08 March 2013

Surface RT versus Surface Pro versus the competition for REAL dummies

About every pundit who is somewhat interested in Microsoft either by love or abject hate has written about this already – and still I am going to do my take. Why? Because I am one the few people on this planet who actually was crazy enough to purchase both a Surface RT and a Surface Pro and therefore am entitled to my rant – and because I still get comments like “I think Surface Pro is too expensive for a tablet and has too little battery life for it”, which indicates people still completely don’t get it. With ‘tablet’ almost invariantly people mean “iPad”, by the way.

The very short version of this post is this ‘infographic’


I used a mathematical symbol which means ‘is equivalent to’. That is something entirely different than “equals to”. Very important distinction. Keep that in mind. I will use a lot of ‘equivalents’ in this blog post rant.

When you think of a Surface RT – think of something that moves in the same space as an iPad. Long battery life, relatively cheap (don’t get me started on Apple pricing), light, ideal for use on your lap or in your hand, good content consumption device. Plus some extras. But let’s not confuse the picture alrimageeady.

When you think of a Surface Pro – think of an Ultrabook. Yes, a real computer. A real powerhouse too, ultra portable, and it runs the full Monty – I mean Windows 8 - but that comes at a price. It’s heavier, more expensive, burns more battery, and it gets hotter too. Of course it does. Look, it’s like saying “My wife has this cute Japanese car that does over 50 miles to the gallon when she’s doing 70 on the interstate but this other car burns much more fuel and generates a lot of exhaust” and then the car you use…

…is the car equivalent of something like this:image
Dude, I have some bad news for you. If there’s indeed the equivalent of an F22 Raptor sitting in your driveway when you just want to do some cruising, you might have paid some more attention to the brochure or might have asked some more questions at the dealer clerk before getting out the ole’ VISA card. This machine can carry more and heavier load than your wife’s car – and it can take it there very much faster. This machine is made for serious business. As is Surface Pro. Only with less pyrotechnics.

Now I will admit Microsoft has made life a little bit more complicated than my simple images and broad statements do justice. That’s because of a very a simple reason: the current state of affairs in electronics, as well as the radical design approach the Surface hardware engineering team took, made it possible that under the “Surface” flag now reside two very similar looking – but very dissimilar devices. It’s like the F22 and your wife’s Japanese car nearly look the same, have the same controls, and even share accessories – but one will be a very good car, the other will take off at supersonic speed and be halfway Some Place Where Bad People Live (and – admittedly – a place where those Bad People won’t probably be for very much longer) before your wife has even made it to the onramp of the interstate. Incidently, your wife may be in for a hell of surprise when one day she just wants to take the kids to school and takes the wrong key set ;-).

The funny thing is – radical as it’s design may be, Surface Pro is ‘just a PC’. As I showed in the ‘infographic’ above, it’s actually ‘just an Ultrabook’, in the same way an F22 is ‘just a jet airplane’. Surface Pro is the nth generation descendant of all the PC’s in the world, and it’s odd that it took a software company to let it see the light. Yet, the smaller, cheaper Surface RT is actually a much more remarkable and innovative design – it runs on total different hardware, that has an extremely long battery life, but still it runs Windows 8. Like I said, RT is more like a tablet. But, to make things more complicated, in a smart move to make their ‘tablet’ offering more attractive and not just another me-too, Microsoft have made it possible to attach a keyboard to Surface RT and ships you a fully licensed Home version of Office. You get the crown ‘desktop jewels’ for free. Office in a very portable box. So in stead of only a consumption device, Surface RT is also a content creation device. You can make Word documents, Excel sheets, PowerPoint presentations just like on any other PC. Using a traditional desktop program. You can even attach a mouse to it using it’s USB port. So your tablet can act like a PC to an extent. And here my infographic breaks down, and my F22 versus the wife’s car analogy as well. It’s like your wife’s car has this extra set of controls that can be used to fly short distances at limited height as well - wouldn’t she want have that to overcome traffic jams and red lights ;).

So a more accurate way to position RT next to the competition is like this:


There is this other funny side effect too – because Surface RT runs on different hardware, the ‘foundation’ of it’s Windows needed to be changed too. You can hardly see that on the outside, but it has profound effects, one of them being that Windows RT – the Windows version that runs on Surface RT - is completely impervious to viruses. It’s like trying infect a fish with the human common cold – DNA does not match, the organs that are needed for infection are simply not there.

So it comes down to this:

  • Surface Pro is a PC – it may look like a tablet and it can be used as a tablet, but it’s not its primary intended use. It’s a bit heavy for that and has this other characteristics that doesn’t make it the ideal tablet. Just like an F22 can be used on the highway – but it’s better in the air. You are doing development? Heavy gaming? Heavy duty photo or movie editing? This is the machine for you.
  • Surface RT is primary a tablet but can also be used for some PC (Office) tasks that used to require a full PC. It’s like a car that can fly a little, but it cannot carry deadly loads with it. You are doing office, mail and some content/web browsing, casual games, maybe a bit of movie watching? A lot of it on the go, removed from any outlet?  Try this one.

And of course, you can also try any other kind of device, running either Windows RT or Windows Pro (i.e. being equivalent to Surface RT and Surface Pro) to find out what suits your need. I give you only one golden rule – whatever you buy, Surface or no Surface, RT of Pro – make sure it has a touch screen. With touch Windows 8 really shines.

PS: In case anyone wonders whether or not I am happy with my choice for Surface Pro as a portable development machine – let me just quote my fellow MVP Rob Miles on that one: “HELL YEAH!”

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