updated 06:16 am EST, Thu January 17, 2013
Does the Surface RT warrant your consideration
The Microsoft Surface with Windows RT has been on sale for around three months. Although it landed with considerable fanfare, recent estimates suggest that Microsoft may have only sold around 1 million since the device went on sale. When we reviewed the Surface RT we felt it has some quirks, but overall felt that it was effectively a new class of device with potential and awarded it four stars. Many potential buyers could be holding off for the imminent arrival the Surface with Windows 8 Pro, but the Surface RT still has the same strengths going for it.
After using the device regularly over the past three months, we have continued to be impressed with the Surface RT as a productivity tool. However, it has become increasingly clear to us that the Surface RT is perhaps best suited to university students or professional users who are looking for maximum mobility and battery life, but who can live without Microsoft Outlook. Microsoft's decision to leave Outlook for the Surface Pro only is perhaps the biggest drawback of the Surface RT.
As we acknowledged in our review, one of the quirks of the Surface RT is that with the omission of Outlook, there is no native capability to share documents, files or links from the desktop UI. It is still possible to share files from the desktop, but this requires users to rely on Outlook in the cloud, or whatever cloud-based e-mail service they rely on. It remains an oddity and is more than a little frustrating.
On the upside, we much prefer tossing the Surface RT into our backpack on the trip into the office rather than our ultraportable. In our review we called the Surface RT a hybrid of a MacBook Air and an iPad, which remains true in many ways. You can use the Surface RT as a notebook and you can use it as a tablet. The dual UI may be a tough sell for consumers against the singular simplicity of the iPad who see the Surface RT as a tablet first. However, the reality is that it works very well in both capacities. The inclusion of Word, PowerPoint and Excel at no additional cost remains a compelling argument for it.
We did not have an opportunity to discuss the TypeCover when we reviewed the Surface RT, but have since spent the past month using it. It is a vastly improved experience against typing with the standard, but extremely cool, TouchCover. Despite its relative thiness, the keys have a surprising amount of travel and make for a satisfying touch-typing experience. So much so, that one wonders why Microsoft did not simply opt for the TypeCover alone. It still very thin and does not add any substantial weight the combination of keyboard and tablet, and is still very cool.
The Surface RT has also received at least three separate firmware updates since its debut. We have not noticed any significant performance issues with the device or any noticeable bugs since the first patch arrived. The Tegra 3 processor, however, continues to be a weak point for the device, especially when it comes to graphics performance in even light gaming. Despite claims to the contrary, the graphics performance of the Tegra 3 was over-hyped from its inception with Nvidia trading on reputation in the desktop GPU domain, rather the Tegra 3 being anything particularly special against the best from Imagination and its PowerVR Series 5 line.
Overall, the Surface RT remains a very interesting device and one that stands out as being the only genuinely innovative response to Apple's iPad. The Surface Pro addresses all of the performance and functionality grips of the Surface RT offering users a full, uncompromised Windows experience and 1080p ClearType display. However, ironically, it has its own compromises, that also stem from its choice of CPU. Its Intel Core i5 chip is fast, but it draws more power. This results in the utilization of a larger battery, which makes the Surface Pro thicker while still only delivering half the 10-hour battery life of the Surface RT.
The Surface Pro is also more expensive, but compared to similarly specified Windows 8 ultrabook, it may well offer a better value proposition. It will be interesting to see how consumers react to the launch of the Surface Pro and whether its success kills off the Surface RT. However, it remains possible that after consumers see the two devices side-by-side that they will pick the device that best suits their needs. Microsoft was right to launch the two devices as both have genuine appeal.
By Sanjiv Sathiah