Don’t Buy The Surface RT tablet

Another installment of Don’t Buy This, where I highlight a product whose purchase would be akin to lighting a pile of money on fire.

Last week, I advised not to buy the Surface Pro Tablet. This week, the product not to buy is the Surface RT Tablet. So they’re not the same product? No. No they aren’t. In short, Surface Pro is an awkward Windows 8 laptop that you can’t use on your lap that converts into an awkward and terrible tablet, while the latter is simply an awkward and terrible tablet that runs on the Windows 8 tablet operating system called Windows 8 RT. Is this confusing? Yes. Yes it is. It’s been on sale since it was released in October to middling reviews. In order to placate the other Windows equipment manufacturers (who were crying competitive foul), Microsoft released it in hard to find Microsoft Stores and the online Microsoft store. Since no one else bothered to make Windows RT tablets after all (because they’re not stupid), Microsoft is now putting them in retail stores. That is the reason why I am warning you not to buy it. In many ways, Surface RT is actually a worse purchase than the Surface Pro.

1) There are no apps. Do I mean that there are actually no apps in the Windows RT app store? No, there are apps, technically speaking. Microsoft likes to throw out the figure “20,000 apps” in the Surface RT app store. The problem isn’t the sheer number of apps, it’s the actual breadth and depth of the app selection and the functionality of said apps. Even more so than the Windows Phone, the Surface RT market has huge holes in its app catalog and many function poorly. And to compare, the iPad store has 250,000 tablet apps while the Google Play Store has 700,000 (Android doesn’t make the kind of distinction between phone and tablet apps like Apple does). It gets worse — at least Surface Pro allows you to run the same apps you installed on your Windows 7 desktop. Not so with Surface RT. The only apps you can install are the ones in the app store (which, as I explained, is a threadbare selection).

2) It’s awkward to hold. Here’s the thing — on a gram by gram basis, the Surface RT is only 18 grams heavier than the new iPad. And really, 18 grams in and of itself is totally something to sneeze at. However, the Surface RT runs a 16:9 aspect, which means that when you hold it in landscape mode, it feels heavier. Although apologists bring up the marginal weight difference and write it off as nothing, it’s the distribution of that weight that makes the iPad feel lighter than Surface RT. The extra 1.3″ width in landscape mode puts the center of gravity further away from your hand and makes it feel like a load. Well, okay then, there’s a kickstand. But if you need to use the kickstand, it has already failed as a tablet. And what about Android? The Nexus 10 is .42″ narrower than Surface RT in landscape mode, but here’s the thing — it’s a full 77 grams lighter as well. Plus, the squared off edges make the Surface RT feel thicker too. It’s simply a terribly designed tablet, and they were so gung ho on running side by side apps (which required a wide screen) that they threw all ergonomics out the window.

3) It’s using yesterday’s screen resolution. The iPad 4 screen runs at 2048 X 1536 with 264 pixels per square inch. The Nexus 10 ups the ante and runs 2560 X 1600, for an iPhone-like 300ppi. Meanwhile, the Surface lags behind at 1366 X 768 for a paltry 142ppi, barely outdoing the first iPad’s 132ppi. Does this make a difference? Absolutely. My Transformer Prime has 149ppi, and I can totally see the pixels. It’s not a terrible screen in and of itself, but when you compare it to the iPad 4 and Nexus 10, yes — it is a terrible screen.

4) The value isn’t there. The Surface RT tablet is priced at $499 for 32GB onboard while the entry level iPad 4 is $499 for 16GB. The Nexus 10 is $499 for 32GB and $399 for 16GB. So it looks like the Surface RT is undercutting the iPad4 considering the 32GB iPad 4 is $599. Look at it — it’s $100 cheaper! Except it’s not. The reason has to do with the fact that onboard storage is not the same as usable storage. For instance, about 2GB of the 16GB in the iPad 4 s used for the operating system. The actual usable storage is  around 14 GB. Meanwhile, Surface RT reserves a whopping 16GB for the operating system. So Surface RT doesn’t really have “double” the storage of the iPad — in fact, for the extra $100, you aren’t getting storage parity like Microsoft leads you to believe — the $599 32GB iPad 4 has almost twice the usable storage of the Surface RT. Now, the Surface RT does take microSD cards, so you can make up some of the storage difference for much less than $100. But that won’t help when you’ve installed 16GB of apps since those won’t transfer to the microSD. Well, at least you get a detachable keyboard thrown in, right? Wrong! That costs you another $119-$129 depending on the style of the keyboard. Now, it is true that keyboards are extra purchases for all tablet brands. However, Microsoft is using the type covers as a selling point. In fact, the whole commercial campaign revolves around the “click” sound it makes when the keyboard magnetically attaches to the tablet. That would be like Samsung advertising the stylus capabilities of it’s Note 10.1 tablet and then charging you extra for the pen (it is, in fact, included). Essentially, Microsoft is pitching the keyboard as integral to the experience yet making is a optional purchase. Does that make any sense? Oh, and if you’ve ever seen these things, it’s simply not possible they cost anywhere near $100 to make. It looks like a vastly overpriced accessory. iPad keyboards, in contrast, cost $40-$100. I can’t understand why Microsoft is trying to gouge their customers with the keyboards. Especially $119 for a membrane keyboard that is literally falling apart at the seams.

By the way, if you are still really keen on purchasing this product anyway, I suggest you wait until next year. I assure you, there will be price cuts and or bundles in 2013. That’s the surefire way to clear out excess inventory.

5) It’s slow and laggy. There’s really not much more to say about this. The experience is on par with an Android tablet from 2010.

6) It has nothing to offer that isn’t better on Android or iPad. This is when the cries of, “OFFICE!” howl up from the Microsoft Fanboys (yes, they do exist, but many are MS employees pretending to be regular folks from multiple user accounts). The truth is, the RT version of Office is not the same as the full fledged version and lacks tons of features. In the meantime, both iPad and Android have at least a half dozen apps that can read, edit, and create Word and Excel documents. If you get a Surface RT tablet simply to run Office, you’re not spending your money wisely. Oh, and by the way, Microsoft Office for Android is coming next year. The iPad vesion is up in the air because Apple is enforcing their 30% cut rule for the app store, but it’s very likely that Office will be available on both platforms outside of Surface RT very soon. So there is literally no reason to buy the Surface RT over the iPad or Nexus 10.

The bottom line: Get an iPad or Nexus 10. The Transformer Infinity is nice as well, and that has a keyboard dock that adds 6 hours of battery life. Buy the Surface RT package now for $528 and you’ll cry when it’s bundled for $499 or even $399 in a month or two. You’ll cry even more when you realize no one will ever develop apps for this dead in the water ecosystem ever again. In six months time, Surface RT will join the Blackberry Playbook and HP TouchPad in the dead tablet bargain bin.



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