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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  • The0ne - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    A few things that caught my attention that would push me to buy one,

    "Surface is both larger and heavier than the iPad, both design decisions on Microsoft’s part to built a device that could better deal with Windows RT’s multitasking capabilities as well as make room for a comfortable typing area when used with one of its two keyboard covers."

    "Whether or not Surface is priced appropriately really depends on how much you value Windows RT and getting Office 2013 for free. I suspect if you’re already a big Office user, you’ll see a lot of value in the bundle."

    As much as I abhor the ribbon style in Office, I absolutely love the 2013 Office preview, its metro style UI, the fluidity of working around int he apps. Seriously I love this new office, its such a joy to work in them with the "metro" style inclusions. Therefore getting it for free is a nice touch if I consider buying one. FYI, I have all 3 versions running side by side to test (2003, 2010 and 2013) and 2013 is just so smooth to work in I can live with the ribbon bar (with my fully customized custom bar of course).

    As for the weight and comfortable typing, that's even better to use the tablet as a notebook for work and on the road. Can't wait.
    Reply
  • Subyman - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    It looks like MS is moving in the right direction. I like how they are splitting the difference between serious computing and be very mobile, unlike what Apple has done. Apple totally killed productivity with the iPad and seem to be trying to go back and mend that decision. MS is offering professionals options for typing, but the device is still totally usable by the normal consumer.

    I will be interested once the hardware become a bit more powerful. Win RT looks to be hammering the little ARM processor, but that will be worked out over the next year or so.
    Reply
  • JoeA - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Well balanced and written article with positive attributes and things that still can be improved. I’m an early adaptor because I physically work with tech and installs. I’m looking forward to Rev 2 and 3. The transition will not be as hard as some make it out to be. Have fun and yes agreed it’s just different and works very well. Reply
  • Bob Todd - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Nice review. While there's always something better around the corner, this feels like really unfortunate timing on the CPU/SOC release schedule. On the low end we've got A9 ARM parts at the end of their competitive life, with A15 around the corner (or S4 Pro here would have been sweet). In the middle ground we've got Windows 8 tablets running a 5 year old Atom architecture that's finally about to be overhauled and shrunk to 22nm. Then on the high end we're not far away from Haswell. All 3 of those should provide noticeable improvements to performance (both CPU/GPU) and/or battery life. I'll definitely purchase a Windows 8 tablet, but it won't happen until the next CPU/SOC refresh. A Broadwell based Surface Pro with Thunderbolt/USB3/high res display...yum. Reply
  • Hoekie - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Nah, you can always wait for something better. Development takes time.
    The UI is fluid and that's the most important part regarding time to market for SoC's.
    Reply
  • Bob Todd - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Apps are slow to launch. This thing can't really have a higher res panel because of Tegra 3 limitations. The moves to A15 class or the next Atom aren't little 10% spec bumps that we're used to on the desktop side. We're talking about very noticeable improvements to the user experience. S4 Pro devices are going to be available here next week. I'd buy a Surface RT right now with an S4 Pro and a 1920x1080 panel. If they added another $50 for the panel I wouldn't mind. Like I said, there's always something better around the corner, but this thing is making its debut at the twilight of 3 architectures (A9, Atom, Ivy). I'm not saying _they_ should have waited, I'm saying I'm going to wait because they can refresh both RT and Pro versions in a few months with changes that really matter (cpu/gpu/battery life) in a device designed for productivity. Every SOC refresh will get better, it's just that the next ones are major and are so close. Reply
  • Bob Todd - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Apps are slow to launch. This thing can't really have a higher res panel because of Tegra 3 limitations. The moves to A15 class or the next Atom aren't little 10% spec bumps that we're used to on the desktop side. We're talking about very noticeable improvements to the user experience. S4 Pro devices are going to be available here next week. I'd buy a Surface RT right now with an S4 Pro and a 1920x1080 panel. If they added another $50 for the panel I wouldn't mind. Like I said, there's always something better around the corner, but this thing is making its debut at the twilight of 3 architectures (A9, Atom, Ivy). I'm not saying _they_ should have waited, I'm saying I'm going to wait because they can refresh both RT and Pro versions in a few months with changes that really matter (cpu/gpu/battery life) in a device designed for productivity. Every SOC refresh will get better, it's just that the next ones are major and are so close. Reply
  • Swift2001 - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    People like yourfather239 -- interesting nickname -- are trolls. We, the sane people of the AnandTech comments, should be able to kick him off -- or demand attention of the site runner to read the exchange and kick him off. Even a reasonable discussion of racism and the dynamics of it would be okay on another site. But this guy is not contributing a thing. He's a bigot. He should not be rewarded by our attention. Reply
  • OldAndBusted - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Then again, your name calling is pretty ugly too. Reply
  • IKeelU - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Nice false equivalence, ace. Swift2001's "name calling" can be observed to be accurate, unlike the racist he's calling out. Reply

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