Product Review: Microsoft Surface RT

Sunday, November 4, 2012 3:01 PM

Disclaimer: This is not a provided device from Microsoft. This is my device that I bought.

I got an iPad (first gen) a few months after it came out and never upgraded to a more current one because I didn’t see much value-add from version to version that was worth the cost. For me it was only good as a content consumption device to read blogs or movies or play games. The one thing that frustrate me was that it wasn’t a productivity device, even when you added a bulky keyboard. So when I saw Microsoft announce the Surface, it peaked my interest.

What I Was Looking For in a Tablet

I think explaining this will help put context in the whole review. I want something I can consume content with (movies, videos, blogs, email, articles, news, web), interact with folks (social, messaging, email, chat), be incredibly portable and productive. To me, a tablet can be a run of the mill laptop replacement, but not a mobile workstation replacement. I don’t want Visual Studio, SQL Server, Photoshop or other production level things on my tablet. Why? Part because a tablet would not be portable as it would need a bit big battery and CPU, but mostly because I don’t want to do that type of work on a tablet screen.

Why I Chose the Surface RT?

I was playing with the idea of either the Lenovo ThinkPad 2 or Surface. One thing I was sure of was that I wanted an ARM device (Windows 8 RT) over an x86/x64 tablet because I wanted to own a RT to see what it was like (and so far I like it). I ended up going with the Surface part because of the price and part because I loved how the two keyboard covers didn’t add much to the device. I elected to get the Surface RT 64GB edition with the Type Touch Keyboard cover, two 64GB microSD cards (one for music, one for movies) and a Bamboo Stylus.

I also was sold on going with a Windows 8 based table rather than an Android or updated iPad. Having Office, file formats that work with my desktop natively, copying files via USB, connecting to my printers… only Windows8 can do this easily… not to mention connect to my TV and XBOX 360.

Impressions After a Week

I love this device. I’ve gotten more WORK done on it than I ever have on my iPad. Moving files to it was a snap thanks to a full USB port. Getting all the apps I’ve installed / purchased from the Windows Store was a snap thanks to the “Your Apps” view. Some details:

Surface Hardware

Just like others have said, this device is just impressive in your hands. It feels solid but not heavy. The kickstand rocks. It’s solid and something I always missed on the iPad. It sits at a great angle and even works well when in your lap. I like how the speakers are loud enough, but they could be louder. Performance wise, I was a bit concerned with the ARM chip compared to a real x86/x64 chip, but I’ve not really hit any performance issues in typical use. I was able to see it churn and slow down when I launched a ton of apps and was swiping them in from the left as fast as I could… again, that’s not normal usage though.

Surface Touch Keyboard

I thought I’d take this, play, dismiss it and get the Type Keyboard. However initially I was impressed how easy it was to type and feel comfortable with it. It does take a few hours/days getting really proficient with it, but I’m pleasantly surprised. I do want to try out a Type Keyboard, but I don’t want to have both. By the way… this whole post, and the last one (Kindle Paperwhite review), were typed and posted from my Surface. :)

Battery Life

I haven’t pushed the battery life yet. Got a conference trip next week where I’m sure I’ll push it. Very happy to hear you can get a 50% charge in 1hr and a full charge in 2hrs.


Seems everyone I talk to who’s on the iOS devices always want to rub in the face of those of us with a Windows Phone and likely now Windows tablets how many apps their store has compared to Microsoft. This is just such an absurd thing to focus on in my opinion. All I care is that I find the apps I need and new apps worth note. On the tablet, there are a few things missing that I really want, specifically:

  • eWallet: Encrypted password and personal info wallet I’ve been using on my laptop, phone and iPad for years. They built a Modern UI version, but not for ARM. Doesn’t make sense to redo your app and ignore this platform… crossing my fingers we’ll see this soon with a sync process. I can live for now as I have it on my phone.
  • Skydrive (or Dropbox): Sync my files locally! Microsoft is pushing Skydrive like crazy, now Windows RT, and there’s no desktop sync for ARM? Seriously??? I’ve got to manually move files… arg. We aren’t connected all the time Redmond!
  • Mindjet (MindManager): I use this tool for idea mapping on the desktop… I want it for Windows RT. For now, I’m using Mind8.
  • Pluralsight: Give me an offline app to watch the best on demand training out there.
  • Magazines: Apple has Microsoft beat for now. I really like having my Fortune, Wired and Sports Illustrated on my tablet saving space & weight when I travel.

Constructive Feedback / Complaints

For a v1, I think Microsoft has done a great job. For hardware, I’d only ask the speakers were louder. For some of the included apps, there are a few things that needs work:

  • Mail: No Outlook in Widows RT or in Office RT, and Mail isn’t an Outlook replacement. I do find it good enough to manage my email. I do wish I had my favorite folders to pin though.
  • Calendar: I really wish the calendar would you the same categories and colors I use in Outlook. OWA does… but in Windows 8, Calendar doesn’t. This is the same way the Windows Phone works & I don’t like it there either.
  • Tasks: Where are my Exchange tasks? Ugh… I live by these things! Even Windows Phone 7.5 has this. Big gap here…
  • Facebook: I don’t need to explain this one.
  • MetroTwit: So far this is my preferred Twitter client, but it needs a lot of work. Better support for Lists, pinning to the homepage, contact/hashtag autocomplete, memory management, etc
  • Lync 2013 MX: If only this app worked… it sucks. I was able to login a few times, but now I can’t even login. Thinking back when I could get logged in days ago, I recall the UI sucked. Come on Office team, get this updated please! Until then, Lync is dead on the Surface RT.
  • XBOX Music: This app is driving me nuts. All the sudden I started seeing a TON of music loading into Music that I had never purchased from Zune/XBOX. When I plugged in my 64GB microSD card that I loaded with 45GB of my music, some would load with these weird cloud-refresh icons, some with what looks like a wifi/radio, some with neither. I can’t figure out what they mean or what the difference is. The Surface also chugs playing some tracks from the card, a simple task.

I’m optimistic about the included apps getting better because they are Microsoft core apps and they are banking on this OS and device big time. Plus, they have a much better record for updating their apps and OS than the competition.

For me, Windows 8, specifically Windows RT and the Surface RT, get to thumbs up from me. So much so, there’s a second one on the way for the wife!

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