After Microsoft slashed down the price of the notorious Surface RT tablet by $150, our attention was swiftly shifted towards the Windows world once again. Taking in consideration that the lightest version of the series can now be considered as affordable, with prices starting from $349 for the entry-level 32GB model, we thought of comparing the product against other popular variants, such as the Apple iPad Mini, the Amazon Kindle Fire 7 HD and of course, the wild and improved Asus Nexus 7.
In a time and age where the Nexus series just received a new 7-inch member and Microsoft, as well as Apple is rumored to renew their versions as well, it’s more than adequate to put head to head the best of what this market has to offer in a classic versus match. At the end of the day, deciding which tablet you should buy shouldn’t be that hard.
Microsoft Surface RT versus others – specs comparison
Against the iPad Mini
With the newly discounted price, the Surface RT may seem appealing to enough out there. Before you choose Microsoft’s tablet against Apple’s creation, you need to know that the Surface is 38 percent longer and 26 percent wider than the iPad mini. The same applies to thickness as well, the iPad Mini being around 31 percent thinner. Putting both devices on the scale will show you that Apple’s product is also 55 percent lighter.
Both tablets are constructed with premium-quality materials and unlike Samsung’s tradition, plastic is not something to be considered. In concept, the Surface is built using VaporMg, a magnesium alloy with a luxury feel while Apple has chosen anodized aluminum and black shades for its smaller slate.
When it comes to the display and viewing surface, the iPad Mini loses big, offering just 62 percent as the Surface. Even though Apple’s resolution is way smaller, the iPad Mini panel is populated with 163 pixels/inch while Microsoft’s gadget comes with 148 pixels/inch. While a higher pixel density usually means crisper images, we have to note that Microsoft’s ClearType technology with subpixel rendering has the upper-hand.
Those wondering about processing power should know that the Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor clocked at 1.3 GHz and equipped on the Surface RT outscores iPad Mini’s by around 90 percent (measured with Geekbench) on paper. In the RAM, section Surface also wins by a mile, with four times more memory than its competitor. But then, nVidia’s Tegra 3 has been notorious with poor battery performance and overheating, and also these numbers don’t directly impact performance, specially when comparing devices running different operating systems.
Storage, another wildly discussed subject this year, is won by the Surface slate at the first sight, mostly because while both products integrate 32GB and 64GB versions, only Microsoft thought of implementing a microSD card slot. When taking a deeper look, we found that Windows RT requires a huge recovery partition which occupies around 17GB of the 32GB version. On the other hand, even the 16GB iPad Mini offers 13.5GB of usable storage, thanks to a light, optimized operating system: iOS 7.
Microsoft loses big in matters of connectivity with only a Wi-Fi antenna against Apple’s wireless and LTE capabilities. Even though this should be seen as an advantage in the battery segment, the bigger unit packed on the Surface falls two or three hours short when compared with the iPad Mini (mostly due to the bigger display).
A similar advantage can be seen in the camera section, where a more capable camera was mounted on the back of the Apple unit. Unfortunately, we cannot say the same for connectivity ports, with the Apple Lightning technology being quite limited in comparison with the classic USB 2.0 and micro-HDMI ports mounted on the Surface. Also, it’s worth mentioning that the last port allows Microsoft lovers to stream 1080p Full HD movies on a compatible TV.
Microsoft has put a lot of effort into marketing the Surface RT with a detachable keyboard built in style. You must know that this keyboard, baptized Type Cover, is usually sold for $129 and besides looks and functionality, it doesn’t bring much value to the game. While Apple hasn’t designed an official model, there is a wide range of 3rd party manufacturers that sell iPad Mini keyboards for cheaper prices.
Another small, but interesting aspect is the fact that the Surface RT comes with a built-in kickstand and the capability of adapting a regular mouse, besides the keyboard. Both of these features lack from the iPad Mini.
Software wise, the iPad Mini wins by a mile. While Windows 8 is not an awful creation, the slimmed RT version offers limited functionality. Future users can only access the touch-based navigation method, formerly known as Metro. Even though the Windows Store has over 100,000 applications optimized for touch, necessary and highly valued titles can hardly be found.
Except Office 2013 RT, there’s pretty much nothing that can beat Apple and its army of premium developers. Once again, in matters of experience, iPad Mini wins by a mile.
Winner: iPad Mini, only because Windows RT is dreadful.
Against the Nexus 7
While the similarly sized opponent from the Google camp, the Nexus 10, is way more expensive than Microsoft’s creation, the new and improved Nexus 7 is a slate definitely worth being considered. Even though the size and price are in a completely different price range (except for the LTE model of course), we’ve taking into consideration of analyzing this Asus creation and compare it with the Surface RT. First stop, size and dimensions.
As seen from the picture above, the Surface is clearly a full-sized tablet while Nexus 7 is just a mini device. Microsoft’s product is mostly designed for a landscape view while Asus has a thing for portraits. Despite its larger panel, the Surface is a bit thinner than the Nexus 7 and almost twice as heavy.
Returning to displays, the massive 10.6-inch panel mounted on the Surface RT comes with a slightly bigger resolution than the Nexus 7. When we compare the pixel density indicator, we see that Asus has the upper hand with an amazing 323 pixels/inch while Microsoft boosts only 148 pixels/inch (of course, once again, with a ClearType feature that should increase quality).
In the processing segment we find that even though Microsoft has more room to innovate, with a rather outdated chip being packed on their slate: a quad-core Tegra 3 clocked at 1.5 GHz. On the Google camp we find the new Nexus integrating a marvelous Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro chip with a quad-core processor clocked at 1.5 GHz and Adreno 320 as the GPU – paring that with Android’s 4.3 latest OpenGL enhancements will surely give it an edge in gaming. On the dynamic memory sector, both tablets have 2GB of RAM.
Battery life also goes in favor of the smaller Nexus, even though a larger unit was attached on the Surface RT. As for cameras options, there is not much that sets the two products apart., apart from a more capable front-mounted camera sensor on Microsoft’s product.
A huge advantage can be seen in the connectivity part, where the Surface RT can connect to Wi-Fi based networks only. On the other hand, the most expensive version of the Nexus 7 comes equipped with a proper 4G/LTE antenna which can assure high speed transfers without having to depend on a fix hotspot. The downside of this addition is the fact that only US-based owners can enjoy it, LTE being incompatible with overseas networks.
When we reach the software part, Windows RT still falls as an issue to most consumers and considering the fact that users will not enjoy the traditional desktop environment and the wide range of applications that came along with it, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, the OS packed out-of-the box on the Nexus 7 is the clear winner here. With Android and its largest marketplace of all mobile platforms out there, future owners will surely find more than capable titles.
Last but not least, the official detachable keyboard of the Surface RT represents a small advantage against the Nexus 7 and an expensive one as well. While the Asus-made slate is purely constructed for portrait views, 3rd party manufacturers have adopted wireless keyboards as well so in case you wanted one, options exist.
And let’s not forget the pricing figure, shall we?
Winner: undecided – if you want a broader viewing area and not much besides movies and media, go for Surface RT. If you settle with a smaller screen BUT a wide range of apps, processing power and why not, connectivity enhancements, Nexus 7 will do just fine.
Against the Amazon Kindle Fire 8.9 HD
Amazon has its sacred place in this round-up with an interesting product that sells for a rather affordable price, at least the Wi-Fi only version. For starters, the largest Kindle Fire version comes with an 8.9-inch screen and a healthy resolution. When comparing the pixel density between the two, we find that Amazon managed to reach “Retina” levels while Surface RT is stuck in the low-range section.
On the other hand, Microsoft’s creation wins in the processing section where the quad-core Tegra processor squeezes quite a punch. Unfortunately, the Kindle Fire HD is not a tablet meant for powerful tasks, as you’re about to see in the following lines.
Returning to specifics, both slates come with large storage capacities and no external expansion options. The Kindle Fire HD has the upper hand here, with a much optimized operating system that occupies just a small portion of the storage capacity.
In matters of connectivity and ports, the two are pretty matched. A huge advantage is given to Amazon thanks to a 4G/LTE antenna, integrated in the more expensive models. This portability advantage leaves grave marks on the price, with the 32GB 4G version costing $399 at this moment.
Even though the Surface RT is a 10.6-inch tablet, its larger shapes were integrated in a lighter body, weighting just 1.14 lbs. On the other camp, the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 is a bit bulkier, with a final count of 1.25 lbs.
As with any other opponents analyzed above, the larger battery of the Surface RT fails short against a smaller, more optimized screen. In other words, Kindle Fire users should get more life out of their gadget but I wouldn’t vouch for that to happen once that greedy LTE antenna is enabled.
In matters of software and functionality, the Amazon Kindle family is powered by a highly modified version of Android, which acts simply as a frame and doesn’t bring its wide market aboard. In a few words, the operating system of the Kindle can hardly be recognized as an Android member and it’s purely concentrated on media consumption. Because is a proprietary technology, multitasking doesn’t work as good as in Google’s camp and some described it as filled with unnecessary clutter and too much gestures to reach a basic function.
As for experience, we have to acknowledge that Amazon has the largest entertaining database. Filled with movies, books and audio files, the Kindle Fire HD has access to millions of interesting titles and to special offers like the Amazon Prime. Unfortunately, it lacks greatly in applications.
Because Amazon has chosen to promote its own marketplace instead of Google Play, their clients do not have access to regular Android applications, which is a huge drawback. Interesting titles do exist on Amazon’s domain, but they are sparse. On the other camp, Windows RT is a better choice for productivity and management, even though it lacks the desktop component.
Winner: choose Surface RT if you want some work done or the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 if you simply enjoy watching and reading stuff.
In my opinion, Microsoft’s move was done in the right direction but it’s a bit too little and a little too late. A 30 per cent discount will not make the Surface RT a viable option for both business and consumer markets instead of tougher opponents such as the iPad Mini. It comes with an awful price, a terrible operating system and a highly limited application offer. Even though Windows RT has the Microsoft Office advantage (and soon Outlook), the Redmond-based company has made that package available for iOS as well.
Then, there’s also the fact that Surface RT essentially requires the external keyboard dock to get some work done, and that slashes $100 more of your pocket when bought at a package with the slate.
It’s a tough world, but Microsoft would pull it through if the Surface RT would cost $250 and $300 with the keyboard dock. Until then, seek a better option.