Surface RT Review - the review for the rest of us!

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Microsoft put a lot on the line with the Surface RT tablet. For one, they are going head to head with their partners. Which is likely to cause tension. However, I think what Microsoft is doing is the right strategy.

For too long have they been slaves to their hardware partners and I believe it crippled them. Their first tablet has proved to me that Microsoft should be in the hardware business. This tablet is leaps and bounds better than the other Windows 8 or Windows RT tablet.

Hardware

This is where the Surface RT excels. The build quality is almost too impressive for you to think it was made by Microsoft. The VaporMg body of the device feels great in the hand. It feels much sturdier than the other Windows 8 tablets I have tried. Most of which sport plastic builds.

The kickstand is really a killer feature in my opinion. When I owned an iPad I would constantly want to stand it up, but without having the iPad in some sort of case or having the permanent addition of a stand on your desk, it was next to impossible.

I am going to list some specs to get those out of the way;

  • 10.6" ClearType HD Display
    1366x768 pixels
    16:9 (widescreen)
  • Quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3 
    2GB RAM
  • Two 720p HD LifeCams, front- and rear-facing 
    Two microphones, 
    Stereo speakers
  • Full-size USB 2.0
    microSDXC card slot
    Headset jack
    HD video out port
  • 24W power supply
  • Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 RT

Now that we have the specs listed, let’s examine them.

SCREEN

The 10.6 inch display is actually quite good; however, it is no retina display. Going from my iPad to the Surface made me notice slight jagged edges due to seeing pixels. After a while that feeling fades away. The widescreen aspect ratio makes watching movies superior to the iPad because movies fill the screen, whereas the 4:3 aspect ration of the iPad gives you large black bars below and on top of the video.

Overall, the screen is well enough. It is quite bright and the colors more vivid than my previously reviewed tablet the Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500t.

PORTS and AUDIO

Here is another killer feature over the iPad, a USB port. Being able to plug in a mouse or a thumb drive to transfer files makes the device feel more functional. I remember the horrid experience of using iTunes or emailing files to myself in order to get them onto an iPad. That is not ideal, but the Surface tablet’s USB port is.

The HD Video out also is a nice convenience. I never had to use an adapter to get video out, unlike my iPad.

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A microSD slot for expanding storage is absolutely necessary for this tablet. With the OS and system apps taking up almost 15 GB of space you definitely need to buy a 64 GB card to give you all the space you need. I have found myself loading any and all media onto the microSD card in order to save room on the internal memory. As of me writing this article I have 10 GB left on my Surface after installing 30 or so apps.

The speakers are where this tablet, and many others fall short. The speakers are not loud enough. Even after I maxed out the volume and tweaked the sound setting in the control panel. I still had some trouble when watching Netflix movies. The sound seems to be right at the verge of being too low. Where I would rather have the ability to have it on the verge of being too loud.

However, I found that listening to music was fine with the speakers oddly enough, maybe the Netflix app didn't output high enough audio?

CAMERAS

I usually skip over this when looking at a tablet because I find taking photos with a tablet to be wholly unnatural and inconvenient. Most smartphones have far superior cameras and at a fraction of the size.

The only camera that matters on a tablet is the front facing one. This is because one would Skype friends and family. The front facing camera looks totally fine for things such as that.

The rear camera is a throw away. It just sucks. Plain and simple. I never have once used it other than for purposes of this review. If you want to lug around a huge 10 inch camera than the iPad is your go to device.

BATTERY

The battery on the Surface is terrific. For those people who troll in forums saying the battery sucks, they need to actually buy the tablet first, then they can have their own opinion. I found the battery actually better than my iPad.

I don’t really look at the stats the companies give. The iPad has 10 hours of battery life, the Surface has 8 or so hours according to them. However, when using my iPad I never got 10 hours, I usually ending up around 7 hours or so. The Surface however was able to last me three days after writing several articles, browsing the web and playing some games.

KEYBOARD

This is where I think I made a mistake. I ordered the Surface with a black Touch Cover. I wish I would have gotten the Type Cover, and will get the Type Cover with the Surface Pro. The Touch Cover is very hard to adjust to. I still find myself hitting between the keys because there is no tactile feedback. If the keyboard even vibrated I think it would be better to use. But I find the Touch Cover cool, but not entirely functional.

I can write twice as fast on a normal keyboard than the Touch Cover, and half of that time is spent correcting misspellings and other errors due to the keyboard.

If you buy the Surface, buy the $499 version with a Type Cover.

I found the track pad on the Touch Cover surprising. After using the ATIV Smart PC track pad, which was utterly horrible, the Touch Cover track pad was more responsive and easier to use.

HARDWARE 9/10

SOFTWARE

PERFORMANCE

Surface performance is actually quite good. The only time I noticed slowdown was when I was using Internet Explorer and happened upon a flash heavy site. This slowdown happened on my old MacBook as well so it something I was used to.

Other than flash heavy sites, I didn’t notice any slowdown on the device, unlike others who try bashing it for performance issues, I have not seen any.

Apps may take 3 or so seconds to open every once and a while, but after they open they are quick to reopen.

While playing Cut the Rope I noticed slowdown right after the level loaded for about a second or two, then it went away. Maybe this is just a problem from the developers of the app, or maybe it’s the Surface. I can’t tell for sure.

Overall the performance of the device won’t disappoint you, but it will disappoint Apple fanboys or Windows haters.

APPS

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The big issue is apps. There I said it, everyone already knows this, but the lack of apps is expected with a 1.0 release. Things like a good ePub reader are hard to come by. Third party browsers, or word processors, or things such as that are lacking. However, I have found, despite one or two apps I am missing, mostly everything is there that I use on a day to day basis.

I don’t think your going to find things like the cool apps you download use for a day and forget about, like you would on the iPad. But overall I think you have most of your app needs quenched.

Here are some downsides, Angry Birds Star Wars is $4.99. Way to pricy in my opinion. Many games follow this trend of being around $5. On the iPad you can find most games around 99 cents. Angry Birds Star Wars is 99 cents in the Apple App Store. The iPad is superior in terms of their app ecosystem.

There you have it, the only issue I’ve had with the Surface is the apps. Once they come I think the Surface will thrive, but until then, people who buy it will be waiting. They will be hoping the app ecosystem improves.

It does have Office included, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Which is a huge bonus for college students or office workers dependent on the software. That is the Surface's saving grace. Full Office included with every device.

I think the app ecosystem will improve. Microsoft has done something smart, I think, by integrating the Windows Store into all Windows 8 versions. This means that when they sell 300 million copies of Windows 8, all of those developers will flood the market with apps.

That hasn’t happened yet, so if you don’t like to be an early adopter, hold out on Windows RT devices. At least wait for the Surface Pro, which I am doing.

SOFTWARE 7/10

CONCLUSION

My experience with the Surface RT Tablet is that it is immature. The app ecosystem needs to grow. That will happen, but until then it will leave owners wanting.

My opinion is to wait for the Surface Pro, not only will it have the great build quality of the Surface RT, but it will be much faster, higher resolution, and will run Windows 7 and below apps as well. Unlike the Surface RT which can only run Windows Store apps. Battery life may be shorter and it may be more expensive, but to me it could possibly be a true hybrid device.

OVERALL 8/10