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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  • Mumrik - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    As someone who picked up a 32GB HP Touchpad for $149 and slapped ICS on it via CyanogenMod, I still don't understand the appeal of this kind of tablet.

    To me, it physically looks absolute great, and blows any iPad out of the waters (but, to be fair, I never liked Apple's designs), but I still don't know why one would buy a $5-600 high end tablet. Why not a compact laptop at that point? We're clearly far beyond a few mobile games, youtube/720P videos and ebooks. Don't tablets make more sense at the lower end?

    For $149, I've gotten a hell of a lot out of my tablet, but these are on the edge of ThinkPad X-series territory.
    Reply
  • Zink - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    That was a fire sale for way bellow cost so it doesn't really apply to current pricing.

    Tablets don't replace portable laptops, just another option. Both have their trade offs and fit different users, for example my Mom. Many users also have a tablet in addition to a laptop.

    Tablets offer multi-touch for games and relaxed use, battery life, portability, simplicity, and screen quality to name a few benefits.
    Reply
  • Mumrik - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    The firesale was part of my point, but that general price bracket also now exists as a regular part of the tablet market.

    The things you mention at the end are what I see them do as well, but where does the 500+ dollar tablet fit into that? Unless you want some ultra high definition on that screen, those needs are filled quite well by cheaper tablets.
    Reply
  • PubFiction - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    I would agree with you but at $499 or higher apple is moving millions of tablets so clearly other people do not seem to think that way. Your comments are basically neither here no there. The usefulness of slate tablets is a side arguement, I do not own them as you said because I would rather just have a real functional laptop. But part of the greatness of windows 8 is that it will finally push vendors to not so much jump into the tablet market but actually functionally merge the laptop and the laptop to a point where they become one device and no one needs to make a decision about one or the other or carry both. Reply
  • shompa - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Do you really think its a mass market to hack tablets?

    This is a product for non-nerds and Office.

    (Hint: When you get older you will stop caring about hacking stuff. You want thing just to work. After working 8 hour with computers you want to come home to a computer setup that works. Including that all you family and friends have working stuff since you are support 24/7 for them. Many IT professionals like me solves this by just buying a bunch of macs and hand them out. "now it works. Don't call me for support".
    Building you own PCs are meaningless. You have 1000 dollar extra to buy an Alienware. You also will be interested in pussy. Beautiful designed stuff (like Apple stuff) attracts pussy. And I like pussy even if I am married. (*hint2* never get married). Hacking stuff is a pussy repellant. If they see a home built PC or strange Tablet with strange OS. *poof* pussy gone.
    Reply
  • blandge - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    This may be the dumbest thing I've seen somebody say on the internet. Specifically the last paragraph. Reply
  • superflex - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Or the most brilliant.
    I concur with the OP. Who has time to fuck with flashing ROMs and installing modded OS's. Would you rather OC your CPU and memory with a new BIOS or be hitting some strange?
    I've built plenty of PCs but now the last thing I want to do is go home and fuck around with making sure my OC temps are stable or I have the highest benchmark score.
    Get a life dude. Pussy rules!
    Reply
  • kyuu - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Yeah, because women just love the sort of person who says "pussy" repeatedly. In the comments of an article on a tech blog.

    Seriously, if you don't like tech, then what the hell are you doing here? Go annoy some people on some pussy blog somewhere.
    Reply
  • Stas - Monday, November 05, 2012 - link

    You sound like you didn't get out of your mom's basement until you hit 21 when your friends eventually got you out to a bar. They hooked you up with a drunk broad so you can finally lose your virginity. Now you're a self-proclaimed frat bro with mad game.
    Hint: normal, developed adult males don't act like a 12-y.o. girl getting the new Justin Beiber CD at the sight of a frisky female. "Pussy" is just something that happens, they get it like they get their coffee in the morning - it's a normal occurrence or even convenience. Remember how, a couple of years ago - in high school, you couldn't stop bragged in class about your dad's sick new Mustang? Well, it's not like that. Bigger things excite grown-ass men - hobbies, jobs they love, personal projects... shit, even politics. And to some, computers and electronics are one of those things.
    But, anyways, you'll get it. Eventually.
    Reply
  • kozlowski - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Anand, do you know if Microsoft organically grew the hardware unit that built Surface, or did they buy a hardware team and integrate it into MS? Reply

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