scroll smoothly and the tiled apps open quickly , the Surface felt incredibly speedy. Switching between apps was fast and fluid, organizing and navigating the Start screen felt snappy, and live tiles flipped and updated smoothly and as expected. Many of the Microsoft — particularly Internet Explorer in the new interface — felt good to me, but others left me wanting. The native email application, for instance, could be slow to update and unresponsive to touch on a regular basis and it certainly is not Outlook..all you get is the basics. . Other apps, could be slow to open, then stall or crash altogether. It seemed to perform better after an update of the OS and a bunch of apps.

Now to my biggest beef..this OS is almost as schizophrenic as the desktop version..it doesn’t know whether it wants to work in the new tiled interface or in the classic Windows desktop..as easy as it is to touch navigate the new UI the tiny buttons on the classic apps such as Explorer are absolutely not touch friendly. As well, there are two versions of Internet Explorer..one in each interface and they are totally separate apps..for example if you open a web page in the tiled UI then open Word for example which opens in  the classic desktop…now you would expect that opening IE in this desktop would open the page you had open in the other desktop..guess again. Now if that sounded confusing..that its because it is.

There are practically no apps…the Store has almost bare shelves..If this device is to succeed Microsoft has to get developers on board to creat compelling apps to compete with the huge and diverse Apple App Store and Google Play Store..it is cool to be able to run Word and Excel on a tablet…but that is nowhere near enough..Speaking of work…maybe someone can explain to me why Microsoft’s newest version of Office designed for this device is not integrated with the tiled desktop…all the apps run in Classic Desktop mode..that is just plain stupid.

One area however, where the Surface does shine is as a companion to home entertainment when combined with a xBox 360..even better with Kinect which ads voice control..it is really cool..you have to see it in action.

http://youtu.be/b_G_u4gP0lY

The Surface looks and feels pretty good when you’re holding it… but it is huge and it’s not really that comfortable to hold in landscape for extended periods, and in portrait it is tall and top heavy. Trying to hold the device upright to read a book  felt about as ridiculous as taking a picture with a tablet. Reading books in my major use of a tablet and the Surface just doesn’t cut it here. It seems to desperately want to be docked and on a desk or table rather than in your hands or on your lap, it’s hard to imagine bedtime reading or bringing it along to the doctor’s office to read a book while waiting. In comparison to an iPad or Nexus 7, the Surface feels bulky, awkward, and just plain heavy.

The Microsoft Surface RT is a solid well built tablet that is just a little bit too heavy for casual use as a tablet..especially for reading a book. Combined with the Type Cover it is a nice light duty notebook replacement due mainly to the inclusion of Office..corporate users will however quickly decry the absence of Outlook. Windows 8 needs work Microsoft could eliminate the classic desktop on this Tablet only version of the OS to make t less confusing to work with…it created a really nice touch UI then didn’t finish the job so it looks like the Tiles UI is just tacked on top of a less than effective version of Windows 7 desktop. If they get it right with Windows 9 Tablet version..or whatever…and take off a few dozen grams Microsoft will have a killer device..but by then it will probably be too late.

The Microsoft Surface with Windows RT starts at $519 for the 32Gb tablet alone, $619 with the black Touch Cover and $719 for the 64Gb model also with the black Touch Cover (all models $20 less in the US). Available pretty much everywhere tablets are sold.

[ratingbox]

Bob Benedetti

Former RCAF Fighter Pilot Bob worked for CTV Montreal as a Reporter, Producer and Executive producer for 35 years retiring in 2004. Bob started reporting on personal technology in 1995 at CTV and continues today at Home Technology Montreal

1 Comment
  • Ed L

    Well that is a real eye-opener of a review. This becomes a wait-and-see item.

    December 5, 2012 at 6:44 pm Reply

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