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December 12
Why Surface RT CAN Be a Laptop Replacement

So, despite my misgivings about the pricing of the Surface RT (which I still stand behind by the way), I was one of the saps who preordered it because I had to have it day one. I’ve put off reviewing it though to avoid the initial noise of those who had to be first and I wanted to hear the positive/negative other people were saying so that I could address some of those as well.

All in all I’m extremely pleased with it. So much so, that I truly believe that for some people the Surface RT could be a laptop replacement. I expect there are some chortles and guffaws by that statement, especially by the Microsoft haters and the Apply Fan boys… but let me explain as I delve into the good and the bad of the Surface RT.

What is it?

So, unless you’ve been living with your head so far up Apple’s rear that you think that an iPad mini for $329 is the most awesome thing in the world, you probably already know what a Surface tablet is. Surface RT is Microsoft’s foray into the tablet world featuring their new Windows RT OS on a tablet that Microsoft designed and manufactures.

The specs for the base model are pretty impressive including a quad core processor, 2gb of RAM, 32GB storage, Bluetooth, wireless, micro SD slot, full size USB 2.0 port.. etc.. etc.. etc.. Yeah.. the hardware on this thing is really top shelf:

The base model starts out at $499 and you’ll want to add a touch or type cover to that for a little over $100 more.  I highly recommend the type cover by the way and I’ll explain more in detail later.

What’s bad?

Before I go into why I really like the Surface and why it can replace a laptop for some folks, let me go into what I do not like about it. I’ll also touch on what others have said they don’t like.

Lack of Apps

By far the biggest complaint I’ve heard about the Surface RT and Windows RT tablets in general is the lack of apps. Although it’s quite true that there aren’t a lot of apps (yet), I HAVE to ask the question. What app are you not getting that you feel you must have? I’m sorry, 90% of most apps on Apple and Android are total garbage and if the only reason you want to get a tablet is to play games then just be patient, they’ll port the latest version of Angry Bids Star Wars over soon.

I know that I was miffed that there wasn’t a Pandora app, but then I realized I have a real Internet Browser so I just went the and guess what? It worked flawlessly. Which made me realize that some of the need for apps on the other devices is because of their lackluster browsers.

Look, on Windows RT I have a decent mail app, REAL Office apps, Netflix, Kindle, Nook, and Internet Explorer is superior to the browsers on the iPad and Android tablets. That’s a good 90% of what I need for a tablet to be useful.

Regardless, the lack of apps is a temporary problem. More apps are being developed and depending on who you talk to there is supposedly an app coming to Windows RT that will run all of your Android apps.  If that happens, it’s REALLY a moo point. It’s like a cow’s opinion. It just doesn’t matter. It’s moo.

Lack of Outlook

The other major complaint I’ve heard is that many people HATE the mail client on Windows RT and desperately want Outlook. I personally have no issue with the installed mail client and really appreciated how easy it was to connect to all 6 of my mail hosts. I’ve heard they are coming with an Outlook MX for Windows RT, but have not been able to find a link to confirm it… So, it’s just gossip at this point. However, if no Outlook is a deal breaker for you then it’s something to be ware of.


Sorry, there’s no other way to say it. Skype in Windows RT is basically unusable.  By far the most disappointing app in my opinion.

Sluggish Performance

I’ve seen a few people complain about sluggish performance. I personally have NO idea what they are talking about. Apps are fast, browsing is pleasant, and I have had zero issues with performance. Maybe they just aren’t shutting down their tablets every now and then? Remember, this IS a Microsoft OS… when all else fails.. reboot…

Custom Power Adapter

My biggest pet peeve is hardware devices that have their own custom power adapter. At least give me a USB option so that I don’t have to buy extra custom power adapters! Shame on all you hardware vendors that do this. Microsoft is an offender here and an extra power adapter will set you back $39.99

What’s good?

The physical tablet

This is one nice looking tablet. From the cool kickstand, sleek look, brilliant screen, and general feel.  It looks and feels well made.

Plus you get a micro SD card slot for extra storage and a full sized USB port. I plugged in my wireless mouse and it just worked. I plugged in my USB drive and it just worked! I plugged in my PowerPoint slide clicker thingy and it just worked!

Type and Touch Covers

Both the type and touch covers are a very cool feature of the Surface. They connect magnetically and easily pop on and off as needed.

The touch cover comes in multiple colors and is thinner than the type cover. When I first got my Surface I had the touch cover and I found it really frustrating. You don’t get any sort of responsive feedback from the keys and it’s easy to accidentally start typing on the wrong keys. I found myself continually having to stop, look down at the keyboard and reposition my hands because they kept drifting onto other keys.

I upgraded to the type cover and couldn’t be more pleased. It only comes in one color, but you get real keys to press and it’s only slightly (2mm) thicker.  If you are going to be doing a lot of typing, then definitely get a type cover.

Oh, and did I mention that both the touch and type covers have a touchpad? Very cool when you’re in desktop mode to have that. 

Windows RT

So, I know a lot of people aren’t crazy about Windows 8 and the big reason is because it’s a change. It may not “make sense” at first because it’s not the same old Windows OS. That’s not necessarily a bad thing!! I for one love it. The side swiping to bring up different options is completely brilliant and I find myself trying to side swipe to bring up “Settings” on my Android phone and get frustrated because it doesn’t work.  If you start to get frustrated, just take a deep breath and press the Windows key.  Once you learn it, you will definitely appreciate it.  Great job Microsoft.

Battery Life

Battery life on the Surface RT is solid and I’ve never run completely out after hours of use. I’ve heard it will go 10 hours on a charge, and I believe it.


I could not be more happy that I finally have real office apps on a tablet. I no longer have to pull out my laptop on a plane and try to make it fit on those pathetic tray tables. With Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote at my finger tips I can actually get real work done when traveling instead of passing the time with some stupid game. Plus with USB drives and SkyDrive I’ve got plenty of extra portable data storage.

What’s this about replacing a laptop? Surely you are smoking some serious crack?

So yeah.. thanks to things like the type cover, touch pad, and full USB port I can do a lot of my job on my Surface RT. I found myself sitting on the plane heading to a conference a few weeks ago and I worked on a Word document for a customer, updated my slide deck in PowerPoint, and took notes about to-do items in OneNote (which synced to my SkyDrive OneNote folder) and I realized, throw in email and that’s a lot of what I do some days.

But, as a developer, I can’t really do my job on a Surface RT.  Or can I?

So, one of the cool apps you get with Windows RT is a remote desktop application. One night, just for the heck of it, I plugged up my wireless mouse to my Surface RT and opened up a remote desktop connection to my SharePoint development server, and guess what? It just worked! It worked flawlessly. I was able to do everything as if I were sitting at my server and I had zero performance issues. The communication was not sluggish, there was little or no lag with my  mouse movement and typing. I could absolutely do my job on my Surface. I have not had such a seamless experience with any other tablet (and I’ve owned several now). 

You can even buy a display adapter and connect your Surface to an external HD display in case you don’t want to work on that small screen while at your desk.

So, yeah, depending on what you need to do day-to-day, you could absolutely replace your laptop with a Surface RT, at least part of the time anyway.

Eh, I’ll just wait for the Surface Pro

So, I’ve heard several people say they will wait until the Surface Pro comes out next year. The Surface Pro boasts full blown Windows 8 so you can run all your Windows Applications, more speed, and more RAM.  But guess what? It also boasts of more weight and lower battery life, and since there is no way I can run my development environment on it, I’m not going to be upgrading to a Surface Pro. I, personally, will not get that much of a benefit out of it.

Before you make the decision to wait for the Surface Pro, or some other tablet, give some thought to what you will REALLY do with your tablet. You may find the RT will more than meet your needs.

Alright.. alright… sum it up already

Microsoft has really done a great job with the Surface RT. If you read some of the whiney negative reviews you can almost taste how upset some people are that Microsoft did such a great job. It’s weird how wrapped up some of us get in our technology, but hey, at least it keeps it interesting.

Do I still wish Microsoft had priced Surface RT lower?? Absolutely! The hardware costs for an 32GB RT is roughly $271 so, even giving it a bump for R&D and Marketing costs, they could have sold it $350 and made it THE must have tablet this Christmas. As it stands, it’s not priced at a tipping point for someone to choose it over a more established product like the iPad (no matter how much better it is). Time will tell if Surface will succeed, I just hope it doesn’t go the way of Zune…


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SharePoint Architect, Developer, Blogger, Speaker, Author, and general pain in the butt.
Thoughts, views, and opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own.
Remember, the Impossible just takes longer.

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