One of the biggest draws of Surface – and indeed every other Windows RT tablet – is that Microsoft’s OS for ARM comes with what is essentially the full version of Office 2013 Home & Student (it’s the ‘Preview’ software for early adopters but will be updated when the full software is released). The only component that’s missing is Outlook, and arguably Microsoft’s new web-based version is an adequate replacement.
Every other favourite is there: Word, Excell, PowerPoint and OneNote are all present and accounted for, in just the ways you know and love them – that’s why RT automatically switches to the Desktop mode when you launch any of these.
For those few who don’t know what Microsoft Office is, it’s the best productivity suite on the planet bar none, and the fact that you can now have it on your tablet undiluted is, frankly, tremendously exciting. As on Windows 8, Office syncs with Microsoft’s SkyDrive flawlessly to give it much the same potential as Google Drive, and it will keep everything in sync with your other Windows devices too, including your desktop/laptop and Windows Phone 8 mobile.
32GB = £399 (compared to £479 for the same capacity iPad)
32GB with Touch Keyboard Cover = £479
64GB with Touch Keyboard Cover = £559
The basic Microsoft Surface model with 32GB of storage will set you back £399 - the same price as a 16GB new iPad. To be honest we’re thinking Microsoft could easily have priced its tablet a little lower, but it still presents pretty good value.
However, to really explore this tablet’s potential we think it’s essential to get one of the keyboard covers, so we would definitely go for the £479 32GB or £559 64GB bundles. To put these prices into perspective, a 32GB iPad costs £479 on its own, so when comparing like for like you’re essentially getting the Surface with Touch Cover for the same price as an iPad 4.
Though it’s a gross oversimplification, you could summarise the difference between these two tablets as such: if you want mobile gaming and the biggest selection of quirky apps, go with Apple’s tablet. If you want to use your tablet for watching movies, for productivity, often type long emails, want to hook up peripherals, and/or have a main Windows 8 machine, Microsoft’s Surface makes more sense.
Comparisons with Android tablets are a little more difficult, since there are so many of them. Convertible Android 4.1 Jelly Bean tablets like the Asus Transformer Pad TF300T with its 14hr battery life and keyboard dock offer many of the same advantages as the Surface and 32GB models can be found for under £380. If you want the tablet experience with a little casual productivity this beats both the iPad and Surface by a significant margin thanks to its super-affordable price.
However, the biggest threat to Surface comes from other Windows RT convertible tablets like the and - and, more surprisingly, Windows 8 convertibles. Models like the Acer Iconia W510 can be found for under £480. For the same price as a Surface plus keyboard cover, you’re getting a smaller convertible tablet that offers the same features but with longer battery life, extras like NFC, and a proper ‘laptop’ feel – and crucially, its Atom processor gives you the full-fat version of Windows 8 which can run all your old apps (those the CPU/GPU can handle, that is). Admittedly you don’t get the same superb build quality or Microsoft’s Office included, but that’s hardly enough to give Surface a clear win.
Microsoft is making a very strong entry to the tablet market with the Microsoft Surface running Windows RT. It offers a unique design combined with build quality and attention to detail that few others can match. It sounds superb, has a great (if slightly low-res) screen, and offers excellent battery life. And if the tablet itself is good, its optional keyboard covers are simply great, combining with the full Microsoft Office suite that comes with Win RT to make the Surface a true productivity solution.
However, its app selection is quite limited for now. More importantly, the advantages Windows RT brings to the table aren’t exclusive to Microsoft’s Surface tablet, and with some ‘full-fat’ Windows 8 tablets offering a similar feature set at around the same price, we can’t say that Surface is blowing us away. Maybe the Microsoft Surface Pro will be the one to rule them all.