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Why I chose Surface RT over Surface Pro

I take my Surface RT everywhere and I do mean everywhere.  Whether, it is lunch, the bar, the airplane, user group presentation, a client demo, if I am out and about, chances are I have my Surface RT with me.  In the past month or so (long before the Surface Pro) came out, I noticed this trend of people asking me if that was a Surface Pro.  After I sighed  I would reply “No, it’s not and nor do I want one.”  The technology just isn’t there yet for us to not have to make a trade-off right now.  Today’s post is to explain why I chose what I did. 

If you look at the Help Me Choose page, most of my reasons are clear.  Let’s break it down.

ARM Processors

While uneducated reviewers out there are complaining about the Surface RT running on an ARM processor, I am praising it.  When I first heard that Windows was going to support ARM, I knew the significance.  This is what gives you a tablet device with no fan speed or heat concerns.  It also gives you ridiculously long battery life and connected standby.  I’ve used a Samsung Series 7 slate and it was heavy and sometimes loud.  I saw the issue back then and I knew this was the answer. I’m a big fan of ARM.

Battery Life

Seriously, the battery life on Surface RT is amazing.  They quote 8 hours, but I have used it all day at client meetings exclusively and then used it a couple of hours later at the bar and still had 20% left.  I am seriously impressed.  The Surface Pro unfortunately has significantly less battery life with reports between 3.5 and 5 hours.  This may be fine if you plan on using it as a laptop and you’re keeping it plugged in but I like the fact that I never have to worry about power on my Surface RT.  I charge it every other day typically and that is fine.

Connected Standby

This is the feature that makes your Windows RT device notify you of mail and other notifications when the device is “sleeping”.  That means I hear every mail that comes in and I get that Skype call (usually) just like an iPad does.  Surface Pro cannot do this because it goes into a true sleep just like your laptop does.

Instant Resume

Who has three seconds to wait for their device to come on every time they hit the button on top of it?  You do, if you bought Surface Pro.  I can turn the screen of my Surface RT on and off rapidly.

Apps

I am amazed at how many reviewers, said “ZOMG, the Surface RT can’t run Photoshop!”.  Really?  You’re dismissing the device because of this?  How many times have you ran Photoshop on your iPad?  And why would you run that on a tablet anyways?  I get it.  The Windows Store is still growing, but you can rest assure it will catch up to Apple and it’s five thousand fart apps.  The install base of Windows PCs, Tablets, and other devices is just to huge to ignore. 

When I think of this, I refer back to my post, “There’s an app for that, but does there need to be?”  No, there is not a Facebook app for Windows 8, but do I need one?  The reason they created one for mobile devices originally was the because the browser sucked.  Well, I don’t need one because I have a fully functional web browser on the device (you can debate whether you like it or not :) ).  When you use your laptop, do you wish there was a Facebook app there?  No, of course not.

For you power users out there, you can actually run some of your favorite desktop apps over remote desktop. I don’t mean inside a full screen window session.  I mean with Remote Apps which puts applications running on a remote server running seamlessly on your desktop.  In fact, right now I am typing this entire post using Windows Live Writer running off of a Windows Azure VM on my Surface RT.  Take a look at the screenshot below and notice how there isn’t any visible RDP window or anything like that.

image

So yes, that’s Visual Studio and Windows Live Writer running on my Surface RT desktop over RDP.  Work quite well (assuming you have an Internet connection).  Special thanks to @chakkaradeep for pointing out the post on this. 

I even have a RemoteApp set up for Outlook.  Yes, I agree the included Mail app is a bit painful.  Really, my main complaint about it is that it’s slow and unresponsive.  I’m hoping that will get better in the future.  However, you have to understand why that app exists.  It all comes back to Connected Standby.  Outlook doesn’t support it, so they built this app that does.  Sure, it could support it one of these days I am guessing, but it’s all a matter of priorities.  Outlook definitely isn’t touch friendly.

Cost

The Surface RT is already a significant investment at it’s price point.  With better hardware comes more cost of course.  In reality, it’s not much more than any previous slate devices based on an i5 processor.  You just have to decide what’s in your price range.

What about Surface Pro’s better hardware?

Like anything there is a trade-off.  Yes, the higher resolution display and pen would be nice, but I could do without for now.  Admittedly, I haven’t seen that display in person yet.  I think the feature gap between the two devices will get closer as time goes on.

Can Surface RT replace your laptop?

Sometimes!  When I am traveling, it’s often all I bring with me.  If I have a SharePoint demo, I try to use SharePoint Online or I will remote into my laptop or another server so it gets the job done.  I don’t write a ton of code any more so it’s ok that I don’t have Visual Studio running locally.  With RemoteApps though, you can see that you can work around it.  Take a look at this photo that I took before traveling a few weeks ago.

WP_000453

There you will see my Surface RT connected to a glowing USB hub (SharePoint branded) with a keyboard, mouse, and headset.  It’s also attached to a second monitor driving it at full resolution as a second screen.  Here I have a remote desktop connected to my laptop.  I’m getting actual work done.  Let’s see your iPad do that.

Can Surface RT replace your iPad?

At the risk of enraging the wrath of Apple fanbois, I’ll give you my opinion.  If you want to get real work done, absolutely.  If you want it to control your Sonos system or Directv receiver, not likely.  For work though, there really is no comparison.  Think back in the past to meeting you have gone to right after someone you know first got their iPad.  They are over there diligently trying to use the iPad in some useful way at work.  Then you see that person a few weeks later at another meeting and one of two things has happened.  Either a) they didn’t bring the iPad or b) you peak on their screen and they are on Facebook or are playing Angry Birds.  iPads are pretty decent for consumer home use, but for most people they aren’t going to help you get your job done.

Let’s face it Apple hasn’t done much since Steve Jobs died.  I am hearing even the most die hard fans question their direction and capability to innovate.  Simply making things thinner and lighter isn’t good enough for people.  I think the Surface RT is superior to other devices in many ways.  Does it have it’s issues?  Sure, but this Microsoft’s market to capture.  Unfortunately, the marketing Microsoft is doing is just not effective so people just don’t know about what these devices do.  When the word gets out, maybe we’ll see something.

What do you all think?  Am I completely off base here?  Does the RT meet your needs?  Did you hold out for the Pro or did you go with something else?  Leave your feedback.

Maybe I should have been a gadget reviewer for a living.  If anyone wants to send me hardware for me to write my opinion about, I’ll take it. :)

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More Stories By Corey Roth

Corey Roth, a SharePoint Server MVP, is an independent consultant specializing in Cloud technologies such as Azure and Office 365. He also specializes in mobile development. Corey serves as the product manager for two cloud-first mobile app platforms: BrewZap and HappenZap.

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