Microsoft has begun shipping the Windows 8 Surface tablets. The Surface series of tablets feature very thin design (9.3mm to 13.5mm or 1/3 to slightly over 1/2 inch thick) and 10.6 inch capacitive touchscreens. These tablets are meant to compete directly with Apple’s popular iPad (and various tablets running Google’s Android) while at the same time making Windows 8 relevant to a growing market Microsoft currently has very little presence in.
There are two different Surface models with some pretty significant differences – so let’s talk about the consumer one first.
Surface for Windows 8 RT
This tablet will feature the same 10.6″ screen, be 9.3mm thick, and weigh 673 grams (about 1.5 pounds). The CPU inside is a Nvidia Tegra 3, which features a quad core processor and impressive built-in graphics capabilities. The Surface will feature 2 GB of ram and either 32 or 64GB of integrated storage and have a micro-sd card slot for expansion. A USB 2.0 port, HD video out port, 802.11n mimo network card, an integrated kickstand and a unique connector for the Touch Cover (we’ll get into that later) come standard.
This version features Windows 8 RT which is designed for tablets and computers running ARM processors, which have the benefit of low power, but which also require programs to be designed to run on them. Microsoft has included all the basic tablet apps (calendar, mail, web browser, etc) and a version of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013, specifically designed for Windows 8 RT.
Microsoft will also have an app store where you’ll be able to buy programs designed for Windows 8 RT. The Windows app store currently had 3500 offerings and developers are working hard to increase that count due to the expected demand for applications for this new operating system.
Surface for Windows 8 Pro
This tablet will feature the same 10.6″ screen, be 13.5mm thick and weigh 903 grams (about 2 pounds). The CPU power will be provided by an Intel i5 Ivy Bridge series CPU. The Surface will feature 4GB of ram and either 64 or 128GB of integrated storage and have a micro-sdxc card slot for expansion. A USB 3.0 port, mini display port, 802.11n mimo network card, an integrated kickstand and a unique connector for the Touch Cover (once again, we’ll get into that later) come standard.
This tablet looks to compete with ultrabooks (very thin notebook computers) and features the full version of Windows 8 Pro, which will run on desktop/laptop computers. This tablet is designed for people frustrated with the limited applications on a conventional tablet, so it should be interesting to see how popular it is. This version is not yet shipping but should be released in the next few months.
What about Touch Cover & Type Cover?
Possibly the most exciting aspect to the Windows 8 Surface is the cover which attaches magnetically to the side (much like the iPad’s Smart Cover), but features an extremely thin keyboard. At only 3mm thick for the touch cover (5mm for type cover), this keyboard is amazingly thin and offers tablet users a surface to type on while leaving the entire screen for viewing.
The type cover offers mechanic keys instead of touch sensitive keys and offers more traditional feel of a keyboard key. Early reviews indicate both offer a fantastic typing experience with users being able to approach desktop keyboard typing speed within a few days of using each.
This keyboard will be especially crucial to users of the included Office Home and Student 2013 (pre release right now with free automatic upgrade to the full release when Microsoft is done making it), or to the Pro version of Surface, which will have access to all the traditional desktop applications designed for input from a keyboard and mouse.
… so, is this the iPad killer?
Let’s go over some of the problems with Microsoft’s Surface:
- Battery? Yeah, it’s got one. Microsoft doesn’t have the best track record on accurate battery life so the real question will come when more apps are available how real world battery life is.
- Price. Starting at $499 not including the all important touch or type cover the tablet is more expensive then all of it’s competitors. Microsoft is completely sold out of the initial manufacturing run so maybe it’s less of an issue then I think but only time will tell.
- Competition. Microsoft has always been predominantly a software company that left the PC hardware to the OEMs, so if they start making hardware will the encourage Windows 8 RT to be widely adopted, or prevent companies from making their own version? Android has done so well in attracting new customers (because dozens of companies produce handsets and tablets) and Apple has done well by being strictly in control of the hardware and software. Microsoft is trying to split the difference. Will that quickly make this an obsolete product when HP releases the X2 Hybrid?
The one thing I will say is this is the first tablet that is making me reconsider being an iPad owner. Windows 7 is a good operating system, but Windows 8’s interface is far better designed for use with a tablet computer. If Microsoft can shave about $100 or offer the touch cover for free I may buy one. Sorry Apple.