Posted: 2:49 p.m. Monday, Jan. 27, 2014
Microsoft's Surface RT tablets haven't exactly set the world on fire, and with good reason: They suck. Okay, that's just Microsoft hater-speak. But the early arguments against the RTs definitely held water: They're expensive, they don't run legacy Windows programs, and they don't come bundled with that cool-looking keyboard cover Microsoft touts in every single Surface ad and TV commercial.
Needless to say, I've been pretty sour on these devices since they debuted just over a year ago. But during that time, I've heard from lots of Surface RT owners who really (really) like the device. What's more, prices are dropping, especially on refurbished models.
And as we all know, when something gets cheap enough, you can start to forgive things.
At this writing, you can get a refurbished entry-level Surface RT (32GB) for $179 shipped. That's via Manufacturer Certified on Ebay, a reseller that offers a one-year warranty on the tablet, same as you get with new ones. (Suck it, suckers who bought new.)
At that price, the whole equation changes. Now you're looking at a 10.6-inch tablet for considerably less than the cost of an iPad or Nexus 10 (both of which have slightly smaller screens). And although the Surface still doesn't run legacy software, the same is true of those Apple and Google tablets.
What the Surface does offer is the now-familiar Windows 8 environment and a full version of Microsoft Office 2013 (which sells all by itself for $139.99). Plus, although the Windows app store lacks a few key items (including iTunes and Google Chrome), it has nearly everything else most users need.
And let's not forget this isn't intended as the be-all-end-all tablet of the universe, nor is it meant to take the place of a laptop--though with Office onboard, it's arguably better positioned for that than, say, an iPad.
Just one problem: Microsoft still doesn't give you a keyboard. The Microsoft Surface Touch Cover sells (also via Manufacturer Certified) for $39.99, which isn't bad--but by most accounts, the Type Cover is the much better choice. Alas, that's not currently available from this same reseller, and you'll be lucky to find one elsewhere for under $100.
Of course, even at that price, you're getting a pretty complete tablet/laptop hybrid for a grand total of $279--still a bargain relative to what you get from Apple or Google.
And I'm starting to see the appeal of such a setup for people like my wife, who have pretty basic computing needs--Web browser, word processor, e-mail, Facebook--but don't want to contend with the hassles, heft, expense, or comparatively slow performance of a full-blown Windows laptop.
Granted, nearly any tablet paired with a keyboard can accomplish all the same things. But the Surface RT does make for a pretty compelling package, especially at these prices. I'm not saying it's the perfect solution for everyone, merely that the time has come to add it to your short list.
Veteran technology writer Rick Broida is the author of numerous books, blogs, and features. He lends his money-saving expertise to CNET and Savings.com, and also writes for PC World and Wired.
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