Review: Microsoft Surface RT
October 26, 2012
On June 17 , 2012, Microsoft announced their Surface tablet design. Two types will be sold: an ARM-based version (Surface RT) that was released today, and an Intel-based version (Surface Pro) that is expected in early 2013. These products are the first Windows-based computers ever sold by Microsoft.
Microsoft's basic design for Surface RT follows that of many other tablets in the 10-inch range, but there are some interesting features. The case is magnesium and feature an integrated kickstand along with 2x2 MIMO antenna that should allow superior WiFi reception and speed. There are front and rear facing cameras, a 10.6-inch widescreen display covered with Corning's thinner and lighter Gorilla Glass 2, and a 5 pin magnetic charging connector.
The Surface RT version weighs about 1.5 pounds, is about 0.37 inches thick, and comes in 32 GB and 64 GB versions. It comes with an HD (1366 x 768) display which renders at 148 pixels per inch (ppi). Connectivity includes microSD, USB 2.0, and Micro HDMI video. Like all ARM-based Windows 8 devices, it comes with Windows RT, a version of Windows 8 that only runs the new touch-centric Metro applications (not traditional Windows applications) and has limited manageability.
The Surface is available with two separate physical keyboard options, both cleverly built into screen covers. One (Touch Cover) is a virtual keyboard and trackpad with accelerometers for detecting finger force, while the other (Type Cover) is a thicker keyboard and trackpad for at least somewhat of a more "normal" tactile typing experience.
AirPennNet works as expected. To connect, join the AirPennNet network and enter the user's PennKey and PennKey password. Because Windows RT has built-in support for EAP-TTLS, SecureW2 and XpressConnect are not required to connect to AirPennNet.
ISC Exchange and Zimbra services both connect easily using standard settings and appear to have full functionality.
There is currently no way to natively connect the Penn Online Directory (as one would in Outlook) to the Surface or other Windows RT devices. The Directory web application functions as expected, however.
Microsoft evidently has decided that the Windows 8 touch experience is too important to be left to its OEMs: nothing else could generate this momentous a change in basic business philosophy.
Moving to the hardware itself, there is much clever design. The physical keyboards built into the screen cover are a classic "why didn't I think of that" feature: easy to comprehend and certain to be copied. There are also high-quality components: the magnesium case, the Gorilla Glass 2 display protection, and the Full HD display on the Intel-based product.
Unlike the portrait/vertical screen orientation that is the iPad's default experience, the Surface has a strong default toward the landscape/horizontal, reflecting both the Ultrabook competition and the orientation of the Windows 8 Start screen. This allows for a nice keyboard width match but is less appropriate for ebooks. Of course, the display functions in either landscape or portrait mode - this is just a different optimization choice.
Microsoft Surface graphic courtesy of Microsoft
--John Mulhern III, Michael McLaughlin, and Vern Yoneyama, ISC Technology Support Services (October 26, 2012)
Information Systems and Computing
University of Pennsylvania
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