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Review: Microsoft Surface RT

During the summer, Microsoft offered schools a heavy discount on their tablet, Surface RT. Costing less than €200, Surface RT had all the power of any other tablet on the market but with a special version of Windows 8 on it. For anyone who has a computer with Windows 8, you’ll have heard that it was made for touchscreens so I was expecting great things from Microsoft’s tablet. Effectively, I wanted to find out two things:

[list style=”check”]
  • Could it replace my laptop in school?
  • Is it better than the iPad?
[/list]

Image from http://www.winbeta.org

In this review, I’m not going to get into the geeky details of specs or anything like that. Suffice to say, it’s very fast and the touchscreen is very responsive. Using Windows 8 is dead easy once you learn a couple of swipes, e.g. to get the menu, you touch/swipe the side panel of the screen. Starting off with the big big positive: Surface RT comes with a complete Office suite. Better yet, it’s Microsoft Office. You get MS Word, MS Excel and MS PowerPoint. All work very well and although they are not the full versions of the Office you’d get on a PC, they perform well enough for me not to have missed anything.

One of the coolest things about Surface is its keyboard that doubles up as a cover. It snaps on via a magnet and works really well. It’s actually ok to type on and feels much more comfortable than a glass screen. Another cool feature is a flap built into the back of the Surface, which lets you prop the tablet up and use like a laptop. It looks and feels really cool!

Having MS Office alone makes it instantly attractive for schools. You can buy a lead that hooks your Surface to a projector too so you can show off presentations, etc. which is good. Another cool thing is that Surface comes with a USB port, which means you can plug it into loads of devices – cameras, USB sticks, printers, etc. This was a very good move by Microsoft, in my opinion.

You can download apps from Microsoft’s app store. I got a few bits and pieces but there aren’t really that many to choose from. I’m not much of an app person but as this is the only way of running any software, the very limited number of apps was worrying. Microsoft have promised 10,000 new apps shortly to the store, which should satisfy people.

The big problem for me is that while Surface looks like a Windows 8 machine, acts like a Windows 8 machine (complete with Windows 7 desktop in the background), in a frankly bizarre move, don’t allow users to run software that hasn’t been downloaded from their app store. I can’t think of any decent reason for this as there are so many brilliant pieces of software out there that could easily run on the tablet but because they haven’t been made available on the store, the tablet won’t let you run it.

Image from: http://mygiz.com

The reasoning behind this is, I guess, that the iPad only lets you run software downloaded from their appstore but when your tablet looks and feels and works like Windows, it’s frustrating not to be do everything Windows usually allows you to do. While the appstore is so limited in its apps, this makes it doubly frustrating. The other, and more serious problem, is that while the tablet can link up to many printers, it can’t link up to all of them, including the one I use at school. I know the iPad shares the same problem, but this was an opportunity missed.

There’s a couple of other annoyances, which I’m told are going to be fixed soon. For example, the App store doesn’t have an alternative browser such as Firefox or Chrome so you’re stuck with MS Internet Explorer, which is ok.

Overall, I still think I prefer the Surface RT with all its faults over the iPad. The keyboard and MS Office are a massive plus and because I’m not that bothered about apps, I’m able to do most things that I need. There is a camera and microphone so I can do lots of creative things using that. As I said, Microsoft have over 10,000 apps coming to their European store soon so when that happens, it will be interesting to see how they match up with Apple’s offerings. However, it definitely won’t be replacing my laptop in school. If I can’t print from it, it’s not going to be much good to me.

I’d imagine Microsoft already know that RT falls short of brilliance and their next incarnation will hopefully take away the silly restriction of the App store. However, I can’t imagine the price will be any where near the €200 mark but if it’s the same price as an iPad, I’d be diving straight for it.

Comments (0)

  1. Luke 14th September 2013 at 8:24 pm Reply

    The application issue with Windows RT is down to the hardware. It uses an ARM processor (same as iPad & Androids) instead of an Intel X86 CPU, so Windows applications all have to be completely rewritten for the ARM CPU. Another downside I found was the lack of space due to Windows OS taking up half the disk space, so a 32GB Surface RT really only has about 15GB free (the same as a 16GB iPad).

    1. simonmlewis 15th September 2013 at 8:28 am Reply

      Thanks, Luke. It’s just a bit frustrating to see something that looks like “full Windows” but doesn’t act like “full Windows”. If they even hid the desktop, expectations wouldn’t be as high!

  2. Clare Marie 17th September 2013 at 4:41 pm Reply

    If you had the option of buying a class set of these or half a class set of Ipads what would you recommend?

    1. simonmlewis 17th September 2013 at 9:06 pm Reply

      I’d go for a class set of these if I had to choose. However, if I didn’t have to choose, I’d wait for the next incarnation of Surface. I don’t think I’d buy an iPad yet.

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