Microsoft Surface With Windows RT - Not Yet a Game-Changer

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Microsoft’s Inaugural Tablet Is Not Yet a Game-Changer

The Microsoft Surface with Windows RT marks Microsoft’s debut in the wild world of tablets. Priced to compete with the Apple iPad, the Surface is aimed at users who want to do more than simply consume media and visit websites. Although the Surface has the Windows 8 user interface, because it uses Windows RT and an economical ARM processor, it isn’t compatible with most existing Windows applications. For the first true computing device Microsoft has developed, this presents a serious conundrum.

Microsoft Surface with Windows RT

Design and feature

The Surface certainly looks like the prototypical “post-PC” device, with tapered sides and slightly squared-off corners that set it apart from other tablets. It measures roughly 7 by 11 by 0.37 inches (HWD) placing it between the 11-inch MacBook Air and iPad in size. It improves on Apple’s tablet (and most that use Android) by having more I/O ports: USB 2.0, micro HDMI, and headphones. You can extend Windows RT from the built-in 10.6-inch, 1,366 by 768 resolution, five point multi-touch display to an external screen or pair an external mouse with the integrated Bluetooth, and a section of keyboard-bearing covers both protect the screen and give you full-PC typing functionality you don’t easily find on the iPad.

A metal kickstand spanning the back of the Surface props it up to reasonable angle, but it’s unfortunately not adjustable. A microSDXC card reader beneath the kickstand can double the 720p front-facing camera is angled straight out, the back-panel camera (also 720p) is oriented so as to offset the angling caused by the kickstand. The Surface weighs only about 1.5 pounds by itself, or a little over 2 pounds with a keyboard attached.

Both the included Touch Cover (with film keys for better tactile feel) are smaller than full size: about 7.25 inches from Q to P, versus about 7.5 inches for a standard laptop keyboard. You’ll get used to the Surface keyboards, but it might take a while.

The Surface comes with an ultrathin TouchCover that gives the tablet form-fitting keyboard functionality

The Surface comes with an ultrathin Touch Cover that gives the tablet form-fitting keyboard functionality

Typing on the Surface while it sits on your lap only just works. The keyboard flap may reach to and over your waistline, which may be awkward. The tablet and cover combo is pretty light, but the fact that the kickstand is effectively supported by the kickstand’s two corners means that it digs into the tops of your legs. It’s best to use the Surface and keyboard cover on a table or desk.

The Surface comes with a full version of Microsoft Office 2013 Preview (Home and Student Edition), meaning it delivers World, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Because Outlook isn’t included, you’ll have to use Window RT’s built-in Mail client (for Microsoft online mail) or Internet Explorer (for everything else). Enterprise-type businesses will have to wait for the Surface Pro, which is slated to ship in January 2013.

Microsoft also includes SkyDrive cloud-based storage, letting you store up to 100GB online (7GB free), so it can be reached from any online device. SkyDrive speed depends on your network connection, so working from home may be faster than in your workplace, and both will certainly be faster than using a public hotspot. The Surface is “always connected,” as long as it has access to Wi-Fi, so SkyDrive directories and emails update in the background even while the tablet is asleep.

Entertainment and app

The Windows Store contains far fewer apps than the iTunes Store or Google Play. In fact, we counted fewer than 3,000 apps on the Windows Store for Windows RT, while the iTunes Store clocks in at a staggering 250,000 apps just for the iPad. The apps that are on both platforms run in a similar fashion: Cut the Rope is Cut the Rope, no matter what you’re playing it on.

The Xbox Games tab has a few Windows games on it, but it’s mainly a conduit to your Xbox Live account and a store for ordering games for your Xbox and Xbox 360 games, like Halo or Forza MotorSport, appear on the surface.

Microsoft Surface with Windows RT – Xbox

Microsoft Surface with Windows RT – Xbox

YouTube videos, even at 720p, looked fine on the Surface. Some 1080p HD videos did stutter a bit, but that’s okay, given that they’re being downscaled. We had some trouble reaching Flash-heavy sites but most came up fine.

We were able to watch a movie after downloading the optimized Netflix app from the Windows Store, but we couldn’t make an Amazon Instant Video play in Internet Explorer. For the time being, IE10 is the only browser you can use on the Surface; reports state that Microsoft has blocked other browsers from running on the Surface’s Desktop mode.

Playing music and games won’t tax your eardrums too much. The Surface’s speakers play very softly, even at full volume. When we plugged in a pair of headphones, however, the Surface was able to drive them at an ear-splitting level. Basically this means that the built-in speakers are adequate for a quiet room; in other instances you’ll want to use a pair of headphones to listen to music or watch movies.


Because of the ARM architecture, we couldn’t run our normal Windows-based benchmark tests. But the Surface’s 2GB of system memory, 1.3GHz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor and intergrated Tegra 3 graphics are decent tablet components. For example, the Nexus 7 uses the Tegra 3 processor to great effect, and so does the Microsoft Surface. On RightWare’s BrowserMark benchmark test, the Surface performed a bit slower than the new Apple iPad.

More important is the Surface’s battery life, which is good. The Surface eked out 7 hours 45 minutes in our video rundown test not bad compared with ultrabooks like the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A-R5102F, which only manages 6:11 on the same test. The iPad’s time of 10:54 was more impressive, but it has a 42.5Wh battery (compared with the Surface’s 31.5Wh battery). All in all, the Surface is pretty good and certainly powerful enough for day-to-day use.


In terms of its hardware and operating system, the Microsoft Surface with Windows RT is a very good product. It’s very light, and sufficiently powerful for daily work chores or modest entertainment purposes. If you use Microsoft Office for work or school, the Surface is a no-brainer. But the Windows Store’s limited selection holds us back from giving the Surface an unequivocal recommendation at this time. There’s no doubt that the most popular apps will be ported over to Windows 8 and Windows RT, but when that will happen is still up in the air. If there’s an app you can’t possibly live without, then you should check if it’s on the Windows Store before plunking down your money for the Surface. For this reason, we can’t name the Microsoft Surface the tablet Editors’ Choice over the Apple iPad or the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, but there’s real potential here we hope to see realized soon.


Price: $699

Rating: 8/10

Pros: compact design. Includes Office software Touch cover. Good battery life, port selection. Supports dual-band Wi-Fi. Includes keyboard-equipped cover.

Cons: Not compatible with existing Windows software. Limited app selection at present. Kickstand somewhat limited. Typing requires flat surface. Proprientary charger port. Speakers a bit soft.


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