20th Sep 2012
This Tuesday, Microsoft unveiled the Surface series of tablets, which was subject to a lot of speculation prior to its launch. The company, surprisingly, kept everything under wraps until the announcement was made, although reports did leak out of MS preparing to launch its own tablet in addition to the OEM-branded ones.
To give you a rough background of the newly launched Microsoft Surface, it will be available in two variants, known as Surface and Surface Pro — both featuring a 10.6" ClearType display with HD (720p) and Full HD (1080p) capability respectively. The former runs on NVIDIA's Tegra-ARM silicon (believed to be the Tegra 3), while the latter boasts of a quad-core Intel i5 chipset on board based on the new 22 nm Ivy Bridge micro-architecture. The two tablets vary significantly from each other in terms of display resolution, storage, and Windows variant. The low-end, Tegra-based Surface will employ Windows RT, while the Surface Pro will run on a relatively high-performance Windows 8 Pro.
The Surface is built out of melted magnesium, also known as VaporMg, and has been given a PVD (Physical Vapour Deposition) finish to provide a sturdy look. Both tablets are pretty identical in terms of looks, but have different sets of connectivity options. The Surface RT features a USB 2.0 port, micro-HDMI port, and microSD card slot, while the Surface Pro has a microSDXC slot, USB 3.0, and Mini DisplayPort. A 0.77 mm thick kickstand has been built into the tablets for easy usability. Cameras are present at the front and back, and the kickstand is angled at 22 degrees to capture images with the rear camera when kept on an even surface.
Touch Cover And Type Cover
The tablets also support a feature known as Touch Cover and Type Cover, which are accessories that snap on to the tablet easily. The Touch Cover is an ultra-thin (3 mm) cover for the tablet, which also doubles as a touch keyboard. While it may look strangely similar to Apple's Smart Cover, this particular cover \ keyboard brings forth more functionality.
The Type Cover on the other hand has a mechanical keyboard, and is only 2 mm thicker than the Touch Cover. Be it typing documents on the go or sending out e-mails, the cover promises to provide for every situation. The keyboard claims to respond only to finger touches, unlike capacitive touch keyboards. Thus, if you were to rest your hands on the cover, no keys would mistakenly be pressed since it reacts only to a certain type of pressure. This, in addition to its versatility, is the Microsoft Surface's USP. After all, any Windows device (with the exception of phones) would probably work much better with a physical keyboard.
Windows 8 has been widely praised for its fluid interface and the Metro UI, which first came into being with Media Center in the Windows XP Media Center Edition, was later carried on Zune. Its usability has improved compared to its predecessors, and it promises to be better than ever. Thus far, people have been pretty welcoming of Windows 8.
What's special about Microsoft Surface? Is it the tablet in itself, the accessories, or the operating system? In truth, it's actually the whole package that makes it a remarkable tablet (on paper). However, there are various other factors to take into account before proclaiming it as the next big thing, not least of which will be its price.
How Will It Fare?
In the current scenario, you cannot speak of tablets without mentioning the Apple iPad. Will it be challenged by the Microsoft Surface? While Apple loyalists will vehemently deny any such possibility, it might not be a bad idea to make the switch, given the flexibility that Windows 8 offers. The Windows Store needs to pick up pace though, since it has only a few titles under its belt as of now.
The highlight of the Surface experience is the choice that customers are given. While the lower-end Windows RT variant will appeal to the entry-level tablet market, the high-end Surface Pro will be more of an ultrabook-like tablet considering its onboard processing power, extra storage (up to 128 GB), and better display (Full HD). The Surface Pro can also make use of a touch-sensitive capacitive pen of up to 600 dpi (Dots Per Inch). Microsoft's silence on the amount of RAM and exact processor clock speed is rather strange though. Either way, Windows 8 is designed to run smoothly, and many early demos suggest just that.
The head of the flagship Windows division, Steven Sinofsky, mentioned that the low-end Surface tablet will be launched during the "general availability" of the Windows 8 operating system, while the Surface Pro will be sold 3 months post that. While these tablets might not appeal to everyone out there, with two different versions of the tablet, Microsoft has smartly hedged its bets with the regular consumer and business user segments.
Expect the Intel-based Surface Pro to be priced in the range of comparable ultrabooks, while the Tegra-ARM Surface might be priced along the lines of a tablet with similar hardware. With the Surface Pro being the late comer, MS would like to make an early impact with the ARM-based Surface. Google is also expected to launch a 7" ASUS Nexus tablet next week at the Google I/O event. With this announcement from Microsoft, the stakes in the tablet game have risen dramatically. Looks like the next few months are going to be rather interesting.
TechTree Blog: Microsoft Surface – Will It Dent The iPad's Dominance?
We examine the software giant's foray into the tablet space, and how its stacks up against the competition.
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