- Features Unique form factor that offers a full complement of connections (USB, Micro SD, HDMI) & the usual integrated webcam. Kickstand & Touch cover great additions.
- Display The device's biggest compromise. By no means a deal-breaker but a real shame if it had been a little better it would really make it a killer device.
- Battery life I'm getting between 9-10 hours of regular usage for browsing, office and general apps usage with consistent WiFI connectivity.
- Ease of use Windows 8 has a learning curve and people will struggle with desktop and touch interfaces. But great once one learns the ins-and-outs.
- Storage capacity 32 or 64GB built-in is competitive. Expansion options are best-in-class.
- Design and form factor Extremely well made and feels great in the hand. Kickstand and Touch Cover and both great additions.
- Portability (size / weight) Solid and durable but not heavy or bulky. The felt exterior on the black Touch Cover softens the overall feeling.
- Durability Feels like it's built to last. Update: the edges of the touch cover (grey felt version) are starting to fray and split.
My main take-away is that the Surface is neither a tablet nor laptop. It is a transition device that takes an experimental approach by blending a variety of form-factors in an attempt to speak to a broad spectrum of use-cases. It looks both to the future and the past. Such an approach necessitates compromises but then which device doesn't?
The question one has to ask oneself when considering the Surface RT is what's your use case?
In terms of my personal use-case I am on the go a lot and travel frequently and therefore want a device that is highly portable which the Surface RT is, that enables me to get work done, the Surface RT does. Will it keep me connected and entertained? Video playback is great (especially as one can add and connect storage easily) it offers a fully web-browsing experience with both touch optimized and mouse and keyboard friendly browsers - so yes, it does. Given the 16:9 screen aspect ratio, kickstand and camera placement the device is clearly intended for use in landscape mode. While the screen rotates snappily enough into portrait mode there is limited use for this and hence it isn't good for reading ebooks. Anyway, for this I carry a basic Kindle as I like the e-ink reading experience, light weight and battery life.
So, for me it is a very good travel companion and daily productivity device on the go.
From a hardware perspective much praise has already been given and I won't rehash it. Suffice it to say that the Surface RT is extremely well made, durable and feels great in the hand. Very well balanced and solid but not bulky or heavy. And the kickstand is a legitimately great feature. One thing that many reviewers have commented on is that the speakers are underpowered. This hasn't been my experience - firstly they're stereo(!) with proper channel separation and actually located where they should be (on the sides) and have been at least adequate if not more so for anything that I've used them for.
There has been much debate about the Touch Cover: is it revolutionary or evolutionary? Does it really work or is it too different, too much of a compromise? Will it last? For me it is one of the best aspects of the device. I'm able to type at around 55 WPM with good accuracy (about the same as on the Logitech Ultrathin iPad keyboard and cover). The worst thing that I can say about is that it is more tiring to type on than a traditional keyboard. After two weeks I haven't seen any evidence that leads me to believe that it won't hold up over time.
From a software point of view there is of course the paucity of apps that accompanies new devices but there are some gems among what few apps there are. Surprisingly (for those of us who have suffered decades of bundled bloatware) many of these are Microsoft's own pre-installed apps which I really urge users to check out in detail:
- News: elegant and fluid display, good selection of default sources, endlessly customizable
- Sports: really fantastic
- Bing: perfectly optimized for the device
- Internet Explorer: very capable and now touch optimized
- Office: hey, it's full versions of Word, Excel and Powerpoint on a tablet!
- Weather: beautiful and very useful
- Skype (while not pre-installed it is a must have): perhaps the best Skype experience on any device.
- OneNote (also needs to be installed from the Store): excellent touch version
Mail and People are attractively and thoughtfully designed but merely adequate from a functional point of view. Neither are as snappy as they ought to be, they need to refresh faster and more fluidly. Maps also needs some work.
One thing I've found strange about most of the reviews professional reviews I've read is that reviewers fail to draw attention to the fact that Office is included in the purchase price of the device. Given that this is worth at least $150 in value you would think that it is something worth mentioning...
I've grown accustomed to and am really enjoying the overall experience of Windows 8. Multi-tasking and app switching is fluid and intuitive, the charms menu that enables search and sharing is very handy and useful. Being able to snap two apps together on the screen is really great. Most of the time things run smoothly but after extended use and with many apps open and running in the background the device can start to bog down.
The single biggest compromise with the device is the screen. Not in terms of brightness, color reproduction or viewing angles - all of these are excellent - but the resolution and text rendition is far from best in class. It is more than adequate, especially when used at what I would term as normal typing distance, but doesn't hold up well under closer scrutiny the way one holds it in tablet mode. There is a similar discrepancy when the Surface RT is hooked up to an external monitor as the max resolution one can set it to is 1280 x 720 - the device can clearly handle more as there is a little workaround that allows one to bump up the resolution to much more palatable 1920 x 1080. (For those interested the workaround is: plug the Surface RT into a monitor with the Touch Cover attached, close the cover, detach the cover and then reattach it, the monitor screen will go dark for a moment but when it resumes display it will be at the higher resolution).
The automatic display brightness control also doesn't seem to work very well as under certain conditions it keeps oscillating between settings so I turned it off (I have the same problem with my iPhone and Nexus 7 but curiously not with my iPad).
In conclusion, the Surface RT has fit pretty seamlessly into my life. It is more of a productivity and communications device than an entertainment one but it is very capable in the latter respect as well (at least from a video perspective, I haven't tried any games). It will be my go to device for business travel. It is still somewhat rough around the edges as the overall usage experience needs to feel more slick and snappy but I would certainly recommend it over similar Android based tablets such as the Asus Transformer line. How does it compare with the iPad? While they do a lot of the same things they are fundamentally different devices and purchase choice will depend heavily on one's use case.
On the one hand the Surface RT appears to be trying to solve what feel like yesterday's problems while the iPad is a more relentlessly forward looking device. But at this stage there are probably enough people who find themselves in enough scenarios where they still need these types of problems solved for the Surface RT to be relevant.
Update: After using the Surface RT intensely in the two months following its purchase my usage started to taper off. I took it on several business trips which was one of the primary reasons I'd bought it, thinking that between the great battery life, the innovative form factor and the fact that it comes bundled with Office it would be the ideal travel companion. While it has its merits in this area it falls short in a couple of crucial areas:
- Movies: Native video codec support is poor, technically .avi and .mp4 work (not .mkv) but in reality this isn't the case. Even after converting some videos to .mp4 format they either wouldn't play at all or if the did they would skip or the sound and picture would be out of sync. Watching movies and TV shows while traveling is important to me so this ultimately a deal breaker. While their is a version of VLC in the works for Windows 8 RT and PRO no release date has yet been announced. If/when it does come out this would address this problem.
- Communications: Skype is great and the implementation on the device works very well but sometimes I do need Google Hangouts and the fact that neither Google nor Microsoft have seen it fit to port the video/sound chat plugin for Google chat/video/hangouts to work on RT is really pretty lame.
- Apps: the dearth of Windows 8 native apps is now well documented and the lack of ecosystem for RT is really starting to hurt the platform - by now there really should at least be a small stable of quality apps that plug the holes that the lack of ability to run legacy apps brings.
None of these in and of themselves are huge problems and they'll likely be addressed over time and for some use cases the Surface RT is a fine device but it is starting to lose relevancy for me personally and I've knocked a point off the overall rating to reflect this.
I will revisit it again if/when the above mentioned issues are addressed.
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Edited comment on Durability
Durability rating changed from 5 to 4
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Updated overall rating
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