Microsoft Surface RT review (gen 1)

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I purchased the Surface RT on a whim about a year ago during the Black Friday fire sale when Microsoft had a ton of stock they had to get rid of quick (a quick Google search will show you how much the Surface RT unsold stock was killing their profits that year). I had reservations about buying another tablet after being burned hard by previous purchases (the Nokia N800 Internet Tablet was totally dead in the water with an unsupported Maemo platform…..and so was the Blackberry Playbook- more on those later). I wasn’t convinced a tablet was necessary in my repetoire and I wasn’t planning on buying one, despite seeing the massive price drop to $199 CDN from $549 CDN. However, I managed to stop by the Microsoft kiosk before leaving the mall and I was sold. More on that later. The following are my impressions from my day to day use over the past year with this tablet.

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Design-this thing is smoking hot in build quality. Glass front and magnesium body EVERyWHERE ELSE. Its awesome. It feels premium, like an iPad, but more so because it has slick hard angles that are a nice design change and clearly distinguishable. The most important part of the design for me, aside from the amazing build quality, is the inclusion of a full size USB port. Seriously, this makes this so so so much better than any other tablet for productivity simply by opening this up to a huge range of expandable peripherals. I mostly use it to power my Logitech Z305 USB speakers that clip on the back and boom, insta party. Well insta Netflix party. Aside from that, the kick stand is so so useful. There are so many times where I have wanted to have a tablet stand up and without a case or stand, its just not happening. It only opens to one angle that is pretty steep (not multi angle like the Surface new generations), but having it is awesome regardless. Also, expandable memory. THANK YOU. I really really love expandable memory- it makes having all my One Drive documents available offline so so so much better. I take this on the plane, to remote drive trips…what have you and I don’t need to worry that I didn’t download the file before I lost internet because its already there. The weight is great (under 2lbs) and its slim and solid feeling. You get the feeling it was over designed. I do wish that I had considered using a VAIO Pro 11 instead (relatively similar weight with teh Surface keyboard cover added, but better CPU, full Windows OS, better keyboard….you get the picture), except this is 199$ CDN and untouchable at that price point. Seriously, nothing at $199  CDN even today in 2015 comes close to this build quality.

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Audio– Knowing audio is fairly important to me, this is a fairly important piece of the review. Its pretty meh. The headphone out is your standard fair- adequate but nothing musical. I don’t listen to music on this through the headphone out. Fortunately, a USB DAC can run through the USB port but I never got around to doing that, mostly because its cumbersome to use a tablet for music. There are stereo side firing speakers (great- stereo! and not back firing), but they sound realtively low in volume and have no musical quality at all. Suffice to say, they are sufficient for listening to your casual YouTube vid, but if you are watching a movie, even if its just you at your desk, a pair of external speakers will be better (hence the awesomeness of a USB port for external soundcard/laptop speakers like the before mentioned Logitech Z305). (You can barely see the tiny speaker grille on the tablet compared to the logitech strapped on the back in the pic).

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Screen– its ok- its a low res 1366×768 panel on a 10.6 inch screen. It needs 1080 really. Video is fine and pictures are fine, but text is just not sharp enough for its size – you can read documents on it, but you just know there ar ebetter panels out there. I really wouldn’t mind paying another 50 bucks to get the surface RT 2 for its screen alone. Netflix looks fine on it BTW. Which is what I use it for the most. Aside from low res screen, the viewing angles and brightness are great- I have no complaints about them and when there is nothing to notice about them, its working well.

Battery– its good- I never worry about battery on this thing- I guesstimate 7 hours of work non stop at half brightness. Its standby is horrible though- maybe 2 days with WiFi on- I’m guessing this is more Windows 8 rather than the tablet itself.

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Overall use and conclusion– the biggest single reason I bought this was for Office – I do a lot of productivity work in Office and I did not want to work with some half assed app like in Android or Blackberry- either with the official Microsoft App or the third party versions- they are all horrible for productivity compared to full on desktop Office. And this has it. This is amazing because Its under 2 lbs and I can have a full work suite with me anywhere- I throw the tablet into my bag and I do not notice the weight and yet I have my office on me. SO SO SO useful this way. I bring this when I am not sure if I have to do some documents or not, but I don’t want to bring my full on laptop and lug another lb of weight (the Sony VAIO Duo 13 is under 3 lbs, but a lb is a lb). In general, aside from the lightweight office, the Netflix app is a godsend and I use it as a portable entertainment center, especially at the gym with the Logitech Z305 speakers- this works great on the elliptical and its powerful enough to overcome the loud machines in the background. Dislikes- Windows RT is turning into the underdeveloped/non supported wasteland that was Blackberry World and Nokia’s Maemo. If I didn’t need netflix or office, this thing would suck hard and become another unused tablet. There’s plenty of rants out there about the lack of support for Windows RT so I won’t go into detail here, but suffice to say that I would love to have it not as the OS and have full blown Windows 8 instead. Oh and the CPU is kind of meh- its definitely a slouch with the internet browser- I’d use a different browser but THERE ARE NO OTHER OPTIONS. A good example is that it can’t handle the Flash support on my favorite retailer site, Sony.ca and it just crashes. Cool.

Pros– Build quality, kick stand, overall design, battery usage is great; Cons– Windows RT isn’t supported at all, screen resolution is low, stand by battery is low, Nvidia CPU is slow on certain tasks

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Additional review- the Surface touch cover was purchased because I wanted to protect the screen but didn’t want to add a whole lot of weight to the system with another case/keyboard. This fit the bill perfectly by combining both in a thin but very very sturdy package. Unfortunately, the keyboard is quite hard to use- touch typing without tactile feel of the keys just doesn’t work for me and I make tons of typos. You need to be quite deliberate to type with this. Aside from that, its a premium feeling accessory that I would purchase again. I had considered the Type cover but a) it was a lot more expensive and b) I didn’t like having clicky parts on the cover in my hands while holding it in tablet mode. Pros– premium feeling, sturdy, lightweight all in one solution for keyboard/cover; Cons– difficult to type with

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The Microsoft bluetooth comfort mouse is ok-I wanted to free up the USB port space from a wireless dongle in my Logitech MX Anywhere mouse so I got this mouse and its…ok. Its the world’s most OKest mouse. There’s a touch/click panel on the side to navigate Window’s metro interface and the mouse has the ergonomics of a bar of soap. Its just not great but its not bad either. I would have preferred a more ergonomic mouse given its size. I probably would not have purchased this again if I had to. Pros– cheap Bluteooth connection; Cons– no ergonomics, large, plasticky cheap feeling.

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