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Tablet Wars: Microsoft Surface RT v. Apple iPad

Heavyweight champ and upstart newcomer battle to a draw

By Wayne Rash, Network World
March 04, 2013 06:02 AM ET

Network World - The Microsoft Surface running Windows RT is just about everything you'd want in a tablet, but how does it stack up against the market leader, the Apple iPad?

In our hands-on testing, the Surface RT stacks up well against the iPad -- once you realize that they're in two different stacks.

On paper, the Microsoft Surface RT looks like a competitor to the Apple iPad with Retina Display. They both start at $499. The screen of the Surface is slightly larger, with a 10.6 inch diagonal measurement vs. 9.7 inches for the iPad. They weigh nearly the same. Both have an operating system that's baked in and a host of apps that you can only get from the company store.

[THE ARGUMENT CONTINUES: 10 reasons why the iPad is better than Surface and 10 reasons why the Surface is better than the iPad]

But there are key differences.

-- While the iPad is primarily a content consumption device, the Surface, which comes with Microsoft Office, is also designed for content creation.

-- Where the iPad isolates users from the world of networks, servers and enterprise printers, the Surface works with them seamlessly.

-- Where the iPad requires you to work with its iOS grid-of-icons interface, the Surface gives you a choice of tiles, icons or (hold on to your hat) an actual command line.

So, who wins? The answer is, it depends. The iPad has nearly a quarter million apps available that allow it to do nearly everything. The Surface can't come close in that regard. But the Surface has capabilities that the iPad can't match, and its app store is growing.

If I had to choose, and I could afford it, I'd probably buy one of each.

Under the Surface

The Microsoft Surface RT emerges from its black and white slip case enclosed in a thin plastic envelope that's almost like giftwrap. There's not much to setting it up - first you have to charge it by attaching a magnetic bar to the side of the device and plugging in the charger.

Once you've done that, you tell the Surface your Microsoft account credentials (or create them) and tell the device what Wi-Fi source you want to use. The Surface works with 802.11n Wi-Fi on either 2.4 or 5 GHz.

The Surface then proceeds to set itself up, to install updates and apps. Once it's done, it will ask you to sign in, which you do once, then you flick the opening screen out of the way.

If you've seen Windows 8, then you know what to expect with the Start screen of the Surface. It has the same tiled interface. On-screen gestures move the screen from side to side, touching a tile opens it to perform whatever function it supports.

As in Windows 8, there's a spot at the far right of the screen where new apps show up when they're installed, although you can move them wherever you wish. And the Start screen works with the Surface in either portrait or landscape orientation.

However, the Surface is clearly intended to be used in landscape mode. The magnetic covers work that way, the built-in kickstand supports the Surface only in landscape orientation. The forward-facing camera is located so that it points at the user when in landscape mode. This is different from the iPad where the location of the camera would seem to indicate a preference for portrait orientation.

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