Microsoft Surface RT: Windows 8 Tablet First Look

Written by Sandy Berger

Reviews Editor Sandy Berger takes a first look at the Microsoft Surface RT Tablet. It’s

Image Credit: Microsoft

I had the pleasure recently of spending some time with the new Microsoft Surface RT tablet. Although I can only give you a first look review right now, so far I easily can say I’m impressed.

The Surface tablet is like a standard Apple iPad or Google Android-based tablet that Microsoft has taken under its wing and provided additional capabilities to make it all that a tablet can be — plus some.

The MS Surface is not perfect, but it offers some new functionality that makes it a strong contender.  As you all know by now, this Surface tablet is based on Microsoft’s new Windows 8 operating system. Like the Apple iPad, the Surface RT only runs apps, not full-blown desktop programs like Quickbooks, Photoshop or Family Tree Maker.

The new colorful tile interface is clean and modern-looking. Rather than tiny icons, the tiles are large — large enough so it is easier to see and find what you need.

Microsoft does have a work-around for its main Office 2013 programs — those include Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. It has developed those programs as apps that are touch-enhanced. Not only can you run these Office programs on the Surface RT, but they come with the tablet at no extra cost. The Office Home & Student 2013 RT Preview version is pre-installed and will be updated at no extra cost to the final version when it is available.

Unfortunately, Outlook and Publisher are not available as Apps.

The Office programs run in the Desktop mode, so they are very much like using older Office programs. At first glance, I found that they didn’t support Add-ons or Macros, but did pretty much everything else. The Desktop mode, which is similar to the Windows 7 desktop, also lets you reach some comfortable old features like the Control Panel.

The Surface RT has a smooth, sleek, well-designed case made of Vapor Mg. At 10.81 x 6.77 x .37 inches it is approximately the same size as the full-sized Apple iPad (9.5 x 7.31 x .37 inches). However, it is sized for better viewing of movies.  The Surface RT has a kickstand that puts it at the proper viewing angle for typing and viewing. The LifeCam camera even self-adjusts to the proper straight-ahead viewing when the kickstand is open.

Image credit: Microsoft

Two optional keyboards that also act as covers for the device are available. The Touch Cover is made of a more-or-less flat piece of plastic. The Type Cover has raised and more defined keys and feels more like a real keyboard. Both are well-designed and easy-to-use, even for a touch typist. The keyboards not only put the device to sleep when they are closed, but have other smart features like the ability to tell when your hands are hovering or when they are typing. Also when you fold the keyboard back to set the device on your lap, the keyboard does not register any key presses allowing you to use the on-screen keyboard.

Inside is a quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor with 2 GB RAM. The standard version comes with 32 GB for $499.  This makes it $100 cheaper than the newest iPad (Retina Display) which costs $599 for the 32 GB version.

You can buy the 32 GB Surface RT with the black touch cover for $599.  A 64 GB version runs $699 with the Touch Cover. You can also purchase the covers separately: $119 for the Touch Cover, $129 for the Type Cover.

The Surface RT has a useful USB 2.0 port and supports many USB printers and wireless printers. You can also use many USB mice and keyboards. This is a big plus for productivity. This Surface also has a microSD card slot and a HD video out port (optional adapter needed.) Syncing the RT with Microsoft’s Sky Drive is easier than using iCloud in the Apple ecosystem.

Of course, Microsoft has a long way to go in beefing up its App store.  Some popular apps like Evernote and Kindle are already there, but others like Angry Birds and Words with Friends are not. Microsoft opened its App store with about 1,000 apps, while the Apple App store currently has more than 275,000 apps.

The Surface RT has a lot of features that go above and beyond many other tablets in this price range. If Microsoft can enhance its ecosystem quickly, it may be a winner, especially for everyone who uses Microsoft Office and for those who hate typing on a screen.