Tech Tips - 50 Things You Can Do with a Surface RT

Long-time critics of slates such as myself will tell you that they fail to provide a suitable productivity experience, based largely on the limitations inherent in a smartphone OS. On the other hand, many proponents will argue that the overhead of a full desktop OS is not necessary to carry around with you all the time. With the plethora of keyboard case accessories available for so many slates on the market today, one still has to question if turning a slate into a notebook replacement is indeed a viable proposition, or just armchair experts blowing smoke.

My recent detailed look at the Microsoft Surface RT showed that you can indeed make a workable compromise between a plain slate running a crippled smartphone OS versus a full-blown netbook such as my HP 210 Mini. To illustrate just how well Microsoft thought out their first-ever venture into the slate market, I've put together a list of 50 things that you can do today with a Surface RT slate.

BACKGROUND:

A large part of my idea for doing this article stems from my 2011 piece where I showed 101 things you could do with a netbook. I still firmly believe that high-end Windows 7 netbooks remain superior devices, although over the last 15 months, slates have blazed a trail to not only wipe out netbooks, but force the biggest software giant to venture into an area it has never really been known for - hardware manufacturing.

Microsoft's Surface RT has to date sold over 1 million units, thanks in part to a clever media campaign, understanding the needs of serious users as well as learning from it's competition. While obviously late in the slate game, the company has shown that they can not only produce a competitive alternative, but in many ways offer a device that does what nothing else on the market today can.

It's this very unique benefit that makes the Surface RT stand out, making it such a compelling sale. This is especially true of users who have tried alternative slates and solutions only to come away disappointed with their money wasted.

While not a bona-fide replacement for a notebook by any stretch of the means, the Windows RT OS mimics a lot of what you may be used to on the regular Windows 7/8 desktop. Add the optional keyboard cover with it's built-in track pad, and you have what many will rightly say resembles a compact notebook/netbook.

More recently, Microsoft announced they would bundle either the Type or Touch Cover keyboard with the Surface RT purchase. That's a saving of at least $120. Combine that with the upcoming Outlook 2013 roll out to complement the included Office suite, and you begin to see some serious functionality and performance.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Microsoft has as of Feb. 2014 slashed the price again down to $299/$329 for the 32GB/64GB versions. You still pay $79 extra for the Type keyboard, but it again demonstrates what money you can save when you wait a few months.

In no particular order, I'm going to present my list of 50 things I have found the Surface RT is capable of. As with my netbook list, this goes beyond devices you can attach to the slate, but software you can run and things you can do to get the most out of your $499 $299 investment.

  1. Run a full desktop version of Internet Explorer for web surfing
  2. Create, open and save MS Office documents
  3. Run full versions of MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint
  4. Attach a wireless trackball for ultimate ergonomic comfort
  5. Expand storage with a microSD card
  6. Plug in your USB thumb drive to browse/move files
  7. Plug in your external USB hard drive to browse/move hundreds of really big files
  8. Stream content from Hulu/Netflix
  9. Enjoy live sports streaming from ESPN3.com
  10. Watch 720p HD movies on-the-go with a 1366x768 display
  11. Get 10 hours of real-world run time on a single charge
  12. Access files on your NAS without requiring a special app
  13. Plug in a full-size SD card via USB adapter for transferring images from your camera
  14. Control and access your Windows PC at work/home using Remote Desktop Connection
  15. Connect with your home TV using HDMI for viewing movies
  16. Connect with your conference room projector for presentations
  17. Web chat using Skype
  18. Expand connectivity by plugging in a USB hub
  19. Connect with your HTPC to watch live/prerecorded local/cable TV anywhere
  20. Plug in a flexible USB fan to keep you cool while you work
  21. Play Farmville
  22. Transfer files to/from smartphones wirelessly using Bluetooth
  23. Print photos and documents on-the-go with a mobile Bluetooth printer
  24. Enjoy the full twitter and facebook experience without compromise
  25. Access and create blog posts with photos and video
  26. Play back WMA/WMV files natively
  27. Upload videos to YouTube
  28. Connect with external audio equipment for DJ applications
  29. Avoid cloud storage and data connection costs by saving your files locally
  30. Access and configure your router's security/wireless settings
  31. Connect with wifi cameras
  32. Stream audio over Bluetooth in your car
  33. Charge devices on-the-go that need juice from a USB port
  34. View two web pages side-by-side
  35. Stream audio/video while working on documents
  36. Multitask with multiple windows/tabs open
  37. Customize the start screen and desktop exactly as you like
  38. Easily remove manufacturer installed bloatware
  39. Attach a screen protector or privacy filter to your display
  40. Connect powerful 2.1 speakers
  41. Plug in a USB tape drive to retrieve archived data
  42. File your taxes online for free
  43. Compile and run HTML code
  44. Create a website
  45. View financial statements and pay balances
  46. Book your flight/accommodation and print your boarding pass
  47. Register and submit complex online forms
  48. Shoot video with both a front and rear-facing camera
  49. Use OneNote in tablet mode with a stylus
  50. Detach the keyboard or flip it around when not needed
I'm confident that there are more examples out there, but this list makes one thing glaringly clear - the Surface RT does more than any other slate before it. No other slate can offer standard mouse/trackball connectivity - that's key to providing a no-compromise productivity experience. With a native Windows file system, moving data to/from the slate becomes second nature. Add the army of USB devices recognized by the Windows RT OS, and you really are approaching the territory of a full-blown netbook replacement.

It is, without question, the closest to a notebook/netbook in both functionality and features.

That said, the Surface RT still has it's caveats. The lack of standard x86 and legacy software support rules it out for many as a viable product - save for a Surface PRO model. While the USB port is a godsend, the lack of 2 or 3 along with other common jacks still makes it a mission at times to connect certain devices. Keep in mind as well that the Windows RT app store is still relatively new, and while growing, many popular apps found on other platforms are still absent.

I'm confident Microsoft have hit the nail on the head with the Surface RT design. This is the slate the iPad should have been from the start - a fusion of smartphone/desktop OS with the best elements from each taken and put together. You're never going to create a perfect device focusing on a smartphone OS or a full desktop implementation. But with a OS designed from the ground up as a tablet operating system, Windows RT suffers from none of the shortcomings that a smartphone OS inhibits. True, the device and software does make compromises, but those are to be expected in a thin slate form-factor. You still end up with a very compelling product that is nothing like anything before it and does more than anything else before it could do.

Are there things I would like to see added? The ability to plug in a slim DVD drive on the USB port to watch movies would be handy, as Windows RT does not support VOB playback. While calculator and notepad can be used on the desktop, it would also be nice to have access to tools such as paint, so that I can multitask these next to Internet Explorer or Office. Even a stripped-down Windows Media Player would seem doable. The possibilities of working on the Windows RT desktop I feel are being underutilized when you understand just how enormous a difference a keyboard/mouse makes.

Windows RT definitely has a lot going for it, assuming of course Microsoft continues to support the platform and not create another OuchPad.

Finally, I guess it needs no mention that if I were an iPad owner, I would ditch that device in a heartbeat.

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