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


View All Comments

  • milkod2001 - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    With zero X86 apps compatibility Surface RT is just another tablet with keyboard running on outdated T3 with average/crappy display . All that for 600 bucks :( Reply
  • tipoo - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    With full Microsoft Office and a keyboard that's a few millimeters thick, plus great xbox integration. Depends on what you prioritize. Reply
  • A Geologist - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    I’ve been following Anandtech pretty much since you started and this is the first time I’ve felt I needed to comment, and then actually made the time to leave a comment. First off thanks as always for an excellent review. I think the review is pretty clear that this product is intended to be Microsoft’s interpretation of a tablet class device. Everybody who’s complaining about a lack of features seems to want this to be a laptop or ultrabook replacement, which it clearly isn’t, and everybody who’s complaining about the screen seems to want it to be an iPad. To all the people complaining about journalistic bias, most of the criticisms you bring up are directly quoted from the article. Do you not see the clearly untenable position you are arguing from? If you possess the ability to read and understand what is written, it’s fairly obvious that the features, strengths and limitations of the Surface RT are all well written about.

    I hope I speak for the silent masses who don’t normally participate in the vacuous echo chambers that are web comments sections (I will admit that there are some very good commenter's on Anandtech though), whey I say thanks for the informed, intelligent, insightful and accurate reviews and news articles that make Anandtech the great site that it has been over the years.
  • IKeelU - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    You spoke for me, that's for sure. Though I'm no stranger to commenting, most of the comments to this article are baffling/hateful. It's playing out like some weird black comedy and all I'm missing is the popcorn. Reply
  • faizoff - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    I agree with your comment @A Geologist.

    If you look across the comments there are those who find the review biased towards Windows and want more issues to be reported. There are comments that find the review biased towards Apple.

    So it's become 'pick your bias and show your selected outrage.'

    I have always liked the reviews done on this site and regardless of what OS or device I use or prefer I enjoy reading features and charts and experiences and get a really good perspective of products.
  • damianrobertjones - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    "The biggest issue I have with recommending Surface is that you know the next iteration of the device is likely going to be appreciably better, with faster/more efficient hardware and perhaps even a better chassis. "

    Then you might as well not buy an iPad or most certainly shouldn't have purchased an iPad 1
  • turnipmaster - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    The iPad 1 didn't offer a noticeably inferior user experience than it's closest rivals at launch thought, especially as it didn't have any:) Reply
  • AEdouard - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    It's a sleek device, but I really wonder if anybody can crack that market considering the huge barrier to entry that is the ecosystem. Apple is so well established in that space that Microsoft should have taken the Google route and try to get some space by pricing the device really low.

    On top of that, the Surface has a few issues :

    1. That screen looks nice, but the resolution is lacking. This is a geek erection shrinker and could reduce early adoption by us nerds
    2. There is some performance issues, even in the main UI. Hard to accept that when vanilla jellybean on the Nexus 7 and the iPad are always smooth (in the main interface at least)
    3. Lack of apps (that chicken and the egg thing)

    But I hope Microsoft can pull it off. I really like the UI and the push for more functionality on tablets.
  • N4g4rok - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    "1. That screen looks nice, but the resolution is lacking. This is a geek erection shrinker and could reduce early adoption by us nerds"

    I think most nerds would be looking at the surface pro as it is. Any higher resolution, and that Tegra would have a hard time. And a faster SoC would have driven the price up.
  • elerick - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    I expected no less, great review! I am an exchange admin with my company, is there any way to review the functionality within a enterprise environment? At present we are forced to use a middle ware for "activesync security" can we expect any advancements with data security on the surface? Reply

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