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Microsoft Surface Tablet Details

Jun 18 08:08

Microsoft Surface Tablet: Initial Impressions

Microsoft's introduction of its Surface tablet engendered buzz like no other we've seen from Microsoft. The big question is, does it stand up to the hype? The answer, succinctly, is yes.

After the event, attendees got a brief audience with the Surface (the second Microsoft product to get that name; prior to today, "Surface" referred to Microsoft's table-top touchscreen computer experience). I saw it up-close, and in limited action, and was very impressed with what I saw.

For starters, Microsoft truly has paid close attention to the details. This tablet is one of the few with a full-sized USB port--and thank goodness for that. The Windows RT version of Surface has USB 2.0, with USB 3.0 on the Windows 8 Professional version. (The Pro version can use USB 3.0 because the core logic chipset of Intel's Ivy Bridge chips support the standard, according to a Microsoft spokesman.)

The Surface tablet's integrated kickstand is sheer brilliance, and it felt sturdily designed when I lifted it up and held the prototype tablet by its kickstand. I did that almost automatically, without thinking about potential consequences, and then realized that I had nothing to fear; the kickstand felt as stable as bedrock.

Related: See the Surface in Pictures

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The tablet's case felt silky and exceptionally solid, even on these still-early prototypes. (The Windows RT Surface we saw here won't be out until fall, at Windows 8's launch; the Pro version will ship three months later, meaning we'll hear about those at CES 2013.) The exterior magnesium alloy surface is smooth to the touch, and finely finished. And while I wish the tablet were slightly slimmer, the angled edges made it fairly comfortable to hold. The tablet felt extremely well-balanced when I held the tablet in one hand or both. It actually didn't feel as heavy as its listed weight (1.5 pounds for the RT version, 1.9 pounds for the Pro version).

From a Distance

The demo units on show here in Los Angeles were running Windows RT, and had a 1080p quality display. (Microsoft's spec sheet doesn't list an exact resolution.) When I had my all-too-brief moment to handle the tablet, that unit wasn't turned on. Microsoft didn't let us too close to the ones that were on and showing demos on-screen, so I didn't see book-size text up close. That makes it impossible to say how it compares side-by-side with the third-generation Apple iPad's Retina display, or the 1920-by-1200 pixel display on the upcoming Acer Iconia Tab A700. What I saw from a distance impressed me, though, and left me eager to see more.

The benefits of the display's optical bonding were obvious. Bonding is still an expensive process, which is why we don't see it as often as I would like on tablets. Its inclusion on the Surface, frankly, makes me worry that these tablets may cost significantly more than other mainstream models. But there's no questioning the value of optical bonding – it makes text more clear, minimizes glare and improves contrast. And the Surface running Windows RT showcased those benefits well, even under the glarey spotlights at the event.

Cover Up

The Type Cover and Touch Cover are evolved beyond the keyboard docks on tablets like Asus' Transformer series. There, the dock is a physical component that turns the tablet into a netbook-like clamshell. The keyboard in Microsoft's innovative "smart" covers is the tablet keyboard you've always dreamed of: versatile, lightweight, functional, and a true aid to your productivity.

The Type Cover has mechanical keys and a multitouch clickpad. My touch-typist fingers flew over the keys as efficiently as if I were typing on my laptop. The Touch Cover comes in bright and cheerful colors as well as the more staid black, and has flat, pressure-sensitive keys that can detect when you're typing; if you flip the cover around to the back, the built-in accelerometer can sense this and will turn off the keyboard (nifty trick). I couldn't try a Touch Cover hooked up to a unit, but I'll be interested to see how it performs when it comes out. Both options turned the Surface tablet into an efficient and compact device.

We didn't hear anything about whether the keyboard covers draw more power from the tablet, but presumably they do. The Touch Cover is thin, just 3mm, and snaps into place with a sturdy clink thanks to magnetics and components aligning together to keep it in place. (The cover feels more secure than Apple's Smart Cover, which can easily slip-slide out-of-place.)

My hands-on time with the Microsoft Surface was limited, but it made a very good first impression. Microsoft has put other tablet makers on notice. It will be interesting to see how the competition responds.

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Jun 20 02:17

How Microsoft Surface Tablets Compare in a Crowded Market

During their splashy press conference on Monday, Steve Ballmer and the other Microsoft execs referred to the company's upcoming Surface devices as tablets. So it makes sense to compare them to other tablets, right?

Actually, that's only half-right. The ARM-based Surface for Windows RT looks like--and will be priced like--competing tablets, but the Surface for Windows Pro will be too heavy and expensive to compete head-to-head with the iPad. (For the sake of simplicity, I'll refer to the two models as "Surface RT" and "Surface Pro" hereafter.) Surface Pro's natural competition: Windows Ultrabooks.

The tricky thing is that the Surface Pro is the tablet that many Windows users think they've been waiting for. It's the one that can do anything a desktop can do: It can run the apps we have already (like Adobe Photoshop CS6, and Camera Bits Photo Mechanic), graphics-intensive games (like Diablo), and other tried-and-true Windows software; and it has a serious laptop processor, Intel's Core series, that can power through complicated work.

But the Surface Pro's price may not come in at what you'd expect for a tablet. You can buy a new 16GB iPad for $499, but Microsoft has said that the Surface Pro's price will be more comparable to that of an Ultrabook--likely hundreds of dollars more. Granted, that would put the Surface Pro closer in cost to a 64GB iPad ($700), but that price isn't the one that consumers have in their heads for a tablet. Nor is it a price that will generate mass-market tablet sales. Also, at nearly 2 pounds, the Pro will be far heavier than most tablets.

Evidently the Surface Pro won't compete with top tablets in display resolution, either. Microsoft has said that the Surface Pro will have a "Full HD" display, meaning a display with a resolution of at least 1920 by 1200 pixels. That would put it on a par with the best Android tablets from Asus and Acer; but because those displays are 0.5 inch smaller, their pixel density should be better. And none of those tablets' resolutions can compare with the Apple iPad's at 2048 by 1536 pixels.

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Jun 19 07:17

Microsoft Surface Tablet: 5 Questions

Microsoft Surface Tablets: 5 Questions
Microsoft left a lot of unanswered questions after following Apple into the tablet hardware business Monday with its new Windows 8-based Surface PCs/tablets. The software maker introduced the new family of devices during an event in Los Angeles.

Microsoft said the new Surface tablets are meant as companion hardware for Windows 8--the most dramatic overhaul of the OS since Windows 95. Company CEO Steve Ballmer said: "We wanted to give Windows 8 its own companion hardware innovation." Windows 8 is expected to be available in the fall.

The Surface brand was originally used for a tabletop touchscreen computer Microsoft launched in 2007.

Early Impressions Are Positive

Looking at the spec sheet, the new devices sound promising and early impressions are generally positive. The new tablets will come with a 10.6-inch display, a kickstand for tabletop viewing, and a super-thin keyboard case that attaches to the device with magnets.

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Jun 18 04:55

Microsoft Announces Surface Tablet PC

As many had speculated, Microsoft announced a new tablet PC at an event today in Los Angeles. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was on hand to unveil yet another Microsoft foray into the hardware world, but this time is producing an actual PC for the first time in its history.

After a brief review of the software giant's history in hardware development, Ballmer announced a new Microsoft tablet called the "Surface." Microsoft says the Surface is designed to fully exploit the capabilities of its new Windows 8 operating system.

"With Windows 8 we don't want to leave any seam uncovered; we wanted to give it its own hardware innovation," Ballmer said. "It's something new, something different, a whole new family of computing devices from Microsoft."

Microsoft is actually releasing two versions of the device: A thinner and lighter (9.3 mm thick, 1.5-pound) consumer version that runs the Windows RT operating system (a version of Windows 8 that runs on ARM processors), and larger version (13.5 mm thick, 1.9 pounds) running the Windows 8 Pro OS, which is aimed at business users.

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