Microsoft Surface RT Review, Part II: Hardware

I was actually very impressed with the hardware of the Surface RT.  This surprised me since I already had an iPad and Apple is well known for their high quality hardware.  The Surface RT felt solid and light.  What is really interesting is that when holding the Surface and the iPad at the same time I can tell that the Surface is heavier, but when separated the Surface feels lighter.

I purchased the Touch Cover with the tablet and I am really glad that I did.  I am a strong believer that every tablet should have a screen cover, which the touch cover doubles as.  For the iPad I purchased the cover from Apple which is nice, but ads bulk.  Although I use tablets as primarily consumption devices, it is nice to have the immediate option to type something longer than can be done on the onscreen keyboard.  Because of the built-in kickstand on the Surface, it is not uncommon for me to plop it down on the coffee table to add a comment to a Facebook post or a few sentences to an email.  The touch cover also has a track pad which is handy when working on the desktop.  There are two drawbacks to the keyboard.  First, when flipped to the back to get it out of the way it automatically turns off.  The problem is that sometimes it does not turn back on.  Second, there have been some reports of the keyboard splitting at the seams.  I have not had that problem.

The screen is very nice.  I find it to be much clearer than the first generation iPad and it has been found to be better than other standard resolution tablets.  I have actually never been a fan of the widescreen aspect ratio on computers, so I was already dreading that on the Surface before I even received it. I think what makes is work is that the Windows 8 app design (formerly know as Metro) is supposed to flow off the screen.  The wider the screen is, the more of the app you see.  On the iPad, apps are designed for the existing screen real estate and so need as much space as they can get.  The Windows 8 app design is very text centric, so it is good that text is clear and sharp on the display.

One of the best things is that the Surface RT comes with a real USB port.  What does this mean?  I can plug in a mouse, a keyboard, a USB drive, even a XBox game controller (and 420 million other devices).  Remember, it’s a computer.  Here’s a little side story to emphasize the importance of this simple feature.  I was trying out an app to download podcasts when I ran into a problem.  I needed one of the podcasts on a USB drive, not on the Surface.  I went in through Windows Explorer to my user profile, found the folder for that app and copied the file to the external drive.

There are of course a few things that I do not like about the hardware on the Surface RT.  The cameras are terrible.  I can’t imagine taking a tablet around to take pictures, but if you are thinking of doing that with this one, don’t.  I also do not like the power supply.  Microsoft stole the idea of a magnetic connector with an indicator light from Apple.  The problem is that on an Apple Macbook it snaps in really easily, on the Surface goes catawampus and you have to fight it a little to make it fit right. One of the things I really like about the iPad is that it charges off of a USB connector which is a power supply that is easy to find a replacement for.  The power supply for the Surface is unique and so will need to be special ordered if it blows out, something that is likely in West Africa.  Finally, the battery lasts about seven hours versus the iPad’s ten.  Seven hours is still pretty good, but I find myself plugging it in for a charge far more often then I did the iPad, which is annoying because of the power connector.

The true test for hardware is how long it lasts in Africa.  The Surface RT has only been out for two months, so it is way too early to know what will happen.  If this is any indicator though, it has been run over by a car going 60 mph and still worked just fine.


Microsoft Surface RT Review


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