Microsoft Surface is the best productivity tablet yet
Face it, true Microsoft believers: it's just not that easy to explain Microsoft's "sort-of" version of Windows 8 known as Windows RT.
We took a couple of healthy stabs at it in our Surface RT review and our Windows RT FAQ, and as an operating system it ships with some serious problems.
But fear not: Just because Redmond doesn't want you calling it Windows 8 Lite doesn't mean it doesn't have redeemable qualities. Windows RT and the devices that run it offer some excellent, interesting innovations. Here are our top six:
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Windows RT showcases the best of Windows 8: The Windows 8 operating system is innovative in a lot of a ways, and they're almost all tied to the don't-call-it-Metro interface. There's the ability to run two apps on screen, at once, with the Snap view. There's the live tiles, which can update information in real-time. There's the powerful Search feature, which allows you to type while on the Start screen and immediately begin searching your apps, settings, and files. And there's the Charms bar, which allows for instant, always-on access to Search, Share, and connected peripheral Devices.
Good riddance to malware: The lack of malware on Windows RT can't be understated, either. Malware that's been written for x86 and Intel-based Windows, which includes Windows 8 Basic and Pro, will not work on Windows RT because RT runs on ARM-based processors. The bad guys will almost certainly catch up to RT eventually, but there's no financial incentive for now. It's not an immediate concern for them. You still have to worry about social engineering tricks, of course, but malware like ransomware just doesn't exist for Windows RT.
Windows RT can feel a bit topsy-turvy at times, but it's got some excellent qualities, too.
The Surface RT design: Okay, wrap your head around the fact that Microsoft is in the hardware game now. Then consider that the Surface design is interesting and there's no way that it can be mistaken for a Samsung-style lawsuit waiting to happen, and you've got a unique piece of hardware that's guaranteed to garner attention. My colleague Eric Franklin wrote in CNET's official review that the Surface RT excels "thanks to its thoughtful design, sensible implementation of its keyboard accessory, and the innovations brought about by the interface formerly known as 'Metro'."
The Surface RT cost: No, it's not cheap, but $499 for the 32 GB version isn't an outrageous price, either. It's the lowest cost of entry to a Windows RT or full Windows 8
tablet around. Granted, that doesn't include either of the innovative keyboard covers, but it's hard to imagine Microsoft charging less for the full Windows 8 version of the Surface.
Windows RT ships with the new
Microsoft Office: Microsoft is hoping that people who like the idea of a tablet but want to easily flip between work and relaxation on it will find the new Microsoft Office for Windows 8 appealing. They're hoping that so much, they're not going to charge you for the privilege. Microsoft hasn't given away any component of Office for free since 1983, so the built-in
Office 2013 is a big incentive.
Microsoft is hoping that Windows RT and the Surface RT tablet will attract people who want a productivity-oriented tablet experience.
ARM'd with better battery life: At its core, Windows RT is designed for ARM processors, which means -- in general -- better battery life. These are the chips that power your smartphones, iPads, and Android tablets, and solid battery life is an essential component of making modern devices work.
Classic Windows haters might like Windows RT: If you hate older versions of Windows, Windows RT is a completely different experience. It doesn't have much use for Windows 8's legacy Desktop mode, which is restricted to first-party apps like Office and advanced settings. You will spend the vast majority of your time in Metro's tiled world, where app interfaces are as minimal as they come and content is the focus of everything you do. It's a new experience, to be sure, but it's not a bad one.
Full coverage: Windows 8/RT