Microsoft Surface RT gesture and keyboard shortcut guide

Microsoft Surface RT gesture and keyboard shortcut guide

Summary: Microsoft's Surface RT is a new device and comes with a new UI and gestures, many of which are not intuitive. I found many helpful gestures and keyboard shortcuts and hope this guide helps relieve some frustrations.

Microsoft Surface RT gesture and keyboard shortcut guide

I wrote about my 64GB Microsoft Surface RT preorder last month and have been using it for the past couple of weeks. Windows RT does not have an intuitive UI and I have been struggling at times to get things done. I'm still debating about whether I am going to keep it or not, but wanted to help readers who have it with a guide covering some helpful gestures and keyboard shortcuts.

Windows RT gestures

Using the Microsoft Surface RT reminds me a bit of using webOS and MeeGo with a UI that uses different swipes in from outside the display. I either discovered these through discussions with other users or by trial and error. Start the swipes from the black bezel and move onto the display to see these responses:

  • On Start screen, tap and drag a Live Tile: You can move the Live Tile around the Start screen and place it where you desire without having to tap and hold on it.
  • On Start screen, tap and hold on Live Tile, drag down: Options will appear at the bottom of the screen to unpin from Start, uninstall the application, make the Tile bigger or smaller, and turn Live Tile off or on. You can also view all apps from this menu.
  • On Start screen, swipe from bottom up or top down: All apps button appears so you can view all apps you have installed since not all are pinned to the Start screen. Another swipe up and tap on the icon takes you back to the Metro Start screen. You can also just tap the Start icon located at the center bottom of the display to go to the Metro Start screen.
  • On Start screen, pinch to create groups of tiles: Touch the Start screen with two or more fingers and then pinch them together. A zoomed out Start screen will appear, you can now tap, hold, and drag down on groups of tiles and name them. This name will appear on the regular Start screen and is a nice way to have an entertainment group, news group, gaming group, etc.
  • Within an app, swipe from left to right on left side and hold your finger on app thumbnail that you "grab": You can now drag this thumbnail to the right or left side of an open app and split the screen to view two apps at once.
  • Within an app, swipe from bottom up or top: Applications support different menu items if you swipe from the top or bottom onto the display. Some examples include changing views in the calendar, changing status of emails, viewing IE tabs, creating new notes, and more.
  • Always available, wipe from right to left on right side of screen: You will see the "Charms" appear on the right side and the clock appear over on the left. The Charms are designated Search, Share, Start, Devices, and Settings. Don't forget there are Charms icons on the keyboard too.
  • Always available, swipe from left to right on left side of screen: This will switch to another open and running application.
  • Always available, swipe from left to right, and then back quickly right to left without lifting your finger on the left side of the screen: This slides out a row of most recently used applications, which looks very similar to the task switcher we see in the later versions of the Android OS.
  • Always available, swipe down from the top and drag the app down the screen: This will close the running application.

Once you learn that there are gestures like this available, they become quite useful. A problem is that some apps don't use the up and down swipes so there is a lot of discovery that you have to make to figure out how to fully use your Surface RT. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but does offer up a bit of an inconsistent user experience.

Windows RT keyboard and mouse shortcuts

IMHO, a Windows Surface RT tablet is basically useless without a keyboard so I do not recommend anyone purchase one without a keyboard as you will end up being very frustrated without one. As you can see on the keyboard itself, there is a row above the number row for things such as volume control, play/pause media, search, share, devices, settings, home, end, page up, and page down. There are arrows keys and also a very functional trackpad with left and right mouse button sections. Here are several more keyboard and mouse shortcuts:

  • Start+B: Back to Desktop
  • Start+C: Open charms
  • Start+D: Go to the Desktop
  • Start+E: Go to File Explorer on Desktop
  • Start+F: Search files
  • Start+H: Start Share charm
  • Start+I: Start Settings charm
  • Start+K: Start Devices charm
  • Start+L: Lock the Surface RT
  • Start+M: Minimize everything on the Desktop
  • Start+P: Open second screen manager utility
  • Start+Q: Search apps
  • Start+R: Open Run on the Desktop
  • Start+T: Open Task Manager in Desktop
  • Start+U: Open Ease of Access Center in Desktop
  • Start+W: Search settings
  • Start+X: Open system utility settings menu
  • Start+Z: Emulate swipe up from bottom of screen
  • Start+.: Snap app left
  • Start+,: Peek at desktop, let go of Start to go back to Metro UI
  • Start+Tab: Open Metro UI task manager
  • Start+Enter: Open Windows Narrator
  • Start+Shift.: Snap app right
  • Alt+Tab: Application switcher, different look than task manager
  • Ctrl+Tab: Toggle between All Apps and Start
  • Ctrl+Escape: Toggle between last open app and current app
  • On Start screen, with the mouse active click the - button in far right bottom corner: This will zoom out the Start screen so you can create group names for apps on the Start screen.
  • On Start screen, right click on an app: You will see the options found with a tap, hold, and drag down by your finger using this quick right click.
  • On Start screen, move mouse to upper left corner to see last used app: Move the mouse down the left edge to see the most recently used app list.

As you can see the keyboard is extremely useful and functional on the Microsoft Surface RT device and there are likely even more things than I wrote about here. I was pleasantly surprised by how functional the trackpad and mouse buttons are as well.

Microsoft put a lot of work into the Surface and Windows 8 and it shows by all of the functionality contained in this Surface RT. There are also many things that are not that intuitive so take the time and learn these shortcuts and gestures to more efficiently use your Windows RT device. If you have any more that I should include in my list, please let me know and I can update it as they come in.

Related ZDNet coverage

Topics: Mobility, Microsoft, Tablets

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Thanks for this article Matthew

    I'm currently using Windows 8 on the desktop and I found some of these keyboard shortcuts useful.

  • Gesture overkill

    I've been playing with one of the RT tablets for a few days now (Asus Vivo Tab) and I am still trying to figure out the gestures. It's overkill, confusing and just not intuitive. These companies have to figure out whether they want to create "PCs" or tablet devices such as the iPad.
    • Yeah

      Gestures are functions what are not visible and logically accessible but you need to do trial and error to find out when does gesture work and when it does not.

      Gestures are against every basic user interface usability rules where every function needs to be accessible just naturally seeing.

      Even the GUI (Graphical User Interface) reason to exist, is that user can see every function what is available to the user without remembering anything or trying out anything.

      But with CLI (Command Line Interface) user can search and browse functions and then type them quickly from memory but without anything on screen showing that what are possible options. It is very powerful tool and does not stand a way of user but it has very deep learning curve at first few minutes to learn basics.

      But gestures are not like CLI or GUI, it isn't even a good hybrid of them. Gestures has all the bad sides of both ones. You don't see what are your options and when you do something, you can not actually learn and remember it easily because in different situations where UI otherwise looks similar, they don't work as expected or at all.

      With gestures it is always trial and error and kids what learn it, continues to do it everywhere else because they only know that they can try, without actually knowing what will happend.

      It is like car would do something randomly when turning a wheel or pushing a pedal, depending of environment, driver and what is playing on the radio. Sometimes turning wheel right causes gear to be swapped, sometimes to brake lock on. Gas pedal is sometimes a gas and sometimes a signal. You just need to go trial and error to find out what is what.

      That is one of the greatest things what was behind "Start" menu. As it was visible, user saw it was "start" so it was first place to click. From there user got to places where wanted.
      Now the start menu is removed, there is no anykind visible tip to user how to get away from desktop. On modern apps, there is no tip how to close application or switch application or how to get back to tiles UI.
      • Rules are there to be re-written

        We can always create new rules - they are not written in stone. writing new rules is how you get to new paradigm
        • Rules are rules

          But they would have to be consistent to be rules. By the current observations of the gestures, it's functioning more like guidelines.
    • can you not do an online search for the shortcuts / gestures ?

      Its so simple to look up microsoft website for gestures/demos and learn. It took me one hour to learn most of the changes. What part was so difficult to learn for you ?
  • So the iPad is useless ;-)

    A Surface RT without the keyboard is essentially a better iPad, so declaring it virtually useless relegates the iPad to toy status. I'm not disagreeing btw ;-) - but you may find a few iPad aficionados a little upset.

    The other point is the use of intuitive. None of the gestures or any of the UI that's come before is intuitive, although you may make a case for touch the thing I want. Any UI needs to be learned and just because you become familiar with it, doesn't mean it's intuitive. Obviously the XP Luddites never had to try and teach their parents XP ;-)

    I've been using Windows 8 on my desktop with a kb/mouse for a few days now and I'm starting to prefer the Start screen and the WinRT IE browser more than the desktop which is now just an intermediate screen when I start a desktop app. Swapping between apps is much faster and the Charms menu is much preferred to the old method of trying to find under which menu an app author hid settings or properties or whatever they called it. Having the browser fill the whole sreen with the web page with the UI only a right mouse click away, shows the benefits of having no chrome (I bet Google wishes they could change that name now).

    Of course there will always be people who can't adapt, but I'm not having a problem.
    • "XP Luddites never had to try and teach their parents XP"

      Pretty much this. I gave a windows 8 laptop to my buddy (who has only owned a computer for about 6 months now and rarely ever turns it on). First of all, he had no idea that there were different versions of windows. He thought that windows updates handled that lol. He found that windows 8 was just as good as windows xp for his needs. In other words, he could find the 2-3 icons that he clicks on regularly just as easily, and he still has no clue what anything else does. He has found the music app though, which is nice since he seemed to have trouble remembering which Icon was zune back on his XP machine.

      TLDR; pretty much the only time I hear complaints about windows 8 being too hard for people to figure out is on tech sites that feed off the discussions.
    • iPad...

      Have access to one of the 2.5s/2Ss. Decent. Does its job... mostly. Main gripe I have with it is that you can't view pictures off an external drive - in my case mainly a card reader with a card outta a camera in it. Everything else, looks fine. Should note that I have avoided iOS6 just because of iMaps. But it probably still does so well because the apps are generally required to work decently on the older iPad2 and iTouch4... and the newer-old specs iPad(2) mini, which should extended the life of apps before allowing new or bigger features by 1-1.5 years.

      Without delving too much into marketing and all that fuzzy logic, the main point, perhaps, to raise is probably the question, "why is there such a high demand for, first, the Nexus7 several months ago and now, the Surface." It's like that little wedge Apple makes their customers fit in to use their products has become too restrictive :p
    • Dumping the Surface

      I'm sending my Surface back to M$ and keeping my iPad so I can get real work done. I find the UI on the Surface to be a confusing, inconsistent mess. Plus, there are no programs for it and the ones that are don't work. I can't type on the Touch keyboard (no better than typing on the screen.)
  • Helpful article

    I am still sitting on the fence waiting for Surface Pro. This article is helpful to me because it describes using the UI that I assume I'll have to get used to with the PRO.

    I hope that MS has some kind of users guide with the information you presented. It would be cruel and stupid to expect someone who had shucked out $700 for a new toy to muddle through the finger waving learning curve.

    The touch screen part scares this "XP Luddite". I had assumed that the desk top keyboard-mouse shortcuts would be Windows standard. Silly me.

    In the back of my mind, I still think an Ultrabook running Windows 7 might be better for me. Maybe a Samsung Series 9. I hope the new Windows 8 machines push Windows 7 Ultrabooks onto the Black Friday sale counters. By the time one adds a keyboard to Surface it weighs about the same as a similar sized ultrabook.

    Then again, Surface is a very nice piece of hardware. The Pro version looks good.
    • Yoga

      I played with the yoga and it was pretty damn nice. At that price point, I either want something that is slim enough to be considered a tablet (it's pretty close, but still a little too thick IMO), or something with a big enough screen to replace my laptop (the yoga screen is a little too small to fit that bill IMO). I'm holding out for a surface pro or similar device too.
    • No you don't

      Not it's not, and no this is not real. Submit this post to your supervisor and collect your paycheck, but there is nothing factual or organic about this post.

      You Microsoft vendors really really need to learn to fake it better.
    • User's guide...?

      I don't think I've ever come across anything MS released in the way of OSes that had much documentation. That said, MS does have a pretty big support base on the net due to the many quirks that have appeared in their software over the years that some bright boffin has worked out and promptly plastered on the internet for all to see (and laugh or cringe at).

      Thanks heaps for the guide. Was beginning to wonder what they replaced some of the formally ubiquitous windows button with. And now it also seems I will be learning more of the Start button shortcuts I have been avoiding since they introduced the Windows button which was primarily used to Tab me out of particularly intense situations in-game now and then.
  • Add how to get a screen capture

    Hold down on the physical Windows (start) button on the bottom/front of the Surface and then also hit the volume down button on the side of the Surface. The image is saved in a subfolder in your pictures.
    • this is anything but intuitive

      what has volume to do with the image?
      • Not many physical buttons

        The iPad and 'droids since 4.0 have been using Power+Vol down as the screenshot hotkey. 'Droid 3.0 had a button... but that was a little annoying as you can accidentally brush it doing other things.

        I guess MS wanted more focus on the Start button than the Power button. Other than the file generated could do with a filename that has the year down to the second in it, not just in the meta, it works pretty well.
    • Thanks!

      I went through the registration process just to thank you! I couldn't believe I couldn't find this until now...
      Mike Duckert
    • That's intuitive!

      Who would have thought...
  • Super impressed

    Our TAM just brought in his Surface for us to play with. He's got the flat keyboard with no moving parts attached. I thought at first I'd hate it, but I can easily see it growing on me. I'm no touch typist, but I can type reasonably fast within my limitations, and that keyboard kept up with me no problem. The aduble clicks do a lot to simulate feedback. All in all, I'm pretty impressed.