Everything you need to know about the Surface Mini
Microsoft is strongly tipped to launch a new, smaller tablet in the coming weeks. We've seen numerous Surface Mini rumours discussing the Surface Mini's release date, what features it will have and how the Surface Mini specs will compare to the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2.
Why? Well, the success of smaller tablets like the Nexus 7 and the iPad mini show that there's a huge market for small tablets, as opposed to the large, 10-inch tablets Microsoft currently offers. There are already a few smaller Windows tablets available, including the Dell Venue Pro 8, but what we know so far suggests the Surface Mini could be quite different from what we've seen before.
Note: All photos in this article are mock-ups from case manufacturers, not official imagery.
Surface Mini Release Date: When can I buy the Surface Mini?
Until recently we expected a Surface Mini release date this month, but the latest reports suggest the Surface Mini launch has been pushed into June.
What's clear, however, is the Surface Mini is very much a reality and one that will appear soon. Microsoft's Chief Financial Office (CFO), Pete Klein, suggested it was working on it way back in February:
"We’re really set up [for making a 7-inch tablet]" Klein said at the recent Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference when questioned on the potential for a 7-inch Microsoft Surface Mini tablet. "The notion of flexibility and the scalability of the operating system is actually intrinsic to our vision and our strategy."
And we've seen plenty more indications of an imminent Surface Mini release date since.
Listings on Amazon.com for Surface Mini cases suggest the Surface Mini release date could be 28 May, although it's entirely possible cases will go on sale before the tablet is even announced. A Bloomberg report, meanwhile, suggested Microsoft would unveil the Surface Mini at an event on 20 May, though this was before later reports of a delay.
The bottom line, however, is if you've been thinking about buying a small Windows tablet recently, it's worth waiting for the confirmed Surface Mini release date before you buy.
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Surface Mini Specs: Will it run Windows 8 or Windows RT?
The Surface Mini's specs are important for one very obvious reason: it will impact what operating system the Surface Mini uses.
While most smaller Windows tablets have, up until now, run on Intel Atom processors and used the full version of Windows 8.1, the combination hasn't proved an especially successful one. We've reviewed numerous such tablets and have yet to find one we can recommend.
Most sources suggest, however, that the Surface Mini CPU will be made by Qualcomm, which would mean it would have to run the 'tablet' version of Windows 8, Windows RT 8.1, rather than full Windows.
Other rumoured Surface Mini specs suggest that the Surface Mini will have a 7.5-inch, 4:3 aspect screen with a 1,440 x 1,080 resolution. This would put it squarely in the crosshairs of the iPad mini, one of the few other tablets to opt for a squarer aspect, as opposed to the 'widescreen' 16:9 / 16:10 aspects preferred by most Android tablets.
The other interesting point to make here is this would be a departure from Microsoft's previous reliance on Nvidia's Tegra chip for its Windows RT tablets.
Surface Mini Features: Will the Surface Mini have a stylus?
Besides the basic specs, the other key Surface Mini feature that's been widely tipped is the inclusion of a stylus. And while there's little concrete information on this, it's a very logical and obvious move for Microsoft to make because:
1) Microsoft already has a stylus on the Microsoft Pro 2 that works very well and has proved one of the most popular features of the the Surface Pro series.
2) The 4:3 aspect screen would lend itself very well to positioning the Surface Mini as a digital notepad.
3) Microsoft already has a strong notetaking app in OneNote, which is one of the few Office apps to have a dedicated 'RT' version optimised entirely for use on a touchscreen. A more portable tablet with a stylus, combined with OneNote, would give Microsoft a unique offering in comparison to the most popular rival tablets.
There's one further possibility, one that hasn't been discussed yet, and that's whether Microsoft could choose the Surface Mini as the product to launch its proper, touch-optimised version of Office on Windows just as it recently has with Office for iPad. This is one thing we'd dearly like to see.
Surface Mini Price: How much will the Surface Mini cost?
We have no official word on how much the Surface Mini might cost, but it seems unlikely that Microsoft would price it much above the starting price of the iPad mini, which is £319. Indeed, it's more likely that Microsoft would choose to undercut the iPad mini.
The only problem here is the rumoured stylus. If the Surface Mini does include one then that will add extra cost for both the stylus itself and the 'active digitiser' screen tech necessary to make it work. Other tablets, like the Galaxy Note 8.0, cost around £340 at launch for this reason, though the Note 8.0 is only around £280 now.
Whichever way things go, we expect the Surface Mini to cost in the region of £280 to £350.
Analysis: A Surface Mini with a stylus could be a real winner
Microsoft's tablets have, thus far, been hit and miss affairs, but if what we're hearing about the Surface Mini is true then I think Microsoft might have finally have hit upon a formula for success.
The Surface Pro 2's stylus has always been a key feature, but the size and weight of the Surface Pro made it hard to use it anywhere other than when sat down with the tablet in your lap or on a table.
If Microsoft can bring that experience to something you can carry around with you easily, then it could finally crack the 'digital notepad' concept in a way that's eluded Apple and been only partially solved by Samsung and its Galaxy Note range.
If it combines this with the launch of a proper touch version of Office for Windows RT then there's a great deal to look forward to here.
Andy Vandervell, Deputy Editor
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