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Why the Surface RT has to work as a proper 'PC'

One device good, two devices... better?

Is the idea of a single device to do everything desirable, or even possible? The Surface RT says 'yes'... the Kindle Fire HD 'no'.

Recently I was taken to task by a PC Advisor reader (not in itself an unusual occurance). He suggested that PC Advisor was no longer about 'PCs', and that we didn't publish enough 'computer articles'. The key point is our different interpretations of the word 'computer'. By 'computer articles' he meant stories specifically about desktop PCs, running Windows. But the vast majority of what is interesting about personal computing in 2013 and beyond centres on devices ranging in size from 2in to 40in, in many form factors, on multiple platforms.

For better or for worse Windows 8 is aimed at all such devices, as well as smartphones, tablets and - yes - desktop PCs (see our most recent Windows 8 tips). And the purpose of a publication such as PC Advisor is to advise on personal computers of all shapes and sizes. When I first joined PC Advisor in 2003 we were focussed  almost exclusively on reviewing desktop PCs, and providing trouble-shooting and consumer advice for the same. We continue to do that, of course, but our scope has widened as technology has developed.

This month, for instance, we've been taking a look at 7in tablets. These devices are truly portable in the sense that they fit into a handbag or suit-jacket pocket. And they offer a great experience for email, web, social media, music, books, movies and games. Mark my words - a lot of people will be hoping Santa delivers an iPad miniNexus 7 or Kindle Fire HD this year.

With the odd exception, however, these devices aren't suited to the role of portable workhorse - they are overblown iPods, or feature-rich eReaders, rather than slimmed down laptops. A classic example is Amazon's Kindle Fire HD. As I write it is predicted to be the must-have gift this Christmas - and with good reason. It's an inexpensive and easy-to-use tech toy of the highest order. But it is locked down to the extent that you can't install Android apps or change the browser, let alone update a spreadsheet.

None of which makes it a bad gadget. It may make it less-than-perfect for the majority of PC Advisor readers, but only if you subscribe to the idea that a portable computer such as a tablet should fulfil multiple functions, in both leisure and business time. In fact, most people who have a tablet also have a smartphone and a laptop. Many will have a dedicated eReader, or even a satnav. So perhaps the idea of a single device taking the place of many is plain wrong.

Microsoft clearly doesn't agree. Recently it launched the Surface RT - a 10in device that is iPad-like in terms of its hardware, and aims to offer the productivity of a Windows laptop. It also offers media-consumption and -purchasing apps and - in Microsoft's view at least - has in IE10 a web browser that can provide the same experience as the best apps, without you having to install pay-for software.

Predictably, the Surface RT is no panacea. It certainly isn't the best product of the year. But if the Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7 are the poster-children for media-consumption devices, the Surface may well prove to be the most interesting product of the past and next 12 months, offering as it does an alternative to carrying both a laptop and a tablet.

How well it does so may have a major bearing on how many of what kinds of device we are all carrying one year from now.

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