29 July 2013

Microsoft Surface RT, a review of sorts

We don’t often do this sort of thing, reviewing products without a financial initiative. However this one belongs to the injustice department and needs to be set right.

While Microsoft has lagged behind in the tablet department, Android based devices have taken over. Mostly as a result of a vacuum, Google had its phone operating system ported into a larger screen real-estate with the same functionality, or lack of, available as a viable alternative to the market dominating anal retentive iPad. Most found the Android alternative a liberating experience, when compared to the iPad. At this stage, Microsoft had nothing to offer.

Behind the scenes, having lost its ground breaking Smartphone lead, Windows Mobile (winCE) was whimpering to a slow death. As the market leading Smartphone platform at the time, Windows Mobile was let down by lack of development and unimaginative decision making at the management level leaving the market open for Jobs the Steve to re-imagine the Smart Phone.

Leaving all this behind, fast forwarding to the near present, Microsoft played catchup. Taking it’s time, to a level where it was over-taken and left for dust, a constipated rethink produced WinPhone 7, an operating system that was again left undeveloped and later abandoned for WinPhone 8. Again the abandonment of WinPhone 7, without a WinPhone 8 upgrade option was a final blow to Microsoft diehards, who abandoned it in droves.

By freak of nature, a random twitch or an ultra rare moment of clarity for Microsoft CEO Balmer (Ritalin???), a new discipline was devised, an Operating System which can cross platform itself from a Mobile phone device all the way to PC and all that’s in-between. WindowsPhone8, Windows 8 RT and Windows 8 were let out into the wild.

So what’s this rant about then? The Microsoft Surface RT is what. This iPad competitor came out to little fanfare and a lot of abuse. Reviews concentrated on downplaying its significance, while trouncing its operating system – Windows 8 RT. Reading most of the reviews one could have believed that this was a useless uninteresting device that didn’t deserve their malice bourn words.

I first encountered the device on a short visit to Microsoft’s second Israeli Development Center in Herzliya, a bustling hive of fevered activity and harvesting of Israeli “genius”. The device was left on someone’s desk, looking abandoned on a pile of bumf. Its black hardwearing plastic not exactly a shiny eye catcher as an aluminum backed iPad. Fact is from afar, it looks as boring as a Lenovo laptop, with the distinct Chinese morbid design flare. Picking it up for a closer shufti, you notice a widescreen 16:9 form factor. The screen itself is bright and clear, a quality item which shows off windows 8 new touch interface (Metro), and responds instantaneously. Windows 8 RT is a trimmed down version of the same OS you’ll find on any new PC. It’s light on its feet and snappy, and comes pre-installed with a lite-er version of office, meaning Word, Excel and PowerPoint. OneNote is also included.

A quick visit to Microsoft’s AppStore reveal most of the usual software you’d want for your full-cream PC, albeit in a Lite-er version to match the Surface’s ARM based CPU’s capabilities.

While the Surface’s exterior design and materials will not win any awards, the device is surprisingly functional and useful. It’s everything that the constipated iPad isn’t. It’ll connect to a windows network and share, it’ll print directly or through the network printer and connect to any external USB device and even has a micro SD card slot hidden under the kickstand for storage expansion.

If you’re now getting the feeling that this device is unrestricted and as free to do all your bidding as a proper PC would, you’d be correct. As soon as you switch to desktop mode, it’s a shrunken PC - familiar to all, and just as capable.

One shortcoming is down to some ultra moron in Redmond who made the decision not to include GPS and Data capabilities (both components estimated at $15 in production costs). However there are rumors circulating that the next version will imminently be released with both. Another annoyance is the click keyboard which costs an infuriating $119, when it’s known that it costs $17 to produce.

So what’s wrong with it? Nothing much at all, it’s quite brilliant, so good in fact that upon landing in Seattle I took a short side trip to the Microsoft store in Bellevue and purchased two. At $350 a piece there’s nothing out there that get’s even marginally close to it.


SnoopyTheGoon said...

$350!! I paid over $800 for it! I bought it for all the reasons you give - and graphically it's beautiful, a true rival to Apple. But shifting between the two modes is kind of clunky. How on earth did you pay only $350? I think the computer itself cost about $700, then I bought the keyboard, and SD card.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

checkout M$'s store, $349 to be exact. I'm talking about the Surface RT.
No clunks or stutters at all. Are you by any chance talking about the Surface Pro?

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Perhaps I did buy the Pro. When I went into Best Buy, I intended to buy an iPad, but got the Surface instead. Of course, I went into the very same store and intended to buy a TV for $400, and ended up buying a flat screen for $750, so I guess you could say I'm an impulse buyer....

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Thanks for the review. I keep noticing those every time I visit the Dell site to compare laptop prices. Now I'll go back and consider buying one, especially since MS reduced the price to $350. The USB port is a big draw for me, the only thing my Kindle Fire lacks. I can live without a keyboard. Would prefer to write on a bigger screen, anyhow.