Surface RT at Challenger: Initial Opinions

Surface RT at Challenger: Initial Opinions

The Surface RT goes on sale at Challenger and I got a quick look at it. Surface RT, is Microsoft’s first foray into the tablet space and the attention showered to the hardware is clearly evident. Windows RT, the operating system that runs on it, sadly, ain’t so good.

The promise of the Surface RT is simple: You get a tablet when you want a tablet, and you get a laptop when you want a laptop. For the most part this is true. You can lounge with your videos and Kindle books, you can listen to music, read magazines, and when you need to do some serious work, there’s the Office 2013 suite available. Connect the type cover keyboard, and it is transformed to a good sized working “laptop”.

When it comes to Surface engineering marvels, Microsoft has long been a major designer of mice and keyboards, and Panos Panay, the hardware guy in charge of Surface development, came from keyboards, but that still doesn’t prepare you for how elegant a job the company did on this. I hate to say that it’s Apple-like in its simple yet high functionality, but there’s really no other company that could integrate such an accessory with such grace.


Hardware wise, the screen is gorgeous, and the Surface RT is the biggest in this range of tablets, as compared to the iPad and Nexus 10 with their 9.6″ and 10.1″ screens. Battery life is also reasonably good with the Surface RT promising to last up to 8 hours on relatively high intensive use.

So what is it? A pressure sensitive pad that you type on? What’s the big deal? I promise you, get to a Microsoft store on Oct. 26, if only to try this out. The thing is so smart, it knows when you’re just resting your fingers on the keys and when you really are trying to get words out. And the popping sounds you hear when you type, while seeming corny at first, actually give you the feedback you need to touch type without looking, enough to make you forget that all you’re really doing is slamming your fingers down on a fake-suede placemat.

I could understand why the Surface Pro required to keep the original Windows interface available to users, since that was poised to offer a full featured computing experience, able to run all existing Windows program. However, the RT was never set out as such, and if it was only designed to run custom apps on the new Windows UI, Microsoft should have just eradicated the old remnants of the Operating System. It even happens when interacting with the tablet in ways that really don’t necessitate the old interface. For instance:

  • Classic Windows is required for a simple task as just adding music.
  • Why are there two control panels, a modern UI version and a classic version, with overlapping settings and controls?
  • There’s even two different versions of Internet Explorer as well. And you can open both browsers separately in their difference interface, and they don’t synchronise. That’s just plain weird.

However, while the hardware design is important, software will always remain the key differentiator in tablets. That’s why Apple is still receiving so much support for their tablets. Just compare the iPad Mini versus the Nexus 7. It’s also not just about the software of the operating system alone, as the third party ecosystem, i.e. the “app store” is equally important and that’s where the Windows RT tablet is lacking currently. Microsoft would really need to push and excite more developers to come onboard this platform.

This last section is dedicated to the Geeky folks. The Surface RT had been launched since October 2012 last year and quite abit of hacking had already been done.

There’s the RT Jailbreak Tool – It allows non-Microsoft ARM-compiled .exes to run on the desktop and to also load unsigned drivers. Thanks to XDA-Developer netham45.

You could actually run normal Desktop apps or Windows program (x86-based) on the Windows RT platform through emulation. XDA-Developer mamaich had achieved it here. It is still a beta, but simple applications have been shown to be working on the Surface RT already. Even games are possible – Pinball from Windows 98, Age of Empires 1, – WinRAR, 7Zip have been proven to be working.

The below list was extracted from XDA as well, to help provide a list of desktop apps which have been recompiled to run on hacked Windows RT devices. It’s a very useful resource for any Surface RT owners.

Apps which have been recompiled:

Apps which run un-modified