Tablets Guide

Microsoft Surface RT (32GB) review

Microsoft Surface with Windows RT - A Window of Opportunity?

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Launch SRP S$668

Overall rating 8.5/10
Design:
8.5
Features:
8
User-Friendliness:
8
Performance:
8.5
Value:
8
THE GOOD
Great design and handling
Good overall performance
One of the best optional portable keyboard add-on units
THE BAD
Hefty
Slight learning curve for Windows UI
Limited apps on Windows Store


Performance and Conclusion

Performance

The Surface with Windows RT is powered by an NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core 1.3GHz processor and 2GB RAM. Aside from the different operating system, the Surface can be considered in the same league as the latest crop of Android tablets.

As such, we will be comparing the Surface with the Sony Xperia Tablet S, Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 and Apple iPad (4th Gen). We also throw in the ASUS VivoTab RT to have a better gauge of how two Windows RT tablets fare against each other. We used the SunSpider Javascript benchmark to measure the browsing performance of the different tablets across the various software platforms.

How the Tablets Stack up
Device Microsoft Surface
with Windows RT
ASUS VivoTab RT Sony Xperia Tablet S Toshiba Regza Tablet AT300 Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1  Apple iPad
(4th Gen)
CPU NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core
1.3GHz
NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core 1.3GHz NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core
1.4GHz
NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core 1.2GHz Exynos 4 Quad quad-core
1.4GHz
Apple A6X dual-core 1GHz
GPU 12-core GeForce 12-core GeForce 12-core GeForce 12-core GeForce Mali-400MP PowerVR SGX543MP4
RAM 2GB 2GB 1GB 1GB 2GB 1GB
OS Windows RT Windows RT Google Android 4.0.3 Google Android 4.0.3 Google Android 4.0.4 Apple iOS 6

Microsoft hit the reset button for the design of its latest web browser, Internet Explorer 10 and the decision appears to have paid off pretty well. In the Sunspider Javascript benchmark, the Surface had a respectable score of 1015.1ms which put it ahead of all the Android tablets compared. Within the Windows RT camp, the Surface is surpassed by the ASUS VivoTab RT, which in turn took the crown from the fourth generation Apple iPad.

Apart from our Synthetic benchmark, our actual experience with Internet Explorer 10 on the Surface was very pleasant. It's doubly important that it looks and works well because at this point of time, there are hardly any other options to consider from the Windows Store. Web pages loaded quickly and we hardly had any issues with scrolling and zooming in content. We also found the modern UI to be very smooth, and definitely on-par with Android's Jelly Bean and Apple's iOS. Apps generally loaded quickly and multitasking was a breeze.

 

Multimedia Performance

The 10.6-inch, 5-point multi-touch display of the Surface has a resolution of 1336 x 768 pixels (148ppi), which is considered acceptable by today's standards:

  • Apple iPad (4th gen): 9.7-inch, 264ppi
  • ASUS VivoTab RT: 10.1-inch, 155ppi
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1: 10.1-inch, 149ppi
  • Sony Xperia Tablet S: 9.4-inch, 161ppi
  • Toshiba Regza Tablet AT300: 10.1-inch, 149ppi

As seen above, the Surface is comparable to most of the top contenders from the Android camp. We found the screen's colors to be good with text and images looking sharp, although it is obviously miles behind the latest iPad. Other than that, viewing photos and web pages on the Surface turned out to be a fine experience. In fact while using the Surface, you would hardly be concerned of its non full HD screen because of the screen engineering that went under the hood to ensure the space between the LCD, touch sensor layer and the Gorilla Glass 2 is kept really tight at just 0.5mm apart. This favors comparably against competing devices that have a 1mm gap, thus minimizing refraction and improving clarity/sharpness of what's rendered on the screen.

The Surface unit reviewed in this article is the 32GB version. According to Microsoft, you only have approximately 16GB of free hard disk space to store your files as the system software (Windows RT) consumes a large chunk of storage space alongside the preloaded apps (with the biggest culprit being MS Office 2013). This applies for the Microsoft Surface Pro as well.

While it is common for mobile devices to set aside some storage space for the OS installation and recovery purposes, it is unsettling to pay for a 32GB model and only get half the storage space. Fortunately, the Surface comes with a microSD card slot (located beneath the kickstand and near the charging port) that supports cards up to 64GB in size. You also have 7GB of free cloud storage via SkyDrive.

Lastly, the Surface is equipped with a 1-megapixel camera sensor on the front and rear which are capable of capturing 720p video too. Tablets are generally not known for their imaging capabilities since they are not designed for that purpose. Nonetheless, we put the Surface through our camera test to assess its performance:- 

 

 

Battery Performance

Next, we ran the Surface on an intensive battery test, which involves a video with a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels being looped on the unit. The test is performed under specific parameters, such as:

  • Screen brightness and volume at 100%
     
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity turned on
     
  • Constant data streaming through email and Twitter

Test Tablets Compared
Specifications/Device Microsoft Surface with Windows RT ASUS VivoTab RT Sony Xperia Tablet S Toshiba Regza Tablet AT300 (3G) Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Apple iPad
(4th Gen)
Processor
  • Quad-core 1.3GHz
  • Quad-core 1.3GHz
  • Quad-core 1.4GHz
  • Quad-core 1.2GHz
  • Quad-core 1.4GHz
  • Dual-core A6X
Display Size
  • 10.6-inch
  • 10.1-inch
  • 9.4-inch
  • 10.1-inch
  • 10.1-inch
  • 9.7-inch
Display Type
  • LCD
  • Super IPS+ LCD
  • LCD
  • AMOLED
  • LCD
  • IPS LCD
Display Resolution
  • 1366 x 768 pixels
  • 1366 x 768 pixels
  • 1280 x 800 pixels
  • 1280 x 800 pixels
  • 1280 x 800 pixels
  • 2048 x 1536 pixels
Dimensions
  • 274.6 x 172 x 9.4mm
  • 262.5 x 170.9 x 8.3mm
  • 239.8 x 174.4 x 8.8 - 11.85mm
  • 260 x 178.9 x 9.0mm
  • 262 x 180 x 8.9mm
  • 241.2 x 185.7 x 9.4mm
Weight
  • 680g
  • 525g
  • 585g
  • 595g
  • 600g
  • 652g
Battery Capacity
  • 4257mAh
  •  6760mAh
  • 6000mAh
  • 6600mAh
  • 7000mAh
  • 11560mAh

 

Even though the Surface has the biggest display and the smallest battery capacity among the tablets compared, it managed to outlast the competition with an uptime of 7 hours and 31 minutes. The ASUS VivoTab RT is trailing behind by a slight margin of 15 minutes.

While most Android vendors are still struggling to strike the fine balance of performance and power management, Microsoft got it right the first time with the Surface. In the Portability Index where each device is assessed on its ability to balance battery mileage. with its size and portability, the Surface ranked third behind the ASUS VivoTab RT and Sony Xperia Tablet S as the Microsoft slate is the heaviest among the tablets. Its heft was of course touched upon earlier, attributing to its Gorilla Glass 2 display and a sturdy overall build.

Outside of our battery test, we were able to put the Surface through more than a day of moderate usage which includes occasional internet usage, checking emails, playing games and downloading of apps. 

 

Conclusion

Available now in the U.S., Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany and the U.K from 26 October 2012, and Europe (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland) from 14 February 2013, the Microsoft Surface with Windows RT is retailing at a recommended price of US$499 for the 32GB model and US$599 for the 64GB model. There is also a package deal where you can get the Surface with the black Touch Cover at US$599 (32GB) and US$699 (64GB) respectively. (Editor's note: See bottom of page for updates on Surface RT's Singapore pricing.)

Compared to the competing tablets, Microsoft's offering appears to be quite enticing. For example, the 32GB fourth-generation Apple iPad (Wi-Fi) is priced at US$599. For the same price, you can get the Surface with Windows RT and a Type Cover, which is one of the best portable keyboards to-date. However, the Apple iPad bests the Surface when it comes to display resolution, choice of apps and a more user friendly interface. You also lose out in terms of free storage space to store your files on the Surface.

The Surface has other unique qualities of its own with a larger screen, expandable memory, excellent keyboard add-on and the fact that you've Office 2013 RT to get basic productivity and content creation tasks done without relying on third-party software that may ruin your formatting or other such compatibility concerns. If you intend to use the latest Windows 8 OS in your home systems, then having a Windows RT based device helps keep overall usability and familiarity across your devices (though the downside of Win RT is its inability to execute any legacy applications or content downloaded form the internet unless obtained from the Windows Store).

On the Android camp, the 32GB Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (Wi-Fi) and 32GB Sony Xperia Tablet S (Wi-Fi) cost US$549.99 and US$499.99 respectively. The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 may provide a certain degree of functionality with its integrated S Pen for note taking, scribbling, creative pursuits and other niche usage needs. It is however no match for the more comfortable and natural experience of typing on a keyboard if you intend to take down a lot of notes.

Sony has an optional tablet cover with keyboard for the Xperia Tablet S, but it comes with a price tag of US$99.99. With a combined price of US$599.98, the Sony Xperia Tablet S is priced evenly with the Surface. The Sony slate comes with a smaller display at 9.4 inches across, but makes up for it with its splash-proof and unique handling design. The Surface, on the other hand, has a bigger display and will appeal to you if you are like the new Windows interface.

Within its camp, the Surface faces fierce competition from the likes of ASUS VivoTab RT, which is retailing for US$599 as a bundle (32GB tablet and keyboard dock). The VivoTab RT comes in a lighter and sleeker package, and boasts a longer battery life thanks to the keyboard dock which doubles as a secondary battery pack. However the tablet's build is mostly plastic and it doesn't feel as solid as the Microsoft Surface.

Elsewhere, the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11 comes in a notebook form factor but uses Windows RT and a more expensive price tag of US$849. It's equipped with a bigger 11.6-inch display, a full sized keyboard, two full-sized USB 2.0 ports and a SD card slot. The IdeaPad Yoga 11 inherits the innovative 360-degree flip design as its larger sibling, the IdeaPad Yoga 13 which is one of the most impressive Windows 8 convertible notebooks we've seen so far. Its major drawbacks are its hefty weight of 1.2kg and a high price that competes with plenty of other notebooks with a full fledged OS. Comparatively, the Surface with the add-on keyboard could be a much better option.

As a product, the Surface with Windows RT scores very well. But once you start considering the relatively young app ecosystem, its features rating takes a hit. Furthermore, the limited free internal storage is another sore point for some. For now, Microsoft has a window of opportunity to prove that it has what it takes to make a solid tablet offering of its own. Given more time to grow its app ecosystem and exposure to the mainstream consumers, the Surface with Windows RT marks a good start for Microsoft in the growing tablet space that's bridging the needs of work and play.

Update (April 9, 2013): Microsoft has officially launched the Surface RT in Singapore on April 5. The 32GB base model goes for S$668 (inclusive of tax); in our opinion, that's a reasonable markup compared to its US$499 price tag in the U.S. With the Touch Cover (which is available only in black, white, or cyan at the moment), the cost goes up to S$798, which is the same price as a standalone 64GB edition. If you need the Touch Cover, our recommendation is to buy it with the Surface RT to enjoy a bit of savings, because it costs S$168 as a standalone purchase. Like the U.S., there's no Surface RT + Type Cover bundle here. The Type Cover has to be purchased separately at S$183.

Another piece of good news is that the Surface RT comes with 1-year limited international hardware warranty, which means those who bought the tablet in the U.S. now has an official place to turn to for their Surface RT's hardware problems. More details regarding service and warranty can be found in the article linked to above.

Update (July 15, 2013): Microsoft has revised its Surface RT tablet pricing ,bringing it down to just S$488 for the 32GB edition and S$618 for the 64GB edition.