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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  • Dev69 - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    The current Surface RT price point \functionality exemplifies the Microsoft products stereotype of not purchasing the first version.

    Let the early adopters beware :)
    Reply
  • frabber - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    too expensive, unless we can see, unlike Apple, price falling after some months, Reply
  • samiur666 - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Anand so is it possible to connect the tablet to a TV and stream a movie from netflix or a thumbdrive? I find myself often doing doing with my ASUS Transformer and I see you mentioned some issues with HDMI output but I wasnt sure.

    Thanks
    Reply
  • WP7Mango - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    I'm not Anand but I can answer the question -

    The answer is yes! You can do it via HDMI or wirelessly via DLNA. I think the HDMI issue might be a sync thing, because HDMI output to my Samsung 1080p TV works perfectly.
    Reply
  • agentbb007 - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    This was a really great review thank you Anand! The editors at cnet need to learn a thing or two from you. I got so upset after reading another praise Apple bash MS article on their site I have sworn I will never type that URL in my browser again. Instead I will come to your site to get a true non-biased review of hardware. Reply
  • OldAndBusted - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    "Through two seemingly simple additions to the design (but incredibly complex to actually develop and implement), Microsoft took a tablet and turned it into something much more. "

    It's funny, but those are the exact two features that I care the least about. I don't have one at present, but when I had an iPad, I used it as originally demonstrated by Steve Jobs - in my easy chair in front of my TV. I can't imagine using a tablet as a desktop computer, so the kickstand and keyboard cover just come across as silly to me. Without the kickstand, could Microsoft have made the Surface a millimeter or so thinner?

    That said, I still find myself interested in the Surface. I do wish though, that Microsoft would allow third-parties to skin that start screen, it's ugly. It may work brilliantly, but aesthetically, it's an eyesore. Bright primary colors, monochrome icons, tiny, tiny typeface on the tiles. It's a mess. And the tiles/icons for Office are even crazier. Yes, they've at least added color to the icon within the tile, but the icon is tiny. With the tiny typeface. Just a horrible interface.

    And yet. I think I still want one.
    Reply
  • kyuu - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Can't disagree more. Especially compared to the ugliness of iOS's chiclet app icons on a grid.

    WinRT/8 is definitely the best looking of all the touch-based OSes by far. The last thing MSFT should do is allow OEMs to start screwing with the UI (and introduce performance issues as OEM skinning and bloatware always does).
    Reply
  • bronopoly - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    This may seem like a silly question, but can I plug the surface into my pc via the surface's USB port? I really wouldn't like transferring something to a usb drive and then transferring it to the surface (even though I can't even do that on my iPad). Reply
  • lhotdeals - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    I have always been a fan of Anandtech reviews, this one on one of the most anticipated tablet does not disappoint. This is how reviews are supposed to be done rather than some filled with subjective judgements and unfounded claims. Reply
  • bd1 - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    is visual studio available for RT ? Reply

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