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Surface RT, Microsoft's bid for a 'thing' of its own

Jon Phillips | Oct. 25, 2012
Microsoft desperately needs a "thing"—a big thing that transcends the nerdy world of consumer electronics and achieves hero status among mobile-hardware wonks and civilians alike. The iPad is a thing. The Kindle Fire is a thing. Each tablet is a shared cultural experience that's practically effervescent in mainstream consumer appeal.

That said, within the context of the greater tablet market, the Surface RT's display is actually quite nice. With a 16:9 aspect ratio, the 10.6-inch screen provides an HD video window that's 42 percent larger than what you'll see on the iPad's 4:3, 9.7-inch display. The Surface's widescreen proportions also accommodate Windows' new "snap screen" multitasking feature, which lets you run two apps side by side.

As for color reproduction, the Surface RT screen doesn't quite have the richness and accuracy of the iPad, but this drawback is noticeable only during A/B comparisons, and I don't think it's a big problem for Microsoft. The company is positioning Surface RT as a consumer-grade tablet that's great for the more pedestrian aspects of productivity: writing long email messages, setting up monthly calendars, creating documents in Word and Excel, that sort of thing. I would never use Surface RT for serious image editing, and that's just fine since the tablet currently doesn't support any apps for serious image editing (though that's a problem in and of itself).

Performance

No news is good news when it comes to any discussion of mobile device performance. In other words, a tablet or smartphone should just work, delivering a user experience that never, ever reminds you a processor is locked inside, chewing up its gears to keep pace with what's happening on screen.

The Surface RT's 1.4GHz quad-core Tegra 3 processor and 2GB of system memory handle their workloads without drama. Gesturing through the OS itself is fast and fluid. Ditto browsing in Internet Explorer. Websites load extremely quickly, and when you scroll rapidly down pages, screen redraws have no trouble keeping up.

During benchmarking, Surface RT more than held its own against other tablets in the 10-inch hardware class. With a frame rate of 6.9 frames per second, it took first place in our run of the WebVizBench HTML5 benchmark, besting the Asus VivoTab RT (another Windows RT tablet), which achieved a rate of 4.8 fps. And in posting a time of 10.4 seconds in PCWorld's own punishing webpage loading test, Microsoft's tablet trounced the VivoTab RT (which required 23.3 seconds to load the same page) and even squeaked past the iPad (which clocked in at 10.8 seconds).

Surface RT meets the demands of modern Web browsing, but what about performance in more hard-core applications? It's almost impossible to tell, because the Tegra 3 is an ARM processor, and our full PC benchmarking suite runs only on x86-based silicon. When working in the preinstalled Office apps, I never encountered any bad hiccups or undue lag, but these programs have already been tunedor perhaps the more accurate word would be detunedto work within the limitations of ARM processors.

 

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