Microsoft Unveil ‘Surface’ Range of Windows 8 Tablets
Microsoft has just had one of their biggest ever press events earlier this week in Los Angles where they unveiled their very own set of Windows 8 tablets dubbed Surface.
Coming in two variants, one for Windows RT and one for Windows 8 Pro – Surface marks one of the very few and rare times that Microsoft has taken software and hardware on their shoulders.
The latter of which is usually left to their OEMs like Samsung, Toshiba and Dell to name a few.
This announcement could very well upset those OEMs who have helped make Microsoft what they are over the last 30 years, or this could be seen as Microsoft raising the bar and showing other Windows 8 tablet manufacturers what they should be aiming for with their own Windows 8 tablets.
It’s easy to be confused with the two tablets and indeed the two operating systems that are on offer here, so we’ll do our best to try and clarify things for you.
Surface for Windows RT
Windows RT is the tablet-only version of Windows 8 which is designed to run on ARM processors just like the majority of current tablets and smartphones.
Windows RT will be focused around Microsofts new Metro UI that users of Windows Phones will find familiar, and won’t be able to run ‘full’ Windows programs or ‘Legacy’ programs as they’re being called.
Programs like Photoshop for example won’t work on Windows RT unless Adobe releases a touch-friendly app through the Marketplace like they have on other tablets.
So think of Windows RT as a kind of Windows iPad of sorts, it comes pre-installed and is based around apps and the Windows Marketplace.
Surface for Windows RT will have a 10.6” ‘Full HD’ display with Corning Gorilla Glass 2.0 with a 16:9 ratio display – perfect for movies. Microsoft is remaining tight-lipped on the exact resolution but at that size and ratio we’re guessing it’s probably 1366×768.
Surface RT is 9.3mm thick (the New iPad is 9.4mm so Surface is thinner – just), weighs 1.5 pounds or 676 grams and is equipped with one full sized USB 2.0 port, a HDMI port and a micro SD card slot.
It’s made of Magnesium called VaporMg (pronounced ‘mag) and has a built in kickstand at the rear that is about the same thickness as an average credit card. While most will be sceptical about a kickstand, Microsoft said they wanted it to be an integral part of the experience, that you shouldn’t have to buy too many add ons or add weight and thickness to your device.
The kickstand has three custom built hinges and was according to Microsoft; “Designed to feel like a luxury car door” – i.e. Sturdy and well built. Initial reports from hands on with the Surface suggest there won’t be fear of it breaking.
Surface RT will come with a special Metro/touch-optimized version of Microsoft Office built in.
Surface for Windows RT will come in 32GB and 64GB options, will be priced “Comparatively with other ARM tablets” and will launch with the general release of Windows 8 – whenever that is, the best speculation at the moment is September/October.
Microsoft Surface for Windows 8 Pro
On the other end of the Surface spectrum we have the Windows 8 Pro version, sharing many similarities with the Surface for Windows RT but also raising the bar in many other ways.
The Pro Surface will have the same sized 10.6” screen but is said to be ‘Full 1080 HD’ and also has Corning Gorilla Glass 2.0.
Surface Pro will be slightly thicker and heavier though, coming in at 13.5mm and 903g respectively.
It has Perimeter Venting around the edges of the entire device which allows the Surface to keep cool and your hands or a cover will never completely block the vents and it’s also made of the same VaporMG material as the Surface RT.
The biggest difference though is that it Surface for Windows 8 Pro will support full desktop applications such as Adobe Lightroom which Microsoft demoed on stage.
It’s also sporting an Intel i5 Ivy Bridge processor, a USB 3.0, minidisplay port and micro SDXC.
Surface Pro has the same kickstand as the RT model but comes with support for Digital Ink using a pen and ‘palm block’ technology that ignores touch interface when you’re writing with the pen.
Microsoft Surface for Windows 8 will come in 64GB and 128GB variants, be priced “comparably with Ultrabooks of the same specs” and will release 3 months after Windows 8s’ release.
Both Surface tablets will have front and rear facing cameras that are angled at 22 degrees so that they can be used for video conferences or Skype calls while using the kickstand and they will both feature twin 2×2 MIMO antennas for Wi-Fi – Wi-Fi that Microsoft are claiming is the fastest on any current tablet device.
Type Cover & Touch Cover
Perhaps the most interesting innovation to be found in Surface other than the kickstand are the covers that were designed for them both.
President of Windows Division, Steven Sinofsky said that they wanted to push themselves on the cover, that you shouldn’t have to add on accessories that increase thickness or weight too much and with that mission in mind, they created the Type Cover and Touch Cover.
The 3mm thin Touch cover at first glance looks awfully similar to the smart cover found on the iPad, but when opened up the underside is actually a touch sensitive keyboard that also has a track pad with left and right mouse buttons.
The Touch Cover actually has a built in accelerometer that senses which key you’re pressing and how many grams of force you’re placing on each key.
Probably the coolest part of the accelerometer is that when the Touch Cover is moved to the back, it automatically disables the control so there’s no worries of accidental key pressing – this leads Microsoft to imply that you almost never need to take the cover off.
The Type Cover is the same idea as the Touch Cover but uses physical, separate and thicker keys that look like they’d be more suited to some lengthy posts than its’ sibling.
The Future of Tablets?
So there you have it, the typically software-only giant from Redmond has come out swinging against Apple, Google and in a way itself.
Although the tech world waits to see how Windows OEMs will react to this news, we know a number of Windows 8 tablets and hybrids have already been announced and we can’t help but wonder if this news discourage the likes of Dell and ASUS to not put as much klout behind Windows 8 as they might have done before?
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said to The Verge that Microsoft are aiming to “Prime the pump” and show its’ hardware partners what’s possible with Windows 8, rather than trying to discourage them.
An interesting but dangerous strategy to use, although it’s clear that Microsoft are clearly learning from Apple and the immense success they’ve found by manufacturing their own hardware.
Perhaps this is the first look at a new Microsoft that will be more intefrated in the future.
But for the moment we’re itching to get our hands on the Microsoft Surface and more importantly get pricing and release dates.
We’ll keep you updated.