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Microsoft Surface RT review

Verdict

A superbly designed tablet that’s ideal for mobile professionals, but it comes with too many compromises to make it a must-have

Review Date: 15 Jul 2013

Reviewed By: Barry Collins

Price when reviewed: £279, 32GB; £359, 32GB with Touch Cover; £359, 64GB; £439, 64GB with Touch Cover (all prices inc VAT)

Buy it now for: £269
(see more store prices)

Overall Rating
4 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
4 stars out of 6

Performance
4 stars out of 6

When Microsoft dropped the bombshell that it was launching its own tablet, the company not only risked alienating its PC partners, but detonating its credibility if it failed to show them how to do it properly.

Surface RT gets £120 price cut


A price cut of £120, such as Microsoft has just made to the price of the Surface RT tablet, would normally be see a bump for the Value for Money score and the potential addition of a Recommended award. We’re not going to do that for the Surface RT, though.

As a piece of hardware, the Surface RT was, and remains, top quality. Its 10.6in 1,366 x 768 display is excellent, and its magnesium casing is luxurious and beautifully crafted. There is no £280 tablet that even comes close to its physical appeal; add either of the keyboard covers and you have a sophisticated mobile workhorse, with decent battery life, starting from £359. It looks even better value when you consider the price also includes copies of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.

The problem (aside from persistent sluggishness in performance), is the growing competition. With manufacturers now shunning RT pretty much completely, most rivals aren’t as hobbled as the Surface RT is, with its reliance on the faltering Windows Store. With prices falling all the time, it surely won’t be long before you can buy a keyboard-equipped Atom tablet with Windows 8 for less, and one that’s capable of so much more.

If all you need is Word, Excel, PowerPoint and a web browser, plus the ability to play the occasional casual game, the Surface RT is worthy of consideration. Yet, for only a little more money, you can buy a full Windows 8 device with much greater flexibility.

There’s no doubt that the Microsoft Surface RT is a serious tablet, but is it good enough to tempt people away from their iPads, their Android tablets, or even their laptops? Or is it a mere stopgap until the fully fledged Windows 8 versions of the Surface tablet arrive to complement this ARM-based version?

The Surface hardware

Microsoft made clear right from the outset that the Surface was intended to set an example to the PC manufacturers, and it’s immediately apparent that this isn’t a piece of boilerplate hardware. Two things make the Surface stand out from the uniform slabs of glass we’ve witnessed over the past couple of years: the kickstand and the detachable keyboards (which you can read about here).

The mechanics of the kickstand are beautifully simple. The bottom half of the back of the tablet casing flicks out to create a stand, turning the device into a pseudo-laptop when used with one of the keyboards. When you’re finished with the stand, it flips back into place, perfectly flush with the back of the tablet, and with the satisfying clunk of an expensive car door.

However, the stand is set at a fixed position, leaving no means of adjusting the angle of the screen as you would on a conventional laptop. That left the taller members of the PC Pro team awkwardly hunched over the Surface as they attempted to work with the device at a desk, although our more modestly sized colleagues had no complaint.

That slightly too upright angle would be a much bigger problem if the 10.6in screen wasn’t so sparkling. Viewing angles are excellent – perhaps a little too good for snoopers in an adjacent train seat.

Microsoft Surface RT

A maximum screen brightness of 400cd/m2 is comparable to that of the iPad, and while the Surface has an impressive measured contrast ratio of 3,333:1, it's due to the presence of dynamic contrast.

Flick between dark and bright pages, and it's possible to detect the backlight raising and lowering brightness to compensate. Still, the IPS panel guarantees that the palette of bright colours that make up the Windows 8 Start screen zing off the display, and photos and video deliver sumptuous levels of saturation.

The 1,366 x 768 resolution isn’t going to give Apple’s engineering department cause to shamefacedly return to the drawing board, but when you’re sitting a foot or so away from the Surface screen it doesn’t feel as though it lacks detail or sharpness.

The tablet feels delightful in the hand, too. There’s much marketing waffle around the so-called VaporMg material that forms the casing, but it feels robust and smooth to the touch. The charcoal black design is commendably understated, with only a subtle Windows logo adorning the rear.

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User comments

So...

The Microsoft Surface RT is the Engadget tablet of the year!

Imagine that.

By rhythm on 20 Feb 2013

I've had the Surface RT for a week and its...

..rubbish (or disappointing if you want to be PC). The hardware is really nice but the software is incredibly limited (lack of apps) and Office 2013 is rubbish when using with a touch screen.

The performance is also iffy and the fact that you now can't use Google Calendars/Contacts is, for me, a real limitation

C

By Chatan on 21 Feb 2013

Beautiful Piece of Kit

No complaints here.

The big advantage over the iPad is a USB port.

A very positive start to usher in the new generation of Windows.

By 5735guy on 18 May 2013

Disappointed, lack of apps and no swipe type keyboard.

By Moonbeam on 3 Jun 2013

It's even better with 8.1

Overall a reasonably fair review, though the sidebar on P1 isn't THAT clearly meant to be part of it.

8.1 with additional firmware updates, plus Outlook makes this a pretty, compelling piece of kit.
Mine positively zings along, and I find it more useful than the missus' Nexus 7 wot I got 'er for XMAS.

The received wisdom in the punditocracy (notably Mr Thurrot) is to wait for Surface#2 RT8.1 with souped-up hardware, including LTE, quad-core CPU , faster graffix etc etc. If you're not in a hurry, this is good advice, but at £279 Surface#1 is a very nice piece of kit, at a give-away price.

By wittgenfrog on 17 Jul 2013

It's a companion device..

Remember, it's a companion device, not a PC replacement.

I don't have one, but have used one for a few days.

I was astonished at how good it was to be honest. Certainly wasn't super fast, but neither sluggish.

But the usability of the device with the USB port, keyboard and kickstand plus the full office and beautiful OS.

I thought it was a very useful bit of kit.

Other OS tablets just seem like toys. I could do proper work on an RT tablet.

By Grunthos on 19 Jul 2013

Tablet PC wholesaler study computer harm to eyesight

  Tablet PC wholesaler study computer harm to eyesight damage eyesight of too close to the computer screen
  According to the biggest tablet pc wholesale ibuycheappc.com survey, when you close your eyes, turn the head, to relax the stiff neck, then hunched over sit back at a computer screen; When you didn't listen to recurring blurred vision and even have couldn't see the words on the display. You need to pay attention to, you should think: every knock keyboard, every watch a video, every email, whether is the damage your eyesight?
  Near-sighted, it is to point to it is only within 40 cm from the eyes can clearly in the retina imaging. We are reading and computer operation belong to close your eyes, although monitors usually 50 centimeters. An ophthalmologist, optometrist, and other practitioners of ophthalmology were found stare at computer screens and the connection between the myopia, but only a small number of people because a close your eyes and make myopic degree is deepened. James, professor of ophthalmology at the university of Oregon state Pacific sheehy, said: "we have no points clear what works."
  Although not all will lead to myopia for close your eye, but that doesn't mean next to the computer screen is no problem. Although close operation of a computer most of the time will not bring permanent damage, but it does bring discomfort, cause vision loss and eye fatigue. The Ohio state university professor of ophthalmology, mark buri Moore said: "eye fatigue due to long time staring at computer screens, these activities gradually exhausted eyes with the eye continuously, finally, characterized by fever, dry and muscle pain, etc. A series of unwell symptoms."
  Know eyes and prevent eye fatigue is the best way to study how to see the small font, when we see with our eyes, but to see is the object of the reflected light. Bending light through the cornea and the lens were reflected, projected onto a light sensor. Photoreceptor in the retina namely acquisition rod cells and cone cells of light information, this is the inner eye, is responsible for the collection and transmission in optical information, reach the brain via the optic nerve, to form the image.
  Ciliary muscle is the function of changing the shape of the lens, and make the eye to focus more accurately. Too close to watch computer screen will let the ciliary muscle tension, continue to shrink, this will give the poor muscle bring great harm. Too close to continue focus will let us stop blinking. Sheehy professors think, blink of an eye is very necessary, because it can make covered in tears on the eyes, moist cornea. If stop the blink of an eye, the cornea surface is dry, blurred the line of sight.
  When we use computers, blink frequency from about 20 times the usual 1 minute to 1 minute 7 times, although experts say this will not cause long-term effects. Rochester, Minnesota, said Dennis Robertson, professor of ophthalmology at Mayo medical school, in the case of dazzle interference around staring at screens can also cause strabismus. Although strabismus can avoid glare and prevent excessive light hit you in the eye, but will put strains on the ciliary muscle around the eye continues, let exophthalmos throughout the day, as do sit-ups for nine hours.
  Eye fatigue symptoms usually last only a short period of time, as long as we a wink or see disappeared in the distance, but as long as it appeared, would interfere with our work, serious when still can make us upset. Even so, when we feel fever, pain and dry eyes, still can be adjusted through improve the working environment. Configure a two chain-hooks of current fashion to eliminate glare, reduce contrast, all of these can reduce eye strain. Also, will display screen placed in the line of sight, the top and your eyebrows on the same level; To see the doctor, with a correct vision glasses, which are necessary to protect eyesight.
  Finally, eliminate all blindfold and messy around the light. In order to know what is the light cause trouble, sheehy recommends a tip: his hands along the baffle live around the eyes, teeth, tongue cap and see whether this ease the tension of your face and shoulders. If this kind of "hands" effective, lights dim you think cause trouble. Expert proposal, watching TV and your favorite sitcom to keep appropriate distance.
  But, so far, all media to eliminate eye fatigue of the simplest and best professional advice is: regular rest. Even if you are not thirsty, also want to often go to the front of the water machine; And make sure your chair from the TV at least 0.6 meters; At the same time, the most important is, don't forget to blink.
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By ibuycheappc on 22 Jul 2013

Tablet PC wholesaler at Ibuycheappc

don't have one, but have used one for a few days.

I was astonished at how good it was to be honest. Certainly wasn't super fast, but neither sluggish.

But the usability of the device with the USB port, keyboard and kickstand plus the full office and beautiful OS.

I thought it was a very useful bit of kit.

Other OS tablets just seem like toys. I could do proper work on an RT tablet.

By ibuycheappc on 22 Jul 2013

RT for powerpoint presentations

Been wondering how viable RT would be used purely to deliver PPT's to VGA projectors?

Any comment? Seems like a really cheap way to do this.

By snoog on 21 Aug 2013

This is a great review.
You can also check out my review of Microsoft Surface with Windows RT at http://www.tecworkz.com/microsoft-surface-with-win
dows-rt/

By Tecworkz on 2 Sep 2013

Is it really just us?

Through a special offer a number of us have recently - in the last few weeks - acquired surface RTs. This seemed to me a good add-on to my ipad as the alternative was to buy the 128g (as I was constantly running out of space....). Oh dear, BAD idea. After around 30 mins up-time my screen does not respond - so can only use keyboard. I have tried resetting to no avail. I then find others have had a range of problems from nothing at all - no power, no response no nothing - through to zaps on touching. Not good. Microsoft has been giving us the run-around - contact after contact (provided by the initial company contact) either denying any role in dealing with what are clearly defective units through to insisting that "someone else" - anywhere - needs to deal with it. Even people working for Microsoft who are trying to do the right thing do not seem to get anywhere. This is just not good enough, Microsoft!!! We would expect better from an leading international company in the computer industry.

By nongeek on 10 Oct 2013

question

Now there's a firesale of surface RTs it looks more tempting but can you uninstall office to free up some valueable space and then use office web apps instead?
Also get rid of the desktop version iof IE - it's pointless having two versions of IE.

By bikeman01 on 9 Dec 2013

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