Microsoft Surface RT Hands-On

Earlier yesterday I went to a Microsoft Kiosk to try out the Microsoft Surface RT.  After about 30 minutes of demoing multiple units I decided it just wasn’t ready for prime time.  I’ve been using Windows 8 since the Developer Preview was released over a year ago.  It has been my main operating system ever since. Even though Microsoft’s new hardware platform is running a variant version of Windows 8, it just doesn’t have much below the surface.

The Microsoft Surface RT is a new hardware platform that is supposed to be a tablet and laptop replacement.  Why carry two devices when you can carry one? Unfortunately I don’t feel like it does either job very well.  As a tablet the screen didn’t always respond to my touch.  I’d touch an app, and wait, and realize that the device didn’t recognize me touching it, so I’d have to do it again.  It almost felt like I needed to double touch some apps to make them start.  The camera on the Surface RT is pretty bad.  I don’t even know why they bothered including a rear camera on the device.  It feels like they included it just because other tablet manufacturers are including it as well.  The front camera was bad as well, but I can see people using it because Surface RT comes with Skype for video calls.

As a laptop it struggles because of the design and software.  The Surface RT has a kickstand which initially seemed like a great idea, but in practice it falls a bit flat.  The kickstand is not adjustable so you have to use it at a specific viewing angle.  With any normal laptop you can tilt the screen to your liking.  With this device you’ll have to tilt yourself instead.

Software-wise you have an issue because your software selection is severely lacking.  On Android and the iPad they will run apps designed for their cellular counterparts.  Even if these apps aren’t designed specifically for those respective devices, they still work well.  Windows 8 RT doesn’t use either standard Windows apps, or Windows phone 7 apps.  It may eventually run Windows Phone 8 apps, but that remains to be seen.  Eventually Microsoft will release the Windows Surface Pro which runs standard Windows applications.  Why they didn’t release both Windows 8 RT and Windows 8 Pro  at the same time I don’t know.

On the positive side Windows Surface RT comes with Office 2013 installed, and it works fairly well.  Using the Type  Cover I felt like I was typing on a standard laptop keyboard. It didn’t take any adjustment time at all.  If for some reason you felt compelled to get a Surface RT, you don’t have to worry about office productivity and typing using the Touch Cover keyboard.

Touch Cover on the left and Type Cover on the right

Unfortunately the Type Cover isn’t the default cover the Surface RT is bundled with.  The Surface RT’s default cover is the Touch Cover.   The Touch Cover doesn’t feel anywhere near as good as the Type Cover.  I felt like I was typing on a tablet screen when I typed on Touch Cover.  I had to have my fingers hover above the keys in order to type appropriately.  Even then it still felt wrong.  It may be something you can adjust to, but it feels like it would be a compromise vs using the Type Cover.

The Microsoft Surface RT comes in 3 flavors right now.  The 32 GB Surface RT is $499, the 32GB Surface RT with the Touch Cover is $599, and the 64 GB Surface RT with the Touch Cover is $699.   The Type Cover is sold as a separate accessory for $130.   If I was going to pick a Surface RT up I would buy the 32 GB model, with the Type Cover.

I like Windows 8, and what Microsoft is trying to do, but I think the execution is just wrong.  They need to take the design back to the drawing board and try again.  I would like to try out a Microsoft Surface Pro when they are finally released, which will eliminate most of the Software issues I have, but it will still have the awkward kickstand.   You don’t have to take my word for it.  You can go online and locate a Microsoft Store or Kiosk near you.

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