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There’s really only one reason to consider Windows RT over Windows 8

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A strange thing happened recently and I have no idea how or why it did: I’m starting to like the new touch version of Microsoft Windows. Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent so much time lately with the Acer W510 Windows 8(s MSFT) tablet. I explain why in this video overview.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to excommunicate myself from either the Church of Android(s goog) or the Loyal Order of iOS(s aapl). I do, however, like to keep an eye on all of the mobile platforms and device types on the market in order to maintain perspective. You know, the kind of perspective that doesn’t come cheaply: I bought an HP TouchPad(s hpq), Palm Pre and, about five or six years ago, three different UMPCs. (Those were 7-inch tablets with crappy touch screens and a terrible Windows XP experience.)

What are the choices?

surface proSo I started shopping around for a new Windows 8 tablet. I really don’t need the performance of the new Surface Pro or any other similar tablet/laptop combo using an Intel(s intc) Core i5 chip. There’s little point to spending upwards of $900 or more for one of these, as a result. That leaves me with two main paths: a Windows RT device using an ARM(s armh) processor or a Windows 8 unit with an Intel Atom chip.

And that brings me back to something I wrote last month, which my experience with the Acer W510 only solidified. The only reason I can think of to purchase a Windows RT device is the price difference. That same thought was alluded to on Twitter by Steve Paine — a long-time friend from my old UMPC days — who runs a great set of sites devoted to tablets and ultrabooks.

Aside from the slightly lower cost of entry, what other reason is there to pick Windows RT? I wish there more reasons, but I’m not seeing them. And that’s disappointing because when Microsoft announced it would be working with partners for Windows on ARM, I was among those who were thrilled. (Of course, I bought a TouchPad, so what do I know?)

The app store may be more important than the device price

I do know that the application situation for Windows RT isn’t much better now than it was a month or two ago. I also know that I can get roughly the same battery life on an Intel Atom powered Windows 8 device as I can with a Windows RT tablet. I also get my choice of browser and the ability to run full Windows apps with the Intel device. Here’s a summary of the decision process from my post last month; I’ve already ruled out option No. 3 for reasons stated above:

It’s a simple scenario, really. Consumers have three choices when it comes to Windows tablets. They can buy

  1. ARM-based: A Windows RT tablet for around $500 that has acceptable performance, a Desktop limited to Microsoft Office use, no support for legacy software and a device that runs for about 10 hours on a charge.
  2. Intel Atom-based: A Windows 8 tablet for around $500 that has slightly better performance, no desktop or software installation limitations and runs for 8 to 10 hours on a charge.
  3. Intel Core-based: A windows 8 tablet for around $900 that offers the best performance, has no desktop or software installation limitations and runs for 4 to 5 hours on a charge.

See the problem? For roughly the same price, consumers can choose between options 1 and 2. Any benefits of running Windows on an ARM processor — at current device prices — simply isn’t there.

As I was shopping around online to check out what’s available, I did stumble upon one deal that had my finger hovering on the “buy” button: Amazon(s amzn) has the Asus VivoTab RT and docking keyboard –with included secondary battery — for $481.

Acer Iconia W510That’s a steep discount from a few months ago when Asus launched the device. And it’s less than the $709 a 64 GB Acer W510 with similar keyboard goes for on Amazon. But the app situation for Windows RT was a good reality check and I passed on the deal. It’s just too limiting for what I want and price was the only reason I might have gone for it.

Too many limitations for Windows RT for me right now

Ironically, an earlier story from today adds a little more clarity to the issue. Bluestacks launched a Windows 8 optimized solution that runs Android apps. With it, I’d have access to more than 750,000 Android apps.

The only problem? Bluestacks runs on Intel chips, so Windows RT devices can’t benefit from it. That’s almost ironic considering nearly all of the Android ecosystem is designed to run on ARM chips such as those used for Windows RT.

So the dilemma is this: Is it worth saving a few bucks to go with the limitations of Windows RT? After coming to my senses and passing on the VivoTab deal, I don’t think so.

The only benefit to buying the device would be the lower price than competing, fuller-featured Windows 8 devices. Unless the application situation changes soon, I don’t see how Windows RT can ever be a success at any price, save maybe $199 or less. For the moment, at least for me, the excitement I once felt for Windows RT’s potential is eroding faster than the demise of Palm.

31 Responses to “There’s really only one reason to consider Windows RT over Windows 8”

  1. Interestingly, if one of the categories of Windows tablets listed above had to “go away,” I would want it to be number two, the Atom-based tablets. The reason is that I fear that if people adopt them, trying to get PC-level compatibility at tablet prices, they may end up being disappointed with the performance. That’s what happened to the netbook market and led to rise of tablets and ultrabooks.

    Windows RT makes no compromises with regard to performance. The lack of apps is partly mitigated by the very good IE web browsers it has, but if Windows RT had anything near the app availability of iOS, most of the criticisms of the OS would be moot.

    I’m not saying that Windows RT is the ultimate mobile OS, but I do believe that there is a segment of users who may have been disappointed with the iPad as a productivity device who could be completely happy with Windows RT.

    • Great point, Chip. Microsoft likely doesn’t want another netbook “crash and burn” to be associated with Windows 8. And there’s a big difference in the experience with Windows 8 on Atom vs. on a Core i5. I wonder how much Intel pushed for Win8 on Atom to take the wind out of Windows RT on ARM?

  2. David Gulli

    Great article. As a new Windows RT user who works in the IT industry, i’ve found a few things happening to my habits after the first couple of days

    NB: i also have an iPad and love it dearly, but i thought i’d try one of these out.

    #1 – Initial disappointment in the lack of some apps i already had on windows Phone 8 not porting across. No different to having an iphone version of an app and wanting it on an iPad though, so not too bad. Some apps like chrome would be nice though

    #2 – after the intial phase of “i need apps” i started to use the full website versions of facebook. realizing that i could, whats the point of a RT app that does FB? i pinned this website to my “start menu” and now its great.

    #3 – App limitations – initially, i bought a surface for its handwriting recognition and note taking. this combined with onenote would be amazing. the full version of Onenote comes with the laptop, but doesnt support audio recording and the sketching is not too bad. Funnily enough, the tablet version of Onenote (formally OnenoteMX, not to be confused with the preinstalled version of onenote) doesnt have hand writing/drawing capabilities. This seriously needs to be fixed, apps shouldnt have basic limitations like this.

    Mind you, the handwriting recognition is fantastic on the full version of Onenote on the RT, i just wish the tablet version had the same features

    #4 – Acceptance – after a few days of playing with it and getting used to the Windows RT, i quite like it. Its missing apps, no doubt. but what it does have built in so far is quite user friendly. the charm bar is fantastic and a really underated feature. being able to get to every setting and being able to search every app from the same unified place? design gold. its something apple or even android could steal from. IE is fantastic, and they are words i’d never think i’d say.

    #5 – Holy crap it just works – this is a silly one, but windows phone 8 works seemlessly when using it with Windows RT and Skydrive. Taking photo’s on my phone, and seeing them appear on my skydrive app on my tablet so i could show my folks straight away? Great. Remembering Wireless passwords on my phone and it automatically connecting to said wireless network on my surface? Fantastic. Internet sharing from my WP8 phone to my Surface without it needing to enter the password as it recognizes they are both trusted machines on my profile? Great!

    so yes, there are some big gaps in terms of applications, but what it does have built in is actually quite rock solid, especially in the cloud/skydrive area. i think a bit more time and investment will actually make this device quite the quiet achiever and cops a lot of flack from the internet.

  3. To me RT sits somewhere between a chrome book and a windows pc. It has stronger security (because it’s more locked down) and better reliability than x86 windows, office is included which saves about $100 and IE is actually pretty decent browser which is the main thing i need to be productive. But the first run of these devices were / are too expensive. These need to be priced slightly higher than a chrome book imo

  4. William Miranda, CPA

    I bought the Surface RT at launch. I’ve been tempted by the Surface Pro with all of the hype surrounding the launch (including a certain podcast where the host drove 50 miles to get one). I’m actually glad that the Pro is out of stock for a few days, forcing me to consider whether I really want to trade up to the Pro or keep the RT. I’ve actually been very productive with the RT and the all day battery life is a real plus.

    I’ve been working on the RT for the past few days, preparing and reviewing tax returns. Intuit Tax Online will actually run on IE on the RT with acceptable performance. I use a virtual server for most of my windows apps anyway, so the Remote Desktop app is all I need. I have no problem printing to networked printers in my office and home. I scan everything, but I have to use a different workstation because I can’t connect the scanner directly to the RT. I work with a lot of PDF documents, comparing 2 PDFs as I look at 2012 vs. 2011 tax returns or a return and a workpaper is something I do a lot of . The modern UI PDF readers don’t allow you to open more than one PDF at a time and you can’t split the screen equally to run two different readers or even show one PDF on one screen and another on a second screen. That’s not a problem that’s unique to RT, it’s common to all Windows 8 computers. It’s dumb!

    I’m just weighing whether it would be worth it to get a pro to see fewer of those dots while I’m waiting for something to load or update and to be able to hook up a scanner to the Pro. It’s a tough call. I’m leaning toward keeping the RT and using other computers in my office to fill the gap. But then shiny objects are always beckoning to me.

    • You can open one pdf in Windows reader and the other in adobe reader. I know that is not perfect but it is a work around.

      I really would like goodreader to come to Windows Rt, but they say they are fixed on ios. I think that is misguided.

      • William Miranda, CPA

        Using two modern UI PDF readers is a way to have two PDFs open at the same time, but you can only display them both at the same time in that snapped configuration where one of the two apps only gets a tiny sliver of the screen, making it too small to read. If I can run the second app on a second display that wouldn’t be so bad but the second screen in Windows 8 can only run the legacy desktop.

    • Chris Woodward

      You will soon be in luck. 8.1 will allow 50/50 split on the RT. I love the RT, that type keyboard cover is the best thing ever along with the kickstand.
      I never use my Lenovo Tablet 2 Win8 Pro since I got the RT.

  5. I think this is one of the more honest articles for Windows RT. I have a Vivo Tab RT with the dock and I love the battery life. Lately I have been wanting to get a “Pro” that runs on an x86 processor, but find that since I have the RT tablet, buying another tablet like device with an x86 feels counter intuitive. Instead I have come to realize that I am wanting to find a great 11-13″ touchscreen laptop with either an AMD A8/A10 (or a an APU) processor or a Core i5/i7 with a discrete (AMD or NVidia) graphics card. The RT fits prefectly as the Windows “lite” tablet that I can use when I don’t want to just sit there on the laptop. With my iPad and Android tablet I ALWAYS had to keep my Mac or PC laptop in my bag, but with the RT tablet I don’t get that anxiety of always needing a laptop in my bag anymore.

  6. Jared Westfall

    I had an ASUS VivoTab RT and it was a good little unit. Loved the form factor but ASUS sent an update that made the touchscreen virtually unusable so I was left with an overpriced and crippled laptop. I returned it for a Samsung ATIV and grabbed a keyboard and I have been happy. I know the Atom limitations but I am not a gamer. The little metro games are fine for me but the ability to run what I need and want is great. I do not really use the pen support but its nice to have. The lack of a battery in they keyboard dock sucks but it lasts all day without an issue.

  7. i think ms hit it out of the park with surface pro. if it’s not actually the perfect hardware yet, it hardly matters. it has set the tone for what MS partners should be developing. it will be good for them to follow the lead, and maybe MS can stop making surfaces altogether once windows 8 is running on a billion dell/samsung/hp/acer tablets.

    make it high-powered, and guess what, MS has created a new and relevant market, that of tablet-looking PCs that are more expensive than iPads and can run EVERYTHING.

  8. Not stealing the thread here, but I thought I’d throw in my 2 cents with my own Surface RT analysis:

    It seems I’m in the same boat as you, Kevin – very excited initially but somewhat hesitant given the giant question-mark around 3rd party software vendors jumping on board. I feel the RT desktop has potential to be a productivity tool. But of course, I look at all devices more from an enthusiast’s perspective than a consumer.

      • You would need a crowbar to pry that HP 210 Mini from my cold, dead hands… ;-)

        Seriously, though, will all the rage around slates with keyboards trying to mimic notebooks, doesn’t it make you think that the netbook as a form-factor was never really a failure? The Surface PRO demonstrates that Intel’s ULV offerings do indeed work inside a sub-11″ chassis. What I would like to see is that same PCB used inside a 10″ netbook chassis, with 2.5″ SSD, RJ-45 and all the other standard netbook goodies. I’m thinking a Power Keyboard for the Surface PRO would be a good idea too – backlit keys, internal battery and some extra connectivity along the sides.

        More than likely, I’ll be getting my wallet out once I see that 8W TDP Haswell CPU on board.

  9. John Nemesh

    Or…you could buy a Nexus 7 for $200 and a Levono Core i3 based laptop (running Windows 7) for $350 and get a similar price to your Atom based tablet with higher performance…and a tablet that actually has the apps you want to run!

    Windows 8 is a HUGE fail! Locked down hardware, closed ecosystem, gimped UI…there are FAR more reasons to NOT buy a Windows tablet than there are reasons to buy!

    If you HAVE to have a Windows tablet, wait until the next generation (or two!)…and possibly for Windows “Blue” or whatever the heck they are calling Windows 9!

  10. I see the Asus Vivo Tab Smart tablet the best dollar value at the moment. Yes it doesn’t have a keyboard dock, it has a smart type cover with keyboard. If you are good with about 9 hours of use, then you might consider the Asus Vivo Tab Smart. I have been testing it for about two weeks now and really like as a portable full Windows 8 tablet. On the plus side the Asus Vivo Tab also has NFC and GPS.

  11. Again you are pounding on RT instead of being objective on both.
    Win 8 doesn’t let you install any software,you got no space to install much.
    Both don’t have a touch ecosystem.
    You can’t play games on Intel based tablets (except the Razer since it has discrete).

    Windows can’t compete with Android (Apple was never relevant long term) as long as the OS is not a lot cheaper (bundling Office with it only makes it worse). Scaling down in size only makes the cost of the software worse.
    The thing is, M$ needs RT (they can’t stick with intel to death) and this is the first step , Doesn’t matter if they sell 1 or 10 RT devices today, what matters is how many they sell in a few years.

    Or if you insist on bashing RT you can argue that the entire thing is a waste of time.
    Small tablets are already being cannibalized by huge phones , soon we should have phones that expand into tablets so the right way to go would be to use WP on tablets and apps that can scale from 4 to 9 inches while also getting ready for wearables.
    Ofc that would exclude bigger screens from the ARM devices and they don’t want that so you end up wondering if M$ just has no clue at all.
    They seem desperate to keep the traditional form factors alive so they can sell their software at the usual price, doesn’t matter that it makes no sense, doesn’t matter that it’s just not doable they just don’t seem capable of doing something else,something new something that replaces a fading business. So pretty much they are acting like Intel , at least Intel is getting a new CEO, they are a step ahead .

    And btw, if still looking Costco has the Yoga 11 at 600$ , just in case wasting that much on it seems reasonable,–NVIDIA-Tegra-3-1.4GHz,-Windows-RT.product.100013556.html
    And if you go win 8 you might as well wait for some AMD based ones to have a more balanced SoC.Their Jaguar cores + a decent GPU should be more interesting than Atom or ULP Intel parts.

    • realjjj, thanks for the comment. I think we actually agree more than disagree if I’m following you correctly. I’m specifically talking about Windows RT devices available today in comparison to their Intel Atom Windows 8 counterparts. I see no reason to get RT when for the same price, I can get Win8 with better performance and similar battery life for my activities. Choice of browser is a biggie for me and I can’t choose anything but IE with RT.

      I do agree with your strategic reasons why Windows RT is important to Microsoft but that’s not what this post is about. ;)

      Few other thoughts:

      “Win 8 doesn’t let you install any software,you got no space to install much.” The first part of that is completely untrue of course. And the second part can be mitigated to a point with external storage.

      “Both don’t have a touch ecosystem.” Windows 8 does; it shares the same touch ecosystem as WinRT with the Metro-style apps, so I’m not following you here.

      “You can’t play games on Intel based tablets (except the Razer since it has discrete).” Agreed that modern, high performing games are challenging on today’s Intel tablet offerings.

  12. Greg Glockner

    I’m wondering whether Windows RT will be mostly immune to malware like iPad. That would be much easier to maintain, and you wouldn’t be losing CPU cycles to antivirus scanning. Time will tell.