Why I won't be buying a Surface RT, even for $349

With a paltry number of third-party apps and no keyboard included, Microsoft's tablet still isn't a good deal.

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
3 min read
The Surface RT now starts at $349, but a keyboard still isn't included.
The Surface RT now starts at $349, but a keyboard still isn't included. Microsoft

Over the weekend, Microsoft cut prices on its Surface RT tablets. The 32GB model now sells for $349, the 64GB model for $499.

Sorry, no sale.

On the surface (sorry), there's much to be said for a 10.6-inch tablet priced at $349 -- especially when you consider that the current-generation iPad has a 9.7-inch screen and starts at $499 (for the 16GB model). Even Google's Nexus 10 starts at $399, and that's also with 16GB.

So, yeah, from a value perspective, the Surface RT looks pretty good -- until you look a little closer. For starters, the 32GB RT has only 15GB of available storage, which continues to feel like false advertising on Microsoft's part. In any case, for all intents and purposes it's a "16GB" model, same as the entry-level iPad and Nexus.

Furthermore, that price doesn't include a keyboard. Every Surface RT ad Microsoft has ever done has shown the tablet with a Touch or Type cover, suggesting that right out of the box, you're good to go, workwise. You're not.

Ah, you argue, but the iPad doesn't come with a keyboard. The Nexus 10 doesn't come with a keyboard. Why hold the Surface RT accountable for the same omission? Because it's a Windows-powered tablet, one that's ostensibly designed with productivity in mind.

Indeed, Microsoft bundles it with Office Home & Student 2013 RT, a great suite by any measure -- but virtually useless without a keyboard. Alas, the Touch and Type covers still cost $119.99 and $129.99, respectively. So now you're still looking at around $470, minimum, for what I would call a properly equipped Surface.

Then, of course, we get to the apps situation: there aren't any. I mean, sure, you'll find a smattering of the more popular apps: Evernote, Kindle, Netflix, and so on. But developers continue to stay away from Windows 8 (and, by proxy, Surface RT) in droves. Back in October, CNET's review of the Surface RT noted that "the Windows Store is a ghost town" -- and nine months later, it still feels that way (with about 60,000 apps as of May).

In fact, check Microsoft's own site devoted to the Surface: the word "apps" appears exactly twice, and there's not so much as a link to the Windows Store. It's almost as if Microsoft is now trying to downplay the fact that third-party apps even exist for the platform.

All that being said, my primary reason for skipping the Surface RT is that I just don't care for it. I continue to find the Windows 8 interface awkward and unintuitive (and, trust me, I've put in the time to get acclimated to it), and the hardware itself feels bulky, heavy, and uncomfortable to hold.

I'm sure Microsoft is hoping that the price cuts will cause a surge in sales, which might in turn drive more developers to create more apps. I doubt this will happen. Windows 8 will live on, of course, but I think the Surface RT's days are numbered. Indeed, don't be surprised if you see another price cut as the holidays draw near. My question for you: how steep a cut would it take for you to buy one of these tablets?