Ah, the Surface RT. The slate that is essentially Microsoft showing its partners how to make a Windows 8 (or in this case, RT) device. And they’ve certainly done their homework, leaving nothing to chance, from its VaporMg outer shell to the kickstand that is just right for work. Thing is, how does the Surface RT fare against its rivals and contemporaries?
In terms of aesthetics, the slate looks different, and dare I say, it stands out. In a world where the majority of consumer tablets are going for a soft curve around the edges, it’s refreshing to see something a bit… edgy. The edges of the Surface RT have a slight taper, and though it eschews curves, it is still comfortable to wield one-handed. The VaporMg construction gives the device some style points on top of providing durability, though I may be biased in that matter (I’m more of a black-dark gray kind of guy). The stand at the back flips out effortlessly, with a satisfying “clack” when you flip it back. That said, it only extends out one way, and there is no configuring the angle (ratchets, perhaps?). This preset angle also limits where you position the Surface RT – putting it on your lap is hit-or-miss, so you should find a flat surface if you need to work with the slate.
The second half of the Surface is its assortment of optional keyboard covers. There are two main products by Microsoft that specifically cater to the Surface, and they are the Touch and Type Covers. The Touch Cover is a thin piece of plastic, with the keys marked by a slightly “raised” surface. Typing on it does take a while, given its lack of tactile feedback. The Touch Cover is catered to people who prefer a more traditional typing experience, with chiclet keys adorning the whole thing. Each press again has that “clack”, which sounds pretty awesome. That said, the felt backing does raise a bit of concern, as it might stain easily. Just stay away from cups of coffee. Personally, I prefer the Touch Cover, mainly because of its thinness. It does make you wonder as to what’s Microsoft next innovation could be. (Next up: Challenge Mode – Microsoft just gives you a transparent piece of glass, and you type on it like some ninja!). Both overs feature a trackpad centered below the spacebar, in case you prefer ye olde navigation functions.
The Surface RT, as the name implies, runs Windows RT, which looks like Windows, acts Windows, but not quite the Windows you’ve grown up with. Let me explain: the Surface RT does not run on an x86 architecture (your Intel Core i5s and AMDs), instead going with NVIDIA’s Tegra 3 architecture. The x86 architecture can be found in its better-endowed sibling, the Surface Pro. The Tegra 3 system promises longer battery life as well as decent computing performance, so you can get things done without having running out of juice. As a recent advert from Microsoft showed, you, the consumer have a choice to make – do you want long battery life, or do you want power and compatibility with your mission-critical applications?
In terms of performance, the Surface RT does relatively well. Surfing the Net while churning this review was a painless experience, albeit with some very slight lag. To give you a hint of what I was doing, I was playing a YouTube video while reading a phone review while typing this review while launching the Store app. So yeah, pretty busy. Typing with the Type Cover (the only one Microsoft provided to us) was comparable to a lot of Ultrabooks in the market, but if you don’t feel like buying the keyboard, you can try the software keyboard. The screen size offers decently-sized keys, though the limited angle the kickstand has to offer hampers your productivity. Which one would you prefer – a strained neck or strained wrists? For my case, I chose the former, leading to an uncomfortable neck after about 5 minutes.
The Surface RT boasts superior battery life over its bigger brother, and it certainly lives up to that claim. Leaving the Surface RT unattended followed by the occasional Web session resulted in almost a full day of battery life, courtesy of the ARM architecture tucked within. A productivity machine that lasts as long as your work shift? If you’re working mainly with spreadsheets and Word documents, then you’re basically set with the Surface RT.
Expansion comes in limited supply, with a microSD card reader hidden on the back, after you flip the stand. A USB 2.0 port resides on the right side, and a miniHDMI connector right beside it. That’s basically all the essentials covered, and if you’re planning to use the Surface RT for media consumption, a microSD card with a large capacity is a necessity.
I’m going to be honest and say Windows RT might not be for everybody. Sure, Office comes bundled, which is great for people who work with documents a lot (like yours truly), but you’re getting the Windows experience you’ve come to love (or loathe, your mileage may vary). Personally (and I do mean “personal”, as in, “my opinion”), it would be great if this Surface used the Intel Atom SoC instead and ran full Windows, like what most manufacturers are doing. That said, for paper-crunchers and students looking to type their last-minute assignments, the Surface RT is more than enough.
Admittedly, the Surface RT is a tough sell. If you want a slate that is also a decent document churner, then it’s meant for you. You can’t deny the fact that it offers long battery life, and it comes with Office to kickstart your productivity. However, if you’re looking for something more, you can always go for its beefier Pro sibling. Just ponder upon what you need and can do without, and make a sound decision.