microsoft surface rt vs pro

Sean Hollister wrote in an article at The Verge last week that Microsoft’s customer service leaves much to be desired for individuals who want a Windows 8 device. The new Microsoft Surface RT tablet, having sold out in its pre-order week, does not come with Windows 8; rather, Windows RT, the operating system of the Surface tablet, has fewer features than that of the Windows 8 Pro Surface tablet (set to be released in 2013). Few individuals know the difference between the Windows RT and Windows 8 Pro. This article will detail the specifications of each tablet (Surface Windows RT and Surface Windows 8 Pro) as well as provide some factors that may influence consumer choice in either direction.

Surface RT Tablet Features

The Microsoft Surface RT tablet (set to debut October 26, 2012), contains the following features:

  •  Windows RT operating system
  • Vapor Magnesium casing
  • Anti-fingerprint coating
  • 16:9 screen ratio for HD movies and games
  • Front and rear-facing HD cameras
  • Touch Keyboard Cover or Type Keyboard Cover
  • ClearType Display
  • USB port
  • HDMI port
  • MicroSD card slot that provides an additional 64GB of memory storage
  • 7GB of free cloud storage
  • Memory storage: 32GB or 64GB
  • Width: 10.6 inches
  • Included Apps: SkyDrive, Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 preview (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, OneNote); Internet Explorer 10; Windows Mail and Messaging; Bing; Xbox Music, video, and games

Of the items above, some of these items place the Microsoft Surface in the same category as Apple’s new iPad (iPad 3 with Retina display): 16:9 aspect ratio for HD movies and games, front and rear-facing cameras, and USB and HDMI ports. The 16:9 ratio makes movie-watching fun and easy on the eyes for viewing. The USB port allows you to transfer music, documents, and other files to your Surface tablet without email. The HDMI port allows you to share your movies and videos with others through transferring copies of your videos and movies. Finally, Xbox Music provides music, movies, and games, just as iTunes does for Apple customers.

Between the two devices, however, are differences. Microsoft’s Surface RT tablet stands out from Apple’s iPad 3 with Retina by way of its anti-fingerprint coating, Touch and Type Keyboard Covers, MicroSD card slot, and 7GB of free cloud storage. Apple’s latest iPad, the iPad 3 with Retina, does not have anti-fingerprint coating; if you think I am wrong about this, just play one game on your iPad 3, then turn it off and view the various fingerprint traces on your screen by way of a light source. Next, the iPad 3 with Retina does not offer customers Touch and Type keyboards. While the iPad 3 is keyboard-compatible, Apple offers a Bluetooth keyboard for $100 more. Microsoft offers customers a chance to choose between a traditional keyboard (Type) and a contemporary keyboard (Touch). The Micro-SD card slot makes the Surface tablet a must-have device; Apple offers you a 32GB iPad 3 for $400, while the Surface RT tablet provides 32GB + 64GB micro-SD card slot (total of 96GB of memory) for $500. With the Surface RT, you get 64GB extra for an additional $100. You cannot beat the price! Last but not least, Apple offers 5GB of free cloud storage for its iPad, while Microsoft offers 7GB of free cloud storage for its Surface tablet. The additional cloud storage is another feature of the Surface RT that makes it a must-have for your home and life.

 What Operating System Comes Installed on the Surface RT Tablet?

The Surface RT tablet provides its own unique Windows RT operating system to the package. Windows RT is a different operating system from that found on the Surface Pro tablet. While the Surface Pro tablet comes with Windows 8, the Surface RT tablet comes with Windows RT. Windows RT differs from Windows 8 in that it is a watered-down version of Windows 8. On the Microsoft Surface RT home page, when you scroll to the bottom, you will see that the Surface RT tablet comes with “Office Home and Student 2013 RT Preview” with a footnote “1” above it. If you look at the tiny footnote at the bottom of the red section of the page, you will see the following statement:

“Preview edition installed. Final Office version will be installed via Windows Update when available (free downloads; ISP fees apply). Some features and programs unsupported.”

The update to Windows RT is the Office Home and Student software that provides a Word processor for your Surface tablet. There is no Windows 8 software provided because Windows RT is distinct from Windows 8. This proves Sean Hollister’s point in his Verge article:

“The $499 tablet uses Windows RT, a stripped-down version of the operating system designed for low-power ARM chips like the kind you’ll find in today’s smartphones. That has some benefits, but it also means it runs a limited array of software as a result. Your existing Windows applications cannot run on the Surface with Windows RT, and so you’ll need to download new ones from the Windows store and pay again…assuming developers have ported their programs to begin with. To the untrained eye, Windows 8 and Windows RT are identical, keyboard attachments, desktop modes and all, but only one supports legacy apps” (Sean Hollister, “With Surface Looming, Microsoft Fails to Explain Windows 8 vs. Windows RT to Customers.” The Verge. October 17, 2012; underline mine).

Windows RT, then, does not support long-standing applications that a consumer would run on his or her desktop PC. If you purchase a new Windows RT tablet thinking that you can, you will be forced to purchase the same applications again – simply to use them on the new Windows RT tablet. In addition, Windows RT provides its own apps that you must download (and pay for) in order to have access to them on your Surface tablet. According to Mary Branscombe of ZDNet, Windows RT will only run Internet Explorer and Microsoft Office programs that are present on your desktop – nothing more:

“It’s [Windows RT, or WinRT] very like Windows 8 because it has almost all the same technology under the hood – but it can’t run any desktop programs except Office and IE [Internet Explorer].

But any programs you already have for your PC…they won’t work and you can’t even try to install them.

So, you can’t install any old version of Skype, but you can run the new Skype for Windows 8  (because it’s a WinRT app that runs on both). You can’t have Photoshop or CorelDRAW on Windows RT – but if Adobe and Corel do WinRT apps like their Android or iOS apps, you could have Photoshop Touch or Pinnacle Studio on your Surface” (Mary Branscombe, “Windows RT vs. Windows 8: On the Surface, there’s Still a Lot of Confusion.” ZDNET. October 22, 2012).

Surface Pro Tablet Features

If you want something more, the Surface Pro tablet offers what you want:

  • Windows 8 operating system
  • 10.6-inch monitor
  • Memory storage: 64GB or 128GB
  • ClearType HD display
  • Digital stylus pen included
  • Front and rear-facing HD cameras
  • Included Apps: SkyDrive, Internet Explorer 10, Windows Mail and Messaging; Bing; Xbox Music, video, and games

Like the Surface RT tablet, the Surface Pro is 10.6 inches in size, has a ClearType HD display, two cameras (front and rear-facing), and includes the same apps as that of the Surface RT tablet, Office Home and Student Edition preview excepted. One of the differences with the Surface Pro tablet, however, is that it comes with a digital stylus pen that you can use when selecting operations on-screen. The two Surface tablets also differ in that, while the Surface RT uses Windows RT (an alternative Windows OS), the Surface Pro tablet uses Windows 8 as its operating system. Branscombe tells us more about the freedom provided with the Surface Pro’s operating system, Windows 8:

“Windows 8 runs almost everything: Windows 7 and Vista programs, or maybe even ones for Windows XP…you can also install an Android emulator called Bluestacks, you can run Java, you can install Silverlight and Adobe’s AIR runtime or .NET version 2 if that’s what your program needs. You can install development tools and compile your own applications. You can load up any browser you want…of course it runs the desktop and Office” (Branscombe, “Windows RT vs. Windows 8”; underline mine).

Windows RT does not allow long-time Windows customers the privilege of downloading their PC apps onto their new tablet; the Surface Pro tablet with Windows 8 allows you to use your old PC applications and install them.

Which Tablet is Right for Me? The Decision Factor

 With these distinctions between the two operating systems, you may say, “Help me choose! I do not know which tablet and operating system to select. If you find yourself in this dilemma, do not worry: the distinctions are simple. If you are a consumer that is new to Windows (or has not used a Windows PC in years, like me), the Surface RT/Windows RT tablet is an excellent choice to introduce you to the Windows operating system.

If you are a newbie to tablets, someone who is purchasing your first tablet and you want a tablet and operating system that can perform ordinary operations (without all the fancy stuff), the Surface RT/Windows RT tablet is for you. A newbie would only need the basic applications (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Internet Explorer, Mail and Messaging, Music, Video, and Games plus basic Internet security). Newbies may want to take the Office Home and Student preview and try it out for a while before downloading the complete Office Home and Student software.

If you are a consumer who wants to save money on an excellent tablet but are more of a traditional, PC user (who wants to explore new technological horizons), the Surface RT/Windows RT tablet is for you because it allows you the opportunity to experience some of the Windows experience without being overwhelmed.

If you are a long-time Windows customer who has nothing but a Windows computer in every room of the house (or multiple rooms), and wants to retain the applications you have invested in over the years, the Surface Pro tablet is for you because it preserves your old Windows apps through Windows 8. If you are a business professional, the Surface Pro tablet is for you because it provides additional Internet security (networking, IT management, BitLocker drive encryption, Remote Desktop, Active Directory, and Client Hyper-V), runs all Office software (including SharePoint Designer and Microsoft Outlook, in addition to Powerpoint, Word, and Excel), and utilizes all of your former Windows PC/desktop applications. Business professionals whose businesses have made their home with Windows will find the Surface Pro tablet to be an enhancement of services they already use on a daily basis. Long-time Windows customers will find that the Surface Pro protects their applications without forcing them to spend more money beyond their current investment. While other factors such as price or memory storage may influence your decision, the above advice will at least get you to consider the options ahead.