Microsoft’s big reveal went down yesterday in Hollywood, and it’s one that just might shake up the very much Apple-dominated tablet market. Microsoft offered up something relatively rare – all-new Microsoft hardware. Take a look at Microsoft Surface.
Microsoft Surface, like many other upcoming Windows 8 devices from companies like Acer and Asus, will try to toe the line between tablet and laptop, offering the functionality of both in the way Windows 8 uniquely can. Because Windows 8 will be a unified operating system across laptops and tablets, this is a tablet that will have full PC capabilities – that is, depending on which Surface you get. But, we’ll get to that later.
The key to Surface is design – it’s very thin, at 9.3 mm or 13.5 mm, and features two impressive additions that warrant keeping the Surface on your radar. One is the sturdy kickstand that is integrated with the back casing of the tablet, allowing you to prop Surface up in what could be called laptop mode. The most ingenious thing about Surface might be the keyboard, though – a 3 mm thick pressure sensitive one that can be used as a trackpad, as well. What that also means is that keyboard presses will actually be recorded as individual gestures, which is part of the reason why the keyboard manages to be so thin. The keyboard is that thin for another reason, too – it’s made to double as a magnetic cover for the Surface when not in use. For those who want more tactile feedback, a 5 mm thick type cover with moving keys can also be added on.
Surface’s casing is constructed using a process called VaporMg. The Mg refers to magnesium, which is molded with other metals and particles to provide a thin, strong construction that comes off looking polished.
At this point, the most honest way to describe the Surface is probably to call it promising. It’s hard to say how attractive Surface will really be to buyers – Microsoft was light on hard specs, and offered nothing in the way of pricing and availability information.
Here’s what we do know – two models of Surface will be available. One, Surface for Windows RT, will run on an ARM processor and the Windows RT operating system, which will only run apps from the Metro UI. The second model, set to go on sale 90 days after the first one, will be Surface for Windows 8 Pro. That one will run the full version of Windows 8, allowing access to Desktop Mode, and will be powered by an Intel Ivy Bridge processor.
Both models will have 10.6” ClearType HD displays (ClearType seems like Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Retina, in the sense that both are nice-sounding but ultimately meaningless terms), though it appears only the Pro version will feature Full HD graphics, putting it at a 1920 x 1080 resolution. The Pro version will be a little thicker (13.5 mm to the RT’s 9.3 mm), and will feature at least one USB 3.0 port (the RT model will only have USB 2.0). The Pro version will also have a MicroSDXC slot and Mini DisplayPort Video, compared to the RT’s MicroSD card slot and Micro HD Video port. Both will have double sets of MIMO antennae, which Microsoft claims will give Surface the best Wi-Fi reception of any tablet on the market. The RT will come in 32 GB and 64 GB models, while the Pro will come in 64 GB and 128 GB models.
We still need to see lots more from Microsoft about the Surface, like processor specifics, graphics processors, internal memory, and, most importantly, price. For what it’s worth, Microsoft representatives have described that price as “competitive.” It looks like Microsoft has nailed the conversion from laptop to tablet better than just about anyone else thus far, but right now, all we can say about the Surface is that it’s a very promising concept. We’ll see if that concept can materialize into something great, but that’s not outside of the realm of possibility. Microsoft’s hardware forays have been solid, on the whole – the Xbox became dominant in the video game console market with the Xbox 360, and the Zune, while a sales debacle, received fairly positive technical reviews for much of that line’s lifespan. Microsoft has a good enough track record with actually making hardware – it’s just that now, with a big Hollywood party and a slick new advertising campaign (just look at all the different colors of those keyboards!), it looks like Microsoft’s marketing department has finally caught up. That might prove to be the most crucial piece of the puzzle for the Microsoft Surface.