Microsoft Surface RT ReviewWith the Surface for Windows 8 RT tablet, Microsoft introduces a Windows computer that runs with the same chip which powers Android competitors. To consumers, it means that they can now have a Windows computer that looks like a tablet, weighs like tablet, behaves like a tablet, while being able to run a “real” version of Microsoft Office, along with a Windows desktop environment for file management and settings. The “PC” feel also includes a full-size USB port and Microsoft has managed to do that with a design as thick as the iPad 3 – this is a feat of industrial design.

In this review, we will tell you what the Microsoft Surface RT is made of, but more importantly, this complete review will cover what you can (and cannot) do with it, and we will provide some concrete examples that show what you can expect from the Surface RT in the real world. Let’s dive…


Technical highlights

Surface RTSurface ProiPad Gen 3Transformer Infinity
Display size10.610.69.710.1
Display resolution1366×7681920×10802048×15361920×1080
Display typeIPS LCDIPS LCDIPS LCDIPS LCD
ProcessorNVIDIA Tegra 3Intel Core i5Apple A5XNVIDIA Tegra 3
RAM2411
Storage GB32, 6464, 12816,32,6432, 64
Battery capacity31.5Wh42Wh42.5Wh25Wh
Camera back Megapixel1158
Camera front Megapixel110.32
Weight (lbs)1.521.441.25
Dimensions (inches)6.7×10.8×0.3710.81×6.81×0.539.5×7.31×0.3710.35×7.11×0.33

Maximum storage = 128GB: with up to 64GB of internal storage, the Microsoft Surface for Windows RT can be further expanded to 128GB by adding a 64GB microSD for a cost of about $50 (street price, Amazon). Given that the 64GB version costs $100 more, we think that getting a 32GB Surface RT and adding $50 64GB microSD card (known brand, street price on Amazon) is the best course of action to reach 96GB.

Total storage != available storage: “32GB” of storage represents the total internal storage of the device. The Operating system is quite large, and in the end, there is about 16GB of actual free user storage when you first start the Surface RT 32GB.

Context

We all use tablets differently, so it’s important that we tell you what we do with our tablet(s): we typically check email often with the built-in email app (via Microsoft Exchange), and typically reply moderately because typing on the virtual keyboard is tedious. In a pinch, writing notes or fragments of a review can come in handy, especially during a long flight. We browse the web to check on news sites, and sometime watch movies or play music.

On the “apps” side, we have a few of social networks (FB, Twitter, G+), receipts manager when available and random apps (<20), but we rarely play games or do something super-intensive like video editing. This usage pattern will affect battery life and the perception of what features are useful.

We work on Windows desktop PCs, but we also have Mac Laptops (with dual Mac OS/Boot Camp Windows). Our main tablets are iPads, but we also used Android tablets extensively.  Now you know where we’re coming from…

What is Windows 8 RT?

Before we dive into the review, we would like to quickly explain what Windows 8 RT is, and talk about some key differences with Windows 8. In a nutshell, Windows RT is a version of windows that can run on system using an ARM processor, like other smartphone and tablets do. The regular Windows 8 (non-RT) runs only Intel’s processors.

Windows 8 RT will only run the new full-screen Metro apps which are compiled for ARM. You can find those apps in the Microsoft Store. You cannot install Windows 7 apps and drivers on Windows RT. The only real desktop application on the Surface RT is Microsoft’s Office, which can run as a regular windowed application (with multiple windows etc) — other Windows utilities like File Explorer and Task Manager also run in Desktop mode . For more details about the differences between Surface RT and Surface Pro, go to the Microsoft official page on that matter.

To run legacy Windows apps (version 7 and previous), you can opt for Windows 8 Pro. The main trade off is that upcoming Windows 8 Pro tablets, like the Microsoft Surface Pro are bulkier, heavier, and don’t have a long (9h+) battery life. However, they are considerably faster and some can even run PC games like Modern Warfare 2 at high frame rates (AMD demonstrated this recently).

Real “instant-on”: Windows RT never really shuts down or go to sleep. As a result, it wakes up instantly – really. In the PC world, the word “instant” has been used very liberally. “Instant boot” can take 5 seconds to 20 seconds. It is so bad that the word has become meaningless. With Windows 8 RT, the tablet wakes up immediately upon pressing the Power button – just like your smartphone does. That is real “instant on”.

Industrial Design (functional excellence)

Product design philosophy and goal: a stylish “tablop”

Microsoft Surface RT Review

At the Surface launch in NYC, Steve Sinovsky described the device as the best tablet and the best laptop he has ever used. Knowing that people’s first gift wish for last Christmas was a laptop and not a tablet, the design bet that Microsoft is taking with Surface could be its best shot at gaining market share for its first tablet PC.

Most business travelers would like to replace their laptop with a tablet but refrain from doing so with iOS or Android because they do not have access to a functional version of Office. Additionally, managing files is always a headache  without a full USB connector and a comprehensive file manager and they also need a physical keyboard for productivity. Amazingly, Microsoft solved all these challenges – the most impressive variable of the equation being the design of the Touch Cover keyboard.

Surface is certainly not the “best laptop” out there, but it offers key laptop benefits that are missing in competing tablets. On the tablet side, it delivers good performance (for this category), and offers a similar entertainment experience, except for the lack of games (for now – we know it will change, as the majority of game developers develop for PC and Xbox).

Some people, including Apple CEO Tim Cook, argued that Surface is full of “design compromises” and in our opinion, they are wrong: Surface does not sacrifice any of the tablet advantages to offer some of the laptop capabilities,on the contrary: it delivers unique laptop benefits in addition to the tablet’s best features (lightness, thinness, compact form factor, very long battery life, very good display, touch, ease of use).

Product design: build-quality and description

We were very impressed with the look and feel of this device when it was unveiled at the mysterious event in LA back in June. In this ocean of rectangular and slightly curvy flat screens, it is hard to find a visually pleasing device, Surface delivers a unique and stylish design – pretty surprising, coming from Microsoft (well, the company has the financial power).

Microsoft Surface RT Review

The Microsoft Surface RT has just about the same thinness as the iPad Gen 3

The Surface team certainly pushed the envelope on the build quality, the casing is made with a unique combination of material and process, called VaporMg by Microsoft, that molds metal and “ vaporize” particles to create the elegant finish on the back and on the edges. According to the company, parts can be molded as thin as 0,65 mm  (credit card thin).

Microsoft Surface RT Review

The integrated kickstand is practically invisible when retracted

On the backside, the integrated kickstand is almost invisible when folded and does not add any extra thickness – thanks to VaporMg. One of the most brilliant product design feature found in the Surface, it allows to instantly convert the tablet into a laptop or simply watch videos or comfortably read a book when seated. We tried to use it with the kickstand open on our lap, and while it is not as stable as when used with the Touch Cover, it can be done. We usually watch movies from Netflix on various tablets in our beds using a case to make them stand on our bellies or on the mattresses. With the kickstand, there is no need of buying a case to do the same thing using Surface.

Microsoft Surface RT Review

The micro SDXC slot is hidden behind the stand

The micro SDXC slot is hidden below the kickstand on the backside, close to the right side of the tablet (when you look at it from the front). You need to unfold the stand to access it.

The rear camera is located at the top of the backside and is discreetly integrated on what is probably the antenna cover. That part of the back cover features a slightly different black color and texture than the rest of the back cover.

On the top edge on the right, you will find the power button, the volume button is located on the upper part of the left side just below the audio jack and the left tiny speaker grid.

On the right edge, the right speaker is placed at the top, just below you will find the Micro HD Video port and the full USB connector. At the bottom of the right side, you will find the proprietary magnetic charging port.

The bottom side carries the magnetic dock connector that click very easily to the Touch Cover or the Type Cover, two optional accessories that provide cover with integrated keyboard.

The front side is made of an edge-to-edge glass that covers a 10.6” display surrounded by a black frame. The front camera lense is visible at the top in the middle, the digital home button is placed in the center, at the bottom of the screen.

Microsoft Surface RT Review

The touch cover is surprisingly efficient and thin

Touch Cover (3.2mm keyboard): the masterpiece of the Surface is certainly its 3.25 mm cover that features an integrated touch sensitive keyboard. Together with the Touch Cover the device weighs only 880 grams (1.94 lbs).Typing on its keyboard is very comfortable, you just need to press very lightly on the keys.

By the way, I (Eliane) wrote my part of this review exclusively on the Touch Cover keyboard. I am on the go in New York with my laptop that I am using as a second screen to research the info (like product specifications or quotes).

This is the first time that I am using a tablet to write a review, I would certainly not do it on on the virtual keyboard of my iPad or my Galaxy Tab 10.1. And it will not make any sense to add a bulky physical keyboard dock to those tablets knowing that I can use my super light and compact laptop instead.

Microsoft Surface RT Review

Type Cover (6mm keyboard): while the touch cover keyboard did surprise us with its effectiveness, heavy typers may want to gain yet another edge by using the Microsoft Type Cover. The idea is that by adding a little bit of thickness, Microsoft has been able to bring a very good physical keyboard to the game, and boy this is good.

This keyboard feels like typing on a $399 Netbook, which is still so much better/faster than the “glass” virtual keyboard. It is good, although not “high-end” by any computer standards, but in the tablet world, we would label this as “excellent”, especially if you take into account the minimal extra-bulk that it adds. The “wired” keyboard solution is paying off big time here. Because Microsoft does not rely on Bluetooth, there is no battery to charge, you don’t have to pair the keyboard, it is simple, efficient, and works well enough for us to actually type a review like this one on it.

This is a first for us – never was typing so good on a (real) tablet. This keyboard is also superior to any physical keyboard that we’ve tried on iOS or Android, and that includes the rather good ASUS Transformer Prime keyboard – by far. To put it simply: Microsoft nailed it with all keyboard types.

Microsoft Surface RT Review

We really like details such as this numeric pad which is great

Windows 8 virtual keyboard: while we are on this topic, let’s talk about the virtual keyboard: it is not unlike other tablet keyboard. The typing speed is similar to what we’ve experienced on iPad, and it is more responsive than most Android tablet. The numeric pad is very nice and should help type numbers faster. We like the attention to details on this one.

The other interesting difference is that the sound feedback is different for every key. Thanks to that one can detect typos “by ear”. It’s not like you will memorize the sounds for all the keys, but if the same sound comes up twice, while you know that you’ve been trying to type different letters, then something’s wrong — very nice touch, Microsoft.

Display (very good colors, low pixel density)

Microsoft Surface RT Review

The Microsoft Surface for Windows 8 RT uses an LCD IPS display, which provides great color rendering and view angles. The contrasts are pretty much as good as it gets for an LCD screen, but won’t beat an AMOLED display as AMOLED is fundamentally better at contrast because of its self-illuminated nature (each OLED pixel is its own light, while LCDs have back lights illuminating pixels).

The 1366×768 display is very decent for a 10.6” display by laptop standards and provides very good readability. However, it is clear that in terms of sheer pixel density, the iPad Gen 3 remains the kind of the hill with its 2048×1636 resolution and 264 pixels per inch (vs. 148 ppi for the Surface RT). If you absolutely want the higher pixel density with Windows 8 RT, keep an eye on what Samsung and others will do are doing.

Microsoft Surface RT Review

Next to the iPad Gen 3

While it is very (very!) nice to have the higher resolution, we don’t consider it to be a critical impairment to the Microsoft Surface RT tablet. Most people are doing just fine with a 1366×768 display on their 13”+ laptops. Finally, keep in mind that higher resolution displays will consume more power.

Full USB port (just awesome)

Microsoft Surface RT Review

The full-size USB port is important because you can use it like you would on PC

This feature deserves its own paragraph because it is very important in the overall user experience for Windows RT users. This is a feature that was VERY requested when tablets just came out, and by now, most people had given up on them (to be fair, the rather bulky Toshiba Thrive and a Sony’s first tablet had one). Well, the full USB port is back and it does so in a very thin form-factor. This is quite an industrial design feat. More importantly, the USB port can be put to good use:

1/ Work directly on files over USB

This is probably one of the most compelling usage case: if you want to be working on files from your PC and continue on your tablet, the simplest way of doing that is by working off a USB key. for instance, let’s say that you are editing a PPT presentation on your PC directly on the key. Unplug the key from your PC, plug it into the Microsoft Surface RT tablet, and you can open it right away and continue working on it from PowerPoint on the tablet. It’s as simple as that. It works, it’s simple and everybody can do it. No cloud sync, network copy or other things that could be a “hassle” for so many users. If you want to sync over the cloud etc – you can do it with Skydrive as well.

2/ File management that doesn’t suck

Microsoft Surface RT Review

Want to copy files to/from your tablet? Easy: just use a USB drive, or the network

Managing files on tablets has been one of the most frustrating point that we’ve bumped into. On iOS, everything has to go through iTunes, which is a VERY annoying gatekeeper that will block anything that it deems unfit to be copied on the iPad/iPhone (that’s a lot of file types).

Android is much more liberal, allowing you to mount the device storage as a USB drive. If you do that from a PC, it’s pretty easy, although new Android devices sometime mount the storage ONLY of it’s on a MicroSD card, which leaves the internal storage out of immediate reach. When managing the files from the Android device, you have to install a File Manager (if not present), which is in general much less friendly than the Windows Explorer.

With Windows 8 RT and the Microsoft Surface RT tablet, just switch to the Desktop app, and you are in a familiar Windows user interface with File Explorer. Plug a USB key, and the drive will be mounted as a drive. Create directories, copy/paste files. No questions asked, and files are automatically associated with their applications. If no application can obviously handle the files, Windows 8 will let you copy them anyway – no questions asked. It’s a typical Windows experience that you already know.

3/ Use thousands of compatible USB devices

While we did talk about USB keys, there are thousands of classic accessories like mice, keyboard, or even Microphones that should work out of the box. Although we did not try thousands, we do expect a lot of basic devices like input peripherals and audio peripherals to just work. From there, things get more blurry, but did bump into some issues with webcams (only the audio part works) and USB 3G modems (because we cannot install PC/Intel drivers). Generic printers should even work, but this has to be tested on a case-by-case basis, so don’t get too excited!

The general rule of thumb is that Windows 8 RT supports a range of devices “types” out of the box. for example, most USB microphones use the native Microsoft driver. These should work fine. As soon as you need to install drivers, things will go downhill, at least for now.

Killer App: Microsoft Office – it’s like a PC!

Microsoft Surface RT Review

Working on a PPT file directly on a USB drive? No problem

Microsoft Office compatibility has been a point of friction for both iOS and Android. There is simply no solution that offers a 100% compatibility with Office. The good news is that every Microsoft Surface RT tablet comes preloaded with a preview of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013. It’s called Preview because the software is still considered to be in “beta” or “test” phase, but Microsoft will update it for free when the final version will be released.

Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 comes with Word, Excel, One Note and Powerpoint. By large, these are the exact same software that you know and use on PC computers. This means that the file compatibility is total.

Note that while there is a Mail application that is included as well, it is not “Outlook” but for email purposes it feels similar. So far, we haven’t bumped into any critical feature that’s missing, but Outlook is quite complex and can be extended to sync with CRM software as well, so we’re sure that some of those features are missing. As far as email goes, things look fine.

Value proposition: The 100% Microsoft Office compatibility is a value-proposition that only Microsoft can bring to the table, and it’s fair to say that with 750 million of Microsoft Office users in the world, quite a few people will care about this. Next to that, there are about 20M users of the Microsoft Office Web apps as well, so this is no small feature.

The net result is that you don’t have to wonder if the Office file that you’re working on will work after you save it on the tablet, or if you will be able to read that Office file that was created on a desktop machine. It just works.

Missing features: That said, some features are missing in the preview version, and it’s not clear which ones will make it to the final version of Office for Windows RT: Macros, Add-Ins, Forms and Custom Programs aren’t there. Send Email feature from Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote is missing. SkyDrive auto-synchronization is missing. There is no equation editor and Microsoft Lync are missing too. For more details go to this official Office RT page.

Other software aspects

Email

Setup: the exchange server setup is similar to other tablets (it asks for domain, etc…), however it is not as easy as setting up Desktop Outlook: we had toenter manually every singe info.

Email app design: the email client for Surface looks like Outlook 2013, and we really appreciate its visual design.
Email compose/read/reply/search: composing, reading and replying to emails is easy and comfortable to do. We tried briefly the search and it returned satisfying results. However it lacks the ability to sort the results by category (from, subject, all…) and and it does not highlight the word that you searched, which is annoying.

The email app download messages in the background which is good. Some clients “cheat” by checking only the notifications, but download the actual message only when you open the email app. This *may* save some battery life, but it is also a major annoyance in our opinion.

Facebook (no app!): there is no Facebook app for Windows RT and frankly it is annoying. We like to browse Facebook on the desktop website in the browser, but on an ARM-based hardware it  becomes very slow when many websites are loaded. The CPU lack of power – compared to non-ARM laptops’ CPUs with more RAM – makes it hard to run  smoothly computing-power hungry browsers.

Skype: (good looking but totally inefficient – OK video quality)

Microsoft Surface RT Review

Skype call, from one Surface RT tablet to another

We hated the fact that the Skype app in Surface forced us to merge our Live and Skype accounts…And it logged us OFF other skype instances when we logged into the Surface tablet for the first time. The new Metro-style UI of Skype for Windows 8 and Windows RT is very good looking and minimalistic, however function cannot be sacrificed for style, and for now, that is exactly what happened with this app.

When you land on the home screen, instead of your contact list on the left you will find a large ad, which is a total waste of real estate. To finally access your complete contact list yu have to know to scroll the page on the right side to see the “People” column. This is so counter-intuitive! The contact list is not searchable (it is written below the search box in the Charms menu “this app is not searchable”)

In case you need to browse the contact list by first letter you have to know that you can access letters sorted by alphabetical order by pinching and zooming in the contact list. A feature called “semantic zoom” by Microsoft. When you have finally figured out the user interface and have been able to place a video call, the video quality is pretty good for a tablet, even the outgoing video. Overall the app is slow, please note that Skype is slow on all mobile operating systems.

Microsoft Surface RT Review

Netflix / Hulu: The app is pretty good although we tried a few HD movies and they does not look as HD as they should. In comparison, Hulu provided a crisper image. Other than that the large 10.6” IPS display is great to watch movies, it offers more real estate than regular 10.1” displays (9.7” for the iPad). Over WiFi the video playback is fluid. With Hulu, HD movies look really HD, and the video playback is fluid as well.

Microsoft Surface RT Review

Web browsing / Internet Explorer 10: we typically don’t use Internet Explorer on desktop computers, but right now, Windows 8 RT users don’t have much of a choice. IE is the only browser option, and it’s surprising because Microsoft had been forced by several countries to allow “choice” to consumer on that topic.

In any case, that’s what’s available and fortunately, Microsoft did a fair amount of work on it. Rendering pages is fine and we have not spotted anything wrong with it. If you can’t live without your Firefox and Chrome extensions, then this may be a problem, but as far regular web surfing is concerned, it’s just fine.

There is limited Flash support, so Flash games videos etc do work — but we have to stress that Flash performance is far from impressive. By any measure, you will probably find it slow, if not frustrating. Is that better than nothing? Maybe. For more information about Flash and Windows 8, check Adobe.com

Interestingly, ActiveX is not supported. If you don’t know what it is, ActiveX allows modules to run in native code from within a web page, which is handy to execute things like video decode etc. We bumped into this when trying to use Mydlink.com to check on some webcams.

In terms of password management, we have been able to use the LastPass Windows 8 app, but it is not integrated in IE like it is on PC. Still, it serves its purpose.

Search Engine / Bing: as most people, we have a slight preference for Google over Bing when it comes to search engines. Bing is the default search app integrated in the Surface, since it is part of Microsoft software properties. It is possible to use Google in the browser and you can create a shortcut/tile accessible from the start screen.

Microsoft Surface RT Review

Controlling a desktop PC from the Surface RT tablet

Remote Desktop: While the Microsoft Surface for Windows 8 RT does not allow you to run apps compiled for Intel processors, it does have the built-in Remote Desktop application that lets you remote-control a PC. This is easier over an internet network or a virtual private network (VPN), but basically, you can take over the other computer and act as if you were in front of it. We tried it and it works really well.

It is possible to remote access a PC from iOS or Android thanks to paid apps (like Splashtop), but in theory, Remote Desktop is more optimized in terms of bandwidth because instead of receiving a video stream from the remote PC, it receives Windows UI commands that are very small in comparison. The remote Windows will also adapt to the tablet resolution. It works just like the regular PC version. This is very powerful, and free.

Network Share: because Windows 8 RT and Windows 8 share a common code base, the Microsoft Surface for Windows RT can connect to the same network groups (HomeGroups) than other computers. by doing so, the Surface RT tablet can access shared folders from other PCs in the office or house.

Microsoft Surface RT Review

Task manager provides a clear view of running apps, with the option of killing them

Clear Task Management: It may surprise Google and Apple, but users actually like to be in control of which apps runs or not, and they like to be able to shut them off. Although most mobile Operating systems try to clamp down on background apps that may consume battery resources, we’ve all seen background apps eating away battery life, even though it should be “impossible” — open browser tabs were a killer on iOS and some apps can ping the network too often on Android.

In Windows 8, when you close an app, it is terminated. With the keyboard, you can switch from app to app by using the traditional ALT-TAB. Without the keyboard, the gestures allow you do to something similar, although a bit slower. If you really want to be sure, just fire the Task Manager and see which apps are ON. If you leave the tablet ON, but doing nothing special, the CPU runs at about 0.3% to 0.5%.

Microsoft Surface RT Review

The store needs to be beefed up, quickly

App eco-system (weak, for now): As Windows 8 just launched, it is certain that the number of available apps won’t be as big -by far- as what iOS or Android have to offer. One could make the argument that Windows 8 and Windows 8 RT have a strong start relative to when iOS and Android have started, but we live in a different world today, and Microsoft needs to catch up, and quick.

The good news is that the sheer number of apps has largely become meaningless. Now, what really matters is to get the most successful and best apps ported to Windows 8’s Metro user interface. As a consumer, you have to make sure that the platform has the apps you need to use the device.  This is about what YOU can do.

Great SDK and developer tools: As observers, we are very confident that Windows 8 and Windows 8 RT will have a fast ramp up of applications, at least when it comes to the best apps out there. Here’s why: with the Windows 8 SDK, developers can use C++ and port code-heavy apps like games much faster than they ever could with Windows Phone 7.x. Previously, Windows Phone required developers to rewrite all the code in C#, and that was a deal-breaker.

For “light” web apps that are mainly interfaces to web services like Netflix, Hulu and others, most of the work in the back-end anyway, so building a lightweight app isn’t so hard. The Windows ecosystem is simply too big to ignore, and most developers are probably already hard at work to grab some market share early. After all, that’s how many of the successful iOS and Android app companies have done it.

Back in May, we built an Ubergizmo Windows 8 app with the SDK then in beta. The tools and SDK were already excellent in beta phase, so we expect developers to be quite happy with the latest version of Visual Studio, Microsoft’s development tool, which is a reference in that category.

No OpenGL support: the glaring missing thing on Windows 8 RT (for game developers) is the lack of OpenGL support. Windows 8 (non-RT) does support OpenGL, and given that most Android and iOS games are written for OpenGL, this means that porting them requires additional work (a graphics API abstraction layer) that is tedious to add if developers didn’t plan in advance to support two graphics APIs. That said, the “multiple graphics API” problem has been solved years ago, so developers should be able to cope with this in the future. Yet, this is a missed opportunity to bring apps faster to Windows 8 RT.

Entertainment (very good, but lack games)

With a well stocked video and music store, finding entertainment is very easy. So how is it like to buy/rent and be entertained with the Microsoft Surface RT tablet?

Cheap (surprising!): we didn’t pay attention to this, but renting movies is actually a LOT cheaper than it is on Apple’s iTunes store. For example, renting Avengers (in standard definition/SD, no HD for now) from the Xbox Movie Store start from $0.99. Compare that to the $3.99 from iTunes and that’s a whopping 4X the price for an otherwise similar experience. Given that we can rent 3-4 movies for a long flight – you can see how things add-up. It took about 13 minutes to download the movie (likely 1GB or so).

It is also possible to rent movies that are still playing in the theaters. For instance, Universal Soldier and Dragon are available for rent right now with Microsoft and not with iTunes.

Video: Our usual MP4 videos did play without any problems, it’s not a surprise and there’s nothing special to report here. Apparently, Microsoft has managed to have a “loop” version that reviewers will love. Apple and Google still don’t have that.

Microsoft Surface RT Review

This is one of the rare pseudo high-end games that we found

Gaming (weak): The Microsoft Surface for Windows 8 RT is not a “beast” when it comes to gaming. For sure, the NVIDIA Tegra 3 provides decent performance, but it is fair to say that this chip has been on the market for a while, and that it does not lead in terms of CPU or graphics performance today. The second thing is: there are not a lot of games right now. We found a game called Hydro Thunder. It is from the fame folks who did Riptide GP on Android and iOS. The game runs mostly at 30FPS and is definitely playable. In time, more games should arrive on the Windows Surface RT, but right now, the “gaming” side remains very soft, whether it is in terms of hardware, or apps.

Speaker-quality: sound quality is decent, but the volume is relatively soft. We expected this to be louder given how nice the build quality looked from the outside.

Digital Imaging / Cameras (weak)

Microsoft Surface RT Review

The camera is frankly disapointing

Unfortunately, this one will be quick to review: overall, the Microsoft Surface RT tablet has a weak imaging system. In a bizarre twist, Microsoft has chosen to use two 1 Megapixel cameras. While the color balance is reasonable at times, the resolution of the photos is simply too low to compete with other $499 tablets – it’s not even close. It’s about as good as an integrated webcam on a mid-range laptop. Here is a link to our Ubergizmo flickr account if you want to see the full-size images.

Performance (decent, not impressive)

Given the lack of actual benchmarks, it’s pretty hard to measure performance in a meaningful way. For comparison’s sake, the NVIDIA Tegra 3 hardware has been out there for a while, and although there are a few variants, we have a pretty good idea of how it is when compared to Qualcomm and other Samsung SoCs. That said, we’re left with SunSpider, a JavaScript online benchmark that basically tells us how fast the JavaScript engine is.

Because the same JavaScript engine is used across all Windows 8 / RT machines, we can try using it as a single-core benchmark, although not optimum, but it’s better than nothing at all.

SunSpider is a Javascript test that mostly measures how good the Javascript engine is. Performance jump of 100% have been witnessed after software updates, so keep in mind that this may not be a great CPU test. It also uses a single-core, so it won’t be able to differentiate much between single and multicore architectures. Also, please don’t consider it to be a “web performance” test, because it is not. Most of the perceived web performance is felt during the load time and rendering time, both of which often have nothing to do with Javascript performance.

Microsoft Surface RT Review

If you’ve followed our various smartphone and tablet reviews, you may know that Tegra 3 is no longer the fastest chip based on ARM (Tegra 4 is probably well on its way by now). We would be most interested to see what kind of performance Windows 8 RT would get with Samsung’s latest dual-A15 chip, or Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Pro S4 – it seems obvious that performance should be higher than current levels with Tegra 3.

Perceived performance: Synthetic benchmarks can only carry us so far. What they don’t show for example is the user experience is smooth and responsive (responsiveness is not always solved with brute-force processor power). In the end, what good is raw performance if you can’t perceive it?

Put simply, the performance of the Microsoft Surface RT tablet is very decent. The graphics are mostly very fluid, and out of the box, the user interface is more fluid than many Android tablets. This is something that Windows 8 has been really good at since the early previews.

Overall, we found that apps will launch slower than on the iPad Gen 3, but iPad doesn’t really have a full version of Word, Excel and Powerpoint, so those can’t be compared. While in general, apps load slower, we didn’t think that most users will not complain.

Battery life (excellent)

Battery life has always been the “killer app” for tablets. Tablets are so popular because can reach a 10hr battery life, so you don’t need to worry about going out of power. In our view, this is the most important feature of a tablet. Light weight being the second one. We ran some tests to see how good the Windows Surface RT tablet really was.

With the WiFi continuously on and the display on for 8 hours with moderate usage (typing, browsing, very brief video playback) the battery lasted for an overall 10 hours.

60mn of HD video will consume about 9% of the battery life, which means that you could play video for 9h-10h until battery depletion. We find this to be excellent. Given that video playback is more intensive than writing a Word document or working on a Powerpoint, you can expect a similar battery life for general productivity tasks. This is a big deal, because it blows most laptops away by about 100%.

Overnight depletion: in our typical 8 hrs battery depletion test, the Microsoft Surface RT tablet lost only 3% overnight (8 hours) in standby mode. This is really good and would hint that the tablet can stay like that for a long while. This is important because the odds that it would have power whenever you pick it up are very high.

Microsoft Surface RT Review

Fast battery charging is the next best thing after higher capacity

Charge time (fastest): Eliane has clocked the charge time to be around 2hrs, which is relatively fast compared to a competitor like the iPad. The 120 minutes mark is significantly better than competing tablets. Here are charging times from independent tests. Because it is so hard to extend the battery capacity, fast-charging is the next best thing that can be done.

Conclusion

Microsoft Surface RT Review

Download the Ubergizmo Windows 8 app

The Microsoft Surface for Windows 8 RT ($499.99) represents an important step in Microsoft’s entry into the tablet market. While it does not even try to win the “specification” war, it is important to note that it has a unique value-proposition for those who are interested by using a tablet for productivity purposes, and who like to manage files and setting within a known Windows environment. On top of it, add a 9-hour battery life and a 1.5 lbs weight and you will understand why Windows users start salivating.

To put it simply: if your would-be tablet usage revolves around working on Microsoft Office documents, Email and web browsing, the Microsoft Surface RT basically crushes everything else, because no other mobile platform offers a complete Office file compatibility. This has to be one of the main friction point for people who want to work with a tablet. We highly recommend the optional cover keyboards as well, even if we wish that they were cheaper ($120 and $130).

However good, the Surface RT has its Achilles heel: today’s app selection is weak, but we suspect that it will grow quickly. Because a computer is about your own usage, we recommend that you check if your “must-have” apps are available, or is there is a credible web option. If you love downloading apps, games and don’t care about work — come back and look again in 6-8 months.

We think that this is going to be a two-step evolution for Microsoft’s tablets. 1/ today, they add immediate value to productivity seekers. Netflix, Hulu, Kindle, Skype and other apps run fine too. 2/ As more apps come to the store, Surface RT will increasingly compete with other OS on their turf.

Microsoft has released a credible OS for all hardware: PCs, Tablets and Smartphones (“platform that we can believe in”?). The company has done a great job with unifying the code base of all their operating systems under one roof. This is more important than it seems, because it is a  foundation that will allow Microsoft to focus its engineering resources, while providing to developers a 3-platforms access with a single set of APIs. Stay tuned, because now Microsoft is really playing in the tablet and smartphone business. Let’s see if this converts into market share and revenues in the next 18 months.

We hope that this review gave you a good sense for how it is to use the Microsoft Surface for Windows 8 RT in the real world. If there are additional questions, feel free to drop a comment, and we will reply ASAP. If you like the review, please share it around. Thanks for reading it!

Overall product rating: 8/10
This article was filed in Homepage > Reviews and was tagged with Microsoft, Surface RT, Tablet Reviews and Windows 8.
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