I’ve had a month to play with the Microsoft Surface with
Windows RT tablet. Microsoft faces a serious challenge to
compete against devices like the Apple iPad, Google Nexus
10, Kindle Fire HD 8.9, and other full-size tablets. But,
Microsoft deserves some kudos for engineering a very solid,
capable device to show off the Windows RT platform.
When I box the Surface RT tablet up and send it back to
Microsoft, I’ll just go back to using my trusty iPad. But,
there are a number of features of the Surface RT that I will
[PHOTO - The kickstand makes the Surface RT function like
Microsoft has made a big (huge) deal out of the kickstand
on the Surface tablet since its original unveiling earlier
this year—and for good reason. Microsoft’s purpose in
spotlighting the feature was primarily to point out the
attention to detail invested in engineering the device, and
the quality of construction of the Surface RT, but it is
more than that.
The kickstand allows you to prop the Surface RT up in
either portrait or landscape mode. In landscape mode, the
kickstand puts the Surface RT at an ideal angle for use as
an ultrabook replacement (when used with a physical
keyboard—see point #2), or for viewing streaming content
like Netflix or TEDTalks.
Personally, I think the angle of the Surface with the
kickstand in place is ideal, but one issue some people might
have with the Surface RT kickstand is that it only has two
positions—open or closed. If the angle doesn't work for you,
you're sort of out of luck.
2. Touch Cover
The Touch Cover for the Surface RT is possibly one of the
most innovative and useful gadgets of 2012. Sure, my iPad
has a thin Smart Cover that “magically” attached via
magnets, and automatically brings the tablet to life when I
open it, but Microsoft has taken the concept to another
[PHOTO -The Touch Cover protects the Surface RT, and
turns it into a pseudo-ultrabook.]
In a cover that isn’t much thicker than Apple’s Smart
Cover, Microsoft has packed a touch-sensitive physical
keyboard, complete with a trackpad, and special buttons for
quick access to Windows RT features like the Share, Search,
Devices, and Settings Charms.
Another advantage for the Surface RT Touch Cover is that
the magnetic bond seems stronger. Holding an iPad by its
Smart Cover is likely to result in the iPad detaching and
crashing to its potential demise. It takes much more force
to detach the Touch Cover from a Surface RT.
It's not all sunshine and roses, though. Some users
complain that the Touch Cover requires a hard surface under
it—that it's too flimsy to use while sitting on your lap—and
there some reports of the edges of the cover splitting or
fraying. I didn't have any issues or problems with the Touch
Cover, but the Type Cover does offer a firmer typing
surface, and actual keys for those who prefer a more
traditional typing experience.
Of course, there are other cover options for the iPad as
well—like the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover. For the
same $100 as the Surface RT Touch Cover ($120 if you
purchase it separate from the Surface RT itself), the
Logitech keyboard cover also provides a physical, tactile
keyboard, and better stand for propping the iPad up than the
Apple Smart Cover.
3. Office RT Apps
From a business perspective, the inclusion of the core
Microsoft Office tools is a huge plus for the Surface RT.
There are plenty of productivity apps available for the iPad,
and most of them offer at least some compatibility with the
Microsoft Office file formats. But, only Microsoft Office is
The Office RT apps that come with the Surface RT are very
close in both form and function to their desktop
equivalents. The features and conventions used are more or
less the same, and you don’t have to deal with the
formatting and fidelity issues that seem to plague
third-party productivity software that claims to be
“compatible” with Microsoft Office.
If the rumors pan out and Microsoft offers Microsoft
Office apps for iOS, it will level the playing field some,
but for now the Office RT apps alone might be enough for
some businesses to choose the Surface RT over the iPad.
4. USB Port
The Surface RT has a USB port, and the iPad does not. The
USB port opens up a whole world of possibilities for the
Surface RT that are not available for an iPad. Aside from
being able to plug in an external USB hard drive or USB
thumb drive to transfer files or add storage capacity, the
USB port could also be used to add a keyboard, mouse,
printer, webcam, or just about any other device known to
One minor complaint about the USB port is its placement.
When using the Surface RT in landscape mode with the
kickstand open, the USB port is on the upper right. It works
fine for USB thumb drives, or webcams that you might want to
place on top of the Surface, but it's awkward for a
keyboard, mouse, or printer, and could pose a problem for
USB devices with short cables.
5. MicroSDXC Card Slot
The USB port can be used to expand storage capacity, but
the Surface RT also provides a more preferable means of
accomplishing the same goal. The MicroSDXC card slot is
hidden inconspicuously on the back of the Surface RT behind
the kickstand plate. You can add up to 64GB of additional
storage by slipping a MicroSD card the size of a fingernail
into the tablet.
Apple's iPad does not have any slots or ports to allow
for additional storage capacity, but many Android tablet
options do. Most of the Android tablet options, however, use
the older MicroSD technology, which maxes out at 32GB. The
MicroSDXC supports capacities of up to 2TB, and the slot is
backwards compatible with older MicroSD and MicroSDHC cards.
The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover is a great addition
for an iPad. The MicroSD card can be left in place to
permanently expand the capacity of the tablet, or it can be
swapped out as needed—for example to change out music or
movie libraries, or to switch data for a project.
For the same $500 base price, the Surface RT provides
twice the storage capacity as the base iPad—but Microsoft
has also taken some heat over how much of that storage is
used up before you even boot the device for the first time.
It won’t knock the iPad off its pedestal any time soon, but
depending on what you want a tablet to do, the Surface RT
has some features and benefits that make it unique.