First and foremost I haven’t purchased a Surface RT tablet. While traveling this week for work I found an opportunity to stop by a Microsoft Retail store in the area and finally get my hands on one for about half an hour. There is no question about it, Microsoft has done themselves proud with the Surface hardware. The tablet is beautiful from the kickstand to the angular features and even the touch cover, which is surprisingly nice to type with and gives the tablet a finished look when closed. The UI works great on the tablet and everything operates smoothly. I put it through its paces by opening as many programs as I could and just bouncing around from a Word document and SkyDrive to taking photos and video. I even spent time browsing the web from within the new IE. Everything worked as advertised.
My opinion of the hardware isn’t that much different from many of the reviews I’ve read. In general the tech bloggers agree that the Surface tablet is a well built machine. In comparison I also spent some time playing with the ASUS VivoTab RT and the Sony VAIO Duo 11 Ultrabook. Both offer a different experience when compared to the Surface tablet, but neither is nearly as nice.
The ASUS VivoTab RT is basically ASUS’ Windows 8 version of their popular Transformer line of Android tablets. Seriously, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart if they weren’t running side by side with the screen on. The VivoTab RT has a netbook feel to it when it’s in the keyboard dock. And to be perfectly honest, it felt cheap after playing with the Surface tablet. With the price of Surface RT and VivoTab RT being the same, I wouldn’t hesitate to go with the Surface tablet unless I had a specific need for the ASUS tablet.
The VAIO Duo 11 Ultrabook is an interesting beast with its 11.6-inch Full HD screen and attached slider keyboard. It really doesn’t belong in the same category as the Surface RT or VivoTab RT tablets because it’s running on an Intel Core i7 processor. But there was a Sony store next to the Microsoft store and I had to check it out. Sony has chosen to lump the Duo 11 in with its line of laptops as I was quickly reminded when I was correct by the sales person for calling it a “tablet”. The Sony website calls it and Ultrabook with the the following subtext: “A touchscreen tablet and a Full HD laptop in one dazzling design“. Someone should make up their mind on what to call it because that’s a a bit too schizophrenic for my taste. Regardless of what it’s called I like the 11.6-inch screen and the fact that it supports a digitizer pen in addition to general “touch”. I spent some time playing with the pen, which I have to say is very nice. I can’t imagine owing a full blown tablet PC without pen support. The VAIO Duo 11 is, in a word, heavy. It’s not for the casual tablet user, and is clearly aimed at those that require a true laptop/desktop replacement. With that said I thought the keys on the keyboard were too small, which created some issues for me when I tried to type in a Word document.
As far as the new OS goes, i.e. Windows 8, I have no real complaints. I’ve heard lots of negative things about the new OS, but can’t for the life of me figure out why. Some people have gone as far as to call it “confusing” and a “disaster for Microsoft”. To me it seams pretty intuitive. Five minutes of active use and you’ll have the basics down. I like how Microsoft has made good use of the bezel edges and the corners. You can do pretty much anything you need to with a quick swipe or touch. The START button is a big hangup for some. I had that problem initially as I kept trying to use Windows 8 like Windows 7. Once I got over my initial stubbornness I found that I no longer needed the START button at all. Everything is there, just accessed differently, and in some cases easier.
Overall I think Microsoft created exactly what they were after with Surface RT: a consumption tablet with a little bit extra. I can see people, myself included, carrying one around and doing exactly what people do with 10-inch tablets now, i.e. surf the net, social media stuff, watch movies, listen to music, play some games and check email. And with SkyDrive integration and the Student 2013 edition of Office (Word 2013 RT, Excel 2013 RT, PowerPoint 2013 RT and OneNote 2013) you can actually do a bit more.
The Touch Cover is surprisingly easy to type with. It takes a minute to get the hang of it because there is no tactile feedback, but it works well and is insanely thin. It makes a great looking cover for the tablet when closed, and the locking mechanism with the magnets is simply cool. I think I like the Type Cover better because it feels more like a traditional keyboard, but I could just as easily give that up if I could get used to the feeling of typing with the Touch Cover. The one thing I’m really at odds with is the lack of support for an active digitizer pen. I understand why Microsoft decided to leave it out, but I’m not sure I can deal with a penless tablet. With that said, the Surface RT tablet could easily replace my iPad, my 10-inch Android tablet or my HP TouchPad because none of those have native support for a pen/stylus. I know there are lots of styli out there for iOS and Android tablets, but they all suck.
I’m going to wait for the introduction of Surface Pro because I believe that’s a better tablet for my needs, but honestly I wouldn’t hesitate to buy Surface RT. If I didn’t already have so many “consumption” devices lying around the house already I probably would have purchased one on the spot. It was a tough decision to leave without one, it really was.