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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  • enealDC - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Any takers?? Reply
  • MonkeyPaw - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Early adopter = heartburn. Reply
  • daar - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Been using an Thinkpad X41 tablet for ages at work, will probably pick this up to replace it. I mean, this thing does have pen input yes? I didn't see much mention of it in the review. Missing a few benchmarks as well, which is kind of a shame as the Surface is the one of the most interesting computing device put out in the last while.

    Also would like to ask who makes the actual panel? I recall AT used to note this in reviews in the past but not as of late, I don't think I even saw mention of it in the iphone 5 review.
    Reply
  • gardocki - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    No pen input on the Surface RT, just on the Surface for Win 8 Pro, which will likely be about twice the cost and won't be released for another 90 days Reply
  • gcoupe - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    I don't think this is correct. If you look at the "Help me choose" document published by Microsoft, then they state that "Capacitive pens available for purchase".

    True, these aren't active pens, with pressure sensitivity, but as far as I'm aware, WinRT will have handwriting recognition.

    It would be good to get some confirmation of this though, and a measure of whether it is as good as the handwriting recognition in Windows 8.
    Reply
  • This Guy - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    All capacitive touch screens work with capacitive pens. In my experience capacitive pens write like crayons.

    Running an older tablet with a worse input array I have perceived capacitive hand writting recognition on win 8 as being quicker and more accurate compared to win 7. That said, I still find it painfully slow compared to the on-screen keyboard.

    So yes, Surface RT supports capacitive pens, but the experience of capacitive pens is generally so poor on other devices most people don't consider them as pen inputs.
    Reply
  • nagi603 - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Capacitive pen compared to an active pen is like comparing a baby tricycle and a jet airplane. Not even in the same league. But unless you have tried something remotely like the latter, you won't even know that.

    Trust me as someone who has actually tried both and has been using a wacom pen for years: throw that capacitive pen out the window!
    Reply
  • SleepyFE - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Most interesting computing device?????

    It's just a small laptop with all it's guts stuck in a poorly cooled space behind the screen.
    Reply
  • owned66 - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    ummm .... ?
    this is windows RT
    its using an ARM cpu
    Reply
  • SleepyFE - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    I know it runs on ARM, does that not make it a laptop, is a server using ARM not a server?
    No matter how u spin it, it either a tablet (of which there are many and 99.9% use ARM) or it's a laptop with less power and less headroom (regarding cooling).
    Thankfully a week laptop is at least sort of useful, but paying 100$ extra to get the keyboard? No thanks!!
    Reply

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