It’s been around four months now since Microsoft released the first product in their Surface family of PCs, the Surface RT tablet.
Surface RT is a Tegra 3 powered tablet running Windows RT – a version of Windows 8 built for computers with ARM processors. If you’re not familiar with Surface RT you can read my original review here.
So, four months on, what’s changed? Well, for starters Surface RT has received a number of software updates (via the much beloved Windows Update). The updates have fixed bugs, improved performance, and added features to the Microsoft Office apps.
There’s also now a wider selection of apps available on the Windows Store, allowing Surface RT to be a more versatile product. Surface RT can now sync with Windows Phone 8 via the Windows Phone app – allowing photos/videos/music to be transferred between the two devices in either direction. Some other notable new apps include TVCatchup, Netflix, and PowerDVD (yes, you really can hook up a USB DVD drive to your Surface and watch DVDs).
The Windows Store is still lacking in AAA games, though there’s a great selection of games from indie developers. Chimpact from Yippee Entertainment, Jetpack Joyride from Halfbrick, and Riptide GP from Vector Unit would be my top recommended indie games for Surface. There are also emulators for SNES and GameBoy Advance, though obviously you should only use those with games you legitimately own.
Undoubtedly the most interesting development in recent weeks has been that a group of skilled developers at XDA-Devs have ‘jailbroken’ Windows RT. Microsoft had intended for Windows RT to support only a handful of desktop apps – the usual Windows apps like Paint, Calculator, Notepad, plus Microsoft Office apps Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. The jailbreak allows for new desktop apps to be installed just like you’d expect to be able to do with any other version of Windows. But wait, before you get excited and try to install Photoshop or Steam – desktop apps must be specifically built for the ARM processor to run natively on Surface RT. XDA-Dev members have downloaded and re-compiled a handful of open source apps so that they’ll run natively on Surface RT just as they would on a Windows 8 PC. One of the apps which has been ported is DOSBox, which emulates MS-DOS, allowing for old software and games to be run. I’ve played with DOSBox quite extensively and installed a bunch of old (but still awesome) games, such as SimCity 2000 and Worms, both of which run at a decent speed and are very much playable. DOSBox was also able to run Windows 3.1 at a useable speed, allowing me to run a selection of practically antique desktop apps. There’s not much real-world use for Windows 3.1 on Surface, but a geek like myself couldn’t resist installing it.
There’s another effort going on at XDA-Dev, an ambitious project to allow x86 software to run on Windows RT. The tool is in beta and so far only very basic apps will run, and because the software is emulated it runs much slower than native apps would. Again, this won’t run the likes of Photoshop, but it’s fun to play around with, I got a few old apps designed for Windows XP to run using this tool.
Four months on, I’m still really happy with Surface RT. Prior to purchasing Surface RT I would frequently switch from iPad to MacBook Air, mainly using the iPad for web browsing and simple apps, and the MacBook Air for more demanding tasks or if I needed to write a long email. I still find myself using the iPad occasionally, for a few apps which are not yet available on the Windows Store, but I found myself not using my MacBook Air at all, so that’s since found its way onto eBay. Even with the jailbreak, Surface RT can’t entirely replace a laptop/desktop PC, but it is certainly closer to achieving that goal than any iPad or Android tablet I’ve used.