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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  • sviola - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Care to source the claim that A6 performs the same as x86 core processors per clock cycle? Reply
  • blandge - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    "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)"

    This simply isn't true. The A6 scored 908ms on the SunSpider browser benchmark and a 2700k scores about 135ms (Lower is better). That's about 6x better, and SunSpirder is a SINGLE CORE benchmark.
    Reply
  • Brainling - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Are you serious with this about the A6? The A6 is NO WHERE NEAR as fast as full on Intel silicon. It's not even in the same ballpark. Maybe if you're comparing it to Atom?

    An Ivy Bridge full silicon CPU is in another league over the A6. Of course, they aren't meant for the same purpose. Even taking the faster clocks in to account (~4x the clock speed), the Ivy Bridge regularly scores 6-7 times the execution scores of an A6 in synthetics. That's not pure clock speed, that's also a flat better CPU.

    I swear...some of this stuff is just mind blowing. What in the world would have ever made you think an A6 was "clock for clock" as fast as Intel's best offerings? Also, the XBox 360 doesn't use an Intel CPU or an x86 CPU...it's a Motorola PowerPC. Might wanna check your facts next time.
    Reply
  • Kevin G - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    A typo: "Microsoft offers Touch Cover in six colors black, white, magenta, cyan and red." Not sure if a color is missing or you meant five (though five pictured).

    Anand, you've been taking the Surface around judging the examples in the article. Any chance it was with you during the iPad mini event? I can image the looks being worse than when you tried to make a call at the iPhone 5 event.

    "Simply typing quickly in Microsoft Word maxes the single threaded performance of Tegra 3’s ARM Cortex A9 cores." It does seem odd that one of Surface's biggest selling points on the software side is a self inflicted wound. Office should be the premiere application for MS to show case, not bloatware that'd deserve to sit in the sloth exhibit at a zoo. Was Office even usable?
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Apparently we can't count today. It is indeed five colors, not six. Reply
  • ssiu - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Finally, some objective Windows RT versus Windows 8 Atom tablet performance comparison on the net -- thanks anandtech. Definitely no reason for me to consider Windows RT. Reply
  • Zink - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Yep this is silly. The only reason for RT is to let OEM's compete <$500 with Apple and to emulate other walled garden ecosystems.

    Atom should have been launch hardware for a better user experience. Hasn't Apple success shown that UI is #1?
    Reply
  • dagamer34 - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Basically it seems like Microsoft built a rather competent product, and when we see Windows RT tablets with stronger hardware like Tegra 4 or S4 Pro, it should be a great experience.

    Considering this is Microsoft's first hardware computer, they could have done a LOT worse, and there are some things you only learn by actually shipping a product. For a 1st gen release, that's pretty good.
    Reply
  • shompa - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Thats is one of MSFT problem. Since they control the hardware, we wont see the crazy Android/PC hardware wars. How long time for MSFT to write drivers/support Tegra4 or any other fast SoC?

    Just look at Windows Phone. Nokia have the killer "Pure View" and MSFT don't support it.
    (And thats is why Nokia will die with only MSFT support)
    Reply
  • notanakin - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    "Microsoft’s talents not as a software developer nor as a parts assembler are what make Surface great here, rather its design and manufacturing intuition."

    Er, so what is it that makes Surface great here? Almost sounds like the less talent you have, the greater the product. (In that case, please contact me for insanely great product designs.)
    Reply

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