You’ve already read the reviews on both the Surface RT and the Surface Pro here and in other places, so I won’t delve too much into giving full reviews of the various features. You might remember that Surface RT reviews, right public after launch until December or early January, were numerous, and many of them were not kind. The reviews blasted the speed of the RT unit, but mostly focused on the lack of apps available in the Windows Store. The Surface RT sales have not been great, and frankly, I believe it was due heavily to those reviews. Yes, there are other factors involved like Staples (and others) being a horrid sales partner for the Surface. to the newness of Windows 8. to a poor marketing campaign by Microsoft. In my opinion, and as I’ll outline here, those early reviews were wrong.
So, as time passed, Surface RT was shuffled away in the minds of industry reviewers, and they started looking forward to Surface Pro. Surface Pro would hit the scene and change everything. Why? Primarily, because it could run legacy apps, but also because it would run an Intel chip. So, in essence, people were looking for a device that could run Windows 7. Excuse me, but we’ve had that before, and it was terrible. I remember a Microsoft VP pulling a Samsung slate out of his bag to show it off a few MMS’s ago and I watched, opened-eyed, as this huge tablet was excavated from the bag. It was like a Vegas magician pulling a limo out of a hat – the thing just kept coming with no end in sight. And, once it was finally retrieved, it was the size of the table we were sitting at. It was running Windows 7 and I was thoroughly not impressed. I remember chuckling and shaking my head. Windows 7 (or the Windows 8 desktop mode) is not designed as a touch interface.
I’ve been using the Surface RT since it’s public release on October 26, 2012, but I purchased a Surface Pro a week ago and have been using it since. So, my opinions expressed here come from an honest perspective as someone who has used both pretty extensively. I’ve broken down my thoughts into the following sections.
One of the obvious changes between the Surface RT and the Surface Pro is the thickness and the weight. The Surface Pro is definitely a lot thicker. The added thickness is due to a raised panel on the back that houses dual fans. The fans are required due to the Pro needing heat dissipation. I’ll delve into the heat issue more in a following section.
If you’ve never held or used a Surface RT, the bulk of the Surface Pro is probably no big deal. However, if you’ve used a Surface RT for any length of time, the added weight and thickness is drastic. Granted, the Pro weight is still better than a normal laptop, and it won’t bog you down rushing through an airport, but once you’ve used the RT, it does make a huge difference. I use the Type cover with both Surface versions. For the RT, the cover seems to add no additional bulk. For the Pro, it makes a thick tablet even thicker.
The difference between the two Surfaces is apparent when toting them around. The Surface RT tucks neatly under your arm. Even with either the Type or Touch keyboard, it’s like you’re carrying nothing at all. The same is not true for the Surface Pro. I find myself being extra careful when carrying the Surface Pro tucked under my arm, afraid it will jostle out and crash to the floor.
In relation to Bulk, the Surface RT wins out.
Winner: Surface RT
Speed is the single greatest feature of the Surface Pro. It makes the Surface RT seem like its stuck in 2nd gear. But, here’s where this get a bit cloudy. Yes, all apps that run on the Surface Pro are twice, may three times, as fast, however, the Windows Apps (not the legacy, desktop apps) are built to work well across either device. The majority of Windows Store apps (those written correctly) run just fine on either unit. There were a few instances on the Surface RT where apps were almost unusable due to their feature-set. One example is MetroTwit. MetroTwit updates your Twitter stream in almost real-time and the speed of the Surface RT was an issue. It was frustrating to the point of simply uninstalling it and using Tweetro+ instead (which runs great). Running MetroTwit on the Surface Pro, however, there is no lag or frustration – almost like it was written to run specifically on the Pro version.
When it comes to blazing Speed, the Surface Pro wins hands-down.
Winner: Surface Pro
Heat and Noise
Using the Surface RT for so long, I was always surprised at how cool it ran. The device simply never got warm. No matter when you picked it up, the metal frame was always cool to the touch. I had heard reports about the Surface Pro running a bit warmer than the RT, but sitting with it in your lap, you notice the difference right away. It’s not enough to burn you, but if you’re relaxing on the couch in the dead of winter, wearing sweatpants, your legs will sweat.
Why does it run so much warmer? I’ve heard others say that it’s the Intel processor, but after using it in many different situations, I believe the biggest heat issue is the screen. That’s not to say the different processor doesn’t add to it, just that the dual fans (mentioned before) only kick off for me when the Surface Pro is performing some heavy hi-res screen functions. The first time this happened, I had to turn the TV off and look around to try and figure out what the new noise was. I hadn’t heard that noise before. If you’re a home owner you probably do the same. Whenever you hear a new noise in the house you have to stop to figure out if the kids are doing something crazy or if you’re going to have to replace the water heater. It took me a few seconds to realize that the Surface Pro’s fans had kicked in. They run quiet, but they do make an audible noise. And, anyone that has worked with computers long enough know that any computer fan will have to have dust blown out periodically or the fan will eventually make a lot of noise and need to be replaced.
From a Heat and Noise perspective, the Surface RT is the coolest and quietest.
Winner: Surface RT
Hey…who replaced my kickstand with a plastic one?
Something I noticed right away on the Surface Pro is that it didn’t feel quite as solid as the Surface RT. Of course, the compact design of the Surface RT (less width) adds to the stability, but there’s one other thing. The kickstand on the Surface Pro feels like plastic. I’m not sure of the actual construction, but it just doesn’t feel as solid. On the Surface RT, you can almost put your entire weight on the tablet with the kickstand engaged and feel pretty confident that it’s not going to snap. I can’t say the same for the Surface Pro. Putting any kind of weight on the device, the kickstand bows a little in the middle. I’m not sure if this was a last second design change or not, but pictures in the Microsoft Store show the same, sturdy kickstand adorning both versions.
Construction also plays into the aforementioned bulk of the Surface Pro. Due to the raised panel that houses the dual fans, I’m not comfortable sitting anything on the Surface Pro – even my Windows Phone 8 device. The Surface RT is just more solid and I regularly sit my smartphone on it to keep them together in the same place. Sitting my smartphone on the Surface Pro, it actually makes a hollow sound.
If you watched the online launch for Windows Surface back in October, you probably saw the Surface dropped to the floor from about 5 feet. It survived the fall gloriously. Later, the Surface RT was turned into a skateboard and shown in a video. I’d be reluctant to try either of those stunts with the Surface Pro, particularly if Microsoft would not cover it under warranty. The Surface RT just feels more solid.
From a Construction standpoint, the Surface RT is built better. At least it feels that way.
Winner: Surface RT
I’m a battery junkie. I like to always see my devices charged up, ready for the next remote adventure. My wife and daughter are just the opposite. Just like they never see the gas tank is almost empty until the gas warning light comes on, they run their smartphones and tablets until the battery is completely depleted. So, when you need to reach them for some reason, you can’t because the phone is dead.
So, I’m the kind of person who constantly watches battery levels on my devices. When it gets to a certain level, I try to find a power source just in case I’ll need a full charge later on. I’m a planner. The Surface Pro has already been reported to have less battery life than the Surface RT, but I can now attest to the truth in it. Just doing simple things on the Surface Pro causes the battery level to drop and even more so when (as mentioned prior) the hi-res functions of the screen are running and the fans kick in. Last night, while using the digital pen that comes with the Surface Pro to write up my to-do list for MMS 2013 in OneNote (again, I’m a planner), the Surface Pro dropped to 30% battery life in a little over an hour. That’s just not acceptable to me.
I never saw that issue with the Surface RT. I could charge the RT’s battery fully, leave the house, work in the airport waiting to board, take a cross country trip with a couple stops, watch movies, write and post articles to myITforum, answer emails, and Tweet constantly from 30,000 feet, and the RT’s battery would barely break 65% depletion.
I’ve almost come to the conclusion, that during my next trip, I’ll be carrying both the RT and Pro. The RT, I’ll load up with movies and use for the trip. The Pro, I’ll use once I’m in my hotel room and near a power outlet.
From a Battery life perspective, pure and simple, the Surface RT is an all-day device. The Surface Pro is not.
Winner: Surface RT
We’ve been waiting for the promise of Instant On technology since Microsoft starting talking about it in the late 1990’s. The Surface tablets finally provide this function, however there is a difference between how the Surface Pro and the Surface RT handle this. The difference between how the Surface Pro and Surface RT handle “turning off” doesn’t irk me that much, but it is a difference. The Surface RT comes out of “sleep” mode instantly, no matter how long it’s been sitting idle. The Surface Pro, on the other hand, puts itself into Standby mode and coming out of sleep mode takes an additional 2-3 seconds. From what I understand this is due to the Intel chip and how it does not support Connected Standby. What this means, basically, is that the Surface RT stays connected to the Wi-Fi, even in sleep mode. The Surface Pro shuts down Wi-Fi connections when it goes to sleep after a period of time (user-definable). This also means that the Surface Pro, when in sleep mode, does not receive notifications or download your email for you when it is off. Like a computer that gets shut down at the end of the day, pulling the Surface Pro out of it’s slumber and logging in, you have to download your emails like you’ve been used to forever. Like I mentioned, coming out of sleep mode is only an addition 2-3 seconds over the Surface RT, so for some it won’t be a big deal unless you really want those notifications to roll in and your email to be ready for you when you pick the device up to use it. One thing I use the Surface RT for is real-time weather alerts in place of the old NOAA weather alarm systems. This, of course, will not work on the Surface Pro when it’s in Standby mode.
One thing about Instant On for the Surface Pro that does irk me, however, is how flipping the cover DOES NOT pull it out of sleep mode. I’ve read online that it’s supposed to, but mine does not. It works perfectly on the Surface RT, though, so I know it’s not a defective cover. Neither the Type cover nor the Touch cover work for that function on the Surface Pro.
Depending on your tastes and irk-levels, 2-3 seconds is not a huge difference in “boot” times. However, the Surface RT has the edge on Instant On, including the ability to stay connected.
Winner: Surface RT
The true test of a device – any device, these days – is the number of apps available from the vendor’s app store. At least, that’s what everyone says. Personally, I think there’s more junk in any of the vendors’ app stores than valuable software. Apple and Google have brainwashed people using inflated numbers of released apps. Some of the offerings in their app stores aren’t even apps, just RSS feeds. And, how many FART soundboards do you actually need? As a former Android user (both smartphone and tablet), there were, maybe, 10 apps, tops, that I used on a frequent basis. You can only use a couple apps at a time. A lot of times something sounds cool, you load it, and then forget about it until the next time you’re wasting time waiting for a flight, surfing your app list. So, it really comes as no surprise that the majority of Surface reviewers were hung up on the lack of apps available for the Surface RT.
When I first started using the Surface RT, I admit I was a little sad that I couldn’t load up all the Windows 7 apps I was used to using. But, over time, something strange happened. Microsoft’s app store started growing and I found new ways of doing old things. Eventually, I found that the new ways of doing the old things were actually better. At one point, I decided to carry nothing else with me on a trip except the Surface RT to see what happened. Prior to that decision, I would carry a backup laptop (running Windows 7) in addition to the Surface RT – just in case. My first trip without the Windows 7 security blanket was successful. I was able to do everything I needed to do without missing a beat. Since that time, I’ve carried nothing with me except the Surface RT. It’s been a happy, fruitful relationship.
Enter the Surface Pro. As touted by the reviewer gods, the Surface Pro would provide an extra level of proficiency and capability over the Surface RT simply because it could run any legacy application. And, it does run the majority of legacy apps. However, the strangest thing is that as I was sitting, contemplating the legacy apps I would install first, I drew a blank. I looked through my normal PC that I use everyday, and I looked hard. While continuing to look I kept thinking, “well, I can live without that”, or, “there’s a Windows 8 app for that”. Even after installing Office 2013 on the Surface Pro I realized I didn’t even care for the Desktop mode of Windows 8 any longer. After installing and using Outlook 2013 for a bit, I came to the conclusion that I actually preferred the built-in email and calendar apps over the Microsoft Office version. I never thought that would happen. Just 3 weeks earlier I was complaining about the email app.
So, unless something drastic releases for Windows 8’s desktop mode, frankly, I don’t need it. Using the Surface RT for so long, I became accustomed to how it worked and started enjoying the apps available. If you need, truly need, Windows 7 apps to run, the Pro wins. However, if you spend a little extra time with Windows 8, you may find that they are just not that important anymore.
Based on the topic heading, and the notion that more apps are better, the Pro wins out.
Winner: Surface Pro (maybe)
So, after reading through my little Surface journey and thought processes, you can see that, by all accounts, Surface Pro versus Surface RT still has to be up to you. These are just things I’ve come across as someone who has used both devices extensively. There are caveats with either device. However, I really do want to get across something important. Think about it. We’re talking about comparing two devices from the same company, not comparing a Dell to a Lenovo. Microsoft has done something right here. Despite the differences in the devices, they are fundamentally the same, running the same Windows 8 interface. One may run more apps, or have a longer battery life, but they are both monumental devices.
Based on my thought process, I really, really hope that Microsoft produces a device with the battery and construction of RT and the power of Pro. If I had to guess why that has not been developed already, I’d say it’s the Intel chip. To me, the Surface RT is a better device in so many ways and it makes me sad a bit that I may actually opt to use the Pro more, simply because of the improved performance. In reality, at least for a while, I’ll be traveling with both. The day will come, I’m sure, when the Surface RT will become a hand-me-down device to my wife or a shared device for the kids. It may be soon, I don’t know.
I know some of you who have the Surface RT and are wondering if you missed the boat by not waiting for the Surface Pro. Some of you are considering selling your RT to help subsidize the purchase of the Pro. After reading through my notes, you should consider carefully. The Surface RT is a great device. The next Surface version is rumored to release in late 2013, so it’s OK to wait. These Microsoft developed devices are only going to get better.