Why I chose Surface RT over Surface Pro

Posted Thursday, February 14, 2013 3:09 PM by CoreyRoth

I take my Surface RT everywhere and I do mean everywhere.  Whether it is lunch, the bar, the airplane, user group presentation, a client demo, if I am out and about, chances are I have my Surface RT with me.  In the past month or so (long before the Surface Pro) came out, I noticed this trend of people asking me if that was a Surface Pro.  After I sighed,  I would reply “No, it’s not and nor do I want one.”  The technology just isn’t there yet for us to not have to make a trade-off right now.  Today’s post is to explain why I chose what I did. 

If you look at the Help Me Choose page, most of my reasons are clear.  Let’s break it down.

ARM Processors

While uneducated reviewers out there are complaining about the Surface RT running on an ARM processor, I am praising it.  When I first heard that Windows was going to support ARM, I knew the significance.  This is what gives you a tablet device with no fan speed or heat concerns.  It also gives you ridiculously long battery life and connected standby.  I’ve used a Samsung Series 7 slate and it was heavy and sometimes loud.  I saw the issue back then and I knew this was the answer. I’m a big fan of ARM.

Battery Life

Seriously, the battery life on Surface RT is amazing.  They quote 8 hours, but I have used it all day at client meetings exclusively and then used it a couple of hours later at the bar and still had 20% left.  I am seriously impressed.  The Surface Pro unfortunately has significantly less battery life with reports between 3.5 and 5 hours.  This may be fine if you plan on using it as a laptop and you’re keeping it plugged in but I like the fact that I never have to worry about power on my Surface RT.  I charge it every other day typically and that is fine.

Connected Standby

This is the feature that makes your Windows RT device notify you of mail and other notifications when the device is “sleeping”.  That means I hear every mail that comes in and I get that Skype call (usually) just like an iPad does.  Surface Pro cannot do this because it goes into a true sleep just like your laptop does.

Instant Resume

Who has three seconds to wait for their device to come on every time they hit the button on top of it?  You do, if you bought Surface Pro.  I can turn the screen of my Surface RT on and off rapidly.


I am amazed at how many reviewers, said “ZOMG, the Surface RT can’t run Photoshop!”.  Really?  You’re dismissing the device because of this?  How many times have you ran Photoshop on your iPad?  And why would you run that on a tablet anyways?  I get it.  The Windows Store is still growing, but you can rest assure it will catch up to Apple and it’s five thousand fart apps.  The install base of Windows PCs, Tablets, and other devices is just to huge to ignore. 

When I think of this, I refer back to my post, "There’s an app for that, but does there need to be?”  No, there is not a Facebook app for Windows 8, but do I need one?  The reason they created one for mobile devices originally was the because the browser sucked.  Well, I don’t need one because I have a fully functional web browser on the device (you can debate whether you like it or not :) ).  When you use your laptop, do you wish there was a Facebook app there?  No, of course not.

For you power users out there, you can actually run some of your favorite desktop apps over remote desktop. I don’t mean inside a full screen window session.  I mean with Remote Apps which puts applications running on a remote server running seamlessly on your desktop.  In fact, right now I am typing this entire post using Windows Live Writer running off of a Windows Azure VM on my Surface RT.  Take a look at the screenshot below and notice how there isn’t any visible RDP window or anything like that.


So yes, that’s Visual Studio and Windows Live Writer running on my Surface RT desktop over RDP.  It works quite well (assuming you have an Internet connection).  Special thanks to @chakkaradeep for pointing out the post on this. 

I even have a RemoteApp set up for Outlook.  Yes, I agree the included Mail app is a bit painful.  Really, my main complaint about it is that it’s slow and unresponsive.  I’m hoping that will get better in the future.  However, you have to understand why that app exists.  It all comes back to Connected Standby.  Outlook doesn’t support it, so they built this app that does.  Sure, it could support it one of these days I am guessing, but it’s all a matter of priorities.  Outlook definitely isn’t touch friendly.


The Surface RT is already a significant investment at it’s price point.  With better hardware comes more cost of course.  In reality, it’s not much more than any previous slate devices based on an i5 processor.  You just have to decide what’s in your price range.

What about Surface Pro’s better hardware?

Like anything there is a trade-off.  Yes, the higher resolution display and pen would be nice, but I could do without for now.  Admittedly, I haven’t seen that display in person yet.  I think the feature gap between the two devices will get closer as time goes on.

Can Surface RT replace your laptop?

Sometimes!  When I am traveling, it’s often all I bring with me.  If I have a SharePoint demo, I try to use SharePoint Online or I will remote into my laptop or another server so it gets the job done.  I don’t write a ton of code any more so it’s ok that I don’t have Visual Studio running locally.  With RemoteApps though, you can see that you can work around it.  Take a look at this photo that I took before traveling a few weeks ago.


There you will see my Surface RT connected to a glowing USB hub (SharePoint branded) with a keyboard, mouse, and headset.  It’s also attached to a second monitor driving it at full resolution as a second screen.  Here I have a remote desktop connected to my laptop.  I’m getting actual work done.  Let’s see your iPad do that.

Can Surface RT replace your iPad?

At the risk of enraging the wrath of Apple fanbois, I’ll give you my opinion.  If you want to get real work done, absolutely.  If you want it to control your Sonos system or Directv receiver, not likely.  For work though, there really is no comparison.  Think back in the past to a meeting you have gone to right after someone you know first got their iPad.  They are over there diligently trying to use the iPad in some useful way at work.  Then, you see that person a few weeks later at another meeting and one of two things has happened.  Either a) they didn’t bring the iPad or b) you peak on their screen and they are on Facebook or are playing Angry Birds.  iPads are pretty decent for consumer home use, but for most people they aren’t going to help you get your job done.

Let’s face it Apple hasn’t done much since Steve Jobs died.  I am hearing even the most die hard fans question their direction and capability to innovate.  Simply making things thinner and lighter isn’t good enough for people.  I think the Surface RT is superior to other devices in many ways.  Does it have it’s issues?  Sure, but this is Microsoft’s market to capture.  Unfortunately, the marketing Microsoft is doing is just not effective so people just don’t know about what these devices do.  When the word gets out, maybe we’ll see something.

What do you all think?  Am I completely off base here?  Does the RT meet your needs?  Did you hold out for the Pro or did you go with something else?  Leave your feedback.

Maybe I should have been a gadget reviewer for a living.  If anyone wants to send me hardware for me to write my opinion about, I’ll take it. :)


# re: Why I chose Surface RT over Surface Pro

Friday, February 15, 2013 12:45 AM by W0ut

I could not agree more. The RT already has a few productivity advancements compared to competitors. Why people want a full blown laptop in a tablet form factor is a mystery to me.  Agreed if battery life improves it will make a little more sense. However the limitation of touch screen will never make it suitable for Photoshop, programming, ....

# re: Why I chose Surface RT over Surface Pro

Saturday, February 16, 2013 7:18 AM by tonywlee

I chose the Dell XPS 10 RT. I'm getting about 10-12 hours with tablet depending on what I do on it and another 8-12 hours when I connect it to the keyboard which has another battery. I have to say I honestly love this thing and like you, I take it everywhere with me. Btw I'm getting a full charge in less that 2 hours for the tablet only and less than 4 hours for the tablet and keyboard together.  

# re: Why I chose Surface RT over Surface Pro

Saturday, February 16, 2013 11:06 AM by Ken

I borrowed an RT for a week when they first came out and did not want to give it back.  Since I am in need of a new laptop and want a light one I figured I would wait for the Pro.  Now that it is out and I have looked at the pricing and features, I am thinking it is not the right device for a laptop replacement combined with a tablet.  That has me thinking about the RT again and getting a regular laptop instead of the Pro.

Your review (and others) are definitely leading me to the conclusion that the Pro is not the right device for me, but the RT is.

# re: Why I chose Surface RT over Surface Pro

Saturday, February 16, 2013 11:23 AM by Paul Stork, MVP

I couldn't have said it better myself.  I think there are people for whom a Surface PRO is the right choice, but only if your laptop usage is light enough that you can use it instead of a laptop.  Otherwise, like me, I think the Surface RT is the right choice for a tablet to augment my laptop.

# re: Why I chose Surface RT over Surface Pro

Saturday, February 16, 2013 12:26 PM by Ian Lawrence

What the guys thoughts on the RT v Pro ( Battery life aside) for enterprise usage and its subsequent support and management via an SCCM and security perspective.

i'm looking at it for some field workers such as social workers.

Looking for these devices to be their only device not an additional as the Ipad tends to be.

# re: Why I chose Surface RT over Surface Pro

Saturday, February 16, 2013 2:08 PM by CoreyRoth

Hi Ian.  Good question. So to my understanding if you want to treat the devices as a true enterprise device that is manageable with System Center, you have to go Pro.  RT devices can't join domains and can't be managed as such unfortunately.  That's definitely a +1 for the Pro if you have that requirement.

# re: Why I chose Surface RT over Surface Pro

Monday, February 18, 2013 4:45 PM by Rene

Hi Corey,

"Can Surface RT replace your iPad?

At the risk of enraging the wrath of Apple fanbois, I’ll give you my opinion.  If you want to get real work done, absolutely.  "

could you elaborate more on this, maybe in a dedicated blog post? I'm using an iPad, but never had a Surface, and I'd love to hear how the Surface helps you in your work (e.g. in meetings, as you mentioned).

# re: Why I chose Surface RT over Surface Pro

Thursday, February 21, 2013 9:50 PM by Frenzy

I have Surface RT since launch and am very happy with it. However, I did test out the Surface Pro and I must say I love how much faster it was and how it had less restrictions. Honestly, I would buy Surface Pro only if I didn't have a Windows 8 Pro desktop. While at home, I remote into my Pro if I need to get real work done. If there was a need for me to run Pro consistently while on the road, I would consider Surface Pro no doubt. It boils down to lifestyle and preference. I have no budget issues in purchasing Surface Pro, but it wouldn't be worth the cost for my type of usage at this point. However, it be cool if I received Surface Pro as a gift. I won't lie about that! We'll see if I give in within a few weeks. I'm not totally ruling out buying a Surface Pro. If I do, I plan to keep my RT.

# re: Why I chose Surface RT over Surface Pro

Friday, February 22, 2013 10:51 PM by Philip

I own a surface pro and I love the thing, and I can get ~6.5hours of battery if I am just browsing the web by the way. I do think that I kind of needed the pro, as I program in C++ and C# for a living.

Honestly though, I think Microsoft should have had an Atom-based surface instead of the RT and then still an i5 variant for more demanding users. But go Google around and you will find that the Clovertrail Atom processors can outperform the Tegra 3, and they run really cool (no fans needed) and really efficiently (9 hours of battery on a 10.6inch screen easy). This would give you a Surface RT experience AND some support for x86 applications. I really hope to see an atom surface next year with even better atom processors.

You do make good use of your Surface RT with RDP, though. I would have likely done something similar if I bought an RT.

# re: Why I chose Surface RT over Surface Pro

Saturday, February 23, 2013 12:35 AM by Big Loud Jeff

Great info!

Just out of curiosity, why did you pick an Azure VM? Do you leave it running all of the time? Is it cost effective?



# re: Why I chose Surface RT over Surface Pro

Monday, February 25, 2013 9:26 AM by CoreyRoth

@Jeff I use an Azure VM because it comes with my MSDN subscription so I don't have any money out-of-pocket on it.  You could very well use whatever VM you have accessible to your Surface RT.

# re: Why I chose Surface RT over Surface Pro

Wednesday, February 27, 2013 5:21 PM by cHAD

Corey, great article...spot on and the feedback I give when people ask me about how I like my device comarped to my iPad.  I take it everywhere, and really love the OneNote integration between devices.  My biggest issue to-date is with remote desktop.  I still find myself lugging my laptop around for business trips due to the fact that I cannot remote in to my network when outside my domain.  This could be fixed if Cisco would come out with an VPN app that allowed me to access my network.  Until this is solved, the RT is a useful tool, but not a complete replacement.  

# re: Why I chose Surface RT over Surface Pro

Wednesday, February 27, 2013 6:44 PM by CoreyRoth

@chad I've heard similar feedback.  Luckily, I don't need to VPN much myself because our SharePoint site is accessible on the Internet.  Several others have complaints about proprietary VPN clients.  I wish people would stop using them because they are generally buggy, very OS specific, and are quite fragile.  Every time a new OS comes out, VPN clients typically lag behind for months.  I find that unacceptable.

# re: Why I chose Surface RT over Surface Pro

Thursday, April 11, 2013 10:23 PM by CoreyRoth

@Rene Good idea.  But to quickly summarize.  Although IOS has office-like apps such as Numbers, it's no true match for Excel.  It's having a good chunk of the Office Suite available that makes the RT so valuable.  I can work on a document on my laptop and then go somewhere with my surface and Word not only has my document but it opens the document to the exact page I was editing last.  Since I can run two apps side by side that makes it easy to use OneNote and Lync or Skype at the same time.  Lots of possibilities there.

# re: Why I chose Surface RT over Surface Pro

Friday, August 9, 2013 7:48 AM by Sarah

Looking into getting a Windows 8 based tablet. I am a realtor, (and a mac-er...!) so my Apple MBP isn't cutting it when I need to pull up certain sites. Specifically, I need word/excel (I have an office365 subscription) and fully functioning internet with java. Would this be a good tablet for me?

# re: Why I chose Surface RT over Surface Pro

Friday, August 9, 2013 8:16 AM by CoreyRoth

@Sarah If you are looking specifically for Office applications and web based sites then this tablet should do well for you.  The long battery life will be useful for someone that is always on the go.

# re: Why I chose Surface RT over Surface Pro

Monday, August 26, 2013 12:36 AM by Faxal

what if i say that surface rt don"t run games like windows surface pro do.games like call of duty black ops2

# re: Why I chose Surface RT over Surface Pro

Friday, October 11, 2013 1:26 PM by CoreyRoth

@Faxal I would say why would you want to run a game like that on a tablet.  I would get a desktop or a gaming oriented laptop for that purpose because I don't want to play games like that on a 10" screen.

# re: Why I chose Surface RT over Surface Pro

Friday, November 21, 2014 2:40 AM by Ake

@Sarah, I hope you didn't buy that Surface RT, becuase Java is NOT supported.

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