I decided to try and jump into the Windows 8 space a little more over the Christmas period, so I decided to get a Microsoft Surface RT and Windows Phone 8 (more about the phone in another post). I actually couldn’t quite see the need for the Live Tiles that Microsoft have, but wanted to check out the entire Microsoft Eco System, there are some definite benefits like being able to trial apps before actually paying for them which as a consumer is quite a good idea, although maybe not for the developer writing the apps. The Surface RT arrived before Christmas, I unboxed it and started setting it up. My initial thoughts were, oh it’s a 16:9 format, this is kind of weird as I’m used to the 4:3 format of the Apple iPad’s. My second thought was, wow this thing is a brick (heavy). Very heavy, but then I had been more accustomed to the iPad mini more recently and I do find the iPad 3 I have more heavier now as I have been spoilt with the thin and lightness of the iPad mini.
I started to plug the power cable in, oh no USB, it’s a proprietary 5 pin connector, how could Microsoft do this? Hmmm okay, I guess Apple did the same thing with their cables, so maybe it’s not a big thing, but it means I have one charger and one charger for me is not nearly enough for a device unless I lug all my chargers with me which I hate doing. Here’s where the fun part came… I couldn’t plug the connector into the socket.
It’s strange, it’s magnetic but it’s recessed. It’s not as easy as the Mac connector where it just snaps in, the Surface RT connector you actually need to line up nicely as it’s very chunky and not only that, get it exactly square for it to lock in and start charging. This I thought would be a teething problem but over the past month of using the Surface RT I have still not managed to connect the power cable first time. In-fact it takes me about 8-10 times to get the annoying power connector to latch into the socket on the Surface RT.
This is for me the most annoying part. The second part is the keyboard.
The hardware based keyboard is nice, it’s wafer thin and touch sensitive, but you can’t say recline your chair, put the Surface RT on your chest/stomach and then type away. Why? Because the keyboard starts to bow, and it starts to come away 1 pin at a time from the connector and stops the keyboard from working. The keyboard is superb if you want to use it on a non-warping flat desk, but in any other kind of scenario like using it on a plane or a train, then you’ll need to use it without the keyboard.
It’s nice to have the keyboard just plug in, and you can disconnect the keyboard as it connects again via magnets, but then you’re left with…where to put the keyboard when you take it off. A big conundrum when you’re traveling and have limited space!
At this point I should mention the keyboard above is the keyboard that ships with the Surface RT and comes in many different colours. You can buy a more expensive keyboard which adds to the price of the Surface RT but is almost like a laptop keyboard but with very little play on the keys, more akin to say a Mac Wireless keyboard I guess in terms of key travel distance, but it connects in the same way as the ‘cheap’ keyboard by means of a magnet connector and is a little more rigid. Below you can see the difference in quality between the two keyboards Microsoft ship, the right hand keyboard is the one that comes with Surface RT or you can upgrade to the more expensive keyboard on the left.
You can buy the Surface RT 32gb without a keyboard for £399 inc VAT or have the thin flimsy keyboard for £479 inc VAT but there’s no option to buy the premium keyboard with the Surface RT, Microsoft charge £109.99 inc VAT for the premium keyboard. That’s a bit pricey for a portable keyboard!
Surface RT ports and buttons
The Surface RT has it’s power button at the top right of the device when in landscape mode, the Windows logo is the start button or what iPad users would term the HOME button. The volume button and headphone jack is on the left hand side of the Surface RT, I constantly find myself muting or reducing the volume, not because of the hardware based volume button is so sensitive (it’s actually not) but the keyboard has a volume / mute button at the top left of the keyboard and I find I keep hitting that with my fingers by accident.
The best thing I would say that stands out about the Surface RT is the metal kick stand that you can pull out, it’s heavily spring loaded on a hinge but works extremely well.
Charging and Battery Power
The Surface RT has a 31.5 Wh battery that lasts for a quoted 8 hours use. I have found that it gives me a decent amount of battery power, very similar in terms of the iPad 3. Like most of my gadgets I charge them up and keep them on charge and only take them off charge when needed. For the most part the Surface RT is in the lounge and I have it plugged into power most of the time, but I do take it out to the office and it easily lasts a full day for general consumption, email, watching some music videos.
Processor and speed
The Surface RT comes with a 1.3 GHz Nvidia Tegra 3 ARM processor running n4 cores and 2GB of RAM. At no point does the RT feel sluggish in using apps, but apps do take around 5-10 seconds to load up depending on the app, it seems longer on average than that of the iPad.
The Surface RT is designed in a 16:9 format, and the screen is larger at 10.6″ compared with the iPad’s 9.7″ screen. The screen itself is a beautifully crisp HD screen sporting 1366×768 pixels. So technically in landscape mode it does 720P.
The screen itself is a beautifully crisp HD screen sporting 1366×768 pixels. So technically in landscape mode it does 720P.
Overall the hardware is pretty solid, very robust and actually feels like it’s been built out of steel. It comes with a lazer etched Microsoft Windows logo on the back although I’ve already in the 1 month of use noticed that this is starting to wear off in parts with scratches.
So how does the Surface RT hardware wise compare with the iPad? Well it feels more robust, more likely to make a larger dent in my laminate flooring if dropped and more likely to dent its case due to it’s very square edge design (sharp edges). It feels over sized, more so than the iPad in the 16:9 format, but feels very robust.
For the OS, UI, software / apps I’ll go into this in Part 2 of the review.
Click here to continue to Microsoft Surface RT Review – Software part 2