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Surface RT: ARM'd, but not dangerous

Windows RT must learn to walk before it can run

Mobile computing has been an inescapable theme for our reviews coverage this month, after some of the most eagerly awaited new tablets and smartphones all saw their official launch within the space of a few weeks.

Apple has finally confirmed what has only been speculated before (and even pooh-poohed by the late Steve Jobs), by designing a smaller version of the iPad. Even the name of iPad mini holds up the expectation, as does the sublime attention to detail in its design.

But competition in the under-eights category is now fierce, with cut-price mini-tablets offered at knock-down prices from some familiar non-hardware companies with vested interests to finance. We’ve covered the Google Nexus 7 before, thought to be a loss-leader pushed out to boost Android tablet uptake.

Now the big American retailers are at it - first Amazon, then Barnes & Noble, with cost-subsidised devices the corporations hope will inspire you to open your wallet and fill their tablets with paid-for books, music and rented film downloads.

We can’t be sure, but the latest Google smartphone, the spookily cheap Nexus 4 that’s this time built by LG on behalf of the advertising giant, may be benefitting from incredibly slim profit margins to help further the platform’s cause. Android already has huge market share, and is now the largest smartphone OS, so perhaps Google is playing a long game to help shut out Microsoft from the smartphone business.

But, as we found with the Nokia Lumia 920 - Microsoft’s Nexus, if you will, since the Windows maker all but owns Nokia now - there’s little chance of Windows Phone 8 becoming the go-to choice for a while. Useful software availability is one obvious drawback, along with the type of teething troubles you’d expect of a generation-one Microsoft release.

The where’s-my-app theme is echoed by the Surface - or, as we should call it, the Surface RT, in contrast to a Pro version promised for next year, which should even run Windows PC programs. In the case of the Surface - ARM’d, but not especially dangerous to Apple or Google just yet - limited software is only one gotcha.

Microsoft’s first PC is immature, with some obvious customisation options absent and its stability in question. These issues demand fixing for later releases, provided that Microsoft doesn’t do a Zune and give up on another unloved and floundering me-too product.

Until Windows Run Time becomes more viable, we suggest it first learns to walk as Windows WT.

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