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Microsoft Surface RT 2013 Review

Posted on Monday, September 9, 2013 @ 03:05:57 PM CDT by David Yee [] [read 6193 times]

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I received my Microsoft Surface RT recently, and wanted to give some of my thoughts on the device. I ordered the 32GB refurbished flavor which was also bundled with the Touch Cover. The packaging looked like a black monolith- pretty fancy.

I immediately attached the touch keyboard cover which connected with a loud "crunch". I also appreciate the fact that it came with a kickstand built in. I suppose that I need to keep in mind to always open the kickstand from the left side (where there is a notch), since it takes using a fingernail and some effort to pry open from the right. Regarding the keyboard as a cover- it feels kind of cardboard like with a soft velvety coating on the other side of the keys. I'm just a little concerned that what if liquid like coffee or orange juice spilled on the cover as the stain may be permanent vs if some sort of a plastic coating was employed.

I wanted to test the usability of Windows 8 on a tablet, so I didn't bother reading quick-start/booklet it came with. It turned out that the thin pamphlet didn't include any info how to use the tablet anyway. After prodding up the Surface RT with the kickstand, I hit the power/sleep button on the upper middle right, and about 2 seconds later, the booting process started with the word "Surface" appearing in the middle of the screen. It asked for the language, wireless access point & password, your Microsoft Account login, and also what to name the device. It was GREAT being able to type in those info with the type cover vs a traditional touch-screen keyboard.

When setup had finished, it showed battery life at 43%. I then wondered where Microsoft Office for RT was located. I swiped to the right and there they were on the far right. I wanted them on the first "home screen", so I tried dragging and dropping the tiles- what a pain in turned out to be. In iOS or Android this fundamental task is as simple as holding on the icon for a second, then drag with the finger. But the tiles on the Windows 8 just wouldn't budge most of the time, and I couldn't figure out at first glance how I was able to eventually move them after many attempts. It turns out that I have to move in an upward motion slightly with my fingertip the tile I want to move first, then hold, then the move becomes easy.

After that bit of frustration, I installed some apps from the Microsoft App Store (there are a few quality free games actually). Then I wondered about Windows Update and whether this particular Surface RT (as it is a refurb) had all the updates installed. Going to Settings (swiping in from the right) and then PC Info, it showed that there was a "Firmware Update" in the familiar Windows Update screen. After downloading and restarting, it turned out that there were 20 updates. Update 1 of 20 took a long time. I do find it interesting how it says "Don't turn off your PC." while the patches are being applied. Perhaps "tablet" or "device" would be a better word.

After literally over an hour of updating, my Surface RT finally became usable again. I'm then greeted with having to enter a password to log into my account in order to start using the tablet. This is a similar behavior on my Windows 8 desktop, which I subsequently turned off, but IMO should not be a default behavior for a tablet. Granted having the touch cover keyboard helps, but I have to believe most people, most consumers out there, will not like having to enter a password like that by default. I quickly went into settings and added a 4 digit pin in lieu of the password. That was after I had to "trust this PC" by entering a code sent to my email account.

So back at the tiled start screen, I am suddenly greeted with a battery low warning of 4% juice left. That is pretty disappointing considering when I first started the device, it showed 43%, and it had been only on (albeit actively being updated) for an an hour and a half. I hurried up and plugged in the charger which seems to connect magnetically, but it was already shut off- literally less than 20 seconds after I got the 4% warning. After connecting the charger, I tried to start it up- no go. Perhaps the charger is connected the wrong way I thought- and that was it. Not sure why it was designed so that you could easily connect it in the wrong orientation, though it doesn't seem to be all the way in if not oriented the correct way. I also noticed later on that there is a small white light that glows from the charger tip when it is connected properly. BTW, I did not experience the battery quickly draining issue I experienced the first day I had the tablet. After having it fully charged, I'm able to get about 8 hours of use from my Surface RT. I also turned off Bluetooth to help save battery life.

After the tablet started back up, I tried out the Remote Desktop app, and it told me "Your Credentials Did Not Work" when I tried to connect to my desktop PC. After a bit of research it turned out that I needed to precede "LOCALDOMAIN" to my username, as I was using a local account instead of a Microsoft account on the PC I was trying to remote control.

Then I tried joining the HomeGroup which I had setup with my group of desktop PC's, and got the message "Windows can't setup a homegroup on this computer" even though I tried to join an existing one. After I turned on the PC that started the HomeGroup, the Surface RT was able to successfully join after about two minutes of the circular spinning hourglass action.

Next, I ran into an issue in Windows Update when it tried to download/install a 500 MB update for Office 2013. The error code was 80070003. Ooookay- so I downloaded this troubleshooter per what was recommended by Windows Help, and trying to run it gave me the message "Sorry, this troubleshooter doesn't work on ARM devices." Fortunately, after a reboot, the update re-started downloading and installed without a hitch.

I do have a few comments on the built quality and design of the Surface RT. The tablet feels very sturdy, helped of course with the "Vapor Mag" infusion to the casing. The wide-screen display, though not Full HD, is a pleasure to look at with colors seemingly very vibrant. Unfortunately, some ported games (probably from iOS), are not designed for widescreen and ugly black bars show up on the sides. The built-in kickstand is nice as I had mentioned, but too bad it doesn't allow for more than just one tilt level/angle. A major annoyance I do have with the tablet is the decision by Microsoft to locate the touch-sensitive Windows home button in the middle-bottom of the device. I just find myself accidentally trigger it with my thumb too often while in an app. Hopefully Microsoft can remedy this problem by allowing users to deactivate the button or perhaps make it only activate upon a double-tap.

Performance-wise, I found that the Surface RT took about 35 seconds from the off state to the Windows lock screen. That is quite a bit better than what I have experienced in Android tablets or the iPad 3. Waking up from sleep is pretty much instantaneous. Shutdown took about 8 seconds. I also did some measurements of real-world file transfer speeds since the Surface RT is touted to have 2x2 MIMO antennas.

Copy 30 meg compressed file wireless from Windows 8 PC from 70 feet away at other corner of the house (Wireless Access point is the Belkin N750 F9K1103)
MS Surface RT: 49 seconds
Asus Zenbook UX31A: 136 seconds
iPad 3 (via FTP): 36 seconds
Same as above 8 feet away:
MS Surface RT: 20 seconds
Asus Zenbook UX31A: 6 seconds
iPad 3 (via FTP): 12 seconds
The long-range Wi-Fi performance of the Surface RT was pretty good. In my situation it was not as good as the venerable iPad 3, but it did best one of the best Ultrabooks around in the Asus Zenbook UX31A.

I did not do any app-based benchmarks, but Internet Explorer felt snappy, and I didn't run into any issues with slowness with most of the apps I've tried.

Improving the Windows RT/Windows 8 App Store and Ecosystem

I do think Microsoft can do some additional marketing to boost the popularity of RT devices and Windows 8 in general. Needless to say, the Windows App Store has not exactly taken off. The recent price drops on Microsoft Surface tablets certainly help. But offering free app credit for buyers of W8/RT tablets should boost demand for apps and entice more developers to support he platform. Also Microsoft can do what Amazon does to boost adoption of its AppStore by offering a free paid Windows app daily.

In closing, I must say I do like the Surface RT. At $200, it was a no brainer of a purchase. It is disappointing not being able to use some of my favorite programs such as Putty, Filezilla, VLC/Media Player Classic, but the full version of Office 2013 does help offset the loss a bit. Several months ago, I used the Dell Latitude 10 for a week or so before returning it. It was nice being able to run x86 regular Windows apps, but it was utterly head-shaking time when it could not even render the graphics correctly for the game FTL. I might as well get the Surface RT for a much lower price.

Surface RT Pros
  • Good build quality and good screen
  • Quality built-in apps by Microsoft such as Weather and Remote Desktop
  • Free Windows Office 2013
  • Touch cover is a nice add-on

  • Surface RT Cons
  • Needs more "killer" app games such as Plants vs Zombies & Kingdom Rush
  • Terrible location of the Windows "physical" key lends to many unintended trips back to the Home/Start Screen
  • Inability to run x86 Windows program despite (or any program not in the app store)

  • Recommended Windows 8/RT Apps
  • Zinio (Zinio takes a ton of space on my iPad, so it was nice to be able to uninstall it there and run it on the Surface RT instead; looks beautiful BTW on it)
  • Free games I enjoyed include WORDAMENT & Pinball FX2
  • Amazon Kindle
  • Netflix, though too bad there isn't an app yet for Amazon Prime Video Streaming. My workaround was to pin an IE10 tile linking to the my watchlist. Interesting, I had to choose watch using Adobe Flash because, ironically, Microsoft Silverlight doesn't work on Windows RT

  • Right now there are 1 comments/reviews for Microsoft Surface RT 2013 Review.
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    Microsoft Surface RT 2013 Review Rating: 2.3/5 (40 votes cast) 1 comment(s) by users total.

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    Posted by Joe Gantz (5 years ago)

    Surface RT Freezes

    Nice review. I'm wondering if any other 1st gen Surface (using Windows RT) is having issues with it freezing here and there when playing Wordament. It doesn't happen very often, but occasionally the sound would disappear, and within a second or 2 the screen becomes unresponsive. I press the Windows key on the tablet and there is vibration feedback, but nothing happens.

    I'm also a bit disappointed with its ability to keep the wireless connection, and the slow speed in acquiring a link with my wireless access point at times. I tried to see if changing any settings of the onboard Marvell wifi controller in Device Manager, but the typical settings you see are not there.

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