Microsoft Surface RT Australian Hands-On: The Pristine Wilderness

Everyone who has gone hands-on with the Surface RT this week has said the same thing: they wanted to like it, but just couldn't get there when the rubber hit the road. One of the first Surface RT units landed in Australia this morning, and we got hands on with it. Is it really the misfire people are labelling it as? Not necessarily.

Microsoft's communication strategy for Windows 8 has been nothing short of genius. It keeps the tech-obsessed like you and I always wanting more. First a developer preview featuring a bold new look, then a refined consumer preview, then a steady stream of promotional videos before the first hands-on with the Surface RT.

We're still waiting on the Surface Pro, which Microsoft is holding over through to January, probably to compete with Consumer Electronics Show 2013 announcements. Stealing the show without really being there is a master stroke, and it's one Microsoft is playing for this time around.

While there are many devices now arriving in stores with Windows 8 pre-installed, the Surface just feels special. When you use those other devices, you just feel like its a tablet or an Ultrabook that someone has thrown a copy of Windows 8 at. There isn't the care and consideration in them that Surface has had. Microsoft set out five years ago to build a premium piece of hardware for the future. It started out as a cardboard prototype and today it's the carefully constructed, elegant piece of hardware I went hands-on with.

The care and consideration that Redmond has put into this device really shows. Months were spent researching how the vividly designed Touch Cover connected to the tablet itself. Microsoft wanted to perfect that cchhkk noise, for example. Not because they were faffing about and wanted customers to look cool, but because they wanted to make it feel like a premium automobile does when you close the door: sturdy, special and unique.

The top and bottom edges of the device have been carefully filed down to a point where they are both angled at 22-degrees. Why 22-degrees? Well, Microsoft engineers wanted you to feel like you were carrying a fine paper notebook or a premium, glossy magazine like Vogue when you took the device with you. That makes people feel special about their hardware.

The screen is a weird size, and it took Microsoft ages to settle on an actual dimension. It wound up with 10.6-inches. While that makes no logical sense on the (sorry) surface of it all, it's actually amazing when you want to snap apps into the sides of your (sorry again) windows. Both apps are given a fair share of the screen, rather than the two looking like they are trying to overpower each other.

The Touch Cover is both vibrant in colour and soft under the fingertips when it envelops the Surface, but when you flick up the solid VaporMG kickstand at the back of the device and lay the Touch Cover out in its full glory to start working, it feels functional and fantastic. Not getting a haptic response when you touch the keys is weird at first and some larger-handed folk may find fault in the lack of travel between keys, it's genuinely a joy to type on.

It's these little things that make Surface a bite-the-back-of-your-hand gorgeous device.

Moving beyond the hardware, the Surface RT sports a quad-core 1.3Ghz Tegra 3 brain from NVIDIA, 2GB worth of RAM and either 32GB or 64GB worth of storage, depending on what you're willing to spend. That means it's more than capable of handling the requirements of Windows RT, which is essentially a stripped down version of Windows 8 that is specifically designed for ARM-based tablets. One of the things you miss out on with RT is the full desktop experience. Not to say it's not there, it is, but you won't be able to access anything but the Office RT suite and the desktop version of Internet Explorer.

This is the RT's fatal flaw, and it's one we mentioned in our international review this week.

The RT -- being a completely new device -- doesn't have a huge amount of apps that you can go and install right now. They might be coming, but what Microsoft needs is an ecosystem that people can buy into the second they pull the device out of the box. A tablet like thi needs killer apps to survive, and right now, they aren't there. Sure, they might be coming, but until then, this is still a productivity and content consumption device, not something you can run your digital life from like you could an iPad or an Android tablet.

This is a problem that can be fixed, though, and it's likely to be fixed sooner rather than later because of the company that's backing the device: Microsoft.

Redmond is no stranger to throwing money at a problem. It threw money at Xbox 360 to make it the most popular gaming device for the home, and it's still losing money hand over fist with the Bing business to grab some of that sweet search engine market share. Surely if Microsoft intends to make more bespoke pieces of hardware -- which Steve Ballmer indicates that it will -- it can make the developer attraction package a little more compelling? That's the one thing Research In Motion is getting right at the moment: it understands it needs brass tacks to attract devs, otherwise nobody will be interested.

The Surface is a pristine wilderness then. It's unmatched in its beauty, unspoiled by the burden of the past but it will ultimately remain unseen by the general public unless Microsoft gets its app ecosystem straight. This is the new age of Microsoft, and without apps, it risks falling into irrelevance, and nobody wants that from something so beautiful.



    "A joy to type on"? Really? Every other reviewer has said something along the lines of "It doesn't suck and I could get used to it" but it's a joy for you? Also, what exactly does the 22 degree edge have to do with a magazine?

      That's the angle at which a typical magazine's edge tapers in.

        I'm looking at a stack of magazines right now, and there all pretty much 90 degrees

          Open a magazine, we'll wait.

    They have 2 months until Christmas. In those 2 months, they need to issue an update that fixes the sporadic lag some reviewers are seeing, they need to increase the general app count to something respectable (100k would be nice, but seems unreasonable), and they need apps which show off the unique benefits of the surface (e.g. how Hydro Thunder can use touch, mouse, keyboard and/or Xbox controllers).

    They also need to give people a reason to choose it over the Intel equivalent.

      It's not Microsofts job to build the apps. It's their job to encourage people over to their platform. Windows is a very easy OS to program on. There are far more windows developers then your 100K requirements, give it 6 months and it could very well breeze past those numbers. I'm one of the lucky people that seen the windows 8 marketplace with <15 apps, how many are there now?

        I should have worded that "They need the general app count to increase".
        And I agree, Windows has been the best environment to develop on for yonks. They should have no troubles reaching a massive app count eventually.
        However, Christmas is their big sales opportunity, so they need an influx of apps quickly, is the RT platform is to have any longevity/market penetration

      You want 100k apps before Christmas?

      Yeah not going to happen, unless you want an extra 50,000 fart apps along with 40,000 sound boards added...

      The question should not be "How many apps are there" the question you need to ask is "What apps do I need/want"

      App count is nothing if it dosnt have what you want

      Last edited 26/10/12 5:15 pm

        I completely agree with you. The total number of apps available is a pointless metric.
        I would rather have 100 really good, usable apps than 100k apps that are largely useless.
        A large percentage of the apps for iOS and Android are just garbage. They have become dumping grounds for coding exercises. "I want to learn how to do XYZ so I'll make an app for iOS"

          at the same time though, having gone from ios to android, i at times feel rather naked with the sheer lack of volume of apps coming through. sure, there's plenty of new stuff added to the play store on the reg, but the sheer quantity of stuff added to the app store also includes a far greater deal of quality as well.

    Thank you for the _fair_ review. For those who have pre-ordered a Surface RT has anyone (in Australia) had thier order ship yet?

      Don't expect any details till IMHO end of next week I think...

      Nothing here, PayPal says that my order was "canceled", I but Microsoft denied that anything was wrong. So no clue...

        mine says the exact same thing, I'm pretty confused about what's exactly happening...

      Nah i haven;t, it still says in process. Any ideas on when it will ship?

      Ordered mine on the 18th of October and will hopefully get it some time - early November.

      Nope, no email yet. It said in the order "delivered by 6 November" so that's what I'm expecting. But it also hasn't charged the credit card or emailed me about it shipping so... time seems to be running out.

    "this is still a productivity and content consumption device, not something you can run your digital life from"
    ...what do you do on an iPad that can be characterised as "running your digital life"?

    When the iPhone first came out, it didn't have a lot of 'apps' available and that grew over time, so will Win8 RT and the Win8 ecosystem. I don't think that the lack of 'apps' should be what people fix on to and nothing else.

      When the iPad was launched, there were 100,000 apps ready to go. The iPad wouldn't have had half a chance without good apps. The Surface will face the same fate. MS haven't pushed the SDK hard enough to give devs the desire to write the apps. Everyone seems to be waiting for someone else to make the first move. This could doom the Surface to another place in shelf of Microsofts disasters.

        Youhave to remember, a lot of those 'apps' came from the iPhone so to compare the Surface to iPad isn't really fair.

      That's not a fair comparison though.

      When the iPhone came out there were no other tablet/phone devices to develop for.

      Now they need to develop three.

      And windows is currently the smallest of these markets.

        Really? My Windows for Smart Phone 2003 device and my Windows Mobile 5.0 device (both purchased and loaded with apps before iPhone was announced) didn't exist?

        Windows Mobile was one of the largest of those markets before the iPhone came out and left them in their dust. It had a voice assistant way back in 2005 but between windows mobile 5 and 6.1 (both before Siri) it actually LOST features. Microsoft didn't capitalize on their opportunity, Apple made everyone believe their got there first, and now Microsoft has to scramble to catch up.

          I loved my o2!!!! Windows mobile 6 had more apps and functionality then any other smartphone of the time. Until the iPhone come up with the app store. The beauty of those days - It was all side loading, or jar packages, which is great for devs... Microsoft should dump the $99 registration fee and just make their money on the apps people make.... Since there's no startup fee, lot's more novice developers will spend the time seeing what they can do, novice developers normally have the best ideas, because their brain isn't trained to techniques they've used for years.

    Considering all that is missing is a few games and key app's, people would get more use from a tablet that has a working copy of office. Most people use their tablets for the browser and email. I'm sure some use other apps, but it would be more interesting to see what the main use of said devices were, do a poll... do a poll. I'm sure if office works well it will soon be the business tablet of choice for company's. If the main app's people are going to use work well, these things will go gang busters, and the lack of 3G, meh almost every smart phone now has WiFi tethering and I think it would be relatively safe to say if you got a tablet, you've probably got a smart phone capable of tethering

    "This is a problem that can be fixed, though, and it’s likely to be fixed sooner rather than later because of the company that’s backing the device: Microsoft."

    Yet you look at the same company backing Windows Phone, and 2 years later the app store is still far off where it needs to be. I agree that the problem can be fixed on Windows 8, but it has nothing to do with the company behind the device.

      That phone is now a Win8Phone, a phone that should be able to run normal Win8 programmes soon, the same phoen that can run on up to 64 core cpu, the same phone that now shares the same kernal as other Win8 devices. With this at the core of all Win8 devices, I think that it will be a little quicker to take off what with the flexibility to go from one device to another on the same programme. I think that is something to watch and wait for

      Yeah, no-one could do anything on their iPhone when there were only 100,000 apps for it. And remember, they got 100,000 apps into their store off the back of 3% market share. Imagine what they'll be able to do now that they are offering devs a platform with a 90% market share? I am sure that is why they have priced Win8 so aggressively - they want to have the user numbers up as high as they can, as quickly as possible, to attract the big name devs.

        Should've dumped the $99 developer registration fee for that reason too...

          I like to think this $99 fee must be stopping the 20,000 fart apps from becoming part of windows apps, like you're more inclined to pay that if you're serious about developing

    We’re still waiting on the Surface Pro, which Microsoft is holding over through to January, probably to compete with Consumer Electronics Show 2013 announcements. Stealing the show without really being there is a master stroke, and it’s one Microsoft is playing for this time around.

    In those few months wont they lose a lot of sales to people who can't wait and buy there partners equipment. In fact this seems more like the reason, I think it may be to keep the partners happy by giving them at least a little time to get there own goods out there.

      The "pro" dell ones do look very pretty.

      Last edited 27/10/12 12:52 am

        only 32bit though. Not happy about that

          I assume we will see more powerful ones coming into the next year, but it's going to be hard explaining to general people the difference between an RT device and a real one and how it's worth the extra money etc. Knowledge needs to spread first and acceptance of the price of these "ultrabook-tablets" needs to happen.

    I find the iPad's onscreen keyboard a joy to type on by comparison to many other's I've tried.. I can get up around 40 to 50 wpm on it.. the main complaint about the TouchCover keyboard has been the lack of "haptic response".. no give to them.. so for some, who are used to that "lack", maybe it's not as bad as people have been making out.

    As for pre-orders shipping.. haven't had mine shipped yet and ordered mine within 5 hours of it being available for pre-order.. today was "supposed" to be the day.. but I guess they're running behind?

    Last edited 26/10/12 3:43 pm

      I heard 6th November for pre-orders delivery date

        It's true it does say that on the email but my sources told me 26th Oct for the release date..

        It's not for me anyway.. I'm just waiting for the charge on my c/card so I can make sure it's the right amount charged :) hehe

          Are your sources in the US? Cuz that's when the US were ment to get it?

          November 6 is for Australian, 26 October is launch date for the US. Some Australians are reporting that the November 6 date has been pushed back due to issues with deliveries, UK and other places have had their dates pushed back a bit too. brent3000 is right about the US date

    There are more Apps on the store than there were on the IPad when it was released. just sayin.

      200,000 apps on the App Store in April 2010 when the iPad was released. Windows 8 was just released and so far less than 2000 apps optimised for touch tablet devices exist. Making up phantom figures won't save the Surface if the apps don't ACTUALLY exist. More MS vapour wear?

      Last edited 26/10/12 5:23 pm

        What was the last "MS vapour ware"?

          Project Origami?

            So vaporous that I have never heard of it. You could have said Courier, but then I'd have pointed out that MS never announced it. I'm sure it is the same with "Project Origami". A publicly listed company simply cannot afford to make spurious claims because it creates massive issues around stock prices that could land officers of the company in prison for fraud.

        Erm, horribly blown up 2x iPhone software shouldn't really count. They look terrible.

        @kr00 - Hmmm, I checked and it looks like that claim is based on including apps that would only run on desktop, which rules out the RT tablets. I concede.

        The release of RT first is obviously a deliberate strategy to stimulate the App market, though. Microsoft is trying a reset here. This is a massive move for this company to make, and exactly at the time time Apple appears to be switching gears. Thing is, Microsoft (as finicky as they can be to deal with) do put in the effort with developers. if they get get it rolling then competition is always good. don't you want to see what Apple do if Microsoft pull out a win with windows 8?

    We all need to remember that Windows RT was made to compete mainly with the likes of iPads etc, not laptops or ultrabooks. Therefore can Gizmodo and the rest please stop expecting the device to cook you breakfast and wash the dishes, then give you a blow job later on. Seriously, its mean to be an iPad competitior with the bonus of an Office Suite. If you want something more, wait for their next device coming in a few months that should be the new ultrabook/laptop/tablet all in one device. And get your pretty pennies ready for it as well.

      Look, if a device doesn't blow me then I'm not sure I can even be seen recommending it.

        blow you? really... Maybe Microsoft (?) will release an "add-on".. they already got "soft-touch"

        "They've Got An App For That" ? -- (Remember that slogan?)

        I guess we know how apple got your undying love.



    While I'm not in the market for a tablet (if I was, it'd probably be an iPad Mini), I would be interested in trying this out, mostly to sample Win 8. We're still on XP where I work.

    Great to know that Luke appreciates the fact that apps will come -- Looking forward to more from Giz AU around this over time!

    No tablet needs "100000s" of apps it's meaningless. 98% of that is rubbish,

    What needs to be posted is an "essential apps" list.

    So far my Win8 list is :
    Onenote MX / Evernote
    Xbox Music (rocks!)
    Chrome (x86 for now I think)

    Favourite game so far is radiant defense.

      You're right at a fundamental level.. but the reason I went for an iPad, despite detesting Apple in general, is the amount and quality of the apps available. The best device in the world falls flat on its face without decent apps to run on it.

        Unfortunately my detest is too strong

      Onenote... How brilliant is onenote!

        I Dunno, how much better than Notepad is it? Because that's what I use it in place of on my phone.

          Printing to one note is amazing for keeping track of important documents. That's one use.

            I used Onenote 2007 to conduct two of my research paper fact findings, methodology, to do lists, literature reviews, brainstorming, drawing notes on screen caps, regression analysis, pinning my academic articles all on the same place to resume work later when away from home, exporting the statistical review chapters to take to school on word doc or conduct work on the train, heck to be honest, i really cant wait for surface pro or any OEM that can offer ultrabook specs at a competitive price.

            I can't wait for Office 2013 with the new OneNote2013 app too!

            For now i also use Evernote for beating procrastination.

            I just hope with Windows 8 pro that you will be able to play circa 2000's and upwards PC games, im pretty sure ill be fine on the Ivy Bridge computers.

              Excellent! I'm using it right now to set up a business. It's perfect.

              All things that can also be done with Notepad, I'm sure.

      That is your list of 5 apps.
      I also only need 5 apps.
      Google earth.
      First class
      Everybody only needs 5 apps, it just happens to be a diffrant list of apps for each person.

      Really? You like X-Box Music? I think it blows goats compared to Zune. It doesn't recognise about three-quarters of the album artwork in my collection, the sort options are pathetic and it takes forever to populate with my stuff when I start it. I really hate it and cannot imagine ever using it. I'd rather use Windows Media Player. X-Box Music is absolutely, 100% the biggest thing I have against RT, a bigger fail than not being able to run desktop software IMHO.

    "this is still a productivity and content consumption device, not something you can run your digital life from like you could an iPad or an Android tablet." Why not? I do it from my PC without any apps at all. Surely all it takes is a browser? In fact, if Facebook's research is close to the mark, the browser seems to be the most popular way to run a digital life.

    "what Microsoft needs is an ecosystem that people can buy into the second they pull the device out of the box". They have this, mostly through X-Box Music. You can get movies, music and TV shows from it, just like iTunes. There are newspaper and magazine apps (Engadget and Ubergizmo among them), eReaders (Kindle), weather, sport, travel, etc., etc. They are all there and right now they are realtively easy to find because there are only 25,000 or so apps.

    I don't know about everyone else but I find apps tiring. Why would I flip around from the Engadget app to the Ubergizmo app to the news app to the motoring app when I can access each of those from my browser, all neatly arranged in tabs?

      Agreed. Apps are a dumb idea for that sort of content when it's faster and more logical on the web through a browser. Having to use a custom built program to access that sort of content is taking us back to the 90s and the likes of CD ROMS. It's palaeolithic.

      Yeah, I've been using Windows 8 in some form for at least 6 months, and I can happily say at launch it reached a point where I could easily 'run my digital life' from the metro interface. I don't entirely get why facebook and twitter apps are necessary with the built in people hub, and the browser really can do anything just as well as most ipad apps, it is easily the best mobile browser out there.

      Just pin the relevant website to your home screen, IE10 will do the rest with password and account syncing across all your windows 8 devices.

      Having used windows 8 there are now several reasons why I would never get the ipad:
      1. Xbox live integration - nothing apple has comes even close with the achievements, high scores, friends, etc in a standardised system across pretty much any game you play
      2. Office (duh)
      3. When I go between windows 8 devices all my settings, favourites, browsing history, browser passwords, etc are all synced - even my custom topics in the news app, and locations in the weather app are just there and ready to go. iOS hasn't quite reached that level of convenience.
      4. I can't stress the importance of this one enough: I am completely addicted to the Microsoft solitaire, minesweeper, taptiles apps.

        While I agree on your thoughts regarding windows 8, but I can't say the same for the arguments against the iPad

        Xbox live integration - There is nothing to shout about, as far as I'm concerned, most of my games from steam does not integrate with xbox live. So no, its useless. The same can be said for Apple's game centre.

        As for office and settings, I agree with you on that. Apple relies heavily on their iWork suites that work well and sync with iCloud but I always preferred office. As for the last point, I can't seem to find my solitaire and pinball(original ones) except those crap ones offered on MS app store.

    I think the major flaw in all these reviews is they take the attitude that the RT version should be able to act as a replacement to a laptop. THIS IS NOT THE POINT. The RT is meant to be the competition to the ipad etc that has the ability to type up something basic if you really need to. They should only compare it on that basis. The Pro version when ever that gets released should be assessed on the basis of it being both a laptop + tablet.

      Exactly! If it was called Windows 8 Mobile and had a different UI nobody would be saying anything about it not running x86 apps and calling it a major problem. That's partly Microsoft's fault for advertising it too close to the x86-64 Win8 version, but the fact that it won't run x86 apps shouldn't be a major negative. The iPad only runs iOS apps, did they make that out as a major negative? The Pro will sit closer to the ultrabook market, which unfortunately puts it up against some stiffer competition in terms of capability. For all we know, it could be an ultrabook trying to pretend to be a tablet with pathetic battery life and poor performance. If that's the case, running all the x86 apps in the world won't save it.

    Shortage of good apps and games? I'm not sure if they are doing this or not, however Microsoft should bring over Xbox live arcade games like Limbo - as the Xbox is PC based, developers can design for both the tablets and Xbox at the same time (while allowing for the different control types).

    Might have made a nice entertainment device, except the didn't put media player on it afaik

    Compliments Luke on the ''pristine wilderness'' line. A very poetic way of summarising the key issue.

    I'd love to see a review on something like this.

    I always though having a touch screen on a desktop would be pretty dumb, but having it on a hinge like that makes much more sense to me.

      That looks like a pretty clever thing but I think it's price will ensure it never succeeds.

        Haha, lol, probably.
        You would think they could make cheaper ones though eventually.
        Just shove a tablet-pc (like the pro ones) on a hinge.

        If it was like 1k including an actual computer, would be neat.

        Last edited 27/10/12 10:59 am

    You know what! It I would be nice to see A review which actually articulates how the Surface performs as a daily use device. That is; content consumption (Movies, books and music and browsing) and as a productivity tool. We get there is a lack of RT apps however the increase to 9000+ certainly gives confidence that developers are pushing on.

    Reviewing the functionality of adding peripherals via th USB port (3G/4G Dongles, Printers etc), wireless performance, content consumption and productivity would do your readers a great service. No review I have read to date actually highlights or reviews this from a daily use perspective. A review which is able to do this, without bias or preconceived ideas and gets passed whinging what the device cannot do at this point in time due to a lack of apps or immaturity of the RT platform would be, in my opinion, a revelation!

    Who cares? The Surface Pro is what we all want.

    I wish people would stop complaining about the number of apps on Win8 like it's a metric that means anything. I've probably installed a thousand apps on my iPhone and yet I only have installed now about 20. I don't want 100 thousand or 300 thousands apps on Windows 8. I want the apps that offer me real value. I want the 50 best apps that make life easier or entertain me.

    Has anyone considered that Microsoft is just employing good quality control and saying no to the 100k of apps that are just plain rubbish (calculators, torches, soundboards, fart noises, etc.) r in some cases like the torch and calculator accepting just the best one or two. IMHO I'd like them to be more vigilant in keeping out the bad so I have a more enjoyable experience browsing the store and seeing endless lists of apps that are sheer quality.

    Furthermore, Windows 8 developers, me included, are building the apps so they are coming... But more importantly we don't just want to make bullsh!t apps that waste space and offer nothing useful like 95% of the apps on iOS. And no I'm not a fanboy, I own Apple devices... And now they make me bored.

    Not technically vapourware but what about the Kin?

    What Ben said.
    It's quality not quantity.

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