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My Surface RT review - beware it's a long one


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After spending some real world time using it, and with the new Surface Pro coming out, I thought I would give some thoughts on the SurfaceRT and my experience the past couple of months. Sorry if this is a bit long, but I’ll try my best to skip over points people have already addressed.

Please keep in mind I am comparing this to other tablets that I have owned (iPad, Android, Playbook) and not as a laptop replacement. Additionally, I favor tools that can be used for both business and pleasure, so gaming and apps are not everything I look for.

Hardware – As everyone has mentioned, the RT hardware is excellent. Microsoft found a design that is different from the iPads and Android tablets of the world, and the finish is very good and feels solid and expensive. Kickstand is an excellent and handy feature, and the keyboards - especially the Type Keyboard, is in my opinion the best application of a tablet keyboard to date. All the inputs (HDMI, USB, memory card) put it above most current offerings and the front/back cameras are on par. The weight of the unit is about the same as most 10 inch tablets, despite having a larger 10.6 inch 16x9 screen which I consider a big benefit over the iPad and other standard 10 inch screens. Without getting into a tech specs war, I find the unit to have more than enough RAM (2gb) and the processor to be fast enough to support heavy multitasking and other tasks. The battery is better than I expected, and I get a solid 7-9 hours depending on my use, better than the majority of laptops and on par with other tablets.

Screen - I was initially disappointed when I heard about the resolution of the screen, but in practical application, it’s very good. It can’t match the resolution of the iPad 3 of course, but I have no issues with viewing text on it and movies, games, and websites look rich and highly detailed. It can struggle with text when resizing it to a certain resolution, but re-adjusting the size clears things up. TheiPad 3’s screen definitely has better resolution, but I prefer the combination of the 16x9 aspect ratio and the resolution of the Surface over the higher resolution of the iPad alone.

On the flip side, there are some improvements that Microsoft can make. First off, the charger and cable attachment are ridiculously bad. Mine takes constant fiddling to attach it properly, and sometimes when you think it is, it will turn off if you jostle the unit - this should have been tested more thoroughly. The speakers are another common complaint which I agree with. Quality is not the concern, especially in comparison to the iPad as the RT has stereo speakers, but because the bezel is angled away from the user, the sound gets deflected that way. Those are my biggest gripes, while my hardware wish list includes – kickstand with more than one angle adjustment and a coating that doesn’t scratch so easily (the area around my power connection is starting to show wear).

Software – On a general OS basis and in comparison to iOS, Android, and the Playbook OS, I think RT is a hands down winner. For perspective, I am not what I consider a standard user. I jailbroke every iOS device I have owned to get around certain limitations, I have tweaked versions of Android (least experience) and have sideloaded apps and loaded beta OS’s on the Playbook. For practical use and for fun “jailbreaking”, Windows RT platform offers the best tradeoffs in my opinion. Additionally, I prefer the touch and swipe way of moving around the OS vs. the home button approach of iOS. Finally, the ability to have different user accounts and share the tablet across multiple users is awesome and I’m surprised Microsoft is the first to legitimately produce this functionality in a tablet.

As far as Apps and the AppStore, the RT is very far behind all the OS’s I have mentioned, that is undeniable. With sales success and developer adoption, I truly hope the platform gets supported and catches up. That being said, I have most apps I need, and the excellent web browser helps make up for some missing apps, but more casual users (gamers and social media) will find the store rather barren. The fact that the RT has Microsoft Office included is a huge plus for me. I have struggled with all devices to get some “work” done with their office alternatives, and have had minimal luck and tons of frustration. The application of Office in the RT is superb, in almost all use cases it’s like having a full laptop with Office installed, which is a definite bonus for me. I think Microsoft is missing the mark here, this tablet should be marketed at every student in the world – small, light, great Type keyboard,battery life, and Office??? I would have killed for this in University

Browser – The RT browser is hands down better than any of the other tablet browsers. In my opinion, iOS has the worst because of its complete lack of flash support, Android does it better with some support, the Playbook browser was the most supportive and fastest, but now the Surface takes the cake. If you can learn how to add flash sites to the compatibility list (easy as pie), it’s the closest to a desktop browser in a tablet. The way it keeps bookmarks in the Metro browser is terrible and could use improvements, and the page swipe back and forth feature would be a beauty if they enabled it to take advantage of caching. If you want a browser that best replicates the desktop browser experience, this is the best one I have come across.

Desktop mode – this is a pet peeve of mine, as most reviewers view this as a bad thing or some blast from the past. In my opinion, the desktop mode makes the RT even better. Never before in a tablet have I been able to get the information I can get on the RT. The task manager in the RT desktop mode is outstanding. The ability to execute a command prompt on a tablet is very cool. This opens things up for some cool tweaking that is head and shoulders above iOS jailbreaking and I think that adds to the functionality and enjoymentof a tablet. I view it as extra functionality that the other tablets can’t touch in their current form.

Movies – 720p MKV video encoded with AC3 or DTS audio and subtitles. With the mobileHD app, the RT can play these videos and they work great without lag or issues and look incredible. Additionally, through the HDMI out they can be played on most TV’s you connect to. I haven’t come across any other tablet that can play these files as well or without some sort of annoying conversion. Enough said.

Practical use – For people looking for a pure laptop replacement, depending on your needs the RT can come close, but not all the way there. Here is a real world example of what I was able to do with it when for a period of time I couldn’t use my laptop. My set up was – HDMI to an external monitor (just worked, no drivers or steps needed), USB connector to a wireless keyboard and mouse (same just worked) and I had these apps all running– Skype, browser (5 tabs open with streaming radio), Team Viewer to connect to my desktop, and the email app. It ran great like this with minimal hiccups or issues. The multitasking on the RT is great, and the fact that I can ALT+Tab between applications like in Windows (or Command+Tab like in OSX) really adds to its usefulness. Was it as good as using a laptop? No. Was it better than any other tablet I have tried in this situation? A resounding yes! The key here is to compare tablet to tablet.

Areas that need improvement – Beyond the obvious chorus I hear of the need for more apps, which is a very legitimate concern, there are other areas that need improvement. The email app is decent, but it has formatting issues and is missing functionality, Microsoft can do better. The music app (Xbox music) is a total over complicated disaster to me, I want a simple app that will quickly and easily play my music but I will grant that others may appreciate the additional functionality and pretty display. Microsoft should have included functionality to add any flash enabled websites you want to the browser. Why limit this functionality at all and why make it so difficult to add the sites that you want (I say difficult for general users that don't actively seek out the tweaks to make it work). I wish Microsoft would open things up for ported versions of their X86 apps to run in desktop mode (beyond Office), but that is no different than the way Apple and Android control what apps run on their platform.

Conclusion – As I am sure you can tell, I think the RT is a great tablet and offers much more functionality over other tablets. It comes at a cost of a lot fewer apps available today, but in my opinion, it’s a small price to pay for the ability to actually use a tablet in a real mixed used scenario – business and pleasure. For a content creation tablet, it’s the best by a mile*.

I hope some people find this useful, thanks.

* this review was written on my RT using the Type Keyboard
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nice review. I feel the same way. Great tablet. The apps will come along. MS just has to get the word out of how you can use this tablet in the everyday word and stop showing the stupid dancing school girls. This is an extremely functional tablet, a lot better than the iPad. The iPad is a toy compared to what the RT and the PRO can do. They need a new marketing company!!
Great review. Although, I've never understood the complaints about the power cable, my snaps in without issue or fuss since the first day I used it. Could be just me though.
MSurfaceWA --

Excellent review. Now, if we can just get it published in place of some of the crap that's out there.

My general conclusions about the RT are similar to yours, but not as well studied nor as well said.

Nice review

I agree about the power connector, horrible. Worst attempt at copying Apple's MagSafe that I have ever seen

Disagree on the browser, IE is a slow slug of a browser and the Metro version is a complete mess. Microsoft needs to get off their high horse and allow other browsers makers full access. IE is also Flash lite at best, I shouldn't have to go through a 10 step process to get Flash on sites that I want it on

Sent from my iPhone using Forum Runner
I would just like to say that in my opinion the power adapter is perhaps not ideal but far from horrible. I will take it over micro usb any day. Micro usb is truly horrible (one orientation not easily distinguishable, small, puts pressure on the cord and socket, no tug safety, too similar to micro HDMI).
I absulutely agree I prefer a dedicated charging port, too much chance of damaging usb or multi function ports with the constant connecting and resulting stress.
I agree with J515OP and Tom, a dedicated charging port is better, so I am glad Microsoft went that route. But I do think their current application of that is really bad, there are too many times its a real hassle to get it to work. It should be better, I wonder if they have made improvements with the Pro model?
They are supposed to have slightly modified the connector but it looks like Pro owners largely have the same complaints :( Kudos to MS for trying it though. that is much more than I can say for others and more than likely they are the beneficiary of a cross licensing agreement with Apple on this one since Apple has the mag power patented.

Let's hope they can correct it in the second generation without losing compatibility with the existing chargers.