Should You Consider a Windows Surface RT Tablet?

July 30, 2013

You may be seeing the commercials on TV that show a Windows Surface Tablet compared to an iPad. These are newer than the one I covered in my last newsletter, and better I think. They show how a Windows Surface RT tablet gives you a lot more for less money (the RT is now $350 ). Here’s a link in case you have not seen that commercial:

So, with the new price, should you consider buying a Windows Surface RT tablet? Well, it depends. If all you need is access to media and must have the widest range of apps possible, you’d probably be happier with the (more expensive) iPad. Or a good Android tablet. However there are good reasons to get the RT.

If, you use a moderate range of apps and really want access to Microsoft Office (for moderate use), then I think the RT is for you. I say “moderate use” on the Office software use because no iPad-sized tablet will ever fully replace your laptop. I still think when you travel for work you should bring both a laptop and tablet (I write about that here).

Get a Windows 8 Pro Tablet?

Of course, a lightweight Atom-based Windows Pro tablet (like the Lenovo Tablet PC 2, which I use) goes well beyond Surface RT. But it is currently at least twice the price. That said, if you do not need an RT right now, it will be interesting to see if the price of Atom-based Windows 8 Pro tablets drops in the next 6 months. Some people say they will drop below $400 while increasing in power. And by the way, I would not get the current Surface Pro tablet if you want a iPad-weight tablet, or one of the hybrids like the Lenovo Yoga. They’re too heavy to be a true tablet, and while they make nice laptops, they’ll all be getting new chips in a few months.

Wait for the next Surface RT version? Comes with Outlook

Of course, the Surface RT is a year old now; so should you wait for the next model? Though not announced yet, I bet there will be a new one in time for Christmas, so probably best to wait. But who knows if the $350 price will continue once the current model sells out. I suspect it will, but no way to tell. The new ones will probably be a lot faster. And the real juice in Surface RT comes with the Windows 8.1 release, since it includes a complete copy of Microsoft Outlook—and the new RT will certainly ship with 8.1. But if you want to take a chance now, upgrading the OS is supposedly not that hard to do.

The Trouble with RT

There have been a lot of PC folks dumping on the RT, saying it’s too limited. But I think the trouble with RT is not that it’s too limited. It’s is a perception issue. Here’s why: When you launch the Windows desktop in RT, it looks like regular Windows, but it immediately appears broken. You can’t install other software there; you only really have Office and IE. You can’t install add-ins to IE. And of course Office and IE runs slower than on a real Windows PC. So you get frustrated if you are comparing it to a PC.  If Microsoft had designed the RT Office apps to launch in a non-desktop environment, one that was clearly different from regular Windows, I think the critics would be muted. Imagine an iPad that ran all the complete Office apps—wow! But the critics obsess on the hamstrung desktop, ignoring that the RT is now very low cost, goes well beyond iPad’s features (except for app count), has a fantastic keyboard cover available, and runs Office. Again, it’s a perception issue.


So, in conclusion, yes, if you need something now, I would definitely consider a Windows Surface RT, if the use cases I described in the first part of this article match your needs. But if you can wait, I’d watch to see how new models due out in the next six months look. With new chips due out you’ll see a lot of changes.

Michael Linenberger

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5 Responses to Should You Consider a Windows Surface RT Tablet?

  1. Fel4d says:

    506470 617877I just put the link of your blog on my Facebook Wall. very nice blog indeed.,

  2. Ray Roche says:

    I think you are spot on with your comments about needing two devices when travelling at present. I travel with a Surface Pro in my carry-on bag for heavier use and for driving presentations. The power of that device and the active pen to use with MS OneNote, MS Project and Mindjet software is great. I have used pen PCs for more than 10 years and the Surface Pro is a great tool. For reading and use on the plane/hotel room/etc, I carry a Surface RT. The battery life, software commonality and shared access to Skydrive and Dropbox, makes this a good tool for data consumption and light data generation.
    Different machines for different uses but the commonality of software, accessories and user interface makes this a great combination, and the combined price is still lower than one large (heavy) laptop.
    Regards from Canberra, Australia.

  3. It’s strange that a company as massive and experienced as Microsoft would not have figured out something as common sense as the perception issue you mentioned (e.g. through focus groups) and simply designed a different interface.

  4. Phil B says:

    Michael, I have to say I am loving the Yoga 11 RT which I’m using at the moment. All day (and night) battery life, Instant On, and for me, I view the permanently attached keyboard as a plus. It fits my use case well, and makes typing into webpages very convenient. I also like the clarity of the screen which makes reading very easy and the Yoga design being able to flip it back when needed. The Remote Desktop feature also works really really well, allowing you to run x86 apps from another machine. It’s a great feature. Pure tablet, or hybrid device, there’s a lot to like about the RT landscape.

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