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Microsoft Windows RT vs. Windows 8: What’s the difference?

windows 8 pro versus windows 8 rtMicrosoft Surface RT tablets are set to hit shelves this week. The tablet is beautifully designed and competitively priced to go head-to-head with the iPad, Kindle Fire HD, and the legions of Android tablets currently on the market. But buyer beware: Microsoft and other Windows partners also plan to release Windows 8 Pro tablets that run the full version of Windows 8. To the untrained eye of a consumer looking to buy a new tablet, the differences between the two types of devices may be a bit confusing. We break down the difference between Windows RT and Windows 8 Pro tablets to help you avoid buyer’s remorse. Let’s take a deeper look at the two tablets to help you choose the right one for your needs.

Processor

When Windows RT was announced, it was originally called “Windows on ARM,” denoting the type of processor it uses. In short, the ARM processor enables RT tablets to be cheaper and use less power when running — which means a longer battery life for your tablet. Microsoft touts 8 to 13 hours of battery life for its Surface RT tablet. The Windows 8 Pro tablets will have Intel or AMD processors that are more powerful and can run more applications, but will be more expensive than an RT tablet with just an ARM processor. The battery life of Pro devices also won’t be as good as RT devices, with an estimate of 6 to 8 hours of battery life.

Software and apps

Microsoft claims that both RT and Pro devices are extensions of the PC, but to make things less muddy, RT is the “tablet OS” that only runs touch-friendly mobile apps available through the new Windows Store. This means that an RT tablet will only be able to use apps downloaded from the Windows Store, in which there are currently about 5,000 apps (90 percent of which are compatible with RT). RT users won’t be able to download any third-party apps from the Web, which currently includes popular apps such as Facebook and Spotify. There will be developers that only create apps for RT, and there will be some developers that will also make an RT version of their desktop applications so people with RT devices can use a streamlined mobile app version instead of the full-blown software application.

Microsoft will offer a mobile version of its popular Microsoft Office suite that includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote for its RT tablets, which will give those who choose an RT tablet the ability to do many (but not all) of the operations they’ve come accustomed to on their desktop or laptop running the full software. 

Pro tablets will run the full desktop version of Windows 8 (32 and 64 bit), so consumers can use all of the RT apps, plus any of the software they currently have on previous versions of Windows all the way back to XP. Windows 8 Pro will allow users to download any third-party app, as well as anything from the Windows Store. 

Price

If you’re looking for a price-point comparable to that of the third-generation iPad, Microsoft Surface RT will be $499 with 32GB of storage without a Touch Cover or Type Cover. No word on how Microsoft will price the Surface Pro when it arrives in approximately three months, but Windows partners who have thumbed their noses at Microsoft and will compete with Win 8 Pro tablets of their own (in all sorts of shapes, fashions, and forms) are starting around $800, which puts Pro tablets directly in competition with traditional laptops. Is this the real start of the post-PC era?

Windows RT or Windows 8 Pro?

Since Apple redefined the tablet category three years ago, people have primarily used tablets as media consumption devices — with a smidge of productivity thrown in. Tablet screens are larger than smartphones (with the exception of some Samsung mobile devices), so doing things like Internet browsing, shopping, reading, and viewing videos and movies is ideal on a tablet. There are some pretty powerful apps out there that will help you get some work done and even create content, but a tablet hasn’t come along that has made us rethink the idea of a tablet being more than a consumption device… yet. So for those people who use tablets just as a means to break away from the daily grind, a less-expensive Windows RT tablet with strong mobile roots will be the best bet for their needs.

With all the power that current mobile devices are packing, there appears to be an evolution on the horizon, where a desktop or laptop may not be the only way to get real work done. Consumers want speed and power, but in a lightweight and compact form factor. A tablet with all the capabilities of a laptop may just be what people are referring to when they mention the post-PC era. For those who are looking forward to that do-it-all, all-in-one device that’s a workhorse at the office — but still has the convenience of consumption device — a Windows 8 Pro tablet capable of handling all of what Windows 8 has to offer is the obvious choice.

Whichever side you’re on, it looks like Microsoft and its device partners have you covered. Remember, you do have a choice if you decide to purchase a tablet powered by Windows, and you may just have to calmly convince the retail associate, who is determined to sell you an extended warranty plan, of that choice.

Check out our review of the Microsoft Surface with Windows RT tablet.