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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  • jonyah - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    That's where Surface Pro comes in. I think pretty much everyone would go for the Pro if it were available day one, which is why they've delayed it. Core i5 power (though less battery life) and x86 compatibility will make it a winner.....i think.

    I hate windows 8 for any normal machine, though it may be nice in a tablet form. I'm still waiting to be able to actually play with one first.
    Reply
  • Zink - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    $900+ is too much for most people. Ultrabooks are amazing but sales numbers are poor. Sales are much higher on $500 laptops and tablets. The Surface Pro is also a bigger fan cooled device that won't offer the same battery life so the experience suffers there.

    I think the killer devices are the Atom tablets at $500. x86 and faster than ARM but with the same form factors and price. Asus is pricing at $600 for their VivioTab RT with battery/keyboard dock. I'd like to see 1080p too but maybe another product or manufacturer.
    Reply
  • shompa - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    *hint* Ultrabooks sell well: Macbook Air.
    PC can't compete with Apple at the same price. Today's ultrabook are priced same as Apple (but usually with larger SSD and/or faster processors).

    That is like a BMW priced same as a Skoda. Most people buy BMW.

    That is why Android tablets can't compete at the same price point as Apple.
    That is Surface will have a hard time.

    The rumour where that the Surface would cost 199 dollars, and that would have been a hit. (But OEMs would hate MSFT even more). The 199 price would work since people have to buy apps from MSFT paying them 30% on each app. MSFT subsidise Nokia phones and Xbox360 when it was release. This is a tactic they used many times before.

    And I believe that Surface will head that way. We will see a 50% price cut within a year.

    I really want to use Surface. But from the looks of it: its a nerd/corporate machine. The usual MSFT market. Wont sell 100 million.
    Reply
  • Hoekie - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Why? Get the cheaper 32GB version and pop in an SD card if price is an issue.

    Looking at the first reactions from people around me, Surface will be hot selling.
    Office + Multiuser + Light + batterytime+ touchcover+port connections. Actually a no brainer. In fact the 32GB no cover version is sould out everywhere including Germany.
    Reply
  • vision33r - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    MS will have to give away Xboxes again to move this after the initial batch of early adopter orders are filled. Reply
  • N4g4rok - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Care to elaborate? Reply
  • MadMan007 - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    translation: "I don't like MS and/or Windows 8 but don't have anything useful to say." Reply
  • LancerVI - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    That was an extremely accurate translation. Bravo to you sure and thanks for the lulz. Reply
  • shompa - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    MSFT have given away many Xbox360 so sell Windows phone. MSFT have done similar things many times spending tens of billions to take market share and then start to charge more money.

    Surface wont fly of the shelves. After the first batch MSFT needs to do something. Giving away Xbox360 is cheap for them

    Later we will see a price cut. Up to 50% within a year. It will also be intresting if MSFT follows Apples "1 year" bump cycle or a more aggresive "pc/Android" bump cycle. iPad4 have 400% faster CPU and at least 800% faster GPU. A6 is as fast as Intel per clock cycle. (and yes: I understand that A6 is dual core and intel is quad + clocked much higher. But the fact is that A6 is as fast per clock cycle. ARM will replace X86)

    Surface is not a mass market product. It cant compete with the sub 300dollar 7 inch tablet market. It will have a hard time compete with Ultrabooks and Ipads.

    A MSFT product that cost the same as an Apple product have never sold.

    Surface +
    -its more of an PC. It could be the only computer
    -Office
    -Kickstand
    -the covers are great
    Surface -
    Pricey 600 dollars for ancient hardware.
    Reply
  • maximumGPU - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    i would love to borrow your crystal ball some day! Reply

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