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Surface RT: Freedom luvin' app-huggers beware

A hybrid with potential for productivity types

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That said, there is a lot that you can do immediately with Windows RT. Microsoft’s mail and calendar apps are not wonderful, but do the job. You have maps, you have a web browser, you have a PDF reader, you have music and video. I was able to write this review in Word, take screenshots and crop photos in Paint. I was also able to VPN and remote desktop from a hotel room to my office network. In this context, PowerShell could be particularly useful for remote administration - though if your particular VPN is not supported, it will be a difficult problem to fix.

Surface RT has security advantages. The inability to install desktop apps will protect users from many threats, and Windows Store apps are sandboxed from each other and from the operating system.

On the hardware side, Surface is impressive. There are two optional clip-on keyboard covers, one called the Touch keyboard which is thin and almost flat, but responsive for typing, and one called the Type keyboard which is a little thicker and has keys which actually depress, for more comfortable typing.

The elegance of these keyboards is that they give Surface the flexibility of a hybrid with touch or keyboard/trackpad input, but without the bulk and fiddly complexity that often goes with it. The touch keyboard is particularly impressive, taking hardly any space but allowing typing almost as rapid as what you can achieve with the Type version. When out of use, you fold the keyboard over the screen. You can also fold the keyboard back when using the Surface as a tablet. It detects that it is folded back and stops responding to touch.

The Surface kickstand is well-made and clicks easily in and out. The front camera is designed to view straight ahead even when the screen is angled back by the kickstand.

Surface camera on kickstand

Drop it, prop it, view it: The unbreakable Surface with kickstand deployed and camera angled to look ahead

The case is made from VaporMg, moulded magnesium made by a process developed by Microsoft for strength and lightness. According to Microsoft, Surface is laden with custom components, in order to achieve a refined and compact design that would not otherwise be possible. Microsoft claims it is also a robust design, following multiple drop tests; Sinofksy has even attached wheels and used Surface as a skateboard.

Whether Surface is really more robust than competing tablets is not yet possible to say, though it is plausible. It also seems that the devices will be hard to repair, and that the battery is non-replaceable though it is supposed to last five years, following which you are meant to buy a new Surface.

Surface RT is not for everyone. Users who want the freedom and massive app availability of desktop Windows should not consider it. There is another category of users who might like to use Surface, but the lack of some essential Windows desktop apps will make it impossible. If your requirements fit with what Surface offers though, it is a device that is a pleasure to use. Apple’s Cook is correct, Surface is something of a hybrid, but makes that into a positive quality through careful design. ®

Bootnote

Have you had a fondle and a poke, or are you a bit of a Tim Cook? Got an opinion regardless? Wade in with fellow Reg readers in our Windows 8 Forum here.

Is Surface compromised and confused as Apple’s chief exec says, or "the best tablet and the best laptop" as is the opinion of the exec who built it?

Find out how real-world users fared in The Reg’s lab test of Windows 8 on different age groups and computer users. Do Windows 8 keyboards avoid the fiasco of Microsoft’s early 2000s tablet foray or do they need Windows 8 survival guide?

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