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malevolent design weblog

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Microsoft Surface RT Review

Microsoft Surface RT

By now you may have seen this slick TV ad for the Surface RT tablet. My wife watched it a couple of weeks ago, paying fairly close attention, then at the end said “Is that a new cover for the iPad?”. Ouch. It’s a good job Steve Ballmer wasn’t round for dinner that night.

I recently bought an RT to add to my growing range of test devices. Let’s get some of the bad points out of the way quickly:

  • There are odd glitches in numerous features.
  • Performance is inconsistent; usually OK but sometimes very sluggish.
  • The ‘VaporMg’ case holds onto fingerprint grease like nothing else ever created.
  • The keyboard cover is bonded around the edges in a way that clearly isn’t durable.
  • The special charging connector is annoyingly fiddly to attach.
  • There aren’t many decent apps available.
  • It feels slightly awkward to hold as a tablet, and can’t be used on your lap with the keyboard cover.
  • Some aspects of Metro/Modern UI aren’t as obvious/discoverable as they could/should be.

Some of those are ‘teething problems’, but the one thing that’s made everyone trying the device pull a face has been the presence of the ‘classic’ desktop. As in the normal version of Windows 8, behind the shiny Modern UI lurks an old-style Windows desktop, in this case primarily to hold a non-touch-friendly version of Office. Producing a Modern UI version of Office will be a huge job, but this hack tells us a lot about Microsoft’s confused priorities and internal management.

Having said all that, there’s much to like. The hardware is good (aside from points mentioned above), battery life seems comparable to the iPad, and Modern UI looks great. Through gritted teeth I must admit that IE10 has seemed very capable (I tried a couple of complex web apps I’m working on and they rendered perfectly).

Overall, the best thing is that it’s genuinely interesting. Android tablets tend to come across as pale imitations of the iPad (in hardware and software), but this is something different. Would I recommend it instead of an iPad? No, the glitches and compromises currently add up to too much frustration. But it’s not the complete dud some reviews have portrayed and I’ve actually enjoyed trying it out.


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