At an invite-only press conference in Los Angeles last night Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled the software giant’s answer to the iPad – called Surface – the two new Windows-based tablets are set to be released this Autumn.
There’s no doubt that Microsoft is late to the lucrative tablet market, Apple released their first iPad in March 2010 and 2 year’s later Microsoft has finally decided it wants a slice of the lucrative market. But to make up for lost time they didn’t just unveil one tablet, but two: The Surface and The Surface Pro
At the presentation, Ballmer and Steven Sinofsky, the president of Microsoft’s Windows division, stressed Surface’s unique computing power over it’s competitors
Sinofsky called the device a: “tablet that’s a great PC – a PC that’s a great tablet”.
Microsoft normally lets OEMS (Original Equipment Manufacturers) do the hardware stuff, so Surface is something of a departure from their normal software-based PC business, but after the success of the Xbox it’s clear that Microsoft is bullish about having a similar level of success with the hybrid tablet Surface.
With Microsoft keeping the hardware in-house for the first versions it’s a admission that OEM’s don’t always get the hardware-side of things right – and it means it’ll be interesting to see how Microsoft’s OEM partners react to the unveiling; can Microsoft be their best pal as well as their biggest rival? Only time will tell.
Surface comes in two unique flavours; first off, you’ve got the super-slim version which runs on ARM chipsets, it measures a svelte 9.3mm thick (1mm thinner than the iPad 3), it weighs just 576 grams, has a 1366 x 768 resolution ClearType HD display and has both a front and rear-facing cameras.
One interesting inclusion on both tablets is the decision to include dual Wi-Fi antennas, which Microsoft claims will give both Surface’s the very best Wi-Fi on any tablet, the dual antennae is their solution to users’ hands blocking the Wi-Fi signals, something Android and Apple users will know all to well.
The normal version is intended to run Windows RT, which is a Metro-only stripped down version on its new Windows 8 operating system, it is designed to run Metro apps like you get on the Windows Phone and will be aimed at a users looking to surf the web, watch various forms of media and do some light office work, as Office is bundled with both tablets.
Surface Pro on the face of it is very similar; but is actually quite different to the vanilla version. It measure 13.5 mm thick, weighs a hefty 903 grams and will be running Intel chips including their new i5 Ivy Bridge processor.
The extra weight on the Pro version is there for a reason; with the Pro version you’ll be able to run the full-fat Windows 8 Pro – meaning for the first time you’ll be able to run processor intensive programs like Photoshop and Ableton live – which is sure to excite creative types and might even get them to ditch their trusty MacBooks for a touch screen hybrid tablet.
One interesting inclusion with Surface is its ability to work with a Stylus Pen – unlike most tablets, the screen on the Surface has two digitisers, one for touch and for the pen, which they’re calling Digital Ink. The system basically recognises when the user’s hands’ is leaning on the screen and ignores the input but only picks up what the stylus pen is doing up to an accuracy of 600dpi.
The Arm-based version will be available with either 32GB or 64GB of storage. Microsoft said they would be priced at a similar price to other ARM-based tablets, with speculation of a starting price around £446
The company said that the Pro versions would be offered with either 64GB or 128GB of storage and would have price tags comparable to ultra book laptops, priced around £650.
The industrial design see’s both tablets sporting a svelte angled all-magnesium VaporMg case, gorilla glass 2.0, and an innovative kickstand measuring 0.7mm. The kickstand means that you can use the tablet on your lap and it won’t fall backwards like the Asus Transformers do.
From first impressions the tablets are clearly reminiscent of Asus’ Transformer hybrid-tablets, but Microsoft has taken the hybrid principle ever further by creating two incredibly thin Apple-like smart covers.
Touch And Type Covers
The first cover is a the Touch cover, measuring just 0.3mm thick, it uses capitative technology to register the users touch, the keys are described as having a “slightly scratchy surface”. They will be offered in 5 colour options and even features an accelerometer which can tell which key is being hit, how hard, how fast and also means it will know when the keyboard is folded back as a cover and then subsequently powers down the tablet. The covers connect to the bottom of the tablet via magnetic strip, very reminiscent of Apple’s smart cover.
The Type Cover is a 0.5mm thick and feature full moving keys for a more traditional typing experience, from early impression the keys are tightly packed with the “flat keycaps almost blending into one another.” The Type Cover also comes with a fancy accelerometer making the cover capable of knowing when it’s being used as traditional cover or keyboard.
Interestingly both covers will also come with touchpad mouse controls, so when the tablet is in laptop mode you get the full laptop experience, which is ideal for those of you who find touch controls a bit too clunky.
Apparently the Windows RT Surface will be available when Windows 8 is released in the fall with the Windows 8 Pro version coming out around 3 months later.