So, I’ve been playing around with the Microsoft Surface RT since Friday and believe it’s a great device that fulfills its promise as a tablet for both work and play. I’m typing this review on the Surface RT in MS Word, using the Type Cover keyboard and a Windows mouse and viewing it on my large LCD via HDMI output. I have Internet Explorer on the left side of the screen and am typing in MS Word on the right side, just like how I would on a laptop PC. Also, the color scheme is in high contrast mode to save my eyesight.
The real star is the O/S. “Live tiles” are so much better than boring icons, a GUI metaphor that has been around for 30 years without much change. Windows RT is a leap forward beyond both iOS and Android in several respects. One of the first things you will realize while using Surface RT is that Windows RT is practically a full blown desktop operating system, yet it also has a touch interface that works smoothly on a tablet form factor and allows the hardware to get 9 hrs of battery life (not as long as the iPad but it gets the job done). The response of the GUI is fast and smooth. After using the Surface, I found my iPhone to be very restricting because Windows 8/RT has so many natural gestures that give you full command of the computing environment. I was amused when I absentmindedly used Windows 8 gestures on iOS.
Microsoft’s innovation with the Surface is that it “hits them where they ain’t” and leverages MSFT’s strengths in productivity to create something unique and hard to duplicate. The computing hardware in tablets is so powerful, doubling each year. Why not give them the tools and features to be productive? This is exactly what MSFT did with the Surface RT. It’s hard to justify spending $600+ on a toy, which is what the iPad is. Productivity tablets can greatly expand the penetration of the tablet market. The Surface RT is targeted at the home and student markets but has features that set it apart as a productivity tool. The majority of consumers could use the Surface RT as their only computer.
Surface RT as a productivity tool:
1. Screen size is actually pretty important. The Surface is wider than other tablets and this provides the advantage of being able to attach a nearly laptop sized keyboard, something you can’t do with the iPad because of it being narrower. The wide screen also lets you have two apps open at the same time. Imagine reading a PDF or website on one side and typing in Word or Excel in the other. Imagine NOT being able to do that on a device and still trying to be productive.
2. Both the Touch Cover and Type Cover are revolutionary. This isn’t hyperbole. With the built-in kickstand and keyboard, you can get some serious work done. The Type Cover works just like a laptop keyboard. The Touch Cover is a bit awkward to use at first, but it is still way faster than typing on the screen.
3. MS Office RT is nearly indistinguishable from the desktop version, except for VBA and such things. It is compatible with other versions of Office you will likely interact with. The professional critics reviews didn’t put enough importance on Office RT, but it’s a huge selling point.
4. Windows drivers and a full sized USB 2.0 port: You can immediately print from your wireless network attached printer when turning Surface RT on for the first time. Also, you can plug in just about any mouse or other Windows 8 compatible peripheral into the USB port. My existing external hard drive is recognized when I plug it in and it works! yay! Try doing that on the iPad.
5. MicroSDXC: You can buy a 64GB MicroSD card for ~$64 to expand the memory of the Surface RT. This is beyond the wildest hopes and dreams of any iPad user. Lol.
6. Join your home network with the Windows HomeGroup feature…just type in the network password to have access to your desktop files.
7. High contrast color scheme option greatly reduces eye strain.
Areas for improvement
1. Yes, there is a lack of Apps currently, but the user install base for RT apps should exceed that of iPad apps within a year since Windows RT apps work on Windows 8 machines. Over 350 million Windows 8 machines will be sold in the next 12 months, dwarfing the cumulative historical sales of all iPads. Using the websites works just fine. You don’t really need apps anyway. Most iOS apps are for play anyway.
2. The only real problem I encountered was network issues with the Store. Too much traffic the first weekend?
3. The keyboard-covers are great keyboards for the size but are lackluster covers. There should be a magnetic clasp of some sort to hold them shut.