Let's face it: The cards were stacked against the Surface tablet with Windows RT from the, well, Start.
Microsoft originally asked customers to shell out iPad-levels of cash for a brand-new user interface running on a somewhat anemic processor, then failed to convince third-party developers to launch apps for the new platform. Today, the Surface RT is arguably little more than a Web browser paired with Microsoft's own apps.
Well, that's the conventional wisdom, at least. But is it completely, categorically true?
We set out to find out people who purchased the Surface tablet with Windows RT—people who loved it and people who hated it—and ask them whether their opinions of the tablet have improved or diminished over time. You can find disappointment, certainly. But others have found that the Surface RT has settled into a niche within their computing lifestyle, with certain features meshing nicely with their own needs and uses.
What we most wanted to know was this: Has the Surface lived up to its promise, and if so, why? To many we spoke to, the answer is yes—and for a variety of surprising reasons.
Why buy? Productivity, not dubstep, a selling point
Most interviewees purchased the Surface RT last October, when Microsoft first launched Surface alongside Windows 8. At that time, Microsoft made the tablet the centerpiece of a "Stomp"-styled TV spot that highlighted the Surface as a sexy, aspirational piece of tech culture rather than a productivity tool. This is notable, because productivity drew many of our Surface RT—owner-interviewees to the tablet.
Take Jaime Banks, a programmer who said he bought an Apple iPad 2 when it launched—and then sold it five days after buying the 32GB version of the Surface RT. "I did this because I just believe in having the right tools," Banks said in an email.
Banks said he ended up buying what was essentially a grab bag of accessories and apps for the iPad 2, and the Surface made all these purchases irrelevant. "My Surface fills the need for all of those devices," Banks wrote. "As much as Tim Cook wants to say that [converging] a toaster and a refrigerator does not work, that is just what iPad users sometimes want... People have tried to use the iPad like a PC since it came out. I was tired of having a half solution. No matter how much I liked the iPad, it did not fill the need."
Jeffrey Roach, an IT learning architect for a small consulting company, ditched his Samsung Series 7 notebook for the Surface RT in October. When asked why he bought the Surface, Roach provided a laundry list of apps, including Microsoft Office Home and Student RT (which Microsoft bundled with the tablet), Microsoft Outlook RT, Lync, various IM clients, and other software. Roach bought two more Surfaces as well: one for his 12-year-old son, and one for his wife, for use in her doctoral studies.
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