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Microsoft's Surface RT will make even a fanboy cry

Galen Gruman | Oct. 31, 2012
Is it a laptop or a tablet? The Surface makes a valiant attempt at being both -- but leaves you yearning for one or the other

You get a USB port to support standard input and storage peripherals, as well as a MiniHDMI port for video-out. You can "dock" the Surface into a regular desktop environment as well as use it to give presentations at a conference or meeting. (There are plenty of third-party MiniHDMI-to-VGA connectors available, so you can connect to older monitors and projectors, too.)

The Surface has an SD card slot that can accept up to 64GB of storage. But note that the Surface doesn't encrypt SD cards, and it doesn't support the EAS policy for doing so, which will be problematic for some businesses. The mic and speakers are good, and the battery life is comparable to an iPad's 10 to 12 hours, which is fantastic. But the Surface uses a proprietary charger that does not work with USB ports, so you can't charge it via your laptop, a smartphone's charger block, or the USB ports increasingly found in airport lobbies and airplane seats.

The star of the show, when it comes to the Surface's hardware, is the Touch Cover bundled with most Surface configurations. The cover's flocked back reduces the chances the keyboard will slide while you type on it or use its trackpad, though that makes cleanup of gooey liquids and lint more of a challenge. The lack of tactile feedback on the Touch Cover was not an issue for me, as long as I had the audio feedback on so that I heard a click each time I pressed a key. In fact, it took maybe 10 minutes of use to get comfortable with it, versus a week or so to get accustomed to the iPad's or Android tablet's onscreen keyboard. You have to press the Touch Cover's keys solidly, which will slow you down a bit, but accidental keypresses become rare occurrences.

When you fold the cover behind the tablet, such as to use a full-screen Metro game or other touch-oriented app on your lap, the Touch Cover's exposed keys are not at all susceptible to accidental keypresses, even if your fingers are over them when holding the Surface. Plus, the cover is reversible; you can detach it, rotate it 180 degrees, and reattach it so that the keys are inside when the cover is behind the tablet -- perfect for long sessions where you're not using the physical keyboard.

If you prefer a keyboard where the keys travel as you press them, Microsoft sells the $129 Type Cover, which is a little thicker and heavier but gives you a real keyboard. You could also use a Bluetooth keyboard -- typically chosen by iPad and Android tablet users with intense typing needs -- but Microsoft's cover comes with keys for the various charms and for playback controls, which third-party Bluetooth keyboards (so far) don't offer.

 

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