Microsoft's Surface Tablets

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Microsoft Surface Tablet: Your Next Windows PC?

Four Unanswered Questions

Many unknowns are still to be revealed about Surface. The stakes are high: Market research firm NPD DisplaySearch, for instance, estimates that by 2016 tablet shipments will exceed laptop shipments. Windows 8 tablets could play a significant role in helping to boost tablet sales.

How Much Will It Cost?

Microsoft didn’t reveal what Surface’s pricing would be at launch; rather, the company said that the Windows RT version would cost about the same as comparable tablets, and that the Pro version would target Ultrabook pricing. Those generalities leave a lot of wiggle room.

Consider the Surface RT, which will have 32GB and 64GB versions. Acer’s Iconia Tab A700, an Android competitor, costs $450 with 32GB of storage; the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 costs $500, also with 32GB of storage. Apple’s third-generation iPad is $499 for 16GB, and $599 for 32GB.

So, realistically, Surface RT must come in under $500 to be competitive. And even then, Microsoft will face price-pressure challenges from 7-inch tablets, including Google’s Nexus 7 ($249 for 16GB) and a rumored 7-inch Apple iPad that, if it does ship, would be priced competitively with the Nexus 7. Those lower prices will certainly affect what consumers expect to pay for a tablet, regardless of a larger screen size.

Pricing is equally unclear for the Surface Pro. Ultrabooks, with 128GB to 320GB of storage, are priced at $750 to $1100; 64GB Windows 7 tablets range from $750 to $1099. If Surface Pro with 64GB can hit $800, it will be reasonably competitive. After all, Apple’s 64GB iPad costs $699 today. But if Surface Pro hits $1000 or more, Microsoft’s tablet may seem too pricey.

What Kind of Battery Life Can We Expect?

The Metro interface on a Surface prototype.
At its launch event, Microsoft declined to offer battery life estimates. All-day computing remains the holy grail of tablets, and some competitors are getting closer. For instance, in PCWorld’s video-playback test, the Apple iPad lasted 10 hours, 46 minutes; the Google Nexus 7, 10 hours, 10 minutes; the Acer Iconia Tab A700, 8 hours, 11 minutes; and the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700, 7 hours, 58 minutes.

However, even if Surface Pro can’t match those numbers, it needs to stack up well against Ultrabooks, which average around 6 to 7 hours of battery life, and existing Windows 7 tablets, which clock in at 4 to 6 hours of battery life.

Microsoft, we hope, has some battery-stretching secrets up its sleeve. Windows 8 has power-management features to help maximize battery life by optimizing how apps, the OS, and hardware work together. A “Connected Standby” mode lets the machine enter a low-power state, while still receiving up­­dates; and Windows 8 Metro apps are designed to take advantage of this mode. Today, though, Connected Standby works only with ARM processors and with Intel’s still-forthcoming system-on-a-chip processor. Current Intel Ivy Bridge Core i3, i5, and i7 CPUs do not support Connected Standby.

Will Surface Have 3G/4G Connectivity?

Microsoft hasn’t yet mentioned Surface support of mobile data options; carrier partnerships may still be in development. Or perhaps Microsoft will skip integrated mobile broadband for the relative simplicity of a Wi-Fi-only version. You can, of course, use either Surface model over Wi-Fi with a mobile hotspot, or with a USB data dongle, for that matter.

When Can We Buy It?

Surface RT should be available when Windows 8 launches in late October. The Surface Pro model is scheduled for approximately three months after the RT version ships, meaning it should be available in early 2013.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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