Why I (almost) never use my Surface RT

Credit: Ken_Mayer via Flickr

I’m looking forward to the release of Windows 8.1 in hopes that it will contain some performance upgrades that will make me reach for my Surface RT more often.

I have a Surface RT and a Windows 8 laptop and I more often reach for my laptop – even though it’s bulkier – than the Surface RT. That because Windows RT, at least as executed on my Surface, fails at one of the central reasons for its existence – speed.

My biggest beef with the tablet is how slow it is to start up and to launch programs. It’s gotten noticeably slower since I got the tablet, right around the time it first went on sale. It’s slow enough to start up that I’d rather dig out my laptop than use the Surface, which is typically closer by.

Launching apps can also be pretty slow too, particularly if I haven’t used the app for a while. I’m left staring at the full screen icon of the app and looking for something else to do while it opens.

It got bad enough that I wiped the whole machine and started over. That has helped a bit but hasn’t totally solved the problem. Plus, I wouldn’t expect to have to wipe a machine to boost performance in just over a half a year since purchase.

The slow speed really defeats the purpose of RT. Microsoft decided to create the RT branch so that OEMs could develop products based on the ARM architecture, which allows for faster boot times and longer battery life than the X86 architecture that Windows has been traditionally built on.

The Surface RT does indeed have much longer battery life than my laptop. That made it useful on a recent long weekend away where I knew I wouldn’t have a way to charge the tablet for the entire four-day trip. I watched two movies and used it to read my book while in the air, and there was still life to the battery when I got home. My laptop wouldn’t have lasted half as long.

But it’s not enough for me to want to use it only as a last resort when traveling. I had hoped to use it around the house, consulting a map or looking up store hours. But since it’s so slow, that doesn’t happen often enough.

I keep the Surface RT in my kitchen, centrally located, where I also hoped to use it to stream music to my Bluetooth speaker. That’s another problem. While this is a more general problem with Bluetooth, the Surface RT exacerbates the matter. We have a variety of devices that we like to connect to the speaker – two laptops, two phones, and the Surface RT. The speaker first connects to whatever it was connected to last, meaning I sometimes have to shut off Bluetooth on other devices to get it to connect to the one I want. An annoying glitch on the Surface RT makes that impossible. Often, although not always, it just won’t let me turn off Bluetooth.

I’m also wishing I’d bought the more expensive keyboard. I have the one with flatter keys and find it’s not much more useful than an on screen keyboard. You can’t type on it like you would a full keyboard because you have to hit the keys too hard. That means I hunt and peck on the keyboard, which I could just as easily do onscreen. Essentially, the keyboard is really just an expensive cover.

In terms of app availability, I’m actually OK with what’s there, but I must be lucky in that the apps I want are available. I read complaints about the lack of apps on RT. Even the stripped-down Office apps are just fine. I haven’t run into any missing features that make my life difficult. I say that, though, knowing that Office Outlook is on the way. I do indeed wish I had Office Outlook on the Surface RT.

Windows RT has gotten off to a pretty rough start, and now I understand why OEMs have been shy to build devices based on the operating system. Last week Bloomberg quoted Acer’s chairman calling RT immature and I agree.

We know that some improvements are coming to RT although the way Microsoft has disclosed them makes me wonder how committed it is to fixing RT’s problems. Microsoft has been dribbling out details of the Windows 8.1 update but has hardly given a mention to whether those updates will apply to RT.  

When asked last week, Microsoft let me know that RT will get essentially all the same enterprise upgrades as Windows when 8.1 is releases. That’s a pleasant surprise, although strikes me as odd that the company didn’t mention that until asked.  

Microsoft has said that a public preview of 8.1 will come out later in June for Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows embedded, so we may know more soon.

I’m not totally giving up yet. If the Windows RT 8.1 update manages to speed things up a bit and fix some quirks, like the Bluetooth problem, I might use it more often. But given the little emphasis from Microsoft about RT updates, I’m not confident that the company is very invested in improving it.

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