If you're a productivity powerhouse who loves Microsoft Office, can afford to spring for a Touch or Type Cover and can get by on the default Windows RT apps, the Microsoft Surface RT (Est. $350 and up) and its solid design could be an enticing and worthwhile purchase. However, reviewers say most people would be better off passing on the Surface until the app ecosystem matures.
Some good, some not so good. The Microsoft Surface RT performs well most of the time, but the tablet occasionally becomes sluggish and unresponsive, reviewers report. The 10.6-inch, 1366-by-768-pixel display isn't nearly as high-resolution as those on the fourth-generation iPad with Retina Display and the Google Nexus 10 (Est. $350 and up) , but experts say 720p movies look good enough on it, although the soft speakers somewhat temper their enthusiasm for watching media. While battery life is decently long, the Surface's dual cameras are of relatively low quality.
All about the keyboard. Microsoft offers the Surface RT with a thin Touch Cover (Est. $450 for the bundle), as well as a Type Cover accessory (Est. $130) that includes a sturdier mechanical keyboard. Reviewers heartily recommend at least springing for the responsive Touch Cover to take full advantage of the Surface's abilities, although its thinness leads the same critics to suggest moving up to the Type Cover if you're a heavy typist. A sturdy kickstand props up the tablet during bouts of productivity. With the Type Cover, experts say the Surface tablet might replace your laptop completely, especially since the slate ships with the full version of Microsoft's Office 2013 RT installed.
a big "might," however, at least for now. Windows RT tablets like the
Microsoft Surface don't run full-fledged versions of Windows; instead, they're
limited to the apps available in the Windows Store. At this early stage in the
Windows 8/RT life cycle, very few Windows apps are available, and there are
gaping holes in the selection. Critics call it the single glaring weakness of
Windows RT tablets, including the Surface. Convertible laptop/tablet hybrids
running the full-fledged Windows 8, like the Dell XPS 12 (*Est. $1,200 and up)
can also run classic Windows programs in Desktop mode but are much more
expensive than Windows RT tablets. See our report on
A steep learning curve. Experts say the lightweight Microsoft Surface tablet is a cinch to lug around, but usability is another matter. Although the new touch-friendly Windows interface makes a bit more sense once you're used to it, the drastically overhauled look and command scheme carry a steep learning curve, especially for longtime Windows users. Experts say it isn't completely intuitive even after you get your bearings.
The Microsoft Surface tablet's strong industrial design, productivity chops and excellent baked-in content sources appeal to CNET's Eric Franklin, but he also finds a lot to nitpick about. The Surface feels sluggish in general, he says, but more troubling is Windows RT's steep learning curve and dearth of available apps.
Review: Microsoft Surface Review: Innovative Tablet Stranded in an App Desert, Eric Franklin, Updated July 31, 2013
Santo Domingo says the Surface "bridges the distance between tablet and laptop for many users" and gives it a rating of Excellent. He finds the lack of available apps troubling, but calls Office a "killer app," and says the tablet is a great option for Netizens and productivity mavens.
Review: Microsoft Surface with Windows RT, Joel Santo Domingo, Oct. 23, 2012
3. Laptop Magazine
Avram Piltch's review mirrors ArsTechnica.com's. "The Surface and its innovative Touch Cover prove that Microsoft can make hardware to rival the iPad, but the app ecosystem needs to catch up." He also runs into occasional performance problems, especially when opening apps and swiping in charms.
Review: Microsoft Surface with Windows RT Review, Avram Piltch, Oct. 23, 2012
4. PC World
The Surface tablet shines in productivity situations and stands apart in a crowded tablet market, Phillips says. However, he argues that most people who truly need portable productivity would be better off waiting for the Microsoft Surface Pro's release in early 2013; it'll run on the full-fledged version of Windows 8, which includes support for classic Windows apps. He cites the Surface RT's reliance on the lackluster Windows app ecosystem as a major weak point.
Review: Review: Surface RT, Microsoft's Bid for a 'Thing' of its Own, Jon Phillips, Oct. 23, 2012
Mathew Honan finds some issues to "kvetch" about, but says the Microsoft Surface is already superior to high-end Android tablets and will pose a threat to the iPad once developers start to fill in the content blanks rampant in the ecosystem. However, the Surface's unique position poses problems. "This is a great device. It is a new thing, in a new space, and likely to confuse many of Microsoft's longtime customers," he says.
Review: Microsoft Surface RT: Microsoft Dives Deep to Surface a Hit, Mathew Honan, Oct. 23, 2012
6. The Verge
Like other reviewers, Topolsky finds little to complain about in the Microsoft Surface's actual design, but he does find performance poky at times. He says the hybrid design fails to perform as well as a full-fledged tablet or laptop, a problem exacerbated by the confusing interface and lack of apps. "Instead of being a no-compromise device, it often feels like a more-compromise one," he writes.
Review: Microsoft Surface Review, Joshua Topolsky, Oct. 23, 2012
In this lengthy and detailed review, AnandTech.com's reviewer finds Microsoft's first foray into tablet making to be a remarkably well-designed affair. However, he says the $600 (with Touch Cover) price tag and lack of apps may put off people who aren't in love with the slate's multitasking chops and Office 2013 RT inclusion. "If you've wanted a tablet that could begin to bridge the content consumption and productivity divide, Surface is it," he writes.
Review: Microsoft Surface Review, Anand Lal Shimpi, Oct. 23, 2012
The Surface is a wonderful piece of hardware, Bright says. Unfortunately, the skimpy software support and general lack of apps strangles its early potential. "The big problem Microsoft has is that right now it doesn't matter how good Surface is," he says. "The decision of whether or not to buy depends not on Surface itself, but on Windows RT."
Review: Microsoft's First Stab at a Tablet: Surface Reviewed, Peter Bright, Oct. 23, 2012
If you use your tablet for play and content consumption, Android and Apple alternatives are much better options at the moment, Stevens says. "If, however, you're looking for an impeccably engineered tablet upon which you can do some serious work, a device that doesn't look, feel or act like a toy, then you should get yourself a Surface with Windows RT."
Review: Microsoft Surface with Windows RT Review, Tim Stevens, Oct. 23, 2012
Calling the Microsoft Surface RT a "strong entrance to the world of PC hardware for Microsoft," Stables mainly praises its look and feel. He says that the Windows Store needs "a lot of work, fast" and that performance is a real issue.
Review: Microsoft Surface RT Review, James Stables, March 25, 2013