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Beneath the Surface, Microsoft—whether they admit it or not—is aiming their sights directly at Apple’s dominance in the tablet market with their new tablet entry, the Microsoft Surface. What does the Surface offer for tablet aficionados, and what does it offer for just you and me?
The first thing it will offer in a big, splashy way is Microsoft Windows 8, although in two very different forms. There’s no denying that Windows 8 was made with the tablet generation in mind. The modern interface (big, bright squares of easily accessible information) is the new direction toward which Microsoft wants to steer you. While it’s too early to tell if Windows 8 is dumbing down the whole operating system experience for a generation of users brought up on Spongebob Squarepants, it is definitely a more bright and colorful experience than Windows 7.
The Microsoft Surface with RT, available now, will feature Windows RT (Runtime) as its operating system. Think of Windows RT as a scaled-down version of Windows 8. You can only run apps that were downloaded from the Windows Store; however, Surface with RT comes with the Microsoft Office suite. But it's important to point out that RT is not a fully functioning version of Windows 8. Windows RT is built for ARM-based tablets and PCs, the same processors that are used in smart phones. RT is made for tablet users who want a tablet experience, not for users looking to replace their laptops.
The Microsoft Surface with Windows 8 Pro, which releases in three months, will feature a fully functioning version of Windows 8. This tablet will feature compatibility with all applications used in previous versions of Windows, which means you can run the Microsoft Office suite, Outlook, even third party apps, without batting an eyelash—if you can wait three months, that is.
You may not want to wait after you’ve seen the Microsoft Surface RT tablets in action. From its sleek and slim form (measuring only 0.37 inches thin and weighing only 1.5 lb), to its 10.6” ClearType 1366 x 768 HD widescreen display, this tablet will definitely be a product to contend with this holiday season. Tablet fans who were waiting for the iPad mini or a new iPad may find themselves putting the Surface on their holiday lists instead.
The Surface RT features extras that tablets need, like a full-sized USB 2.0 port, a microSDXC card reader, and dual 720p LifeCam rear- and front-facing cameras. It also features a VGA/HD out port (using optional adapters sold separately), and a five point multi-touch capacitive screen. It includes standards like integrated stereo speakers, a headphone jack, and side volume and power controls. For tablet users, a real volume control interface is a joy—ask original Kindle owners who can only raise or lower the volume by tapping the screen and searching for the volume slider. When you’re commuting on a quiet early morning train, it can lead to some embarrassing situations. The networking is also standard for most tablets in this range—802.11 a/b/g/n connectivity and Bluetooth 4.0.
The Surface RT also features some novel quirkiness that is logical and much appreciated—an integrated Kickstand that flips out from the back of the unit and provides a perfect viewing angle for movies and video. They didn’t wait for a third-party company to come up with a kickstand—they just made it part of the tablet. They also encased the tablet in a proprietary sheathing called VaporMG. This thin and lightweight casing is durable and good-looking. It doesn’t mimic the flashy stainless-steel look of many other tablets—instead it goes for a matte finish that gives the tablet a solid business-like look.
There are also two keyboard concepts that Microsoft knew would appeal to casual users and tablet enthusiasts who want to justify their Surface purchase—the Touch Cover and the Type Cover. The Touch Cover clicks into the bottom port on the Surface, and serves as an ultra thin spill resistant pressure keyboard with a capacitive-sensitive trackpad. It can also can be flipped behind the unit so that you can view the Surface as a traditional tablet, or you can close the Surface with the Touch Cover attached and use it as a protective cover. It comes in a variety of vibrant colors (Black, White, Cyan, Magenta and Red) that add a splash of fun to the Surface.
The Type Cover offers a more traditional experience. The Surface also clicks into this cover, but the keyboard is a raised, chiclet-style QWERTY keyboard with a full row of Function keys (F1-F12), Windows shortcut keys, media controls, and a trackpad. Do you want to pound out your novel on these keys? Probably not, but you could definitely get more work done on your tablet with these optional keyboards.
However, the processing power of this tablet may be the turning point in the tablet wars. The Windows RT runs on a Quad Core NVIDIA Tegra 3 ARM processor, the same used in high-end tablets like the Nexus 7 and ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity. With that kind of processing power, games and applications should be a smooth experience—and since Microsoft is calling the shots with the operating system, we’re hoping that they’ve optimized it even more than Android 4.0 ICS optimized gaming and apps for tablets last year.
The Surface RT also features 2GB of RAM, and will be sold with either 32- or 64GB of internal storage. Thankfully, the included microSDXC slot allows the use of microSDXC cards (sold separately) that have an amazing capacity—current cards are available in 64GB to 256GB sizes, but there is a 2TB microSDXC card in the works. Imagine toting your Microsoft Surface tablet around with a 2TB drive the size of your fingernail. The mind is boggled.
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There’s also an impressive array of software on this tablet. It comes pre-loaded with Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 RT Preview edition (the final Office for RT version will be installed via Windows Update when it is available) which includes touch-enhanced versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote, Windows Mail and Messaging, SkyDrive (cloud storage and access), Internet Explorer 10, Bing, Xbox Music and a slew of games and video. But again, the RT version will only be able to use apps downloaded from the Windows Store, so don’t expect to load and use Photoshop CS7 on this tablet. Somewhere down the road, however… who knows? Third-party software manufacturers who built their base on Windows 7 products are definitely going to want to consider an RT version of their programs if this takes off.
But is the Microsoft Surface the iPad killer everyone has been waiting for? Only time will tell. But since this is the first hardware push for Microsoft since the amazing success of the Xbox 360 (let’s forget the Windows Phone for the moment), it’s obvious that this full-featured tablet is not about making money, or even about market share. It’s about introducing Windows 8 to a wary consumer base that still remembers Windows Vista. And there is no better way to sell software than by dressing up the hardware on which it’s being debuted.
If you’re someone who scoffs at anything with a Microsoft logo on it, then you may not enjoy the experience of the Windows Surface RT—but for everyone else, the Surface RT has a little something for everyone—casual users, gamers, business people looking for a new way to work—and it definitely has the style and features to make it a contender in today’s tablet market. You’d better act fast, though—there are already reports surfacing (no pun intended) of sell-outs and long wait times for pre-ordered product.
|Operating System||Windows RT|
|Storage||32GB or 64GB|
|Display||10.6" ClearType HD Display|
|Resolution||1366 x 768|
|Aspect Ratio||16:9 (widescreen)|
|CPU||Quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3|
|Networking||802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Cameras||Two 720p HD LifeCams front and rear cameras|
|Audio||Integrated stereo speakers|
|Ports||Full-sized USB 2.0, microSDXC card reader, headset jack, HD Video out port, Cover port|
|Sensors||Ambient light sensor, Acclerometer, Gyroscope, Compass|
|Apps||Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 RT Preview (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote), Windows Mail and Messaging, SkyDrive, Internet Explorer 10, Bing, Xbox Music, Video, Games|
|Dimensions||10.81 x 6.77 x 0.37in|
|Warranty||1-Year Limited Hardware Warranty|