Definative Answer: Is the Surface a Tablet or a PC?

Posted: February 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

Ok, after you read this article it may not definitively answer your question of whether the newly introduced Microsoft Surface products are tablets or PCs, but I bet that I’m the only one with this opinion/perspective who does not already own a Surface RT.

The Microsoft Surface RT is powered by and ARM SoC and runs a slimmed down, power friendly version of Windows 8 called Windows RT, so this must be a tablet as defined by Apple and Google.

If you have been reading the press about the Surface RT, you undoubtedly were told you should not buy Surface RT and should instead wait and buy the Surface Pro, which arrives on February 9th.

I predict that between February 10th and 18th nearly all of those same people will report that they hate the Surface Pro and will complain that it’s too much like a tablet and recommend that you not buy it. None will be bold enough to eat their words and flip-flop and tell you that it is now OK to buy the Surface RT.

It takes time for people to change their opinions and wrap their heads around new ideas and it’s even more difficult to tell people you were wrong.

If you have read the reviews of the Surface RT they complain that there are not enough apps yet, and that while Office 2013 is great to have for free on the Surface, the surface is difficult to use with a touchscreen. Kinda contradicts their own recommendation to buy the Surface Pro.

Let’s examine the Surface RT, iPad and Surface Pro

Surface RT ≠ iPad• From the time you sit the Surface RT on your desk or table and turn it on you know it’s not a typical tablet.
• The Surface RT operates in a landscape position, just like a Windows 8 PC or Laptop
• While it can be held in your hands, it is equally or more at home sitting in front of you on your desk or table
• The touch and/or type cover(s) each allow you to control everything without putting a single finger on the screen
• Surface RT prints *directly* to most printers you already own which are on your Wi-Fi network
• Free Microsoft Office 2013 Home and Student Included: Word, Excel and PowerPoint
• The Surface is designed to be used by multiple people
• Windows RT and Windows 8 operate alike and can run the same Modern programs
• MicroSD slot for additional storage
• Full sized USB port which can charge your smartphone, etc.
• USB port allows for you to connect your digital camera and other devices to transfer large files or collection of files quickly and safely without sharing to the cloud first

Yes, you can do some of these things above with the appropriate accessories or apps, but the point is, that you don’t need anything else. Microsoft designed the things people want in it, without the needs of messy or bulky things to carry around. Yes, a Bluetooth keyboard isn’t big, but it can easily double the space than your iPad or Android take up in your case or bag. Add to that that you will need to keep spare batteries for your keyboard too, and things add up very quickly and before you know it, you are carrying around lots of little accessories which become a tangled mess.
I can’t tell you how many people I see walk in and out of Starbucks or other public places, take out their iPad which they have turned into a Frankenstein type of laptop. I understand, you spent upwards of $600 for your iPad, it is thin and light and is pretty, but that’s not the same device you have now, you have created a monster.

iPad = tablet• By design, you hold the iPad in your hands
• The user interface favors being held in a portrait position not wide like a computer
• The user interface of the iPad is more like a phone than Mac OS X
• It does not run apps written for Mac OS X
• You cannot print directly to most printers
• It is charged via a proprietary Lightning connector like their phones
• No full sized USB port to connect an external hard drive or USB peripheral
• No expandable memory
• Apple does not make a keyboard, mice or peripherals for the iPad

Surface Pro ≠ PC
No, there is not a typo above, the Surface Pro which runs Windows 8 is indeed a tablet.
Yes, the Surface Pro shares many if not all of the above attributes of the Surface RT with the addition to being able to run nearly every Windows app and utility available, but there are a couple things that dictate that this device is indeed a tablet.

• No keyboard bundles
• All models ship with a digitizer / stylus
• The angle of the Surface Pro is angled lower to accommodate using a stylus
• 10.4” 1080p screen
• Does not ship with a fully licensed version of Microsoft Office (trial version)
• Built in Storage of 64GB or 128GB
• 4 GB Memory (non upgradable)

It’s not just one thing that makes the Surface Pro a tablet, it’s all of the above things that put the Surface Pro in the category of a tablet and not a PC.

Elephant in the Room
The Surface Pro is powered by a decent performing Intel dual core i5 processor, it runs the same Windows 8 Pro operating system as your other computers. But these two things does not make a PC a PC.
What makes a PC is that a PC or Laptop can do everything you want without compromise. The full-HD display is wonderful, but it’s still only 10.4” measured diagonally. Not something you would want to write a report on and certainly not create an Excel Spreadsheet on full time.

According to Microsoft the Surface Pro’s battery will last about half as long as the Surface RT. So, figure 4 to 5 hours between charges. (I charge my Surface every 2 to 3 days and travel without it’s charger)

If you are a computer programmer or gamer or work with a lot of documents, emails and reports on daily basis, you are most likely going to have an easier time completing those tasks on 13”, 15” or 17” screen, full sized keyboard and a mouse or trackpad; In other words, you need a laptop.

You don’t believe me? Read the reviews of the Surface RT. Nearly every one of them says the screen is too small and that using the supplied Microsoft Office and other utilities on the desktop is not finger friendly and I agree. I use the desktop Office apps and File Explorer, etc, but I use them with my touchcover and its built-in trackpad.

So who are these Surface computers for:

The Surface RT is perfect for anyone who already has a desktop PC or Mac computer and wants to be able to get some work done while on the go or traveling. It takes the place of a laptop for those travelers who are going to use the Surface for emailing, some reports and spreadsheets and watching Netflix at home or in the hotel – all on a single charge.
The Surface Pro can do everything that the Surface RT can do and it can run more applications, connect to even more devices and peripherals and should be powerful enough for most every need. But here is where it’s design pushes it more towards Tablet and less like laptop/computer.

The storage options are either 64GB or 128GB of storage with available storage space of 23GB or 83GB respectively. This storage space is fine for a tablet and users can add more storage via its microSDXC or alternately connecting it to an external hard drive via it’s USB 3.0 port.

The screen is full-HD which makes the pixels and display sharp and easy to read, but it also makes it more difficult to see small text, hit the desktop GUI with your finger easily etc.

So with so many benefits the Surface Pro has over the Surface RT and in many ways better than the latest iPad why do I say it’s a tablet? Because up until the Surface announcement, nearly every Windows XP, Vista or 7 tablet sold went to business professionals who used these devices not as their personal entertainment platform or for hanging out at Starbucks, they used Windows tablets in hospitals and healthcare, they were sales reps who needed to show their customers content, enter in sales data and retrieve signatures to complete their sales and I think that is what a Surface Pro is perfect for – closing the sale.

The editors and analysts want everyone to think that the Surface RT and other Windows RT tablets are “less than PCs” and are excitedly telling everyone to “wait for the Pro” version. Remember, it’s also those same individuals who are also complaining about how terrible touch is on the Windows Desktop.

So while the Surface Pro may seem like you are getting the best of both worlds, you have to ask yourself the following questions:

1. Are there any Windows “desktop” apps you will require to run when you are not at home or work?
2. What are those apps, and are they worth a paying a $600 premium over the Surface RT?
3. Are those apps being rewritten and optimized for Windows 8 and touch?
4. Does the advantage or necessity to run these apps in a tablet form factor outweigh the additional 5-6 hours battery life you would receive if you had the RT?
5. Are there apps in the Microsoft Store which will be adequate for your use until you return to your primary computer?

I think that after you ask yourself these 5 questions you will have whether to buy a Surface RT or an Ultrabook. Don’t get me wrong, I think the Surface Pro is very cool, and super attractive looking, but If I’m going on a trip, I would want a device with a full-sized keyboard, “full sized” screen and folded up in one neat package and didn’t require me to carry around several accessories to get the functionality of a laptop.

Keep it Simple Stupid. If it looks like a duck, it quacks like a duck and walks like a duct it is a duck.

Surface RT:
look: With a touchcover the Surface looks like a laptop
Quack: The Windows Modern Start Screen and apps function horizontally and allow for 1, 2 or 3 column configurations (ie, full screen or partial screen for apps running side-by-side)
Walk: The Surface can connect to your printer, scanner, digital camera, smartphone, external had disk drives

Surface Pro
Look: Comes with a stylus and keyboards are optional
Quack: While it can run desktop apps, it is better suited for Windows 8 Modern apps and touch apps which were designed for Windows Slates running turnkey software
Walk: More limited battery-life will keep you closer to a power source

Apple iPad
Look: No stand, it requires that when you’re are using it, you are holding it
Quack: Interface is unique to iPad and iPhone and is not shared by the mouse friendly Mac OSX
Walk: Can only stream media to Apple TV, does not work with most existing printers or scanners


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