Microsoft Surface RT review

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When Microsoft dropped the bombshell that it was launching its own tablet, the company not only risked alienating its PC partners, but detonating its credibility if it failed to show them how to do it properly.

There’s no doubt that the Microsoft Surface RT is a serious tablet, but is it good enough to tempt people away from their iPads, their Android tablets, or even their laptops? Or is it a mere stopgap until the fully fledged Windows 8 versions of the Surface tablet arrive to complement this ARM-based version?

The Surface hardware

Microsoft made clear right from the outset that the Surface was intended to set an example to the PC manufacturers, and it’s immediately apparent that this isn’t a piece of boilerplate hardware. Two things make the Surface stand out from the uniform slabs of glass we’ve witnessed over the past couple of years: the kickstand and the detachable keyboards (which you can read about here).

Microsoft Surface RT

The mechanics of the kickstand are beautifully simple. The bottom half of the back of the tablet casing flicks out to create a stand, turning the device into a pseudo-laptop when used with one of the keyboards. When you’re finished with the stand, it flips back into place, perfectly flush with the back of the tablet, and with the satisfying clunk of an expensive car door.

However, the stand is set at a fixed position, leaving no means of adjusting the angle of the screen as you would on a conventional laptop. That left the taller members of the PC Pro team awkwardly hunched over the Surface as they attempted to work with the device at a desk, although our more modestly sized colleagues had no complaint.

That slightly too upright angle would be a much bigger problem if the 10.6in screen wasn’t so sparkling. Viewing angles are excellent – perhaps a little too good for snoopers in an adjacent train seat.

Microsoft Surface RT

A maximum screen brightness of 400cd/m[sup]2[/sup] is comparable to that of the iPad, and while the Surface has an impressive measured contrast ratio of 3,333:1, it’s due to the presence of dynamic contrast.

Flick between dark and bright pages, and it’s possible to detect the backlight raising and lowering brightness to compensate. Still, the IPS panel guarantees that the palette of bright colours that make up the Windows 8 Start screen zing off the display, and photos and video deliver sumptuous levels of saturation.

The 1,366 x 768 resolution isn’t going to give Apple’s engineering department cause to shamefacedly return to the drawing board, but when you’re sitting a foot or so away from the Surface screen it doesn’t feel as though it lacks detail or sharpness.

The tablet feels delightful in the hand, too. There’s much marketing waffle around the so-called VaporMg material that forms the casing, but it feels robust and smooth to the touch. The charcoal black design is commendably understated, with only a subtle Windows logo adorning the rear.

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