Microsoft Surface RT

Blog Date: 
Monday, November 5, 2012

By Amy Mason and Clara Van Gerven

 

So we decided it was time to try something new in the world of the Access Technology Blog.  That’s why, when we got our newest shiny in the mail we decided to do an official Unboxing Video.  The video really hits the highlights of our first impressions of the device, and gives you a glimpse at both the technology, and the people behind the blog, so we hope that you will give it a watch, but in case you are short on time, or just want a quick glance at the talking points and the highlights, we have a handy list of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of the new Microsoft Surface RT, but first…

The Video

The unboxing video
It comes with apologies for the low volume - the video is an experiment, and we'll fix this issue if folks want more of these unboxings.

The Specs

•    Weight: 1.5 pounds
•    Dimensions: 10.8x6.8x0.37 inches.
•    CPU: Quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3
•    RAM: 2GB
•    Storage: 32 or 64 GB
•    Interface: 1 USB 2.0, 1 Micro-HDMI, 1 Headphone, 1 microSDXC slot.  
•    Audio/Visual:  2 720p Cameras (front and rear facing), Stereo Speakers, 2 Microphones.
•    Wireless: Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n), Bluetooth 4.0 technology
•    OS: Windows RT
•    Screen Access: Narrator, Magnifier
•    Productivity Suite: Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 RT Preview, consisting of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote.  The final edition of this software will be included when it is officially released, and downloaded via Windows update.  

 

The Good

•    The Surface is a beautiful piece of hardware.  It’s solid, comfortable in your hands, and satisfying to touch, and look at.  It’s got great clean lines, the physical buttons that exist are solid.
•    The kickstand integrated into the back of the Surface is great for setting it up when the user intends to pull out a keyboard, or set it on its side for watching movies, or sharing the screen with others in the room.  
•    The protective cover/keyboard is a clever space-saving idea and takes up very little space while providing an easy-to-set-up and operate external keyboard.  
•    The external ports make it a much more flexible solution than tablets that do not allow for USB and SD expansion.  
•    Narrator is improved hugely over the implementation in Windows 7.
•    Magnifier is built with touch in mind (This is not discussed in the video, but the magnification is built to be easy to manipulate from all four edges of the screen, and allows for a “zoom out” where the user can see contextually the part of the screen being expanded).
•    Office is included.  It’s the RT version of Office, but this makes it possible to actually use the tablet for fairly in-depth production work.  
•    No Windows Bloatware!  

The Bad:

•    The Windows Logo key on the actual surface is not tactilely discernible.  (It vibrates the device when pressed, but sliding one’s finger over the logo will not activate the button.)
•    The keyboard cover takes some real getting used to.  It has tactilely discernible separation between the keys, and despite no key travel, can be fairly decent to type on, but it has got a real learning curve.
•    Unlike what we stated in the video, there is a very faint tactile marker for the “F” and “J” keys, but it’s very difficult to locate, and not nearly as obvious as on a typical keyboard.  

The Ugly

•    Windows RT is not Windows 8.  “Legacy” Windows programs, such as JAWS, Magic, ZoomText, Office 2010 and older, iTunes, Winamp, VLC, CCleaner and most other Windows applications will not work with the Surface RT (Many of them will eventually work with the Surface Pro, which is not yet available, and is likely to be confusing for many consumers.)

•    The Windows Store really doesn’t have a lot of software in it right now.  If developers buy into RT and Windows 8, this will change, but for now, there are fairly slim pickings in the Windows Store.  
•    And the biggest bear in the room… Narrator is just not robust enough.  The pieces are all there.  Narrator has a really intuitive and logical structure for its touch gestures.  It is able to handle pulling information from live tiles. The voices are easy to understand, and generally quite pleasant to listen to.  Sadly, Narrator itself is still pretty flaky though.  In testing we found Narrator would often jump over required content, finding objects with very small footprints was difficult when exploring by touch, and the flick gestures were somewhat unpredictable.  Narrator often would misinterpret flicks as exploration gestures, and so would often lose the user’s place on the screen, and start back at the top.  After minimizing the Narrator window at one point, it was very difficult to force it back into the open, so that Narrator could be turned off, or manipulated.  Furthermore, at one point, Narrator was turned off, only to turn itself mysteriously back on a moment later, which makes it difficult to share the device.

 

Conclusions

The Surface RT is an interesting tablet and frankly beautiful device, but until some of the kinks are ironed out of the experience it is likely to be more frustrating than fun or productive for blind users.  

(Please note, this is only from first impressions, and a lot has yet to be tested, such as the accessibility of the Office Suite, or general accessibility of downloadable applications. We will keep you posted as we learn more.)