Surface Pro vs. Surface RT: An honest comparison

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

Instant On

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)

Bottom Line

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.


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  1. I just started playing with the Pro I picked up this week so still forming an opinion, but I think you nailed each of those categories. If only the RT had the Pro’s speed…

    • So, what’s your take on it now?

      • Emmanuel Sebhat

        Hey a mr.trent sir
        um i was wondering for a student which one would you choose for a grade 8 student

        • Emmanuel Sebhat

          And Rod do you think its good to use the kickstand on the surface rt

          • The kickstand comes in handy quite a bit. As I noted, the kickstand on the RT just feels more solid than the Pro. If you want to use the Surface just like a laptop, the kickstand puts it at just the right angle. I’d definitely suggest going with the Type keyboard for a student.

        • Honestly, for a student who is probably used to loading “other” apps on a Windows box, the Pro is probably the better choice. My sons load the Steam app (online games) and would probably shoot me if they couldn’t do that on the RT.

  2. I can very much relate to what you say in this article. However, I don’t quite agree with your conclusion.
    As you mentioned in your article, the Windows Store grew and you learned new ways to do the same things. If anything, this process will continue with more / better apps becoming available.
    It is this exact same reason that I opted for the Surface RT and not the Pro. Don’t get me wrong, I do still miss some legacy apps I can’t find in the Windows Store, but as time passes by, no doubt that problem will disappear. And running non touch optimized legacy apps on a tablet…… Bad user experience at best.

    So, I prefer the RT. And with the desktop eventually being removed from Windows, the metro-environment is the way to go

    • I’m with you, Bart. My giving the Surface RT away, though, has more to do with the cost than anything. RT costs me considerably less than the Pro. With that kind of money invested I feel like I should make a good go of it, if you know what I mean.

      • Ray C

        RT is not going anywhere. I don’t know why people think that. Maybe at some point there will just be one device, but right now some people only want a tablet to do what RT does. Heck they don’t even want the desktop environment. What about the people who want a budget device. The only way there is no one out there who an RT device is a good option for is if Microsoft devices to update and change Windows Phone OS and put that OS on both phones and value tablets. Desktop is going away for everyone eventually, but there are still people who don’t need their tablet to be a laptop replacement. We seem to be in the few capable of seeing that. And honestly it doesn’t matter that the iPad already is out there. Android showed that the iPad can be beat, especially if you offer cheaper devices at various sizes.

        • mediumsizedrob

          Can be beat in what way? Google/Samsung etc are not going to stop making Android devices, but I can’t be as sure as you seem to be that RT isn’t going anywhere. I still think my Zune HD is better than any ipod, however after a similar adoption rate the platform went away because Microsoft couldn’t get any traction for it. Don’t get me wrong, if the day comes when RT is a dominant force and there is a compelling reason to get one aside from “it’s not apple” I’ll be the first in line. But right now there’s just no reason to jump on what very well could be a sinking ship. 3rd party manufacturers are already dropping out of the RT space because there’s no point in producing what people aren’t buying.

  3. Hmmmm. Thanks for the post. I held off buying the RT thinking that I’d want the PRO. Now that it’s here, I’m not too sure, part of it is the price of the device. I’m looking at an extended trip to Europe this summer, and if I really want the full power of a laptop, I think it makes more sense to me to take my …. laptop. While being extensively on the road battery life and accessibility will be more important.

    I’m really torn, but I think I’d like to have a tablet that will work like a tablet – something I can tote around easily, consume some content, update some documents and read some email. Battery life and weight is important to me. If I need to do power computing (I run a lot of virtual machines), I need my laptop anyways. Ideally I want a single device to do everything, lack of apps is a little bit of an issue, but right now I think I’m leaning RT.

  4. This is seriously the most pointless review ever, its like you just Googled the differences between the two and elaborated on what they are. Of course the bigger device is going to be bigger, of course the device that lets you install whatever apps you want is going to have better app support. Talk about fluff garbage, no mention of the pen quality, no mention of the Pro’s Windows 8 full version exclusive functionality as it relates to tablet. No one who already knows what these products are is going to learn anything they didn’t already know. Thanks for wasting 5 of my minutes jackass

  5. Rick

    I agree with your review, and I think you did a great job comparing them. I purchased a Surface RT last week, and I have to say its difficult to put down. Using the Office Suite, I can do real work, and still have time to surf, watch videos and other things. I had an IPad, and I really found that the only thing I did with it was play games. I didn’t even surf the web with it, because I found using my desktop was faster.

    While agree that apps are critical to growth, I think Microsoft has a terrific product here, and time will tell where the app market grows.

  6. bdegrande

    I much prefer RT (in my case I have the Asus VivoTab RT, which is even about a third of a pound lighter than the Surface RT and has a second battery in the keyboard). I think that the weight and battery life of the Pro make it fail as a tablet – it is more similar to an ultrabook, and you can get a better ultrabook in that price range. A newer, more power efficient Intel chip would make the Pro more practical. At the moment, the systems using the more power efficient chip are limited to 2G RAM and 64GB storage, and the i5 runs hot and really takes a toll on the battery. Windows also needs to get a lot leaner (Win 9?) to not take up so much space on 64GB tablets.

    I am still disappointed in the app selection in the app store for RT, though. There are entire categories missing – I would like to edit audio, for example, and it the only platform I have ever seen that doesn’t run Plants vs. Zombies.

  7. A real shame the press hammered RT (unfairly, IMHO), as I think they are seriously underrated.

    I came to the same conclusions as the author very quickly, there is very little legacy software you actually need. Yes, I miss Chrome and its bookmark syncing etc, but IE actually works well in Metro mode (despite being a bit flaky, crashing and hanging).

    My biggest gripe with the Surface RT is that it doesn’t have a GPS sensor built in; the app I’m writing needs GPS and I’m not sure RT even supports GPS via USB or Bluetooth.

    • I was looking into using the rt as a thinclient; legacy apps include – printer drivers; since we don’t want to buy new printers, the lack of legacy support stopped us from adopting these.

      it comes down to the rt being on a different architecture (or something like that) so it doesn’t know what to do with exe files that can run on standard computers.

      IMO i think the surface rt is a dead end tech path

    • Ray C

      I totally agree. What people who keep knocking the RT for not being a Surface Pro don’t get is that there are millions of people out there who don’t need or want their tablet to do everything Pro does. And also let’s not forget that this is a first generation device on the market at the same time as a forth generation device. There are a lot of things that people don’t like about Surface RT that can easily be improved in future versions as well as software updates to Windows 8.x

      • mediumsizedrob

        Exactly my point. Time and money is limited for everyone. Why invest in something that is already behind 4 generations of fixes and improvements, hoping that Microsoft doesn’t decide to dump the platform if it never catches on? It sounds like you are just on “Team RT” for whatever reason rather than looking out for your own best interests. These companies are on not Team Ray C, they don’t care

  8. I have just the rt, I do like the long battery life (seems like I never have to charge it); but honestly, it just seems like a mobile web browser. Say I wanted to print to a printer on my network… awww rt doesn’t support that printer. Hey it has a usb port… awwww no support for the camera I wanted to use instead.

    So I figured the pro would solve that because it can run standard applications and is just like a laptop… but wait, for the same price of the pro I can get a laptop with a touch screen that has a longer batter life than the pro and is lighter… hmmm so, i’m kinda disappointed with both imo; the rt seems just as proprietary as the ipad, but the ipad at least has more apps, and the pro version gets beat on features by laptops in the market.

  9. Mike

    Thank you. Well-written. I had the same experience. I prefer RT. You should send your review to Microsoft so that they can market and sell more RT. I hope the rest of the world discover the value of RT.
    I am a RT owner since 10/26/12. When Pro came out, I wanted to upgrade to Pro and hand RT over to my kids. Well, after trying out Pro at the store, I decided to keep my RT. Pro is too heavy, has short battery life, and is higher priced without MS-Office pre-installed.

    • Mike

      By the way, Citrix works beautifully on RT. So if your company supports it, you can then access your work email (e.g., MS Outlook) via Citrix and get the full functionality of Outlook. With Citrix, you can also access other DESKTOP applications (allowed by your company) on your RT.

  10. KatMcMahon

    I have a really stupid question. Are the words Software and Apps now one in the same thing? I would really like to get one of these but if I can’t load my Adobe Dreamweaver on it, I is just another toy. Answer anyone?

  11. Shannon Mark

    I’ll just stick with my iPad, thank you. Unlike the rest of you unfortunate shmucks, I have no problems using my iPad to get real work done with the plethora of apps on offer.

    • I guess it also depends on your definition of real work. :)

      • Ray C

        I agree it all depends on you definition, plus I’ve yet to find anyone who has found a single thing they can do with an iPad they can do with a Surface. Plus, I find it funny that some iPad users act like there is nothing they can’t do with their iPad right out the box. It’s practically a PC or Mac in tablet form according to them.

        • mediumsizedrob

          It’s all about finding the right device for you. If it’s not a religious / self-defining thing for you, and you really just pick based on what you need and want out of the device, you’ll come out ahead. For me, since the price wasn’t a problem, and since I don’t have a microsoft, or a crossed-out apple logo tattoo on my back, there was no reason to get the more limited device.

          I do plenty of “real work” with my iPad when I’m on the road using numbers, and pages. I do a lot of music work as well using the iPad that I couldn’t do with the Surface. That’s not to mention the many other apps that are not offered for the RT. True, 98% of those apps are pointless, but that 2% of useful apps on both devices will be supported better and updated more frequently for the iPad simply because more people have them. And just in case your life allows for a bit of fun, there are more options on the iPad as well.

  12. Ray C

    One of the most accurate RT vs Pro or Surface vs iPad comparisons I’ve come across on the net. And you made a great point about the inflated app numbers from the other companies. I have an iPad. I probably have less than 1% of the total apps from the store on this thing, and if you take away the games I only downloaded to get points or some other kind of business in another app I was using, I really would have barely any apps downloaded on this thing. I would love to see some numbers on the average number of apps download on other tablets and how much they’re used. Just like the start menu and Windows 8, I think people have great exaggerated their use of it. Some of the people com paining barely use it, just like some of the people complaining about apps don’t even have that many on their device. You also made a good point about the reviews. A lot of people made negative reviews about Surface early on, couple with Microsoft having to deal with the overly negative backlash again Windows 8 when they were trying to get Surface off the ground. It’s kind of sad now that a few people can decide a certain device is not perfect or exactly the way they think it should be and can try to create a mindset that effects the entire market. That has been the case with just about all of Microsoft’s products that have been released or announced over the last year.

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