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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 definitely covers the bases on the industrial-design front. When you set up your workstation at the local cafékickstand kicked, Type Cover snappedyour hardware will strike a pose unlike any other in the tablet space. And in many important ways, Surface RT does successfully redefine what a tablet can be. Its touch gestures rock (once you surmount the learning curve), and its built-in productivity features eclipse anything that the iPad or the Android competition offers.

But Surface RT may not be the best new Windows device to purchase in the short term, and Windows RT definitely isn't the version of Windows you want to invest in. I doubt that any other tablet will be able to match the light weight and slim profile of the Surface RT/Touch Cover combo, but many people will be better served by waiting for a tablet that runs the full version of Windows 8 on x86 silicon. Such competing devices won't be quite as portable as Surface RT, and they'll almost always cost more. But they will grant access to the full Windows software experience, and battery life in Clover Trail tablets should even match the longevity of Surface RT.

One exciting option is Surface Pro. It's the big-kid version of Surface RT, and it should go on sale in three months. It will be slightly thicker than Microsoft's RT tablet, and about a half-pound heavier. But it will carry an Intel Core i5 processor, boast a 1920-by-1080-pixel display, and support the full breadth of Windows software, from desktop applications to every new Windows 8 app. All this, plus the Pro version supports the Touch and Type covers, and delivers all the other elements of Microsoft's nifty industrial design.

Is Surface RT a total nonstarter? No, it's definitely packed with utility, and that's why it earns 3.5 stars. In business-travel situations where I need only to write articles and respond to email, I can see throwing Surface RT and the Type Cover into my backpack, and leaving my Ultrabook (and iPad) at home.

But is this tablet a full-fledged "thing"? No, not yet. It's supposed to answer a host of problems, but instead it poses too many questions of its own.

 

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