Five More Things To Consider About The Surface RT In The Classroom

Adding to my initial assessment of the Surface RT tablet, here are some additional thoughts on the RT after having a chance to use the device more extensively.
1.  If you need a Touch Cover keyboard it is an additional $100 to your purchase ($119 if purchased separately). You can opt to enter text using the onscreen keyboard but keep in mind that the built-in kickstand will not allow for easy onscreen typing which leaves you to type with the tablet lying flat on a surface (or lap) or with the user holding the device and thumb typing. There are cheaper case options for the RT (Best 15 Cases for the Windows Surface RT Tablet –  Computer Shopper) and one may provide a more comfortable and stable stance for touch typing.
2.  The built in kickstand and Touch Cover design severely limits the RT’s ability to be placed anywhere but on a flat surface. Unlike the laptop, the Surface design does not easily allow for placement on uneven surfaces like someone’s lap or in situations where you would like to adjust the angle of the screen.
3.  Although you may have a desktop, you do not have a full copy of Windows. Any piece of software that you wish to add to your Surface RT needs to come from the Windows Store. As a result, the desktop mode is really a mystery to me as I have found very little reason to access my apps and content through that interface. If anything, the presence of the desktop only serves to confuse the consumer into momentarily thinking they have a full version of Windows.
Looks like good old Windows but just try to install some programs and you will see it is not Windows.
Looks like good old Windows but just try to install some programs and you will see it is not Windows.
4.  Windows SkyDrive is an important supporting piece to the Surface RT and Windows just made it better. Paul Thurrott (Supersite for Windows) recently posted that Microsoft has improved the implementation of SkyDrive on the Surface Pro and Surface RT. My concern with SkyDrive being only accessible through the SkyDrive app has now been addressed. SkyDrive is now integrated into both the “Metro” and desktop modes of Windows RT. This now adds to greater value in having students log into the Surface RT using their own Windows Live account.
5.  Consider the future of the Surface RT. Although Microsoft confirms that it is moving forward with this platform, recent news on Microsoft’s failure to meet its sales expectations of the Surface RT resulted in a loss of nearly $900 million. Obviously, this explains the drastic price reductions for the Surface RT and one has to question what Microsoft will do with future versions of the tablet to keep this product line alive. If new versions of the Surface RT are released will they try to maintain a lower price point? If so, what will the cost be to the specs and hardware? Perhaps a reduction in the size of the tablet is in store?

What Surface RT Does Right as a Classroom Tablet

During the holidays I finally had some hands-on time with the Microsoft Surface RT Tablet. Up until now, purchasing Microsoft’s hardware offerings have been limited to their online and boutique stores/kiosks. Most recently they have started rolling out to the big box retailers.

What is Microsoft Surface RT?

The “RT” badge indicates that this Windows OS (operating system) is designed specifically for tablet and mobile use. Similar to the iOS platform from Apple Inc. that runs on their iPhones and iPads, Windows RT users can extend the functionality of the tablet through the download of applications from the online Windows Store.

“Surface” is the line of tablet hardware from Microsoft. Currently there are two versions of Surface hardware. As mentioned above there is the Surface RT and in early 2013 Microsoft will release the Surface Pro. Surface Pro is essentially their Surface tablet running a full Windows 8 operating system. Programs and software that you would run on a Windows PC (laptop or desktop) could technically run on this line of tablets.

But for this blog post, lets focus squarely on the Surface RT.

What Microsoft Surface RT does right…

1. Skype, Bing and Skydrive are important and welcome pieces of this platform puzzle. Finally Microsoft can bring to bear the assets it has been developing and acquiring over the past few years onto one platform/device. Speculation over the possible integration of XBOX elements and perhaps more importantly Kinect (motion capture) into subsequent versions of Surface are fascinating in their use as interactive teaching tools.

2. Microsoft Office is included on these tablets. Arguably the flagship consumer software title for Microsoft, the inclusion of this popular suite is a very compelling addition to the Surface RT tablet. Again, the ability to use this productivity suite in conjunction with Microsoft’s Skydrive as a cloud storage and syncing solution is very attractive. For students and teachers who are currently using the Office software in their classrooms and labs, the RT platform aims to complement and bridge the gap when working between PC and tablet.

3. The Surface RT has a USB port! The lack of USB ports and SD card slots on Apple’s tablet offering can be a point of contention for some in the market for robust tablet hardware. Looking specifically at the Surface RT the USB port allows for the quick connection of peripherals such as a keyboard, mouse, printer, external drive, etc. However, it is important to note that not all USB devices will work with RT. Similarly the SD card slot provides a convenient and quick way to add storage to the tablet as well as upload photos and media without the need to use an adapter or dongle. There is hopefully the potential to connect other USB devices such as probes, thermometers, sensors, etc. For more information regarding USB peripherals check out this ZDNet article from Mary Jo Foley.

4. Multiple User Accounts is a substantial feature over Apple’s iOS particularly for classroom teachers that want to be able manage and customize the device when it is used with different students across different classes. Accessibility and security features can be tweaked and customized for different users or for a variety of different uses.

What Microsoft Surface RT needs to improve upon

1. The price of the Microsoft Surface tablet is very much in keeping with Apple’s offerings. For a tablet new to this crowded market of mobile devices, Microsoft needs to garner some much needed attention to its own line of hardware. More specifically, the Surface protective covers that conveniently house a keyboard are a compelling feature for Microsoft’s tablet. Unfortunately, they do not come standard with the Surface tablet and they are not a cheap add-on purchase.

2. It would be unfair to expect Windows to offer a huge selection of RT apps at launch but they need to find ways of attracting developers to their platform… and quick. As an educator, the sheer variety and depth of educational, creation and productivity iOS applications has drawn me into Apple’s line of products and at this point competitors will have to provide a compelling alternative in order for me to switch to another platform.

For more thoughts on the Surface RT tablet, check out this info graphic and series of articles from Paul Thurrott – Why Surface RT?