On The Surface, the New Tablet from Microsoft

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So, we've finally found out what all the top secret hush-hush was about over at Microsoft's Los Angeles press gathering yesterday—the ultra-top-secret-promise-not-to-tell announcement was revealed to be—drum roll please—an iPad worthy tablet competitor named simply—The Surface.

The Surface will debut Microsoft Windows 8, the long awaited heir to the Windows throne, and Microsoft—never one to wilt before a big rollout—knows that tablet computing is the hottest market to be in right now. Bill Gates himself said a long time ago that tablet computing would overtake desktop computing in the future. Did I mention he said that long before the iPad was making Apple investors into the nouveau riche? Windows 8 supposedly has built in features that make it tablet-friendly, like the ability to seamlessly move from input devices (think tablet to keyboard to mouse without having to install drivers for each). Windows 8 will also be one of the simplest-to-use iterations of Microsoft Windows to hit the market in a while. It's been said that Windows 7 is what Windows Vista should have been. Well then, Windows 8 is what Vista wished it could be. From the get-go, this new operating system was made with both PCs and tablets in mind, including the inevitable synchronization between the two.

Microsoft is cleverly rolling out its new operating system alongside the Surface tablets in an effort to squash the usual skepticism that surrounds a new OS upgrade. Today in Los Angeles, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said “We believe that any intersection between human and machine can be made better when all aspects of the experience—hardware and software—are considered and working together. Today we want to add another bit of excitement."

Here's the low down. The Surface will come in two versions: one running the aforementioned Windows 8 OS, and the other running Windows RT, Windows 8's little brother, made especially with tablets in mind. While the Windows RT will sport a Metro-style user experience with apps and games and fun, fun, fun, the Windows Pro version will be the father that has to go to work and do all the not fun stuff, like Microsoft Office and email.

The tablets are encased in Microsoft’s new magnesium case (codenamed VaporMg), which feature a magnetically-attached 3mm thick Touch Cover that folds down and functions as a full touchscreen keyboard. Another cover option called the Type Cover (5mm thick) has a built-in track pad and traditional tactile keyboard.

It's clear that Microsoft favors the daddy version of The Surface. It comes with the hot new Intel Core i5 Ivy Bridge processor, while the RT ships with an NVIDIA Tegra-based ARM chip (although there is still no word on CPU speed or available memory). The Surface Pro also offers better storage (Windows Pro – 64 and 128GB, Windows RT – 32 and 64 GB), and even better ports  (Windows Pro version has USB 3.0. Windows RT is still using USB 2.0). But that doesn’t mean that the Windows RT version is being shuffled along. It simply means that the Windows RT version is made for tablet users that want a tablet experience, whereas the Windows 8 Pro version will most likely try to compete with Ultrabooks (think the upcoming Asus Taichi) as a tablet/notebook hybrid.

Both versions have some type of HD video output. The Pro model features a Mini DisplayPort Video output, while the RT model touts a Micro HD Video output. Plus, the Surface Pro is slated as a Full HD display with 1920 x 1080 resolution, whereas the HD display announced for the RT version is probably a 1280 x 720 display.

Both have onboard Wi-Fi and 2 x 2 twin MIMO antennae, as well as front and rear facing HD cameras. The rear-facing LifeCam is even angled at 22° so you can flip out the kickstand and make hands-free recordings. Other multimedia features include integrated stereo speakers and dual microphones that are tuned specifically for Skype calling. For memory expansion, the RT gets a microSD card slot, while the Pro version features a microSDXC slot. The Surface Pro also features a slightly longer lasting battery.

Whatever the case, Microsoft is now in it to win it. It has thrown its tablet towel into the ring, and so far that gauntlet has very few challengers. Microsoft has mentioned a window of availability (pun intended). The Windows RT Surface will surface sometime in the fall, around the same time as the Windows 8 debut. And the Windows 8 Pro version should follow a few months later. Also expect that rumored XBOX Live connectivity will play a big role at release.

The pricing has not been announced, although Microsoft has said that the units will be “competitively priced.” It will be interesting to see how other manufacturers like Asus, Toshiba, and Dell—all of which have Windows 8 tablets in the works—will come to the dance, because right now, Microsoft has shown its prom date, and it ain't bad lookin'.

  Surface with Windows RT Surface with Windows 8 Pro
Operating System Windows RT Windows 8 Pro
Display Type ClearType HD Display with Gorilla Glass ClearType HD Display with Gorilla Glass
Resolution 1280 x 720 (Unconfirmed) 1920 x 1080 (Unconfirmed)
Aspect Ratio  16:9  16:9
Display Size 10.6" (26.92 cm) 10.6" (26.92 cm)
Processor NVIDIA Tegra-Based ARM Chip Intel Core i5 Ivy Bridge Processor
Memory Not Specified Not Specified
Storage Capacity 32GB or 64GB 64GB or 128GB
Memory Card Slot microSD microSDXC
Wi-Fi Yes Yes
Wi-Fi Antenna 2x2 MIMO Antennae 2x2 MIMO Antennae
USB Port USB 2.0 x 1 (Full-Size) USB 3.0 x 1 (Full-Size)
HD Video Output Micro HD Video Mini DisplayPort Video
Front Camera Yes Yes
Rear Camera LifeCam (Angled at 22° for Use with Stand) LifeCam (Angled at 22° for Use with Integrated Stand)
Stereo Speakers Yes Yes
Dual Microphones Yes (Tuned for Skype) Yes (Tuned for Skype)
Kickstand Yes (Integrated) Yes (Integrated)
Included Cover Pressure-Sensitive Touch Cover with Keyboard & Trackpad Pressure-Sensitive Touch Cover with Keyboard & Trackpad
Cover Thickness 0.1" (3 mm) 0.1" (3 mm)
Optional Cover Type Cover with Tactile Keyboard Type Cover with Tactile Keyboard
Optional Cover Thickness 0.2" (5 mm) 0.2" (5 mm)
Productivity Features Office Home & Student 2013 RT, Touch Cover, Type Cover Touch Cover, Type Cover, Pen with Palm Block
Tablet Construction VaporMg (Magnesium Case & Stand Construction) VaporMg (Magnesium Case & Stand Construction)
Battery 31.5 Wh 42 Wh
Tablet Thickness 0.37" (9.3 mm) 0.53" (13.5 mm)
Weight 1.49 lb (676 g) 1.99 lb (903 g)