Microsoft Surface with Windows RT: 5 things to consider before buying

Buying a Windows RT slate is not going to be as simple as buying an iPad or Android tablet

Before you head online to pre-order Microsoft's Surface with Windows RT (Surface RT) device starting Tuesday at noon Eastern, you'll want to make sure this is the right device for you. Do you need to run traditional Windows programs? Would you rather have a device that has a heftier keyboard dock? Have you looked at the other Windows 8-powered devices headed your way? Buying a Windows RT slate is not going to be as simple as buying an iPad or Android tablet, so before you buy here's a look at five things to consider.

Surface pricing

Surface with Windows RT pre-orders begin at noon Tuesday Eastern time at Surface.com with prices starting at $500 and the new tablet will start shipping on Oct. 26, the same day as Windows 8. The device features a 10.6-inch display with 1366-by-768 resolution at 148 pixels per inch, Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, 2GB RAM, 32GB or 64GB flash storage, microSD card, USB 2.0, micro HD port, and comes loaded with a beta version of Office 2013 Home and Student that is expected to get an upgrade to the final version later in the year. The tablet measures 0.37-inches thick and weighs close to 1.5 pounds. You can also pick up a cover with built-in keyboard with prices starting at $120.

No Intel inside

Windows RT is the version of Windows 8 for ARM processors. That means the device should have pretty good real-world battery life since ARM chips are popular among mobile device makers because of their power efficiency. The bad news is that software written for x86-based chips can't run on an ARM machine, meaning Surface RT cannot run legacy apps written for Windows 7 or older versions of the OS. Yes, Surface RT has the familiar desktop interface, but the desktop is really only there to run Office 2013 and a desktop version of Internet Explorer. If you need, or want, to run older Windows programs on a Surface tablet, you'll have to wait until early 2013 when Microsoft releases Surface with Windows 8 Pro (Surface Pro) powered by an Intel processor.

Slate/hybrid bonanza

If you can't wait until early 2013 for Surface Pro, there are many Windows 8 slates headed your way with x86 processors such as the Samsung Series 5 Slate, Lenovo IdeaTab Lynx, Acer Iconia W510 and W700. Convertible laptops are also making a comeback with Windows 8 including the Sony Duo 11 Ultrabook,Dell XPS 12, Asus Taichi, and Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga.

No LTE

Lots of tablets have 3G or 4G LTE connectivity, but the Surface RT is not one of them, although future versions may include this functionality. If you need wireless broadband, you'd be better off looking at the iPad, an Android tablet, or a Windows 8 tablet such as the Samsung Ativ Smart PC.

Type or touch cover

You could use the Surface RT as a standard tablet and spend most of your time in the new so-called modern user interface, ignoring the desktop completely. But if you want to use this tablet to get some serious work done on Excel or Word, then you're going to need a portable keyboard to go along with your new tablet. You can buy two different types of keyboard covers for the Surface: the Touch Cover or the Type Cover. The Touch Cover has flat, pressure sensitive keys and a touchpad, but touch typists will prefer the Type Cover featuring mechanical keys and a multitouch clickpad. The Touch Cover is priced at $120 and the Type Cover costs $130. If you don't mind getting a black Touch Cover, you can save yourself $20 by picking up a $600 Surface RT with 32GB storage and black Touch Cover. Other Touch Cover colors include white, magenta, cyan, or red. Type Cover appears to be black only.

Get some hands-on time

Early adopters can skip this suggestion, but if you plan on using the Surface tablet as a full-time tablet and not as an experiment to see how good Microsoft's first touch tablet is, then you should try out the device in-store. Surface will only be available at Microsoft's own retail stores, and the company is also opening more than 30 pop-up stores across North America during the holidays where you can give Surface a try. You'll want to try both keyboard covers to see how they feel, check the Surface touchscreen for responsiveness, and, if you're new to Windows 8, how comfortable you feel navigating the new interface. To see if Microsoft is opening a holiday pop-up store near you check out the Microsoft Store locations page.

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