PCWORLD ONLINE, DECEMBER 18, 2012 (PHNO SPECIAL)  TheTonyBradley POSTED AT PCWORLD ON Nov 27, 2012 2:08 PM - http://alturl.com/mqc3w  



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 miss.









[PHOTO - The kickstand makes the Surface RT function like a laptop.]



1. Kickstand

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 level.



[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 Microsoft Office.

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 man.

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.

        Five ways the iPad beats the Surface RT By Tony Bradley @TheTonyBradley
        [Net WorkPractical IT insight from Tony  Bradley, Business mobility Surface, iPad, tablets] 

This isn't the first year that tablets are a hot gift item, but it is the first holiday season that enough serious contenders make the buying decision tougher. Following my reasons you should consider the Microsoft Surface with Windows RT over the Apple iPad, here are features and benefits that give the iPad an advantage over the Surface with Windows RT.


1. Heft

I started off calling this one “Size” or “Weight”, but the reality is that in terms of the actual specifications, the iPad and Surface RT are identical in thickness at 0.37 inches each, and the difference in weight seems negligible.

The iPad weighs 1.44 pounds compared to 1.5 pounds for the Surface RT. There is no cellular Surface RT option, but the 4G iPad weighs slightly more than its Wi-Fi only sibling at 1.46 pounds.

The mileage varies, though, once you get them out of the box. For starters, the overall weight and thickness are affected by your choice of case. There seems to be something intangible, though, that makes the iPad feel thinner and lighter when you’re holding it. Part of this is related to how the iPad's curved edges compare with the thicker, more angular sides of the Surface RT.

Then there's the distribution of weight; although the tablets weigh virtually the same, the iPad is shorter and wider. When held in one hand in portrait mode, the Surface RT feels heavier than Apple's tablet.

A 4G/LTE iPad lets you connect from anywhere you can get a cellular signal.

2. 4G / LTE

The Apple iPad is available with 4G / LTE wireless capabilities. Granted, you have to pay an additional $129 for the cellular connectivity, but if you need to use your tablet away from a Wi-Fi network, the Surface RT won’t do the trick.

Microsoft hasn’t ruled out introducing 4G or cellular in the future. For now, though, connecting to the Web, email, or other online resources from a Surface RT when no wireless network is available requires the use of a mobile hotspot (or a smartphone or tablet used as a mobile hotspot), while the 4G iPad simply connects from virtually anywhere by itself.

3. VPN

This may not be very important to many consumers, but the limitations of the VPN connectivity on the Surface RT break the deal if you need a tablet for business.

Windows RT does have rudimentary VPN capabilities built-in. However, the default Windows RT VPN cannot connect with popular, more secure VPN platforms like Cisco AnyConnect. Cisco claims that Microsoft hasn’t provided the APIs necessary to develop an AnyConnect client app for Windows RT, and Microsoft has stated in forums that it is aware of the issue and working on a solution.

It is possible for the IT admin to configure Cisco AnyConnect in such a way that Windows RT can connect, but it requires weakening security in ways that negate the point of using AnyConnect in the first place. For now, though, the simple fact is that Cisco does have an AnyConnect app available for the iPad (as well as the iPhone, and Android tablets and smartphones), but there isn’t one for the Surface RT.

The position of the front camera on the Surface RT is better for some scenarios.

4. Camera

Yes, it looks ridiculous when someone holds up a full-size tablet to take a picture or capture video. But if you’re going to do it, you want to do it with an iPad instead of a Surface RT.

The front-facing cameras on the two tablets are very similar. However, the rear camera of the Surface RT pales in comparison to the iPad's. The iPad sports a 5 megapixel camera capable of recording 1080p video, while the Surface RT has a one megapixel camera that records 720p video.

One area where the Surface RT may be better is the placement of the front camera. The front camera is in the center of the tablet when used in landscape mode, which makes it ideal for Skype, Lync, or other video conferencing tools. The front camera on the iPad is in the center in portrait mode, but if you use the tablet in landscape mode it’s off to the side so everything is skewed and off-center.

5. Apps

It should not come as a shock to anyone that there are more iOS apps than there are Windows RT apps; Apple had a few years of a head start. I’m not faulting Microsoft for not having hundreds of thousands of apps already for Windows RT, but the disparity of apps is a reality that businesses and consumers must weigh when choosing a tablet.

Many of the premier mobile apps are already available for Windows RT: Kindle, Netflix, Evernote, Box, Skype, and Angry Birds to name a few. However, there are also some glaring omissions—namely Facebook and Twitter.

In a way, the integration of Facebook and Twitter into the core capabilities of the OS raises the bar over the traditional siloed app approach. It unifies social media into the mainstream communications so you don’t have to treat each service as an island. However, the Facebook and Twitter capabilities of Windows RT itself are extremely limited, and miss out on many of the functionalities available in the equivalent iPad apps.

It will be a long time, if ever, before Microsoft can catch up to Apple in terms of the sheer volume of apps available. Quality is more important than quantity, but right now Microsoft is a little low on both.

To be honest, there are a couple other small advantages the iPad has over the Surface RT. I did not conduct any sort of scientific analysis, but the battery life of the iPad seems better. I didn’t have any issue with the Surface RT battery, or getting through the day without recharging, but I did feel like it drained faster and required more charging in general.

The other plus in the iPad column is the display. This is another area where I don’t have any significant complaint about the display on the Surface RT—it is bright and vibrant, and the text is relatively crisp thanks to Microsoft’s use of ClearType technology. But, pixel for pixel it is simply no comparison to the Retina display of the iPad.

In the end, though, both are great tablets. The base Surface RT offers 32GB of storage capacity—twice that of the entry-level 16GB iPad—for the same $500. But, Microsoft has engineered the Surface RT to be paired with the Touch Cover, and the combo will set you back $600 (or $620 if you want a Touch Cover in a color other than black). Of course, as noted above, if you want the benefit of 4G wireless connectivity the iPad starts at $630.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved