Let’s not mince words: though Windows RT’s simplistic camera interface is nice, the HD cameras on the Surface are rubbish. This is the only aspect of Microsoft’s tablet that left us genuinely disappointed. Both front and rear units support 720p video that’s fine for video-chatting, but you really don’t want to take any important snaps using Surface.
Compared to the fast glass, high fps shooting, quick AF, 1080p video and LED flash support on some rival tablets, the cameras here are pitiful. Even relatively well-lit stills lack detail, decent contrast, good focus and all the other essentials for a nice pic. Arguably this is not a big deal as there’s always your phone or dedicated camera, but it’s far from ideal to be so far behind the competition on what is, after all, Microsoft’s only tablet for now.
Windows RT is virtually indistinguishable from regular Windows 8, and that’s a good thing. All the advantages over ‘vanilla’ Android and iOS operating systems are present: proper multi-tasking, universal split-screen, a ‘desktop’ Windows interface familiar to those used to Windows 7, and more.
Read the full Windows 8 review here
For example, you know Adobe’s Flash? The iPad has never been able run it, and since Android version 4.1 AKA Jelly Bean, Google’s OS no longer plays nice with it either. But Windows RT still supports it – albeit with some caveats. Microsoft keeps a ‘white list’, to which websites need to apply before they will work on RT. Mind you, this is not totally a bad thing, as it means that all Flash content that’ll work on the Surface won’t crash your tablet.
Then there’s how everything just works. Not just popular Flash websites but pictures and documents in all kinds of formats will happily be read by Windows RT - and if the OS can’t read it, it will present you with apps that can.
On multi-tasking, in the tile interface formerly known as Metro you can view two apps simultaneously with a 1/3 – 2/3 split. It’s not always ideal and obviously it doesn’t work that well for all the Windows Store apps, especially given the Surface’s 1,366 x 768 resolution. However, it’s great for keeping an eye on things like IM, news feeds, twitter, notifications and the like. And if you fancy traditional split-screen multi-tasking, just pop into the Desktop interface.
In the desktop mode you can also tinker with Windows’ innards like no other mobile OS, calling up a command prompt and even going so far as to mess around with the registry (simply type ‘regedit’ into Run). This allows you to mess with the guts of the OS, and there are apps that will let you make significant changes too. As mobile operating systems go, Windows RT is a geek’s wet dream.
Perhaps best of all is that you can plug in so many of the same peripherals you’re used to using with your computer or laptop and they just work. No hacks, tweaks, apps, drivers, adapters or any hassle: simply plug in a mouse, keyboard, printer, webcam and the like and, chances are, it will work flawlessly within seconds. The same goes for game controllers.
You do need to keep in mind that Windows RT has been designed for ARM devices, and your legacy X86 software for Windows XP/Vista/7 etc won’t work on RT – nor will new apps for Windows 8 until they’re ported. There’s also a major lack of choice on the Windows app store, especially compared to Android and iOS. But with apps being easy to port from Win8 and lots of developer incentives to get behind the latest versions of the world’s biggest OS, we don’t think the app drought will last long.
Our only major complaint with Windows RT itself (and Windows 8 when used on a mobile device) is that there is no way to see remaining battery life in a percentage without going into the desktop, something Microsoft will hopefully fix soon with an update.