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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

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There's a row of ports on the right side of the Surface, starting with the power connector at the bottom, then a full-sized USB connector that will work with external storage or pretty much anything else that needs a USB connector. Moving up, there's a micro-SD slot, which is nearly concealed behind the kickstand, and then a micro-HDMI connector. Farther up is a screened opening that serves as a speaker port. On top is the power/standby switch.

A major difference for the Surface is the Touch Cover, which works like the Smart Cover on an iPad, except that it has a keyboard printed on it. The Touch Cover attaches magnetically and includes a row of electrical contacts. There's also a Type Cover that works the same way, but has real keys.

On the rear of the Surface is one of the most noticeable differences from the iPad. There's a built-in kickstand that opens and closes with a solid feeling and provides a sturdy support for the Surface. There's none of the flimsy feeling you get with the Smart Cover folded beneath an iPad.

[TECH ARGUMENT: iPad vs Surface RT in the enterprise]

The screen of the Surface features the flatter 16:9 aspect ratio, best suited for HDTV viewing, while the iPad has more square 4:3 aspect ratio.

One big difference is screen resolution, where the iPad's Retina Display boasts 2048 x 1536, while the Surface has an HD display of 1366 x 768 pixels.

However, Microsoft has given the Surface RT what it calls a "Clear Type" display, which means that text on the screen does not appear as fuzzy as you'd expect. In our testing, there was little if any visible difference between the clarity of the iPad display and the Surface RT, unless you're looking very closely for very fine detail.

Surface vs. iPad

E-mail issues

If there's an area where you might run into problems with the Surface, it's in e-mail support. For reasons that remain unclear, Microsoft has chosen not to support POP (Post Office Protocol) e-mail in Windows Mail, which is currently the only mail client available for the Surface. POP mail is supported by the iPad.

This gap in mail support means that millions of potential users, especially people with accounts they've had for a while, or people with mail accounts from their ISP, are basically frozen out of using the Surface for reading mail in its native mode.

Microsoft does make it possible to use its cloud-based e-mail service, outlook.com, to gather POP e-mail, and you can do the same thing with Google's gmail, but this isn't a solution for everyone.

Apple scores a big win here since e-mail is the original killer app for most people. And for many, e-mail is the only reason they're using a tablet.

On the other hand, Apple makes it hard to do simple things such as printing. With the iPad, you must use an AirPrint compatible wireless printer. The Surface will work with any printer that's accessible from your network, including wired network printers, shared printers on other computers, and it will work with wireless AirPrint printers. This is a big convenience win for Microsoft, since adding a printer is basically automated on this device.

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