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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.

Surface RT as a workstation

Between the kickstand, the keyboard covers, and the inclusion of a light version of Microsoft Office, Surface RT really does transform into a serviceable desktop PC.

A dearth of apps limits its full potential, but the workstation designthe size of the screen, the width of the key layoutisn't that compromised relative to, say, what you'll find in a small Ultrabook. Other tablets offer optional keyboard accessories to fulfill that elusive productivity promise, but theyre nowhere near as elegant or lightweight, or so well integrated with the greater tablet package.

The Touch Cover is so thin, it feels like the sturdy cardstock cover of a high-end paper notebook. Sadly, though, its the less rewarding of the two keyboard options. Lacking physical keys, this quasi-keyboard doesn't offer any tactile feedback, and throughout my testing I struggled to type with the right amount of finger pressure.

Now, granted, I'm not a touch typist. I'm an inveterate hunt-and-pecker who can type 52 words per minute on a full-size desktop keyboard. But every time I used the Touch Cover, I struggled to recalibrate my finger pressure to the sensitivity of its sensors. The end result was a lot of words with missing characters. To wit: On the Touch Cover, testing over a seven-day period proved that I could achieve an average typing speed of 30 words per minute, which is considerably slower than my admittedly gimpy average.

The Touch Cover is insanely light. It's spill-proof. It's also the cheaper of the two cover options at $120, and typing on it is faster and more natural than on any on-screen virtual keyboard I've ever used. But the Touch Cover is nowhere near as competent as the Type Cover, which is the better value for only $10 more.

The Type Cover's key action is lighter and shallower than what I look for in a full-size keyboard, and its thicker profile doesn't match the cool factor of the Touch Cover. But, you know what? The Type Cover is a keyboard. It's a real keyboard with real, moving parts. And it yielded considerably faster typing speeds, helping me achieve an average of 39 words per minute across a week's worth of typing tests. I also found the touchpad on the Type Cover to be vastly more accurate and manageable than the one on the Touch Cover, which oftentimes was frustrating to the point of uselessness.

And I'm not the only one who performed dramatically better on the Type Cover. For first-hand reports from real touch typists, check out our full test results here.

When you're typing in Word, or using any of the other Office apps, you're exiled to Windows RT's spooky, barren version of the traditional Windows desktop. Nothing is happening here. You can use the desktop to shuttle files hither and yon, and it's also the locus of various system settings and tools. But because you can't install (let alone use) any legacy Windows programs, you're constantly reminded that Surface RT's productivity story begins and ends with Office, plus the scant selection of low-ambition-level productivity apps available in the Windows Store.

 

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