Microsoft's tablet is close to being a must have, if only we knew all about it
TechLife | 25 Jun 2012 :
Last week's announcement of Microsoft's Surface tablet was surprising on two fronts: 1) the lack of pre-event hype and 2) first impressions have been generally positive. It's a big win for Microsoft that has made no secret of its ambitions to portray Windows 8 as an operating system equally at home on mobile and desktop devices. The strategy is obvious enough, there are two fronts in the mobile computing market - tablets and ultrabooks - so let's hit them both at the same time with two products that are physically identical but quite different under the hood.
So far there's a lot we know about how the Surface (not to be confused with this abomination). It will come in two versions - Surface RT and Surface Pro - running a stripped down and full version of Windows 8. Both have a 10.6" ClearType display in 720p or 1080p resolution respectively, have dual Wi-Fi antennas, MicroSD slots for expandable memory. The RT weighs .67kg, is 9.3mm thick and has a USB 2 connection. The Pro weighs .9Kg, is 13.5mm thick and has a USB 3 port. In the product demonstration (complete with software crash) there was no sign of integrated cameras, but we did get the rather impressive VaporMg (pronounced 'vapourmag') casing and an ingenius kickstand that is such a simple yet brilliant feature you wonder why Apple hasn't popularised it already.
How fast will it be?
The average RAM for a tablet is about 1Gb and ultrabooks tend to be expandable to 4Gb. Microsoft didn't confirm any speeds but as the Surface RT has an Nvidia ARM processor and the Pro an Intel Core i5 you could hazard a guess that entry level devices will come in at 1Gb and 2-4Gb without an option to upgrade components yourself.
Much was made of the Surfaces' stellar Wi-Fi but no mention was made of mobile phone partners, so either partnership deals haven't been finalised or users will have to go without 3G or LTE support. Does this matter in the age or ubiquitous Wi-Fi? Still it won't be an issue this side of the Atlantic for a few years, anyway.
The bane of smartphone users everywhere. How many times have you heard the sentence 'it's a great phone but the battery life is rubbish.' The specs say the RT has 31.5W-h battery and the Pro 42W-hr but these figures largely useless as performance will be a function of what kind of demands the two versions of Windows 8 will put on them. Anything less than 10 hours would be considered a failure.
Price and availability
Even if you are still sold after all there remains the final kicker: how much will it set you back. Seeing as we have a Surface for the tablet and ultrabook spaces we can expect two divergent price points to stay in touch with the upper end of both markets (this is, after all, a premium product). Given the new iPad starts at €479 (16Gb no 3G) and tops out at €799 (64Gb and 3G); and the Macbook Air starts and finishes at €1,099 and €1,200. That gives Microsoft a lot of wiggle room to position the RT and Pro Surfaces in the mid-market. Factoring in some more of the competition like Samsung's Galaxy Tab 2 (€379) and Toshiba's Portege Ultrabook with Core i5 processor (€1,314) there is an enormous variance in what Microsoft could charge but let's be realistic. Starting the RT at €450 and the Pro at €950 would show confidence in both products without putting them out of reach of potential Android users and those who don't want to pay a premium for an iOS device.
When's it coming out? Sometime later this year. Like all things to do with the Surface it feels like we're only getting half the picture.