If you’ve been waiting to touch a Surface Pro tablet in the living, breathing, once-molten-magnesium flesh, you can finally mark a hard date on your calendar: The Windows 8 Pro version of Microsoft’s tablet will go on sale Feb. 9 at Microsoft stores, microsoftstore.com, Staples and Best Buy in the U.S.
The 64GB version will retail for $900, while the 128GB model will cost a cool $1,000. Both models will come with Microsoft’s new Surface pen writing stylus (which I used during a brief hands-on at CES), but neither model comes pre-loaded with any version of Office, which has been a nice bundled addition for Microsoft’s struggling Surface RT model.
While Surface RT is loaded with Windows RT, the hobbled OS incapable of running desktop apps, the upcoming Surface for big boys and girls runs the full version of Windows 8 Pro, and is a complete, 64-bit PC by definition. This is self-evident during a quick scan of its Ultrabook-caliber hardware specs.
Surface vs Surface
Where Surface RT has an Nvidia Tegra 3 ARM chip and 2GB of RAM, the Surface Pro packs a Core i5 and 4GB of RAM. And where the RT’s 10.6-inch display has a 1366-by-768 resolution, the Pro keeps the same screen dimensions but increases the pixel grid to true HD at 1920-by-1080.
USB, you ask? The RT tablet is limited to USB 2.0, whereas the Pro gives you USB 3.0 support. And of course the Pro version comes with the Surface pen for writing in digital ink, and also boasts a Mini DisplayPort for driving behemoth desktop monitors.
All of this is packed in a sleek, silky VaporMg chassis that’s only slightly larger and heavier than what you’ll find in a Surface RT. The RT clocks in at 0.37-inch thick and 1.5 pounds, while the Pro is 0.53-inch thick and 2 pounds. Unfortunately, while the Pro version has a beefier battery than its RT sibling (42 w-h to the RT’s 31.5 w-h), customers should expect much poorer battery life.
So, yeah, that ARM processor in the Surface RT is good for something.
Sorry, Surface RT fans, but I stand by my position that Surface Windows 8 Pro is the full realization of the Surface concept. Sure, Surface RT offers a fine tablet experience, but given the lack of compelling Windows Store apps, I need a full desktop experience—if only to get my job done while working on the road. And in the Surface family, a fully functioning desktop is only available in the device that debuts Feb. 9.
The Surface family expands
The launch of Surface Pro is the big news, but on Feb. 9 eager Surface fans will also be able to buy a couple of new accessories, plus a new Surface RT option.
First up, Microsoft is releasing some “limited edition” Touch Cover options sporting three laser-etched designs.There’s a new cyan cover with a vaguely skater-ish skull motif, a magenta cover with a floral print, and a red cover that pays homage to Chinese New Year with a “Year of the Snake” design (click on the image above for detail).
I saw two of the new covers at CES, and they looked, well, pleasant. If I were in the market for a Touch Cover, I might buy one of the limited edition models if they didn’t cost $130, which is $10 more than unadorned Touch Covers. Then again, I don’t put play with stickers any more, so maybe I’m not the target market.
Slightly more interesting is the Surface version of Microsoft’s Wedge Touch Mouse, which costs $70 and is clad in a color-matched veneer to look right at home beside the VaporMG chassis of your Surface Tablet. The original version of the Wedge Mouse also costs $70, and is expressly designed for Windows 8, offering four-way touch scrolling, Bluetooth connectivity, and BlueTrack technology, which allows it to perform well on pretty much any surface save clear glass and mirrors.
Finally, on Feb. 9, Microsoft will also begin selling a new version of Surface RT. To date, if you wanted the 64GB of Surface RT, you could only get it bundled with a black Touch Cover for a total price of $700. Well, now that 64GB version can be purchased solo for $600, and no keyboard cover whatsoever will be foisted on you, against your will or better judgement. This, of course, frees up some cash so you can buy a Type Cover (the cover option with actual moving keys), or perhaps one of the more fancy “limited edition” Touch Covers that’s about to go on sale.
Microsoft tells us we should be getting our Surface Pro hardware in the next couple of weeks, so please stay tuned for my final review.
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Jon is the Editor-in-Chief of PCWorld and TechHive. He's been covering all manner of consumer hardware since 1995.