Microsoft Surface RT 32 GB Wi-Fi Tablet
Microsoft has a long history of making hardware, ranging from peripherals and accessories to video game consoles and portable music players (remember the Zune?). Though late to the game, the "Windows" company has entered the tablet market with a fresh take on the idea. The Surface may seem like yet another average tablet, but there are several aspects about Microsoft's product that make it clearly stand out from the crowd.
On the surface (no pun intended), the Microsoft tablet follows the same basic formula that all modern tablets adhere to. The rectangular shape is dominated by the 10.6-inch display, surrounded by a black bezel and subtly applied decorative trim. On the rear, a sturdy, built-in kickstand pops out to help keep the tablet propped up on a solid surface. The screen is slightly larger than competing tablets, but the Surface never seems oversized or cumbersome in any way.
One of the most unique aspects of the Surface is its "Touch Cover". While Microsoft charges an extra $120 for this accessory, it's essential to the functionality of this tablet. The Touch Cover clips very firmly onto the tablet, and acts as a screen cover and a touch-sensitive keyboard. Combined with the kickstand, the Surface can be set up to resemble a traditional laptop. When the keyboard is not needed, it can be folded over behind the tablet to remain out of the way. The keys on the Touch Cover won't replace a physical keyboard anytime soon, but this interface opens up more options that other tablets simply do not offer.
The Surface clearly places priority on function over form, with readily accessible connectors such as Micro-HDMI and a full-size USB port. While the end effect is nowhere near as minimalistic as the iPad, the usability of the Surface is much appreciated. This isn't to say that Microsoft didn't sweat the details, however. Little touches are everywhere, including a special hinge on the Touch Cover that provides a satisfying "click" when shut. The entire tablet feels extremely sturdy in a way that most don't, which may be the biggest surprise of all.
Microsoft has promoted Windows 8 heavily, touting it as the solution that bridges mobile and desktop operating systems. While the Surface may appear to come with Windows 8, the "RT" version installed on this tablet is nothing like it. Productivity-enhancing features such as split-screen operation and multitasking have made the cut, but there are several issues that spoil the experience. Application support is limited to RT-specific versions, unlike Windows 8 (which offers support for legacy software as well).
Although the slowdowns and hang-ups are irritating, the biggest issue is the lack of selection in the Windows RT app store. Products such as the Surface are largely driven by app availability, so it's odd to see that Microsoft has not developed this more fully. This situation is something that can be easily remedied on Microsoft's end; however, at the time of writing, the Windows RT app store simply cannot hold a candle to Apple's App Store or Google Play.
Otherwise, the Surface boasts advantages that outweigh the drawbacks. This is a fresh take on the tablet, with the nifty Touch Cover providing extra flexibility in usage. The tablet itself is constructed solidly, and offers plenty of connectivity without requiring adapters. You'll definitely want to spend the extra $100 for the Touch Cover, as the Surface seems built around it. If you're an early adopter and don't mind the limitations surrounding Windows RT and the app store, this is definitely one of the most compelling tablet options around.