There’s no question that Apple’s control over both the hardware and software components of its iPad tablet is one of the reasons it has been so successful. Microsoft has taken note, and is launching its very own tablet range, called Surface, running Windows 8.
Although specific pricing and availability is yet to be announced, the product itself was unveiled at a massive media event in Los Angeles this morning. With two varieties on offer – an entry level version running Windows RT and a professional version with Windows 8 Pro – the Surface tablet is designed from the ground up to showcase the Windows 8 platform. Measuring in at 9.3mm and 13.4mm thick respectively, the tablets both feature 10.6-inch screens, with the Pro version incorporating a Cleartype Full HD display. The RT model weighs in at 676 grams, and offers a choice between 32GB and 64GB versions, while the Windows 8 Pro model is heavier at 903 grams, offering either 64GB or 128GB SSDs.
While specs are one thing, it’s the design that’s most important. All of the Surface tablets will incorporate a kickstand, allowing for hands free horizontal entertainment. Microsoft claimed that the hinges on the kickstand were specifically designed to echo the sense of closure found on sports car doors, although until we get a proper hands on, we’ll just take that to be marketing speak. There’s no limited vents for cooling either, with perimeter venting all the way around to ensure your hands don’t block the heat’s escape route.
All sounds fairly generic so far, right? Right. But Microsoft has had some very clever ideas that actually make the Surface stand out from the iPad, for all the right reasons.
First is the pen with palm block. Sure, the idea of a stylus seems pretty awkward, but there are legitimately times when writing on your tablet could be beneficial. Microsoft’s implementation registers when the stylus approaches the tablet’s screen, and automatically blocks off finger (and palm) touches, so you don’t end up typing on some random spot on the page.
Second is the smart cover. At just 3mm thick, it magnetically attaches just like the iPad. But when you open up the cover, you’re confronted with a touch-sensitive QWERTY keyboard, including a multitouch trackpad. Coupled with the tablet’s kickstand, it turns the tablet into a productivity machine, and is amazing to look at.
And for those that prefer a tactile response when typing, there’s also a smart cover with proper keys, which is obviously going to be a bit thicker.
All in all, the whole device looks like a far superior offering to anything on the market running Android. Whether it has enough to compete with Apple is yet to be seen, but it certainly has potential.