Microsoft surprised us all last week by announcing a surprise mystery product event. Of course, this immediately set rumors flying around the media suggesting all sorts of things, from Microsoft announcing their own eReader to announcing their very own tablet device. We ourselves had speculated that a Windows 8 Tablet would be released by Microsoft in 2012.
The latter turned out to be true and not only did Microsoft announce their very own “Surface” tablet, but they actually announced two editions. While these tablets took center stage, the press was also taken a back by the incredible technology packed into accessories for the tablets.
Microsoft’s Surface Tablets
Many tech enthusiasts will probably recognize the “Surface” brand from Microsoft. Over the past number of years, well before any tablets hit the market, Microsoft has been developing a large table top device with technology that allows users to interact with it through touch input.
Microsoft has obviously used some of the R&D from this project in these new tablets as well as using the branding. Microsoft is still continuing with this project, but have renamed it to “PixelSense“ in order to avoid confusion.
Microsoft announced 2 separate Surface tablets – Surface Windows RT and Surface Windows 8 Pro. The Windows RT Surface is a lower budget device, and while it’s almost exactly the same as the other tablet aesthetically, it’s slightly lower spec under the hood. This would be aimed more at the general consumer whilst the Windows 8 Pro device is targeted towards businesses and higher end users.
Both of these tablet devices have been engineered to the highest standard. Microsoft has invested an incredible amount of time, finance and R&D into these devices and it shows. Both of the tablets are made from high-quality magnesium cases, feature slim designs and kickstands that are as thin as a credit card. Microsoft spared no expense when designing these tablets and it shows.
All the early hands on reviews of the devices confirm how solid they feel, largely thanks to that sturdy magnesium case. Even something as simple as the kickstand was engineered with such precision that it closes softly instead of snapping and is made from a material strong enough so that there’s no fear of it breaking.
Even the displays on these tablets, while they differ slightly on each model, both feature heavy duty second generation Gorilla Glass which will take a lot of punishment before it starts to show any signs of scrapes. And just in case you thought Microsoft was only focusing on aesthetics here, they’ve also packed these devices with some pretty powerful specs, though we haven’t got exact confirmation on what the final models will ship with just yet.
Surface Tablet Specifications
First, off I should probably explain the main difference between these two tablets, it’s not just the hardware specifications which I have detailed below, but it’s actually the software they are both running. Essentially they are both running Windows 8, but Microsoft has had to create two different versions of Windows 8. Windows RT is designed to run on ARM-powered devices (more popular on mobile devices) while Windows 8 will run on the traditional x86 processors like what Intel and AMD build.
Microsoft hasn’t given us solid information on all of the hardware specs just yet, but we know enough of them to get us pretty excited. The Windows RT Surface tablet will come running a NVIDIA Tegra-Based ARM Chip and will also be thinner at just 9.3mm thick compared to the 13.5mm thickness of the Windows 8 Pro Surface Tablet.
This also means that the Windows RT tablet is lighter at just 676 grams compared to 903 grams for the Windows 8 Pro tablet. The Windows 8 Pro tablet will feature a Sandy Bridge Intel Core i5 processor.
Both devices will feature 10.6 inch ClearType HD displays, though the Windows 8 Pro model will be Full HD as opposed to HD on the Windows RT model. The Windows 8 Pro model will also carry a slightly larger battery than the Windows RT model due to the increased power required by the processor and display. This would also account for the slightly thicker dimensions and heavier weight.
Both devices will come with a plethora of ports which vary slightly depending which model you choose but include MicroSD, MicroSDXC, USB 2.0, USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, Micro HD Port. Both devices will come with two cameras, one on the front and one on the back.
Storage wise you’ll get either a 32GB or 64GB SSD on the Surface RT model and a 64GB or 128GB SSD on the Windows 8 Pro model. Of course, you’ll be able to expand this thanks to the inclusion of USB and SD card slots on the devices.
One of the additional features on the Windows 8 Pro device is that it will have the ability to accept pen input which will prove quite appealing to business users.
Availability and Pricing
Now, this is still a pretty grey area for us all. Microsoft didn’t really reveal a whole lot to us when it came to this. One thing they did confirm is that the Windows 8 RT device will be released alongside Windows 8 when it’s officially released to the public. When exactly that is, we still don’t know, but it will be sometime in the fall we reckon. Microsoft then said that the Windows 8 Pro device will launch about 3 months after this.
Pricing? Well, again Microsoft didn’t want to commit to any exact figures. Instead, they said that the Windows RT device will be priced according to devices similar to it. The Windows 8 Pro tablet will be priced according to similar Ultrabooks.
While I think we can all agree that these tablets are pretty impressive, they weren’t all that Microsoft had to show off at their press conference. What’s equally impressive is the new accessories that Microsoft have announced for these devices. Apple has been applauded for their “Smart Covers” for the iPad which are magnetic and just clip onto the iPad. The “smart” bit is that they double up as kickstands. But these Surface tablets already have built-in kickstand so Microsoft came up with something that is a lot smarter.
Microsoft’s Touch Cover
With Microsoft’s new Touch Cover, you simply open up your cover and the plastic sheet flips down to work as a full-fledged touch-based keyboard and trackpad. Now because it’s just a thin sheet of plastic, the keyboard relies entirely on your touch, so it will be interesting to see how practical touch typing is on it, but it’s very clever none the less.
Microsoft’s Type Cover
The Type Cover, on the other hand, might be more suitable for users who find themselves typing a lot. This cover is a bit thicker and heavier, but instead of relying on your touch, it actually has keys built into it. It essentially turns your tablet into a Ultrabook of a sort. It’s only a mere 3mm thin and even comes with a built-in accelerometer so it can measure the exact force that you are exerting on each key as you type.
The purpose of this is so that the keyboard can distinguish between you resting your hands on the keyboard as opposed to when you’re typing on it, essential for helping prevent mistypes.
Another little trick from this cover is its ability to make the tablet change color scheme to suit the color of the cover you clip into it. For instance, if your current color scheme is blue, and your plug-in a black type cover, Windows 8 will automatically change the scheme to black. It’s nothing amazing, but it’s a nice touch none the less.
So How Does It Compare to the Competition?
The big question, of course, is how to these tablets compare to the competition? Has Microsoft done enough to sway people away from Apple’s mighty iPad? Will this be enough to compete with the range of Android tablets? What about all the other Windows 8 tablets in the pipeline?
I’ll answer the last question first. Since Windows 8 hasn’t been released yet, OEM’s are still working hard on developing their own tablets in time for its release. We haven’t really seen more than a few glimpses of these tablets and we know little about pricing and specifications for them. However I’d expect them to be quite similar to these Surface tablets, but whether or not they have the same build quality remains to be seen.
There is also a whole range of Hybrids and Ultrabooks in the pipeline which will have to take a look at as well. But until these hit the market it’s very hard to compare them.
Android Tablets VS Surface
Android-powered tablets will never be as powerful as these devices, and that’s because Android is essentially a mobile operating system. It’s perfect for smartphones and tablets that are just going to be used for browsing the web and what not, but these Surface tablets are Laptop and Ultrabook replacements, Android tablets are not. They have enough power and now have the right operating system to operate as a full-fledged computer and not just a device to browse the web and view pictures. The Android tablets might be able to compete with the Windows 8 RT Surface tablets – since the OS is designed to work on ARM-powered devices.
The iPad is probably the only real competitor here at the moment. So how do these two devices stack up?
The iPad VS Surface
Well first off the iPad has a smaller screen of 9.7 inches compared to the 10.6-inch display on the Surface. However, the iPad is packing a higher resolution thanks to its retina display. We still don’t know how the battery life will fair on these tablets, but I’d be very surprised if they are able to match the iPads. The Windows RT tablet is a hair thinner than the iPad (9.3mm vs 9.4mm) but the Windows 8 Pro tablet is thicker at 13.5mm. The iPad is also slightly lighter than both these tablets at 652 grams.
The Surface tablets come with a few more larger storage options than the iPad but the biggest difference between the Surface tablets and the iPad is, of course, the operating system.
Windows 8 RT Windows 8 Pro Apple iPad
Processor NVIDIA Tegra (ARM) Sandy Bridge i5 (Intel Core) A5X 1GHz Dual Core
Screen 10.6 Inch ClearType HD 10.6 Inch ClearType Full HD 9.7 Inch IPS Retina Display
Memory 32GB/64GB 64GB/128GB 16GB/32GB/64GB
Weight 676 grams 903 grams 662 grams
Thickness 9.3 mm 13.5 mm 9.4 mm
Others USB 2.0, USB 3.0, Office 15 USB 2.0, USB 3.0, Office 15 Proprietary Dock
Windows 8 is what Microsoft is really selling here. Throughout the conference, Microsoft emphasized that they were looking to provide a brilliant user experience by having an operating system like Windows 8 running on hardware that can show off its capabilities.
This is the key difference between the Surface tablets and the iPad, and will probably be ultimately what makes users mind up. iOS is a very clean and easy to use a platform, but it does have its limitations. Windows 8 certainly allows the user to do a lot more with their devices as well as doing pretty much everything that you’ll be able to do on the iPad.
Pricewise? Well, an iPad can cost anything from $499 up to $829 depending on the model chosen and I’d expect the Windows RT tablet to fall somewhere in this price range. You will certainly be getting more hardware for your money with it, and the build quality will be equally as high. The Windows 8 Pro tablet will more than likely be above this price range, but that’s because it’s packing higher specs and more features like pen input and support for legacy Windows programs.
At the end of the day, Microsoft has produced an excellent piece of hardware. They are obviously trying to do what they have done with the Xbox. Create a solid hardware platform to showcase their software on, and look how well that’s worked out for them in the past with the Xbox. Of course, I can’t imagine that Microsoft’s OEM partners are too impressed with this, but it does certainly set a rather high-performance bar for them to reach when they are developing their own tablets. It will be interesting to see what the final specifications are for these surface tablets, but so far these are shaping up to be pretty solid pieces of hardware and pose a real threat to other tablet manufacturers.
What do you think of Microsoft’s Surface Tablets?
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