With the second generation of Surface tablets looming in the near future, it's time to give the first generation some due respect. As a portable Microsoft Office machine with plenty of battery life, the Surface RT hardware earned a devoted fan base. Nevertheless, sales lagged until Microsoft slashed its prices, in large part because users balked at being trapped within the limited (though improving) microcosm of the Windows Store. The free Office RT software bundled with the RT tablets offers just partial consolation.
The Surface RT tablet may be dismissed as a weakling, but it has its hidden superpowers--if you know how to unlock them. You can add functionality to a Surface RT (or other Windows RT-based tablets) through smart use of its connectivity--and by exercising some hidden app gems in the Windows Store. With a few minutes of effort, you can transform your RT tablet from a bargain-bin impulse buy into a truly useful piece of tech.
Smart connections: USB, MicroSD, and wireless
One of the smarter design decisions Microsoft made with the Surface RT and Windows RT was to include a standard USB port and drivers that are compatible with pretty much everything. Not only can that USB port be used to transfer media to and from the device or to expand the Surface RT's overall storage capacity, but it's compatible with USB printers, keyboards, and mice.
If you have a consistent workspace on which to use your Surface RT, invest in a powered USB hub so you can keep a mouse, keyboard, external storage drive, and printer attached via a single cable. Think of it as a makeshift docking station.
If you're frequently mobile (or aren't ready to invest in a USB hub on top of all those accessories), wireless keyboards and mice from vendors such as Microsoft or Logitech offer a cheaper, more portable alternative. You won't be able to install any additional software for specialized keys or macro programming, but the devices' base functionality (i.e. typing, pointing and clicking) should work just fine.
The MicroSD port can also play a role in supercharging your Surface RT. A fast, UHS-1/Class 10 MicroSD card is an easy way to expand the Surface RT's storage capacity. You can find a 64GB MicroSD card for under $50. That's important for a couple of reasons—first, because storage is limited on the Surface RT, especially for the 32GB version and, second, because the performance of solid-state drives like the ones used in the Surface RT degrade as they get filled. Offload your storage to an external drive, and you'll minimize wear and tear on your RT's SSD, ensuring optimal performance for years to come.
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