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Microsoft's Cheaper Surface Tablet: 8 Key Facts

Will discounted Microsoft's Surface RTs shake up the BYOD market? Before you pull out your credit card, consider how the tablet stacks up against the competition.

5. Windows Store Is Subpar

Windows 8.1 will offer new development platforms and tools, and a redesigned Windows Store. These enhancements might help the Win8 ecosystem over time, but for the present, the Surface RT's app library pales in comparison to the competition.

Windows 8 and Windows RT now include many of the big names such as Netflix and, soon, Facebook. But it's the smaller apps that often make tablets useful at work -- the ones that make people more productive by keeping them better connected or organized, or that allow workers to do aspects of their jobs, such as documenting evidence in the field, in a new way. Microsoft might be able to counter iOS's FaceTime with Windows RT's Skype -- but without this fuller portfolio of offerings, many Surface users will feel limited.

Compared to comparably priced Windows 8 tablets such as the Iconia, the Surface still underwhelms. It's not clear whether desktop apps such as Photoshop will be useful on 8-inch screens -- but at least the Win8 tablets give users the option. WinRT devices, such as the Surface, are confined to the Modern UI touch apps in the Windows store.

6. Windows 8.1 Will Deliver Important Enterprise Enhancements To Surface RT

At some companies, IT staffs have adapted to manage the full diversity of BYOD devices and platforms. At others, Windows remains the standard. For those environments, the Surface RT's reduced cost could be attractive.

Initially, the Surface RT lacked many business-friendly features. Windows 8.1 will address this, however, with additions that include VPN support and access to Microsoft Outlook.

7. Surface Doesn't Do Much With Its Extra Computing Power

The Surface RT runs on an Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core, 1.3-GHz processer and 2 GB of RAM. The iPad Mini seems comparatively puny with its dual-core, 1-GHz Apple A5 chip and only one-quarter the RAM. But the Surface RT has been criticized as sluggish, whereas the iPad Mini has been called slow only in relative terms; it's a responsive Apple product, through and through -- just not as snappy as a brand new iPad with Retina display.

The Surface's performance might lag but it's adequate. By the holidays, though, Intel should be shipping its Bay Trail Atom chips. These will fuel fast, ultra-light tablets that run the full version of Windows 8 and are expected to become available for less than $400. A Surface 2 is also rumored for later this year, or early 2014. If you want a Surface-like tablet but can afford to wait, you'll likely be rewarded.

8. Surface Has More Peripherals Than Most Tablets -- But Not Cellular Access

Plugging USB drives into an iPad requires proprietary cables. Cloud storage and mobile apps have made such peripherals less essential than they once were, but for many users, accessories are still mandatory. Some Android tablets offer USB ports, but for its class, the Surface supports an unusually broad range of add-ons: microSD, USB 2.0, micro-HDMI and even a mouse. Unfortunately, the Surface is also laptop-like in that it is Wi-Fi only. Without the cellular plans that competing tablets offer, Microsoft's entry could limit those who prioritize mobility.

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