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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  • walkman - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    Did anyone else go back and check the byline for this article? I highly respect Anandtech reviews but this one was written with a glibness and giddiness that seems very uncharacteristic. If it wasn't Anand I would write it off as a MS PR hack, but it is so I'm trying to keep an open mind. Anand review are usually very late so it's also surprising to see this detailed review so quickly. He likes RT so much he makes sound like he will like better than Win 8. Perhaps he has a bias for MS (I do) so he's just excited to see MS get back in the game vs competitors. Reply
  • twotwotwo - Saturday, October 27, 2012 - link

    The Atom/ARM head-to-head is awesome. Noteworthy that the Exynos 5 Dual in the Chromebook got a 711ms SunSpider score (in another site's test) compared to the 714ms for Atom here, and x86 usually smashed on SunSpider in the past because of its wider memory interface. (Of course, I'm implicitly comparing Google's JavaScript VM against Microsoft's too, not just the chips. And someone actually buying a Windows tablet might go Atom just to get Windows 8 and legacy app compatibility instead of RT.)

    Bet I'll hear more about the ARM-meets-Atom thing in your Chromebook review. For me as a user, seems like the big deal is that mobile architecture wars are on like Donkey Kong; only good news for me.
    Reply
  • MrSpadge - Saturday, October 27, 2012 - link

    Wow.. imagine we could get this pixel density, IPS and almost 1:1400 static contrast on any regular laptop display! It may not beat the iPad3 display.. but in absolute terms and especially compared to what we usually get any 500€ or 2000€ machine this is just gorgeous!

    I also can't understand people wanting an even higher resolution stating "but Apple's got the higher dpis". Personally I find 1366 x 768 to be very crisp and borderline too small at 11.6", so there'd be no benefit of going smaller but drawbacks (scaling, power consumption, cost). I don't think the trade-off would have been worth it.
    Reply
  • johnsmith9875 - Tuesday, October 30, 2012 - link

    But does Surface run in Portrait mode? Does the hardware have the position sensors and does the software check for those? I've seen it only being demonstrated in landscape mode. Reply
  • crispbp04 - Monday, November 05, 2012 - link

    Yes, it is beautiful in portrait and landscape Reply
  • bhima - Tuesday, October 30, 2012 - link

    Haswell + Win8 x86 will be epic. I don't care about RT. In fact, it feels like Microsoft is hedging its bets with RT vs its x86 Surface tablets. Here's hoping x86 stays around so you can actually use software you already own, have real application choices and have a truly seemless integration between tablet, notebook and desktop... not just some fancy looking sync software. Reply
  • Silma - Monday, November 05, 2012 - link

    Congratulations on the most informative review of the Surface I read to date.

    Surface seems exciting although a sub FullHD screen and only 2GB of RAM are a big turnoff.

    I am looking forward to reading your review of the Surface Pro when it becomes available.
    Reply
  • ezrasam - Thursday, November 08, 2012 - link

    Revolution of the decade. Reply
  • ijabit - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    I can confirm that I had the exact same problem outputting video to my 42" plasma. The poor quality was very noticable and one of the main reasons I returned it (we watch a lot of netflix streaming from a PC). I never had a problem with my (super slow) Asus laptop and HDMI out. Reply
  • bogieworf - Wednesday, November 28, 2012 - link

    I personally used the new Nook HD + before returning it and replacing it with the Surface. My wife owns the iPAD 3. Here are my thoughts about the devices.

    If the Nook HD+ (9" model) isn't the perfect e-Reader, it is close to it. Anything larger would require two hands. The case that BN offers for the Nook allows standing the Nook either upright or sideways, and the software is great for reading. Unfortunately, BN's tech support leaves much to be desired and I was forced to return the device because they could not find out why one of my daily newspapers was not being automatically downloaded each day. Sad, really, because I REALLY like the device. But make no mistake, this is an e-Reader first and secondarily everything else.

    Going from the Nook to the Surface, the Surface is much more expensive and much more versatile. Windows R/T is a pretty slick piece of SW. Love the Tiles being able to re-arrange them and the updates that appear in the Tiles. Is the Surface as good a reader? No, its too big as you need two hands to hold the device. Is it an more than adequate reader? Yes.

    The Surface is a tablet designed primarily for media consumption and secondarily for productivity. It is currently THE tablet to own if you value productivity. Word, Excel and Power Point come pre-loaded. The keyboard that doubles as a cover is a great design as is the built in kick stand. This device has the advantages of the much touted Yoga in a much smaller, thinner and lighter package. The iPAD simply does not compare as a productivity device and the Tiles with auto updating makes iOS seem dated. Is the iPAD the better media consumption device? Yes. The display and apps place the iPAD well in front of the Surface, but the more you value productivity, the more the Surface makes sense.

    But understand, the Surface offers a light version of productivity for most people. If productivity is your first concern, something the size of a convertible (12.5" or more) would be much better. The Yoga, for example, would be a good productivity device while still being thin and light enough to secondarily offer decent media consumption and portability. But the Yoga is not a device you are likely to pull out during your daily commute, at least not on the subway. It is too big and cumbersome for that, the Surface is not.

    Taken for what it is and what it offers, the Surface is a great device for the right person. You need to appreciate the Surface for what it is and what it was designed to do, not for failing to be something it was never intended to be. If nothing else, MS should be credited for re-thinking the tablet space and not producing another iPAD wannabe. This is a very well thought out and executed product..
    Reply

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