Earlier today, Microsoft held a mysterious event in Los Angeles. We talked about a Microsoft tablet, but to be honest, we were expecting a Windows RT (for ARM) demo with different vendors rather than a full-blown Microsoft launch with their own tablets (although that was always in the background). We should have simply listened to the various hints. In any case, the Microsoft devices got unveiled as you have seen earlier (hopefully on live.ubergizmo.com) and the cat is now out of the bag.

The essence of the two Windows Surface tablets is that “it’s the Windows you know” -in a tablet- but in a fashion that does not get in the way of productivity. The cover/keyboard which comes in two variants illustrates this extremely well: one keyboard is super-thin and another keyboard has deeper key travel space and is one of the best keyboard setup in terms of compactness/effectiveness ratio.  Both have an awesome design, and once the cover is on, they feel like a book cover, really. 

Where were you iPad keyboard?

Here's the keyboard cover - best tablet implementation ever

It’s funny because this the type of keyboard integration that we always wanted with the iPad, but never got. Also, this is not a wireless keyboard, so not only it does not require a battery, and it is connected to the tablet with a low latency link (1/1000s). This is hands-down the best productivity apparatus that we have seen on a tablet thus far. For sure, the keyboard is going to be a best-selling accessory. Microsoft would not confirm if the keyboard was bundled with the system or not, but given that there are multiple color options, a bundle seems unlikely.

The keyboard also serve as a display cover and this should make most people happy. Despite the fact that modern displays are often resistant to scratches, even from a combat knife steel tip, people do feel better about having some kind of protection for their tablet screen.

Last, but not least, Microsoft has managed to add a full-size USB 2.0 port to make this easy to connect and transfer data from USB keys, cameras and other things that you have grown accustomed to with your PC. Microsoft integrated a full-size USB port in a 9.3mm-thick body, something that was deemed “impossible” not so long ago by major tablet makers.

Two tablets to cover the whole market

In terms of functionality, the Microsoft Surface tablet line-up comes in two versions: one of them is equipped with a Tegra 3 ARM-based processor that runs Windows 8 RT (ARM version). This particular tablet can only run the Windows 8 Metro applications, but it is very thin and light, just like you would expect from a modern tablet. In theory, the Surface for Windows RT will come with MS Office and the Mail application.

The Surface Pro tablet is powered by an Intel Core i5 CPU and runs the desktop version of Windows 8, which means that it can run any Windows or DOS application that were ever created (games too). In addition to being a tablet, the Surface Pro can connect to a large display, keyboard and mouse and turn into a full-blown Windows computer.

High quality “feel”

When we played with the Tegra 3 based tablet running on Windows RT, it felt like a very high-quality device. Instead of aluminum, Microsoft has used VaporMag, a magnesium variant that allowed the tablet to be very rigid and solid. We could feel how rigid it was when trying to apply twist and sheer force on it. It is also scratch-resistant, more so than bare aluminum in our opinion (aluminum bodies often scratch with a strong nail pressure).

The display quality is also high. While this is no “Retina” display in terms of pixel density (sharpness), it looked like LCD IPS quality in terms of contrast, color and view angle. The display did not look overly shiny as well, which is always a good thing. All the touch gestures looked smooth and fluid, just like what previous hardware demos have shown. There’s nothing new here, Windows 8 is fluid on most machines, and it is something that we would like to see Android improve on.

More facts to be revealed

Microsoft stopped short of providing complete pricing and availability information, but said that it would price the Surface RT tablet competitively against other tablets on the market ($500-$600, our estimate). The Surface RT tablet should be available as soon as Windows 8 is, later this year.

As for the Microsoft Surface Pro, it will be priced like Ultrabook laptops ($700-$1000, our estimate). Keep in mind that other companies will also build Windows RT tablets, so Microsoft is not going to play the low-price game here. Instead, we think that they have built this hardware to “set the bar” in terms of hardware and user experience. Windows 8 and Metro are just too important to leave their fate in someone else’s hands.

There are more unanswered questions: first of all, what kind of apps will be available for Windows 8 RT when the tablet launches? Microsoft is going to make sure that their Mail and Office apps will be included and that should take care of the basic productivity needs in a way that will (probably) truly please users accustomed to MS Office on Windows. But soon thereafter, users will want more, and Microsoft will need blockbuster apps and services on its platform. Netflix was demonstrated on-stage during the launch.

Finally, the ultimate question is: what is the battery life like? One of the major appeals for tablets is their long battery life, so Microsoft has to provide something good, or certainly “good enough” at the very least. With a 31.5 Wh battery, the Surface for Windows RT lands somewhere between the iPad 2 (25Wh) and the iPad gen3 (42.5Wh) in terms of capacity. Remember that most of the iPad Gen 3 extra battery capacity is there to cater to the Retina display. Given that the Surface for Windows 8 RT tablet uses a normal display, the battery life of the Surface RT should be very good, if not excellent, but only independent tests will tell.

The same questions are valid for the Microsoft Surface Pro. We already know what apps it runs (everything Windows), so the battery life is also a major question for that one. At 43 Wh, it is outgunned by laptops that can pack up to 77Wh of battery. That said, with a smaller 10.6″ display, the power requirements may go down by a notch, but this is not a slam-dunk like the RT tablet seems to be. We can’t wait to put both tablets to the test and report back to you.


In conclusion, we’re very impressed by what Microsoft came up with. The high build quality of the tablets also serves actual productivity. From the alignment of the webcam (which aims at your face and not at your forehead when the tablet sits on its integrated stand), to the excellent keyboard/cover designs, Microsoft has pulled a stunning act of industrial design that gives the company a great opportunity to enter the tablet party in a big way.

Now that the design and Operating System stages have been set, the final act will be to check what applications will be available at launch time. The quality will matter more than the sheer number of apps, that’s a given. After taking a close look at the Windows 8 SDK, we are confident that Microsoft will be able to present a good line-up when Windows 8 launches.

Specifications Highlight

Surface Windows RT
9.3mm thick
10.6” display (resolution unconfirmed, looks like 1366×768)
Tegra 3 chip
31.5Wh battery
microSD slot, full-size USB 2.0 port, micro HD video out
Dual WiFi antenna (higher throughput)
Integrated stand
32GB or 64GB of internal storage

Surface Windows 8 Pro
13.3mm thick
10.6” display (resolution unconfirmed, looks like 1366×768)
42Wh battery
microSDXC slot, full-size USB 3.0 port, mini DisplayPort video out
Dual WiFi antenna (higher throughput)
Integrated stand
64GB or 128GB of internal storage

Official Windows Surface Page

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