After several days of often contradictory rumours, Microsoft has unveiled Surface, its new own-brand tablet, which it calls ‘a unique expression of entertainment and creativity.’
Some had predicted a 7in Kindle Fire competitor but Surface is clearly going for the iPad market. It’s 10.6 inches across, Wi-Fi equipped and will come in two editions: one running Windows RT (a version of Windows 8 optimised for tablets) and another offering Windows 8 Pro.
The entry level tablet is 9.3mm thin, weighs 676g (a close match for the iPad) and it has a Gorilla Glass screen, though at 1,366 x 768 pixels the Surface display falls well short of the current iPad’s Retina resolution of 2,048 × 1,536. In other ways it beats the iPad by building in a USB 2.0 port (which will work with certified printers, mice and keyboards), a microSD slot and Micro HD Video output.
It can be configured with 32GB or 64GB of memory and features the Office Home & Student 2013 RT suite of software. The battery is rated at 31.5W-h.
Surface has a 'VaporMg' magnesium casing and a flap that runs the full length of the back and can fold out into a stand.
Its rear camera is angled at 22 degrees so that Surface can be stood on a desktop and used for hands-free video recording. The front facing camera is complemented by dual microphones tuned for Skype and stereo speakers.
It has a Touch Cover in a range of colours that folds out into a 3mm thin touch-sensitive keyboard and trackpad. There is also a thicker Type Cover option embedded with actual moving keys for a more notebook-style interface.
The Windows RT tablet is said to be launching at the same time as the Windows 8 operating system, but the Windows 8 Pro version of Surface will follow about three months later.
The Pro tablet has a few hardware variations, including a bigger 42W-h battery, which also means it is thicker (13.5mm) and heavier (903g). Its display is Full HD, and therefore sharper than the RT version. The Pro model also has a stylus that magnetically attaches to the side and uses a palm block feature so that your hand doesn’t activated unwanted parts of the touchscreen.
Its connectivity is slightly higher end, too, with a microSDXC slot, USB 3.0 and Mini DisplayPort Video output. It will be available with 64GB or 128GB of onboard memory.
After all that lot, third party accessory makers may have a hard time finding many things to make. Whether Surface is a good name will also be widely debated for sure – “Can I look at your Surface?” doesn’t sound quite right.
Beyond that, though, the inclusion of 'proper' sockets, genuine Office software and Windows rather than Android (which has so far failed to make a big dent in the iPad's dominance) could add up to an attractive alternative to Apple.
No pricing was given at the launch event, in Los Angeles. The Next Web reports that it is expected to be “competitive with a comparable ARM tablet or Intel Ultrabook-class PC.”
Microsoft says the Surface tablets will be on sale in physical Microsoft Stores and online Microsoft Stores in selected territories.
More info: Microsoft