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Microsoft Surface RT Tablet Review

Microsoft introduces its first foray into the tablet race: Surface.

October 26, 2012
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Introduction

After a virtual duopoly on the tablet market, the third major computing player steps into the tablet game—Microsoft—with its Surface RT tablet. Despite all the hype surrounding it, this is a thoroughly mediocre tablet. However, this could just be a case of first-time disappointment, as very few manufacturers do well with their first soirée in the tablet arena.

Design & Usability

Nifty design, but many, many shortcomings.

Not only is the Surface RT on the heavier side, but unless you have freakishly long thumbs, you won't be reaching the center of the screen any time soon due to the screen size, and it's very difficult to hold in one hand. Microsoft had the foresight to include a kickstand, however, but if you're on an airplane, you'll need to use the tray table, as the kickstand does not work well in your lap. Along with your tablet, the packaging for the Surface includes a wall charger and assorted documentation. The Touchpad (keyboard) accessory does not come with the tablet, and is an additional $119 if you choose a color other than black.

Those of you looking for a complete version of Office 2013 will be given only a scaled-down version. Tweet It

It's very important to note that Windows RT (the Surface RT's operating system) has a lot of rough edges right now, and some may not be fixed until the release of the Surface Pro tablet. For example, most of the advanced options cannot be accessed through the main interface, but the Windows 7-like desktop is very hard to control with your finger because it is scaled so small. Additionally, many of the included software applications are not the full versions: Those of you looking for a complete version of Office 2013 will be given only a scaled-down version.

WARNING: We need to make sure that you're aware that you are NOT getting Windows 8 when you buy the Microsoft Surface RT 32 GB. Instead, you are getting an operating system called Windows RT that is a bit on the bloated side, and definitely has a cadre of nuisances. To its credit it does feel familiar to users of Windows 7 and Xbox, but there are several shortcomings.

On top of that, the 32GB hard drive size that you think you're buying? Not exactly. There's a system restore partition that cuts out about 7GB that can't be used by you, and then the operating system is apparently almost another 8GB in total. Without a system update, you'll only have 10GB free on your hard drive. After the system update, it's expanded to 17GB free with nothing else on there but the operating system: no cached data, no files, no additional apps installed by you, nothing. Very misleading at best, it seems, though we at least know where all of that space goes. Still, shame on you Microsoft. Fie and shame.

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Performance

Connectivity features abound, but the screen performance is terrible.

Possibly the best thing about the Microsoft Surface RT 32 GB is the fact that its battery will last a long time, even on full brightness. In our labs, we were able to squeeze out 8 hours, 52 minutes on video playback, and 8 hours, 8 minutes reading an eBook. While it's not enough to set the bar for all other tablets, it's better than many its main competitors, and that's saying something.

And then there's the screen. Woof. After the release of Apple's retina display, and the Google Nexus7 's high PPI display, the Surface had its work cut out for it, and it just... didn't. With a screen real estate of 9.3125 x 5.25 inches and a resolution of 1366 x 768, the Surface has a pixel density of ~145, which is the lowest of the current generation high-end tablets. To make matters worse, the color gamut is not even close to as good as the iPad's and the contrast performance is similarly abysmal.

In all fairness to the Surface, if you use it with any of the optional keyboards much like you would a laptop, you'll be more than 17 inches from the screen, at which point someone with 20/20 vision probably won't be able to distinguish between pixels. Still, if you are on an airplane in business class, the screen will be closer to your face than this.

Microsoft built this with connectivity in mind. Tweet It

The Surface does hold a decided advantage over the other members of the tablet field, as Microsoft built this with connectivity in mind. Boasting a full USB 2.0 port, 802.11n wireless card, Bluetooth 4.0, and a micro-HDMI port (which currently doesn't work), the Surface RT will be able to satisfy many people who are looking to use it as a platform to base presentations from, as it's able to handle light office applications as well.

Conclusion

It'll be a while before Microsoft gives the current duopoly a run for its money.

To its credit, Microsoft's Surface RT has a lot of intriguing design and user interface features that are truly notable and will appear in other tablet models. The kickstand, touch cover, and some of the operating system elements are laudable for their ingenuity, but they are shining dots in a sea of bad.

From a hardware standpoint, it's baffling how badly Microsoft screwed up when they made a unit that is not only awkward to hold, but doesn't quite sit on your lap either. Additionally, about the only hardware advantages the Surface RT offers over competing tablets is an extra 1GB of RAM and a rather good battery life. The screen is terrible, the product is heavy, and the hard drive space is misleading at best, a bait-and-switch at worst.

Since this is Microsoft's first tablet, there are bound to be rough edges, just like when Android first came out or when iOS was first released. These things happen—it's understandable. However, Microsoft has a huge disadvantage as it came into the market so late when other product lines have already worked out most of their kinks.

Windows RT simultaneously is a hindrance and a boon to the tablet, as many of the features are actually quite good, but the operating system is huge and a bit of a resource hog. Additionally, there is no uniform interface, which leads to some rather perplexing inconsistencies. RT also does not give Windows users the support they're used to: Office 2013, for example, is not the full version, and there are no plans to give RT users the full version currently.

It will be interesting to see what Microsoft does in the tablet market further down the line. As of right now, the Surface RT is something to wait on.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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