Microsoft’s Surface RT tablet has been in stores for a few days now - how does this new addition to the growing tablet market stack up to its competitors? Early reviews have been mixed – here are our thoughts and a web review roundup.

The 32GB model of the Surface RT is available for $499, but it’s another $100 for the obligatory touch keyboard case in various colors. The 64GB model costs $699 and includes the keyboard, unfortunately only in black. There is a more substantial cover with moving keys that sells for $129.99. It’s awkward that the keyboard brings the tablet over the competitive $500 price-range, as it is a major selling point and perhaps its most distinctive feature.

Microsoft Surface RT features

Hardware

Early reviews are confirming that the 10.6-inch, 1.5-lb Surface is indeed extremely sturdy.  Dana Wollman of Engadget notes, “the Surface really is as rigid and lightweight as Microsoft’s executive team promised it would be. The magnesium casing makes it wholly inflexible, and we mean that in the best possible way…there isn’t a hint of give in the whole chassis.” Further, the display is coated with Gorilla Glass 2, making this a rugged skateboard in a pinch.

One of the great features is the multitude of ports: a microSD slot, USB 2.0 port and HDMI output are all present.  Most reviewers agree that the battery life is solid – Steve Kovach of Business Insider lauds, “Battery life is on par with other top-tier tablets; I was able to squeeze around eight hours of power with a single charge.” The 1366x768 display is no “Retina” display, but still crisp and vivid with the help of ClearType technology.  Microsoft wasn’t bluffing: the screen is resistant to glare and reflection and has a great, wide viewing angle, perfect for watching a movie with a group.

Software

Surprisingly, most of the qualms are about the software, Microsoft’s Windows RT. Surface comes with preview 2013 versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, which are workable, but occasionally lag. The biggest problem is that RT can’t run traditional Windows programs or Android tablet apps. The new apps are exclusively available from the online Windows App Store – this means no Spotify, Angry Birds, Instagram or Facebook. That isn’t to say there are no applications available.  Netflix, Evernote and Skype are all available with stunning designs that complement Windows’ new look.

Avram Piltch of LaptopMag: “With its 1.3-GHz, quad-core Tegra 3 processor and 2GB of ram, the Surface with RT had enough power to take on all the tasks we threw at it, from viewing HD videos and using Microsoft Office to video chatting and playing demanding games like ‘Dredd vs Zombies.’” With the Surface hardware powerfully built for multitasking, the bottleneck only lies in the currently small Windows RT user base.

Wrap-Up

The tablet has mostly received positive reviews, but the device isn’t perfect. Mathew Honan of Wired: “Microsoft’s new tablet is an altogether curious device. It’s something completely new and different…a tablet of both compromises and confusion. It is a true hybrid – neither fully a desktop nor mobile device.”

For those willing to wait, Surface RT is only the first model in a series of Surface tablets; the Surface Pro, expected early next year, will have a 1920x1080 resolution, a USB 3.0 port and a full version of Windows 8, albeit at a higher price tag (~$1000). With other tantalizing Android devices on the horizon, it looks like consumers will reap the benefits in this fierce competition. What do you think about the Surface? Are you in the market for an Android tablet, and if so, which models are you considering?


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