Microsoft Surface RT review

15 Jul 2013

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

Price when reviewed: 
398£332 (£399 inc VAT), 32GBmore
Buy it now for 
4

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/m[sup]2[/sup] 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.

Detail

Price ex VAT £279, 32GB; £359, 32GB with Touch Cover; £359, 64GB; £439, 64GB with Touch Cover
Price inc VAT all prices
Warranty 1 yr return to base
Overall rating 4
Performance 4
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 4

Physical

Dimensions 275 x 172 x 9.5mm (WDH)
Weight 680g

Display

Primary keyboard On-screen
Screen size 10.6in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,366
Resolution screen vertical 768
Display type Multitouch, capacitive
Panel technology IPS

Battery

Battery capacity 2,330mAh

Core specifications

CPU frequency, MHz 1.3GHz
Integrated memory 32.0GB
RAM capacity 2.00GB

Camera

Camera megapixel rating 1.0mp
Focus type Autofocus
Built-in flash? yes
Built-in flash type LED
Front-facing camera? yes
Video capture? yes

Other

WiFi standard 802.11n
Bluetooth support yes
Integrated GPS no
Upstream USB ports 1
HDMI output? yes
Video/TV output? no

Software

Mobile operating system Windows RT

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£280