The software maker said Monday that its device will attach to a removable rubberized keyboard that also acts like a book cover. CEO Steve Ballmer said Surface will be an entertainment device “without compromising the productivity that PCs are uniquely known for.”
Microsoft Corp.’s attack against the iPad is a dramatic step to ensure that its Windows software plays a major role in the increasingly important mobile computing market.
Microsoft Surface comes in two iterations: One running Windows 8 Pro on top of Intel Silicon (an Ivy Bridge chip with yet-to-be-defined specs), and one running Windows RT on top of Nvidia silicon (perhaps the next iteration of Nvidia’s Tegra family — neither nVidia nor Microsoft is currently sharing specifics). The two tablets share a common industrial design language, including bezelled edges angled at 22 degrees, and physical chassis made of “VaporMG,” a fancy-schmancy new material that aims for a tactile finish worthy of a high-end, luxury watch.
“When you put it in your hands, it feels elegant,” said Panos Panay, the general manager of the newly announced Surface division. “When you touch it, you’re going to want to hold it, I promise you.” VaporMG can be moulded down to a thickness of 0.65mm — thinner than a credit card and comparable to a hotel room key, as Panay demonstrated at the event.
The two tablets also share 10.6-inch screens, front- and back-mounted cameras, integrated kickstands (also made of VaporMG), full-sized USB ports, and dual Wi-Fi antennas to ensure seamless media streaming. But beyond that, the specs diverge significantly between the two models.
The Windows RT device is the thinner of the two tablets at 9.3mm (and it’s also exactly 0.1mm thinner than Apple’s new iPad). Surface for Windows RT is also the lighter of the two Surface tablets at 676 grams, and runs a “ClearType HD” display of an unreported resolution. Data I/O is supported by microSD, USB 2.0, and Micro HD Video ports. Storage can be configured to 32GB and 64GB.
Surface for Windows 8 Pro is beefier all around. Aside from its Intel Ivy Bridge processor, the tablet is thicker at 13.5mm, and heavier at 903 grams. But it also comes with a ClearType “Full HD” display capable of 1080p video playback. Data I/O is also gussied up — you’ll get microSDXC, USB 3.0, and a Mini DisplayPort video connector. Storage can be configured to 64GB and 128GB.
For productivity options: The Windows 8 Pro version comes with a stylus that lets you write in digital ink with 600dpi precision. All told, Microsoft is pitching the Windows 8 Pro tablet as a no-excuses productivity machine (that DisplayPort lets you hook it up to desktop monitors). The Pro version was even demoed with Adobe Lightroom at the Monday event.
Everything described above is certainly exciting for Microsoft, but it’s not an earth-shatteringly new assortment of hardware. Microsoft’s new tablet covers, however, look truly innovative, and we’re excited to learn more about them.
First there’s the Touch Cover, a 3mm, magnetically attaching cover that includes an integrated pressure-sensitive keyboard. Microsoft says each keystroke is an individual gesture, and the resulting performance is faster than anything we currently experience with on-screen, virtual keyboards. If the Touch Cover isn’t quite snazzy enough for you, you can opt for the Type Cover. It’s 5mm thick, and includes (get this) physical keys. Each key includes 1.5mm of travel, and the Type Cover even boasts a full multi-touch track pad.
So what about pricing? We don’t know much, but Microsoft says the tablets will be “priced to competitive rates with ARM tablets.”