Microsoft Surface RT review: First look

The Windows RT tablet is shaping up to be a compelling alternative to the iPad.

Now Microsoft claims that you can still touch-type on the Touch Cover and reach similar speeds to before, although Panos added the caveat that it takes 3-4 days to get used to it. In my experience, that could be a little optimistic: there's a reason that keyboards with decent level of travel are people's preferred choice.

Microsoft Surface RT connector

What I can say with confidence is that within a few minutes I was typing far more quickly than I've ever managed with an on-screen keyboard (according to Microsoft's internal tests, you should be able to reach around 80% of your natural speed). And, if typing is important to you, then there's always the Type Cover.

This adds a little more girth and weight to the Surface, but not by much. And for anyone who does a lot of typing, the result is well worth it. It's not the simple ability to be able to touch type, but the fact that, with a Type Cover, this machine can genuinely replace your laptop.

The 1.2mm of travel each key offers, while not generous, is just enough to make you feel like you haven't made a sacrifice. You'll look at your laptop, particularly if it's more than 2kg, and start thinking of all the reasons why you can leave it behind on your desk.

Because, as with all Windows RT tablets, the Surface includes Word 2013, Excel 2013, PowerPoint 2013 and OneNote 2013. They are full applications, although note that you can't run macros due to the RT's lack of support for Visual Basic for Applications.

The other omission to note is Outlook 2013. Yes, there are Mail and Calendar apps built in to Windows RT, but I'm reserving judgement on exactly how I might replace Outlook if I do decide to replace my work laptop with the Surface (some third-party apps are already available, for example).

The only times that using Surface jars a little is when you slip into the old style of Windows interface; for example, when you click Personalize in the Settings menu. This is jarring and horrible, because you have to peck at a tiny X with your finger in a way that's all too reminiscent of Windows Mobile before it became Windows Phone.

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