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Hands-on With the Surface Tablet Running Windows RT

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 20 comments

Microsoft debuts its new-age computing device for Windows RT. We go hands-on to give you our first impressions.

Last week Microsoft jumped into the tablet hardware market with the release of the Surface tablet that runs Windows RT. This move was particular because it broke away from the previous model of Microsoft providing the software ecosystem and the rest of its partners building out with hardware options. With the Surface tablet, Microsoft is taking a page from Apple by trying to control the user experience from beginning to end with both hardware and software.

We’ve spent some time with the Surface RT since its launch last week and, while we’re going to need more time to test it before we can formulate a verdict, we want to share some early impressions with you.

A Mac-like power connector and a USB portA Mac-like power connector and a USB port

Kickstand up, volume rocker and headphone jackKickstand up, volume rocker and headphone jackMicrosoft has succeeded in creating a product of considerable quality. Like any other tablet, the front is glass, but the back is constructed of metal. The build quality shows itself in the kickstand in the back that flips out with a confident pop and then snaps back into place with an equally sure click. The kickstand is excellent when paired with a keyboard cover, but it’s a bit frustrating that the angle of kickstand isn’t adjustable. If you’re unhappy with angle, you’re just going to have to live with it and the potential neck pain. We’re sure that making an adjustable kickstand could compromise some of the solid feel, but we hope Microsoft’s hardware engineering team figures it out in the next tablet.

The colored tablets have a more plasticky back, while the black ones have a wooly soft feel.The colored tablets have a more plasticky back, while the black ones have a wooly soft feel.All the different colors.All the different colors. The keyboard covers are ingenious – a sentiment we’ve held since their unveiling at a Los Angeles event and continue to hold onto today. There are two types of covers offered: the Touch Cover, a mostly flat surface, and the Type Cover, a very thin keyboard not unlike what you’d find on a small netbook. It should almost go without saying that typing on the Type Cover is a far superior experience. Using the touch-sensitive Touch Cover isn’t too different from typing on a touch screen, except your eyes are further removed from the keys, which means you’ll have to rely more on touch typing. Given the choice, the Type Cover is worth the extra cost and the slight extra thickness. The only clear advantage that we would give the Touch Cover is it doesn’t feel as odd when the cover is flipped all the way around the back of the tablet. On the Type Cover, this would mean that your hands would be pressing down on the keys as you grip the tablet with your hands.

Touch vs Type CoverTouch vs Type Cover

Touch vs Type Cover thicknessesTouch vs Type Cover thicknesses

The Surface with a white Type CoverThe Surface with a white Type Cover

Slightly thicker with the Type Cover, but not by a wide marginSlightly thicker with the Type Cover, but not by a wide margin Given that this is a Windows RT machine, one has to expect that it isn’t as full featured and capable as the full desktop version. Surface RT makes a lot of sense for users who can operate the majority of the time in the Metro, ahem, Modern UI. The tablet is responsive and smooth for simple tasks like ones that are usually reserved for tablets rather than full desktops and laptops. Simply said, the Nvidia Tegra T30 is still suited for content consumption rather than creation. Those who want a laptop tablet hybrid should wait for the Surface Pro. Of course, there will be a lot more to say once we’re ready to share our benchmarks.

Where the Modern UI makes senseWhere the Modern UI makes sense While some may question Microsoft’s Modern UI decisions for the desktop models, especially forcing all users into it, the new Start screen usage model makes absolute sense when in a tablet form like the Surface. No longer does the new Start screen seem awkward when it’s in a very touch-centric system, especially when it’s on this ARM-based machine, where usage habits come from iOS and Android.

This article was typed entirely on a Surface RT with a Type Cover using Microsoft Word preview. The typing and word processor experience on the Surface RT is the best we’ve seen so far. Other tablets may pair quite easily with Bluetooth keyboards, but the marriage of the Surface tablet and these covers is proof that Microsoft saw a reason in making its own hardware.

Stay tuned for our in-depth reviews of the Surface RT tablet. If you haven't yet seen it, check out Jane's unboxing session with the Microsoft Surface tablet.

The VGA adapterThe VGA adapterThe Mag-safe-like AC adapterThe Mag-safe-like AC adapterThe HDMI adapterThe HDMI adapter

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Top Comments
  • 22 Hide
    rohitbaran , October 29, 2012 9:56 PM
    NightLightit looks solid and nice!

    To add to that, Tim Cook called it a flying car. While the intention was to make it look bad, it ends up sounding more awesome for the Surface lol.
  • 12 Hide
    back_by_demand , October 29, 2012 10:16 PM
    Flying cars are awesome, so is this feat of engineering, but Surface Pro is always going to be the one for me. I want my XBMC on it to watch movies in tablet mode, then run some basic games from my Steam collection, and maybe even connect to my company's exchange server so I can get some work done - all without having to carry a laptop and a tablet
    ...
    Lord of the Tablets, one device to rule them all
Other Comments
  • 7 Hide
    NightLight , October 29, 2012 9:51 PM
    it looks solid and nice!
  • 22 Hide
    rohitbaran , October 29, 2012 9:56 PM
    NightLightit looks solid and nice!

    To add to that, Tim Cook called it a flying car. While the intention was to make it look bad, it ends up sounding more awesome for the Surface lol.
  • 12 Hide
    back_by_demand , October 29, 2012 10:16 PM
    Flying cars are awesome, so is this feat of engineering, but Surface Pro is always going to be the one for me. I want my XBMC on it to watch movies in tablet mode, then run some basic games from my Steam collection, and maybe even connect to my company's exchange server so I can get some work done - all without having to carry a laptop and a tablet
    ...
    Lord of the Tablets, one device to rule them all
  • 0 Hide
    freggo , October 29, 2012 10:23 PM
    so far it looks actually much better than prob. most have expected.
    If M$ has some smarts they will allow editing of the GUI !
    These square blocky buttons simply look terrible and yeah, rounded corners would have meant licensing fees to the fruit market...

  • 3 Hide
    damianrobertjones , October 29, 2012 10:24 PM
    So... where are the people that posted hundreds and hundreds of negative posts? QUite a nice device but I've gone for the Dell Latitude 10
  • -2 Hide
    Pinhedd , October 29, 2012 10:49 PM
    Apparently the touch/type covers don't do anything for the spelling and grammar in a Tom's article
  • -1 Hide
    bystander , October 29, 2012 10:51 PM
    damianrobertjonesSo... where are the people that posted hundreds and hundreds of negative posts? QUite a nice device but I've gone for the Dell Latitude 10

    Taking a quick look at the Dell Latitude 10, that seems to be setup for a home or office user that doesn't take the device off site with the intent to do productivity. Having a docking setup would be nice for that.
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , October 29, 2012 11:15 PM
    I love my Surface RT. I'm not giving up my desktop for serious work, or my Xbox w/40" television for serious gaming, but it does make for a great portable tablet/netbook like experience. Being able to print, connect my usb hard drives, cameras, etc. is great. It also helped that I've been using my Xbox for renting movies and the Zune software for music rather than itunes for a couple years now.
  • 1 Hide
    xpeh , October 29, 2012 11:17 PM
    Everyone's buying themselves a new Surface RT, and I'm just sitting here waiting for AMD's APU tablets.
  • 3 Hide
    bebangs , October 29, 2012 11:35 PM
    It's a flying car!!!! omg!

    lol
  • 6 Hide
    jayarr8 , October 30, 2012 12:08 AM
    I picked up a Surface on Saturday from the MS Store, along with my Win8 upgrades which I need for work. I am a huge early adopting Apple fan, with a home full of iphones, ipads, a mini, T-displays, Macbook Pro Retina, etc. I use Paralells for Win.

    But, I must say the Surface will replace my work iPad for just one reason: superior work related connectivity with my company's Win7 network. It's a bit early to tell if Win8RT is a winner, but so far vpn, remote connect, network, device, Exchange and directory set ups are all working very smoothly. Easy to set up in a win environment. And the cover keyboard is terrific -- i got both the pressure pad and the chicklet pad. I can't understand why Apple didn't develop its cover to work as a keyboard. (my Brookstone keyboard for iPad is so clunky,)

    I don't need 200,000 available apps, nor do I need 3G or LTE on Surface. Basic every-day work-related, fast connections to my company email, files, desktop, company collegues is all I want on my Surface as I roam the company from one meeting to another. And i can save docs to a proper doc folder, or to a usb drive. All the things that are frustrating in iOS are available on the Surface including Flash and html5.

    But make no mistake, iPad / iPhone are my preferred personal devices. I'll use those on the road and at home.
  • 5 Hide
    southernshark , October 30, 2012 12:49 AM
    Yeah what kind of Tech Person is going to be like "oh its like a flying car... that sucks..."?

    I don't think Tim Cook gets who he is talking to. Just another suit trying to fill a role he doesn't have the juice for.
  • 1 Hide
    lpedraja2002 , October 30, 2012 1:57 AM
    southernsharkYeah what kind of Tech Person is going to be like "oh its like a flying car... that sucks..."?I don't think Tim Cook gets who he is talking to. Just another suit trying to fill a role he doesn't have the juice for.


    When I read the headline of that article I thought he was complementing Microsoft for its Surface Tablets lol.



    Question to whoever can answer it. How does the cover/keyboard work? is it communicating via bluetooth or does it "clip" to the tablet itself? Also, I noticed the tablet has like a kick stand, is the viewing angle good when using the kickstand or does it suffer a bit ?
  • 1 Hide
    tobalaz , October 30, 2012 3:16 AM
    freggoso far it looks actually much better than prob. most have expected.If M$ has some smarts they will allow editing of the GUI !These square blocky buttons simply look terrible and yeah, rounded corners would have meant licensing fees to the fruit market...


    Well duh, the buttons are square because Apple has the patent on square with round corners!
    Seriously though...
    I wonder if MS has a patent on that keyboard design with snap on function or if we'll be seeing it on Android and iOS soon as well.
  • 1 Hide
    The_Trutherizer , October 30, 2012 7:10 AM
    Although critical of Win8 on desktops I will be first in line to say that this is what Win8 was meant for. So no surprises if it is an excellent device.
  • 1 Hide
    rebel1280 , October 30, 2012 12:51 PM
    jayarr8I picked up a Surface on Saturday from the MS Store, along with my Win8 upgrades which I need for work. I am a huge early adopting Apple fan, with a home full of iphones, ipads, a mini, T-displays, Macbook Pro Retina, etc. I use Paralells for Win. But, I must say the Surface will replace my work iPad for just one reason: superior work related connectivity with my company's Win7 network. It's a bit early to tell if Win8RT is a winner, but so far vpn, remote connect, network, device, Exchange and directory set ups are all working very smoothly. Easy to set up in a win environment. And the cover keyboard is terrific -- i got both the pressure pad and the chicklet pad. I can't understand why Apple didn't develop its cover to work as a keyboard. (my Brookstone keyboard for iPad is so clunky,)I don't need 200,000 available apps, nor do I need 3G or LTE on Surface. Basic every-day work-related, fast connections to my company email, files, desktop, company collegues is all I want on my Surface as I roam the company from one meeting to another. And i can save docs to a proper doc folder, or to a usb drive. All the things that are frustrating in iOS are available on the Surface including Flash and html5. But make no mistake, iPad / iPhone are my preferred personal devices. I'll use those on the road and at home.

    What VPN do you use, as far as i know (not saying i know a lot just saying as far as "I" know ;)  ) Cisco, Sonicwall and Netgear dont have any clients for Windows 8 tablets.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , October 31, 2012 5:27 PM
    My Surface, ordered on Friday 26th, arrived this morning - in just 5 days! First impressions are good - I had it connected to wifi and working in less than 5 minutes. It compares well with my iPad2, which I've had since launch, and so far I have had no issues. Its major advantages are compatibility with my other MS devices and familiarity of use. Using the Cloud to exchange data with others is simple. I like the on-screen keyboard better than the iPad's, and the handwriting reader is amazing. I cannot imagine that I will bother with my laptop when I travel as the Surface has everything I need in a lightweight compact package. Don't let the naysayers put you off - I wager it will decimate the laptop market.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , October 31, 2012 8:24 PM
    Pre-ordered my Surface, and so far I'm quite thrilled. It does everything my old iPad 1 would do, minus a few apps. I feel that the touch gestures, once learned, are more intuitive than pressing, or double pressing, the home button the iPad. I have all of the apps that I 'need', and I'm sure th others will fill out over time. The hardware is wonderful, the Touch Cover is quite nice (only wish it would hold against the screen when closed, instead of being loose, but it has caused no problems so far), and is adequate for casual typing, and I could even use it for real work!! One of my favotite things is how easily it found and installed network printers at my home office, making it trump the iPad for me immediately. People were wondering why I was walking around, laughing out loud, while looking at the screen of the Surface and hearing a printer fire up to spit out a test page. I think Microsoft has done a fine job, and I look forward to seeing this experience refined over time.
  • 0 Hide
    rebel1280 , November 1, 2012 12:43 PM
    ..... the two above posts somehow seem ...cheesy :(  I know they are being positive but.... just seems cheesy
  • 0 Hide
    -Jackson , November 1, 2012 3:00 PM
    Quote:
    Apparently the touch/type covers don't do anything for the spelling and grammar in a Tom's article

    Oh come on, your display name is "Pinhedd" :whistle: