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Microsoft Surface RT vs Surface Pro: Which Is Right For You?

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The Microsoft Surface RT is finally on sale starting at $499, but Microsoft has another version of the tablet on the way in a few months that power users might want to wait for.

The Surface tablet that comes out on October 26 is the Windows RT version of Surface. It uses an ARM processor like the ones found in smartphones and most tablets, and the base model only includes 32GB of storage. It has an 10.6-inch display with a 1366×768 resolution, weighs 1.5 pounds, and has a 31.5Wh battery that will last 8 hours of “mixed activities.”

In a few months, Microsoft will release the Surface Pro which runs full WIndows 8 Pro with an Intel Core i5 CPU. The Surface Pro is about 4mm thicker than the Surface RT, and weighs 2 pounds. It has the same sized 10.6-inch screen, but its has a 1920×1080 (1080p) display, starts at 64GB of storage, and a 42Wh battery. The Surface Pro also features pen input.

Aside from the specs and slight dimension differences there are other big differences between the two Surface tablets in terms of what software they can run. The Surface RT tablet that is available for pre-order now has several limitations including the inability to run legacy apps that some business users rely on.

Microsoft Surface tablet

Surface RT

Windows RT is Microsoft’s tablet version of Windows, and can only run apps from the Windows Store. That means devices like the Surface RT can’t run the Chrome web browser or download games from Steam. The only apps Windows RT can run outside of the Metro Modern UI are the ones included in Microsoft Office which is pre-installed.

The Surface RT and other Windows RT tablets also lack Windows Media Player, which likely isn’t a big loss for most users.

Windows RT and the Surface RT is best suited for users who only want a tablet with tablet apps and don’t need desktop apps like iTunes, Photoshop, and QuickBooks.

Surface Pro

The Surface Pro will be able to run any app that a Windows 8 Ultrabook can run. The Surface Pro has very similar specs to most convertible Ultrabooks, just in a different form factor.

Windows 8 Pro is the best of both worlds: it can run apps designed for the Windows desktop as well as Modern UI apps in the Windows Store. It’s the best option for users who really want to use a Surface as a laptop replacement.

Surface Pro

The pen input of the Surface Pro gives users an easier way to take notes and sketch in apps. Sometimes a pen is easier for handwriting or photo editing, and the included stylus will likely work better than any capacitive stylus that will work with the Surface RT.

Microsoft hasn’t announced a release date or price for the Surface Pro yet. It did say during the announcement event, however, that it will release the Surface Pro about 90 days after the Surface RT, and that it will be “priced competitively.” The would result in a release date of January 24, 2013 and price of somewhere around $1000.

Which One Is Right For You?

SurfaceUsers who already have a desktop PC or laptop who still want a Surface should have no problems with the Surface RT. It won’t run every app, but that’s what the main computer is for.

The Surface RT is a good option for users that plan to rely on a notebook or desktop for using the traditional Windows interface, and for using apps that don’t run on Windows RT. This tablet is a better option as a second computing device, much like users who may own an iPad and a notebook. Users can use the Surface RT for browsing the web, video chatting on Skype, emailing working in Office and playing casual games, but shouldn’t plan to run every app a notebook or desktop can.

The new Live Tiles user interface is more straightforward than traditional desktop operating systems, which could help first time users adjust to using a tablet.

The Surface Pro is better suited for users who want to replace their laptop with a tablet but don’t want to sacrifice features. The Surface Pro has all the functionality of an Ultrabook in a very portable form factor.

Students and business users may appreciate the pen input that should simplify note taking. The Surface Pro isn’t designed to play graphically intense games, but should handle some recent games. Business users can count on using legacy application in the traditional Windows desktop environment.

Business users will also prefer the Surface Pro because it has features they need like Remote Desktop and Active Directory, and because it can run any app they need and is quite portable.

Shawn is a tech junkie who spends most of his time reading and writing about it. You can follow him on Twitter, @shawn_i.

49 Comments

  1. Rich C

    10/28/2012 at 9:41 am

    This is just a copy of the Ipad. Microsoft was found lacking and didn’t have the fortitude to do anything different until Steve Jobs passed away. This just goes to show that Microsoft is only after your money!!!!!

    • Anthony Evans Jr

      10/28/2012 at 10:07 am

      and ipads are just copies of older technology technically EVERYTHING is a copy of something. Apple just makes garbage and turns it into gold. If anyone else made the ipad it wouldnt have sold becasue the only thing good apple can do is market right.

      • aus379

        10/28/2012 at 10:30 am

        No.
        Apple just markets it as gold.

    • Johnathan L

      10/28/2012 at 11:10 am

      Actually, microsoft had windows xp running on tablets long before the coming of the ipad… they just weren’t mainstream until ipad showed up. Yes, the RT is similar to ipad and android tablets, but the pro is an actual laptop replacement. NOT another ipad rip-off

      • Ed

        10/28/2012 at 2:27 pm

        You all are getting into a Mac vs Windows “fanboy” argument that just doesn’t apply. Yes, Microsoft INVENTED the tablet market with 5-pound tablets about 10 years ago. So the question remains: How the hell did Apple just completely scoop and dominate them? This surface tablet is pathetic, knowing that 10 years ago MS was churning out tablets with software Apple could only dream about. The truth is that MS is old, tired, and arrogant and have lost a ton of top talent who were tired of being abused and ignored. Apple will face this crisis soon enough. But let’s be critical here where it makes sense and not be sensitive about it. MS needed something WAY MORE REVOLUTIONARY than this tablet that they’re rolling out through Apple-styled stores in the malls. This should have been the next evolutionary product to roll out 8 years ago. The fact that it’s coming out now proves it’s a rip off and they’re doing what they can to stay relevant. MS missed the boat (THEIR boat) is a huge way!

        • Rick

          10/28/2012 at 3:41 pm

          A) I assume you have some idea how much technology has advanced since 2000. Bill Gates showed off a tablet concept in the ’80s, that’s how far back the idea was floating around. The problem was that back then, processors weren’t efficient enough, hard drives weren’t compact enough, and touch/display technology weren’t mature enough. Eight years ago not even desktops have the same level of efficiency and power as even the cheapest tablets on the market today.

          B) And just what is this “WAY MORE REVOLUTIONARY” device that MSFT should have built? Given today’s level of chipset technology and costs of production, do you think you can build it without having to make lots of compromises? Oh, and the other major tech companies aren’t beholden to the same standard? Okay. Have a good day from your jaded glass house, sir.

        • Chuck

          10/28/2012 at 9:16 pm

          Just out of curiosity – since, I’m not an iPad user… Can an ipad have multiple user accounts/profiles on a single device? Does an iPad, out of the box, work with something on the order of 400 million usb devices? Does an ipad let you plug in a micro-hdmi cable and not just mirror the display, but actually let you extend the desktop and actually use it as a second display? Can you add more storage to an ipad? Can you map a network drive on your ipad? Access other machines on the network via a built in rdp client? Does it have Office on it?

          And, that is just the RT version – you know, the one with almost equivalent battery life and weight – yes, the ipad3 is 1.44 pounds, surface rt is 1.5 pounds) as an ipad3, despite a smaller battery, bigger display, and a quad core processor…. Surface Pro, well, that is my next computer.

          • Lalibela Nile

            11/04/2012 at 3:44 pm

            Chuck–you are a beast; I love it all… Debating on facts makes are the sense in the world…

        • Henry

          10/29/2012 at 5:57 pm

          Form follows function…10 years ago it wasn’t possible, not even for Apple to even THINK about making the ipad the way we know it today. Batteries were too big, processing chips were too big and too slow, a touch UI was barely thought of…say what you want about MS….the Surface, and any of its cousins from other OEMs, is the reason why I’ll NOW INVEST in that form factor….the ipad and Android tablets are just dumb down versions of a real OS…… Thank you MS for making a tablet worth buying!!!!

        • Tyler

          11/09/2012 at 11:57 am

          So you’re telling us that MS needed something revolutionary, but what has apple made that’s revolutionary? I will admit, the iPod was amazing when it first came out. But then Apple starting cloning it, making changes that did practically nothing, and selling it for more. Then they made a big, clunky version of it, changed one letter in the name, and sold it for a ridiculous price.

      • avityconnect

        10/28/2012 at 5:46 pm

        Motion Computing Tabets work already. 9 yrs ago… all on windows xp for Tablet. Still big in medical space.
        ..

    • Erick

      10/28/2012 at 11:15 am

      Your comment only shows how ignorant and blinded you are by your fanboyism. I bet you Steve jobs could have packaged his poop stained underwear and sold it to you at a premium. To top it off, you might not even own a single share of Apple.

    • Ed

      10/28/2012 at 2:18 pm

      No kidding, and they’ve had 3 years to improve the iPad design! TWO FUCKING POUND TABLET?! Are you kidding me?

      • Rick

        10/28/2012 at 3:32 pm

        The heck are you on about? It’s 1.5 lbs, just like the iPad 3. You telling me you can’t even lift something that light?

    • Jay O

      10/28/2012 at 5:45 pm

      As is any company. Since when are large corporations in it for the people?

    • Chris

      10/28/2012 at 8:11 pm

      And Apple really cares about it’s consumers by releasing a new product, slughtly updated, every single year for another $500 a pop. Yeah, I don’t want to hear about it.

      • Brant

        10/31/2012 at 9:07 pm

        $700 a pop.

    • Brian A

      10/28/2012 at 8:19 pm

      Do just a bit of research before you post and help us all out. The Surface was in production when the iPad was, the iPad was just launched before it. The idea of the tablet is fairly old a this point, but as far as I know the Surface Pro is THE ONLY TABLET that will function as a fully operational computer (not even your glorious iPad can do that).

    • Brian A

      10/28/2012 at 8:22 pm

      And it’s also funny that you seem to think that “Microsoft is only after your money!!!” This is funny because a basic Apple product ranges around 1.5 times more expensive than a simlilar Microsoft product. Once again, do just a little research before posting your incorrect opinion :)

      • Brant

        10/31/2012 at 9:09 pm

        Funny for anyone in Apple’s court to say that. There is a reason the company is worth $115B. THEY WANT YOUR MONEY

      • Lemelisk

        11/02/2012 at 9:51 pm

        well all companies want you’re money….., but i agree with you that apple products are ussually 1.5-2x more expensive

    • Derek D'Souza

      10/30/2012 at 12:49 pm

      I cant laugh harder if I tried! Microsoft is after your money? I don’t think giving away you products for free is a good way to make business! MSFT have the most unique os ever so I dont think I would/could ever mistake a Surface for an iPad :/ Apple charges more money for their worthless items that they “Innovate” than Microsoft does so I don’t think you have any valid points

    • bi+chkilla

      10/31/2012 at 1:12 pm

      What do u think every corporation is after you tard

    • Lemelisk

      11/02/2012 at 9:47 pm

      no… the iPad is a copy of the Microsoft coffee table….. jk, lol(it doesn’t really count as a tablet and was never sold)but there were plenty of other tablets before the iPad came out
      oh and, btw all companies are after you’re money

    • Riley Arnold

      11/03/2012 at 6:47 pm

      if they copied apple (i pad) they wouldn’t of made it a full operating system they would of made it more like the rival i pad. they have designed this around business needs i have the surface running RT and will be purchasing the Pro 8. This is Because it is amazing i have had all the i pads they are very good for home use and little kids but when it come to school and work the i pad just does not cut it. aswell on top of that the surface allows you to download anything and apple devices lack it. thank you for reading this (if you do)
      P.S. Learn your facts before you post them

    • goofizz (@goofiz)

      11/04/2012 at 8:53 am

      You’ve gotta be a mor-n to think this is a copy of ipad.

    • Tyler

      11/09/2012 at 11:52 am

      This is nowhere near a copy of the iPad. It is designed to use a keyboard, run desktop aps that are actually useful (unlike 90% of the apps on Apple’s appstore) and you get more bang for your buck. The iPad is a $600 dollar toy and the Surface is a $500 tool. So who’s only after your money?

    • david

      11/09/2012 at 1:18 pm

    • Elliot

      11/11/2012 at 12:52 pm

      And Apples Ipad mini is totally only after your heart.

    • Mr. Fellow

      11/29/2012 at 9:25 am

      This is not close to an iPad in any way shape or form. How is Microsoft after your money, when Apple products cost so much more? You are obviously a unintelligent Mac user with no experience in technology

  2. Topper

    10/28/2012 at 4:42 pm

    Surface rt has both the modern ui rdp client and the desktop one. It logs into domain connected servers via remote desktop just fine. Typing this comment on a surface.

  3. kaka jones

    10/28/2012 at 9:02 pm

    fad. magnetic keyboard w/ bluetooth is awesome concept. other than that, no better than how bill gates started. no wonder microsoft and apple are trying to take down google in tablet market: bloated brand vs. consumer friendly product.

  4. A Fighter

    10/29/2012 at 4:34 pm

    Fight! Fight! Fight!

  5. PW

    10/31/2012 at 12:20 pm

    Not convinced this will be a good product. Why would you use a Surface Pro, nevermind an RT. You can run windows application, but for real, what will you run? 4GB of ram is CRAP for desktop applications. You can’t play desktop games either. Only benefit Surface has is the use of MS OFFICE on a tablet platform and perhaps office work because of the stylus. Other than that, I rather stick with an Android tablet which probably uses resources a lot better. If its just for web surfing, video, music, etc, i would stick with apple or android.

    I’ve used Windows 8 on the desktop and the navigation alone is a headache, there is no flow in the menus. Windows 8 is nether desktop friendly or tablet friendly and tries too hard to be everything. I’ll stick with Windows 7 for my desktop and Android for my mobile device. The Metro UI isn’t bad, its the way everything flows beneath it.

    “A” for effort Microsoft, but you are late and way behind again. Just stick with what you do best (Desktops and Servers, maybe XBOX) and stop being greedy.

    • avityconnect

      10/31/2012 at 12:24 pm

      Agree…. but will keep using my 3rd Motion Computing Slate which other than thin crushes both.

    • Brant

      10/31/2012 at 9:19 pm

      PW – ” Why would you use a Surface Pro, “?!?!

      Really?! Why do you go get on your computer after trying in vain to do something productive on the iPad or newest Android device? It is because it has what you need, real software. Microsoft is going to own the tablet market soon. Apple should have put Snow Bunny (or whatever it is now) on tablets long ago, but sadly enough, they stopped innovating about 5 years ago.
      Personally I love android. I have 8 android tablets. But Microsoft has stolen my heart. I am ready to buy the Pro(ductive) version when it comes out because it is finally a real computer. Not something that pretends to be a real computer but can’t really do anything but play simple games and watch movies. Internet even sucks on all the mentioned other tablets. They have been good enough until now. Now, they will be ruled by the one company that was smart enough to see that people do still like real computers. And they want one they can carry and touch and love in a way only a tablet can provide.
      Go Microsoft and take back the OS and computer sales world. Too bad that the other pretenders couldn’t outsmart you. They really tried, but in the end, all the marketing in the world won’t convince me that all I need is an e-reader and the web.

      • PW

        11/01/2012 at 11:07 am

        The argument I have is, how is a Surface Pro better than a upcoming Touchscreen laptop in terms of functionality. 4GB for desktop/laptop with a windows pro OS is already considered underpowered for today. An i5 Processor is already overkill when you have only 4GB ram to work with. Unless I’m missing something somewhere that said you can upgrade the RAM, having an i5 processor and windows 8 pro is overkill.

        The RAM is the killer here. Since it uses windows 8, I begin to wonder how awesome the Surface Pro will be when it starts to “disk-thrash” because it is memory starved when people try to do “real” work on it.

        If they come out with a 8 or 16GB version, I will be as excited as you are about it. Until then, I’m more interested with what the touchscreen laptop market has to offer with Windows 8.

        • devNull

          11/03/2012 at 6:24 am

          4GB RAM, Windows 7, heavy usage and never had memory issues – just because you can *buy* machines with 16GB RAM doesn’t mean that the average user will ever touch more than a fraction of that.

          Particularly since the average user considers ‘real’ work to be using Office, a collection of applications not known for their massive hardware requirements.

          • PW

            11/05/2012 at 11:21 am

            Yes then I agree, if you’re buying this tablet specifically for the use of office, then its fine. But then you can just buy the Surface RT for the same purpose for the average user (with office license included). Pro is meant for people who will use more than just office. (ie. photoshop, design, development) 4GB in those environments is pretty slim.

            I’m still trying to understand what real-world application can a person use a 4GB windows 8 pro tablet for other than Office, since Surface RT can use office at half the price.

  6. NV

    11/03/2012 at 8:07 pm

    Let’s face it, if you’re a college student in Starbucks playing angry birds, they iPad with its fancy retina display is your product. If you want to contribute to society, but something made for the corporate world.

    • Greg

      11/14/2012 at 8:38 pm

      Haha… you nailed it!

  7. Phil

    11/07/2012 at 5:20 am

    I thought this was about Win 8 RT vs Pro not apple fan vs world.

  8. Dan

    11/09/2012 at 10:31 am

    It was Bill Gates that said “640K Ram is all you will ever need!” and he was wrong…and you are saying 4gb is overkill and based on a short tablet history I would have to say you are not calculating any new ideas into the overkill statement. I am waiting for the Surface Pro for business needs and if I can get 8gb ram I’ll take it.

  9. Michael S

    11/10/2012 at 2:20 pm

    As a college student and avid Tech/Gadget geek I would like to say the thing that drives me absolutely nuts about android and apple tablets (I have an android and have used ipad) is the lack of FULL MICROSOFT OFFICE, I’m talking full versions (NOT app approximations that don’t have half the ability) of the whole spiel Excel, Powerpoint, Word, ONENOTE
    (College student’s best friend imho…and yes I know there’s a OneNote app but its bs, if you’re asking what i want in onenote on the tablet I want the exact same program I have on my normal computer with the ability to draw on it as needed)
    Office is offered on the RT (with proper license) and is great…

    that being said, there are a great deal of programs that did NOT translate well to the app version (ahem I’m talking to YOU Foxit!) so the appeal is definitely there for those of us who want to use what they know works but don’t want to carry an ultrabook AND a tablet (like I do now)…
    Also I don’t know too many people that are willing to buy programs ONCE let alone TWICE because they have to also purchase the app version as well if you want to use it on your tablet
    frankly tablets are exactly what you want for eTextbooks and the ability to have that with the full computer functionality is awesome.
    The reason the PRO (as advertised) is beating out the current convertible ultrabooks in my heart is that the decent convertible ultrabooks are about $1500 and up and the Surface Pro should (i say should) be right around $1k give-or-take and actually will have more portability than either my tablet(in its case) or my ultrabook (Dell XPS 13@ 2.99lbs)

    so, in closing, I will be joining those with froth at the corners of their mouths, chomping at the bit for this to come out.

    • Angie

      12/14/2012 at 5:57 am

      OneNote is BRILLIANT for us college students! I agree with u 100%! I’m definitely getting the pro when it comes out and I can sell my laptop as I prefer a desktop anyway!

  10. MacNoWay

    11/14/2012 at 5:26 am

    I bight an Ippad2 and I reget it.he hard ware is fine but be operating system sucks. It is only good for viewing the web. Nothing else. the onscreen keyboard is useless. Changes layouts all the time and does not let you know if you are in capital or lower case. Most frustrating I the restive nature of the IPad Os . It can not function aas. Shared drive. DT that you down old needs can it be shared readily with other packages. It is totally uses unless all you want is terminal. the only feature I like is the GPS sTelight navigation. Although the software is not the best, For what it is it is very pricy. I am very much looking forward to falling in love with MS once gain. it is a truly functioning business environment for serious use. Evolution in computing is want I want. as to the apple i doubt I will ever buy an apple device Again. it’s just pure marketing and lacks substance in design and accessibility. My iPad will be on eBay soon available to some other sucker. it can not even be used as. Phone. I hate it.

    • James

      02/18/2013 at 1:19 am

      “it can not even be used as. Phone. I hate it.”

      Neither can the Surface, not sure what the hell kind of point you’re trying to make.

  11. JB23

    11/15/2012 at 6:45 am

    I will be getting a Surface Pro once I know what type of battery life I will be getting.

  12. gcookie

    11/16/2012 at 3:00 pm

    The surface Pro is going to replace a lot of laptops! iPads and Android tablets have limited function. Apple is in a pickle if they push out their full operating system to a tablet they lose their laptop market. MS not so much….

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