Our Review of the MS Surface RT – A Good Value Tablet?

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I just got my hands on the Microsoft Surface RT. This device has been on the market for approximately ten months. Let’s find out if it’s is still worth buying.

The Hardware

First thing I notice when is that the device feels solid because of its magnesium chassis. However, because of its size and material, it weighs 680g, which is on the heavy side for modern tablets.

The screen is a 10.6-inch 1366×768 ClearType HD Display which translates into 155dpi. Even though Microsoft points out that their ClearType technology improves the visual sharpness of text, this is only true if you are comparing it to a display with similar resolution. If you are comparing to competitive displays with double or even triple the pixel density, it really falls short.

For audio, it comes with stereo speakers. The sound is decent, but the volume is relatively soft. Front and rear cameras are disappointing. Only 1 MP resolution and the capability to capture 720p video are okay for a Skype call, but for anything else it is just not adequate.

There are a few unique features that its rivals don’t offer, and I think they are worth mentioning. First, Surface RT has a build-in kickstand. This might not sound like much, but most of other tablets need an extra accessory to do that. The only complaint I have is that the fixed angle might not work for everyone.

A microHDMI port for outputting the screen or video is another one. Even though some tablets support mirroring the screen to TV/monitor by an additional adapter, Microsoft takes it a step further offering extended screen, just like a laptop or desktop. It is great for doing any serious work. A full-size USB port is another highlight of Surface. The Surface does not offer a MicroSD slot for storage expansion, but with a full size USB port, you can plug in virtually anything, even a USB Hub to connect multiple USB devices like keyboard, mouse, and external hard drive.

Last but not least, the masterpiece of the Surface is certainly its cover that features an integrated touch-sensitive keyboard. Actually, Microsoft offers two type of covers: Touch Cover and Type Cover. Type Cover is a more traditional keyboard where you press down on a physical key. The one I have here is a Touch Cover. Basically it is just like a regular cover with embossed keyboard layout on it. Surprisingly it works very well. Typing on its keyboard is comfortable, you just need to press lightly on the keys, and it gives an audio feedback as your type. For some people, it might need some time to get used to, but works well when you get a hang of it.

The Software

What good is a device if the software fails to deliver? Microsoft Surface RT comes with Windows 8 RT. If you have used the latest Windows smartphone or Windows 8, then the Metro interface should be familiar to you. On the start screen, you have all your apps shortcuts. In addition, there are tiles which push information such as new emails, photos, weather, and headlines to you. The big and colorful tiles are very touch-friendly.

Even though Surface RT offers a desktop screen, but you have very limited to what you can do because Windows RT can’t run traditional programs. The desktop screen is more for browsing file systems with Windows Explorer, or working with Office RT. One of the biggest things about the Surface is that it comes with Office RT.

With the integrated cover keyboard and kickstand, Surface works just like a laptop. However, to make it as an effective sales/business tool, having Outlook is important, which is currently missing from Surface RT. Also, as you can’t install any standard desktop applications on the Surface RT, the Windows Store becomes crucial. Unfortunately that’s where things go south.

The product has launched near 10 months, but it still lacks big name apps. For example, personally I am not a big fan of Internet Explorer, but I am stuck with it because I couldn’t find a replacement browser like Chrome or Firefox in the app store. A recent article on Top 100 Apps Availability on iOS, Android, Windows Phone & Windows 8 shows only 54% are on the Windows 8 platform. That is low compared with 96% for Android.

When I recently reviewed the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, I mentioned how much I like the split screen where you can run two apps at the same time. Surface RT offers similar feature where you can bring up one of the background running apps to the side. The downside is not being able to resize the frame (fixed to 25:75 ratio), but other than that, it works fine.

My Final Thought

This is the first time Microsoft has gone full-force into the tablet market, and it hasn’t done too well in term of sales. Microsoft’s results showed a $900 million loss due to Surface RT “inventory adjustments” in Q4. Despite the fact that it is not selling well, the product itself is fairly good and well built. It doesn’t have the fastest processor or benchmark, but for an average user it has plenty of power. With the recent price cut ($150 off from original price of $499) and the upcoming Windows 8.1 RT update (including Outlook), maybe it is a good time to buy. Or you can wait, and see what Microsoft has to offer for the next generation of Surface.

The bottom line is if you are a business person or student who doesn’t need any additional apps other than what it comes with, this is a great buy. Otherwise, you’d better wait.


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