In recent weeks, we took a look at Apple's iPad, and how busy professionals who find themselves constantly on the go could use it as a replacement for a bulky laptop. But the reality is this: while the iPad can be repurposed to handle business duties in some regards, it was never built to be used specifically for that. Microsoft, on the other hand, has a storied history when it comes to productivity, and it's hard to visit any corporate environment without seeing Office icons on desktops and laptops everywhere.
A couple of weeks ago, the company launched its first tablet ever: Surface with Windows RT. It's a peculiar name for a tablet, and even the operating system itself takes some explaining. But in many ways, this is the first flagship tablet built primarily for productivity, and it's worth taking a look at the pros and cons surrounding it. For those hoping to put their Windows laptops aside while picking up something more portable (and longer lasting, in terms of battery life), this particular unit might just be the ticket.
- While this is Microsoft's first attempt at producing its own branded tablet, the hardware is extraordinary. The metal frame is rigid but light, and there's an unmistakable premium quality from edge to edge.
- Office 2013 is included out of the box at no extra charge. Word, Excel, PowerPoint – the whole gang is included, and it's optimized for use with both mouse and keyboard inputs, as well as touch.
- Avid Windows users will appreciate how well this syncs up with their existing accounts. In many respects, the same Windows you've grown used to on a laptop will be here, keeping the learning curve at a minimum.
- There's a built-in kickstand, which makes it perfect for setting up on a coffee table or an airline tray table and getting actual work done.
- If you're willing to fork out another $120, you can buy a Touch Cover or Type Cover that doubles as a touch-sensitive keyboard, making the act of inputting text easier than it is for any competing tablet.
- You'll easily get 9+ hours of battery life from this, making it possible to get work done on a Windows-based machine, in coach, on the entire flight from New York City to Dublin.
- There's a standard USB port here, so you can connect flash drives, hard drives, and all sorts of standard USB peripherals that you'd normally use with a Windows laptop.
- While this is Windows-based, it's not Windows 8. Windows RT will not run any applications built specifically for Windows 8. It's confusing, but you'll have to rely on the app market in Windows RT to get your programs. The good news here is that most of the mainstay applications should eventually make their way over to the Windows RT platform, but it's going to take some time.
- While the Surface looks great sitting horizontally, the odd aspect ratio makes it very awkward to hold and enjoy vertically.
- The app selection right now is extremely limited beyond Office 2013, particularly when it comes to productivity apps. But, this is par for the course with a brand new platform. (If you'll recall, the iPad's app selection was bare for many months after it initially launched.)
- Unfortunately, there is no wireless display technology built in here, so you can't beam a presentation from the Surface to a projector without wires. In contrast, Apple's iPad can do precisely that so long as an Apple TV is connected to your display.
- While perhaps strange to list as a con, this isn't the incoming Surface with Windows 8 Pro. That's a tablet that will ship in the coming months with the full, unadulterated version of Windows, but it'll easily cost two to three times more because of its ability to run all of your existing Windows programs.
All told, the new Surface RT is a fantastic workhorse at $499, but the real potential is still untapped. Once developers begin to port common productivity apps to the marketplace, it'll become even more useful. For those eager to get away from the laptop, however, it's probably capable of handling the bulk of your work duties right away, and it'll make traveling with a work machine much less of a burden.