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First Look at the Microsoft Surface Tablet

Microsoft caused a stir in the mobile device market last week when it unveiled the new Microsoft Surface tablet on June 18 in Los Angeles. The tablet will be available in two different versions, one that is more lightweight and slim for Windows RT and one that is more powerful with Intel chips to run Windows 8. Early reviews for the Surface have mostly been positive, and some tech experts speculate that it could become a worthy competitor of the Apple iPad as a business tablet.

Releasing its own tablet is a bold move for Microsoft, marking the first time in the company’s almost 40-year history that it will sell its own computer hardware, competing with PC makers that are also the biggest customers for the Windows operating system.

A New York Times article comments:

For hardware makers, the PC market has long been a struggle because Microsoft and Intel, maker of the microprocessors that power most computers, have long extracted most of the spoils from the industry, leaving slim profits for the companies that make them. Manufacturers pay hefty fees to license Windows from Microsoft, putting pressure on them to make computers as cheaply as possible using commodity parts.

That, in turn, has limited their ability to take the kinds of risks on hardware innovation that have helped define the iPad. Furthermore, with the iPad, Apple has proved that there are significant advantages to designing hardware and software together. When separate companies, each with its own priorities, handle those chores, integrating hardware and software can be more challenging.

Features of the Microsoft Surface Tablet

  • The Surface tablet has a 10.6 inch screen, 16:9 display, with a built-in kickstand and an attached cover that holds a full multitouch keyboard.
  • There are two versions of the tablet, one for Windows RT and one for Windows 8. The RT version will be available in 32 gigabyte and 64 gigabyte models, while the Windows 8 Pro version will come in 64 gigabyte or 128 gigabyte models.
  • The RT version is 9.3 millimeters thick, and the Windows 8 Pro version is 13.5 millimeters thick.
  • The Surface features a magnesium case, which Microsoft executives describe as strong and scratch-resistant.

Here’s what a couple of the early reviews are saying:

We just had our hands on the sleek new device, and we must say — it does feel incredibly well designed. Microsoft is only showing off the Windows RT version of the Surface, which means ARM CPU and a thinner, 9.3mm form factor. The design and build of the tablets the company has here feel very polished, with tight, clean lines. The device was also surprisingly light, barely feeling like it reached the full 1.5 pounds Microsoft is quoting. The 10.6-inch, 16:9 display also looked crystal clear at a variety of angles. We tried out the kickstand and had some trouble popping it out of the back of the tablet — but apparently there’s a side cutaway which makes it easier to flip it out. Just as promised, it does close with a reassuring, expensive sounding click. The “VaporMg” finish on the case of the Surface feels like it’ll be easy to grip, although we do wonder if the edges will feel just a little sharp with extended use.

– Dieter Bohn, The Washington Post

Apple’s iPad evokes a feeling of luxury, while top-of-the-line Android tablets like the Galaxy Tab feel fast and efficient, but not overly polished. The Surface feels like a Cadillac: powerful, luxurious… solid. There’s nothing flimsy about it.

That said, at 1.49 pounds (676 grams), the Surface feels surprisingly heavy and a bit bulky. Compared to the Surface, an iPad or Galaxy Tab seems significantly thinner and lighter. (The Windows 8 Pro model of the Surface will weigh almost 2 pounds – 903 grams, while a new iPad weighs 1.44 pounds – 652 grams.) The built-in kickstand, I suspect, will be a necessary crutch…

Although only time (and repeated pounding) will reveal if these innovative keyboard/covers hold up as well as a typical Bluetooth keyboard, Microsoft executives swore that they could touch-type on them nearly as fast as on a normal keyboard. And I can believe it.

– Mark Hachman, Read Write Web

The Windows Surface: The Ideal Business Tablet?

The Windows Surface tablet might be able to go beyond the consumer market and appeal to the valuable enterprise market, which so far lacks a robust business tablet.

While other tablets, such as the iPad, offer tools to connect with Microsoft Office and Windows, the Surface is actually built by Microsoft and could be a much more convenient option for integrating with existing business IT departments. The simple prospect of delivering a full featured productivity suite (Microsoft Office) to a tablet could buy Microsoft a nice piece of the pie in the enterprise space. The built-in Touch Cover keyboard also makes the Surface a lightweight and appealing alternative to a laptop for professionals who travel frequently. Microsoft has not yet announced a release date or price for the Surface tablet.

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