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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  • WP7Mango - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    No. That's what the Surface Pro is for. Reply
  • tzhu07 - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    If I were to buy a tablet today, I'll still take the iPad for the most widespread support. Reply
  • kyuu - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    So what's up with the Windows RT review? Really looking forward to it, but it's a day+ late now (at least I thought I saw that it was supposed to be up later the same day of the Surface review). =( Reply
  • kyuu - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    So what's up with the Windows RT review? Really looking forward to it, but it's a day+ late now (at least I thought I saw that it was supposed to be up later the same day of the Surface review). =( Reply
  • simbadogg - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    I believe on microsofts spec/surface page they said it was a proprietary connection for HDMI / video out. Is this a standard micro HDMI connector? If so what type (C, D?). Just wanting to know if there can actually be other cables used other than the standard microsoft cable. Reply
  • HisDivineOrder - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Windows RT reminds me so much of XP x64. I think that the next full release/update of RT will be a lot better than this one. I think by then it'll become clear that apps launching slowly and overall lethargic performance is part of what Jobs KNEW was an important component of having a slick, awesome device.

    Your device has to "feel" fast in order for users to think it's fast. It may not be actually fast, but they have to feel like it is. Every review says the same thing. "It's great, it's different, I really like it, I want to love it, but it's so slow..."

    It feels slow because the transitions are slow and the design was not built around tricking the user into thinking it's faster than it is. The whole iOS core started around doing this very thing. Tricking the user into thinking slow hardware was fast with clever use of transitions and design.

    It seems like MS did not learn this lesson. Hell, it was in the Jobs biography. Perhaps they should read more.
    Reply
  • antef - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Anand, you mention having to double-press or long-press to switch apps on other platforms, but that's not the case with Android in general, only with the new Samsung and LG phones. The other manufacturers rightly went with the Google standard of including a dedicated button for app switching, so it's one press to bring up a list with thumbnails and another press to go to the app you want. I don't think MS's implementation is any better than that. This is the issue with most people using Samsung's and LG's poor designs and not realizing Android is better elsewhere. Of course, Windows RT still wins when it comes to side-by-side mode. Reply
  • tipoo - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    A few reviews complained about using the stand on a lap or any non-level surface being unsteady, with the touch cover you can flip it back half way and then have the stand resting on THAT rather than your lap. That should be much more stable as it now has a level surface and much more surface area. Reply
  • pblock - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Thank you for a wonderful, comprehensive review. However, at our office, most of the talk is wondering if the Surface will be usable on your lap. Does the stand work on your lap, or is it too awkward? And what about each of the keyboard covers? Most of us who use laptops rarely place them on a table or desk but instead are using them on the couch or in an easy chair. Reply
  • techenthu - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    It has a USB port . Can i use a data card with this?
    I am sure carriers need some installation before use the data card . So i was wondering if surface will allow using the data card
    Reply

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