Windows RT

I’m not going to go into a super deep look at Windows RT here as we have a separate review for just that purpose. Instead I’m going to talk about the highlights as they apply to Surface.

There’s a definite learning curve to Windows RT/8. It doesn’t matter what OS you’re coming from, even if it’s Windows, it’s going to take some time to get used to the new Windows UI. Once you do however, you’ll see that it really was made for tablets and touch.

Switching between applications is faster on Surface/Windows RT than any competing mobile platform. There’s no double tapping of anything, no pressing and holding, just an edge gesture swipe like you’re flipping through pages of a virtual book. Apple's four finger swipe to move between apps on the iPad is the closest competitor here, but the edge swipe in RT is a bit more natural.

Activating the task switcher takes some getting used to, but once you do it’s much better than the alternatives.

The other big advantage that Windows RT brings to the table is the ability to display two applications on the screen at the same time. The options are fairly limited. You can have one app take up the majority of the display, with a second application limited to a narrow strip of real estate on either the left or right of the screen, but it’s better than only being able to show one thing at a time. Not all applications work well in this screen sharing setup, but it’s great for things like keeping an eye on email while browsing the web, or watching Twitter while playing a movie. Microsoft is definitely ahead of the curve when it comes to bringing true multitasking to tablets.

The charms bar (edge swipe from the right side of the screen) also gives Windows RT/8 the perfect mechanism for getting access to settings. The settings screen always gives you access to basic things like connecting to WiFi, adjusting screen brightness, turning rotation lock on/off, powering down the tablet, etc... But activate it while you’re in an app and you’ll get access to that application’s individual settings. It sounds simple but it’s consistent and easy to get to.

The other big benefit of Windows RT is you still get a desktop mode. If you want to tinker with things like scrolling speed or if you want direct access to the underlying file system, you still get those things. Windows Explorer exists and RT is installed in the same C:\Windows directory that we’ve been looking at for years. Want to dump photos from a USB stick into your photo library? You can just copy them as you always would using Explorer. You get a command prompt, you can write and run batch files, you get access to diskpart and can even manually TRIM the integrated NAND storage. Did I mention you can even tinker around in the registry? Not everyone will care about these things, but I get a kick out of them. Windows RT/8 is an almost perfect marriage of new mobile world simplicity with the flexibility that we’ve enjoyed from Windows for ages.

Using the desktop mode with touch isn't ideal, but it ends up being more usable than I expected going into the review. I was able to do things like activate buttons, resize and move windows around using touch alone without much struggling. 

Although we've seen issues with new tablet platforms and an absence of apps, I don't believe this will apply to Windows RT/8. The Windows Store will be available on all Windows RT and Windows 8 devices, giving developers a nice and hefty install base over the coming year. While the state of 3rd party apps on the Windows Store today is pretty dire, I do believe this will change in short order.

The only things missing are backwards compatibility with older x86 apps/drivers and the ability to install apps for desktop mode (only Metro, err new Windows UI apps are supported by Windows RT). The lack of backwards compatibility is a bit of a concern, but if you’re cross shopping between Surface and an iOS/Android tablet you’re not going to get backwards compatibility anyway making it a non-issue.

Performance Pricing and Final Words
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  • Shadowmaster625 - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Doesnt it bother you that simply typing a vanilla document in Office uses so much cpu power. You think they are ever going to fix that? What happens when you give it access to much more cpu resources? Will it simply consume it all? Reply
  • andrewaggb - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Both Anand and Vivek said it keeps up though, which is the main thing I think. And these are guys who type for a living. Really it drives home that anything slower than tegra 3 wouldn't cut it and tegra 3 is barely fast enough.

    As for what happens when you give it more cpu, how does word run on your current desktop? On my first gen core i7 laptop (dual core), I can get word up to 4% cpu in task mgr by key bashing.

    I'd be very interested in seeing what battery life and video performance an atom based tablet gets.
    Reply
  • robmuld - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    The choice of 16:9 for the display just tells me Microsoft will never get it Reply
  • N4g4rok - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Have you looked at the Pro version spec sheet? Reply
  • WP7Mango - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Actually, Microsoft DO get it. There are 3 reasons why 16:9 is preferable -

    1. It allows for the Windows 8 / RT multitasking feature - two apps snapped side by side, with one app taking up a thin column whilst the other app taking up a larger portion. These can be swapped round just by dragging the seperator between them. Even the desktop can be snapped with a metro app this way. It's an elegant solution to multitasking on a tablet, and a feature that the iPad doesn't have.

    2. It's the ideal size for watching movies whilst minimising black borders.

    3. The extra horizonal screen space gives you more flexibility in terms of app UI capabilities.
    Reply
  • ET - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    I think it's a pity that Microsoft doesn't allow running .NET apps on the desktop interface. That would have made Window RT comparable to Windows 8 and allowed using the Surface as a full PC, with a decent choice of software already available. Reply
  • jamawass - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Interesting review. Does the usb port support cameras? Can pictures be transferred from a camera to the surface as on a desktop? Reply
  • WP7Mango - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Yes, the USB port does support cameras. Yes, pictures can be transferred from a camera to the Surface just like you can on a desktop PC. Reply
  • karasaj - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    I don't know if you're still answering questions Anand (or any staff) but do you think Surface RT would suffice for a university student who just needs to rapidly type on Microsoft office for ~50 minutes without it feeling sluggish at all? That and streaming netflix are probably all that I need to do with Surface, if I can do that, then I'd pay for surface over an ultrabook (i.e. vizio ct14-a0) for the portability and battery life. Reply
  • B3an - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    I think Surface would be the best option for that kind of stuff. It's perfectly suited for it. My brother is at uni and wants the same kind of thing, and he's getting a Surface. Reply

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