Microsoft Surface

Microsoft announces Surface Windows tablets, leaves unanswered questions

Microsoft is launching its own line of Windows-based tablets called Microsoft Surface. Bill Detwiler gives you a rundown on what we know, and what we don't.

Credit: Microsoft

On Monday, Microsoft announced a new line of Microsoft-branded, Windows-based tablets called Surface. The new tablets feature 10.6" ClearType HD displays, VaporMg (pronounced Vapor-Mag) magnesium cases, microSD card slots, full-size USB ports, MIMO networking antennae, built-in kickstands, and detachable covers that double as a keyboard. Surface tablets will come in two categories--Surface for Windows RT and Surface for Windows 8 Pro.

Surface for Windows RT

Surface for Windows RT tablets will have ARM processors, and as the name implies run the Windows RT operating system (a Metro-centric version of Windows 8 designed for ARM chips). For more information on Windows RT and its limitations, check out Seth Rosenblatt's CNET article, "Just what is Windows RT, anyway?(FAQ)."

Windows RT tablets will be 9.3mm thick and weigh just over 1.49 pounds. Along with the features mentioned above, they will feature a 31.5 Wh battery, microSD, USB 2.0, and Micro HD Video. They will be available in 32 GB and 64 GB versions.

Unfortunately, Microsoft didn't announced the tablet's retail price. The company would only say that the price of Windows RT Surface models would be comparable to other ARM tablets (think between $400 and $600).

Credit: CNET

Surface for Windows 8 Pro

Surface for Windows 8 Pro tablets will have Intel processors and run the Windows 8 Pro operating system. They will be 13.5mm think and weigh just under 2.0 pounds. The tablet will have a 42 Wh battery, microSDXC, USB 3.0, and Mini DisplayPort Video. It will be available in 64 GB and 128 GB versions. Again, the company didn't announce specific pricing for these tablets, but they did say Surface for Windows 8 Pro tablets would be comparable to Intel Ultrabook-class PCs (likely around $1,000).

Unanswered questions

I'm glad to see Microsoft finally release the tablet we've been expecting for so long, but today's announcement left many unanswered questions.

  1. Complete specs: The Surface's Web site doesn't list either version's processor, amount of RAM, graphics chip, or display resolution. We'll need this information before we can compare Microsoft's new tablet to the iPad and Android tablets.
  2. Price: The success or failure of Microsoft Surface tablets will hinge in large part on the devices' price.
  3. Launch date: These tablets won't hit the market until after Windows 8 goes on sale sometime later this year (perhaps late summer or or fall).
  4. Integration with other Microsoft products: We don't know exactly how, or even if the new Surface tablets will work with Microsoft's existing products--such as the Xbox or Windows Phone devices.
  5. OEM hardware manufacture reaction: Microsoft has traditionally partnered with PC, tablet, and phone manufacturers to produce the hardware on which Windows and Office run. Selling its own, Microsoft-branded tablets will put it in direct competition with many of those partners. In the Surface press release, Microsoft said that "OEMs will have cost and feature parity on Windows 8 and Windows RT," but only time will tell how Surface affects the Windows tablet market.
For more Microsoft Surface coverage, check out the following:

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

22 comments
Gisabun
Gisabun

Complainer. Not surprised about the "unanswered" questions. Won't be out still for about 3-4 months. You think apple announces anything before some big hoopla show? Why do you think there is so much Apple hype for every gadget to come out. Even before the release, they are geuessing everything from the type of screen, to the case, to the charging, to the name [reminder: latest iPad was rumoured to be iPad 3 and iPad HD - among others]. Another lame article.

FTAdmin
FTAdmin

If they want to seriously compete, they need to realize that many people already have some kind of tablet. Those who don't are either waiting on MS or don't wish to spend the money. MS would benefit to eat a little (or maybe a lot) of profit and make these devices [i]very[/i] appealing price-wise. This would entice those who already have tablets into getting yet another, as well those who may otherwise not want to spend the money. Basically, if they make Surface with an extremely appealing price, they could quickly get many hands on it to: 1) get a ton of feedback--which leads to better products and more customers 2) get a good market foothold. "But MS needs to make money back on the hardware!" No, not particularly. They don't need to take a lose necessarily, but they do need to get it out there and in many hands. Money will flow from other sources (i.e.: app store) and will be plentiful, once the user base hits a critical mass. Just ask Apple and Nintendo. The main rub I can see to the above argument is that the "Pro" may not have so many app store purchases, due to it taking standard software. However, I'm sure MS and partners can think of other ways to find revenue (hopefully without making the Surface too costly.) I'm not in a company large enough to consider getting a fleet of tablets, but I can't see why someone would necessarily get a $1200 to $1500 tablet (or even ultrabook) to run desktop software when a small laptop does well for 3/4 the price or less. This does not consider the potential to use the touch screen for desktop software, because I don't know how well MS has implemented touch capabilities for non-metro applications (if at all)--or even if they did, how productive such a capability would really be (in other words, is a mouse still better off?)

gak
gak

The Microsoft reputation matters most. Will this Surface be abandoned in 6 months? The WinRT version looks useless to me as off now. When there are plenty of apps in the store, it may have some value, but still I do not see how it can be better than iPad or Android, depending on what kind of a person you are. An it is evidently unnecessary if one has a Pro version. How come it is released first? Just to be sure everybody knows that Surface is a failure when the Pro version is released. The Pro version may be my next machine. I do not need it right now, at lest not that much to pay the price. I have a desktop at home, a desktop at the office, and a sub $100 gadget to listen and read apart from the desks. But at the next upgrade point I may choose to go Surface and it will not matter much if the price is somewhat higher than that of an ultrabook. With ultrabook I still cannot do tablet stuff, with Surface I can do everything. There may be show stoppers though: repair, upgrade, and battery replacement.

ManicPrev
ManicPrev

I had the opportunity to try a Dell streak with Windows 8 (beta), which was a positive experience. Microsofts announcement can only be a good thing. A tablet would suit our users, but all that is holding back on taking that forward with iPads is the lack of a competent app to open Microsoft Project files. A competent and functional windows tablet would be the answer to my needs and I await the arrival of these tablets with eager anticipation.

janitorman
janitorman

Vapor (MG) TM Case... ware. This is a joke, people. VAPORWARE, get it? It is not, and will not, be produced.

rscott
rscott

What I don't hear about is apps. The reason the iPad is destroying Android tablets is "It's the Apps". This is just a dream until the price and specs come out. Blackberry did the same thing and look how well that went. How can IT people make decision on equipment that is not even out yet. Your poll results are completely irrelevant until we have a chance to make sure it actually works.

stukana
stukana

At long last. Price does not matter. What matters is the value that it will bring to my business. The Surf will not be a passing fad. It is set to be a knockout for Corporations and Enterprise-wide applications. At the same time I believe my grown children who are at Uni will also love the Surf because they can actually do their IT projects on it and also probably play their music and watch movies as well. At least now Ballmer can have something good to tell his grand-children. I can afford to wait for another 10+ months to get my hands on it. Congratulations MS.

microbins
microbins

It so refreshingly nice to see an article that has real facts and then a clear comment, without being prejudiced. Thanks Bill for giving us the facts without me having to to sit through a Microsoft press announcement ! Keep em coming.

rhonin
rhonin

Like what I am seeing. I have an aging UL that I want to replace for work. The question is will RT be enough.... Likely not as all of my work software is designed for 86.... My biggest question is form. Will I like the new cover / stand or prefer the Transformer style ( you know ASUS will make a Win8 version). It has SD that will allow me to add up to 128gb of storage - very nice. From a personal machine perspective, will I replace or need the RT version? Initially I will say yes as I have become quite fond of the tablet for a lot of smaller consumptive or productive chores. Could see doing my xbox stuff on the RT. will it replace my iPad or Transformer? There is a very good chance that it will replace at least one of them. As for timing, I think this is a great point. It places the OEMs on notice that this is the preferred design direction and gives them time to bring out their own version for the holiday season. I suspect we will see a plethora of form factors. Between these and the announced UBs, the will be a lot of choice for consumers. Looking forward to this.

TNT
TNT

These tablets are exactly what I've been waiting for. Unlike most reviewers, I don't think that battery life or price point matter as these devices are in a category all their own. Tablets and Pads are consumption devices first, and are poor at content creation beyond email. Surface is a full OS with the ability to consume and create content with all the features one expects in a laptop. I'm happy the pricing is as competitive as it appears it will be, as I'd have happily paid more to get more. Furthermore, I think Microsoft is smart not to release the hardware specs too early since the real story is how well Win8 will run on whatever hardware they do build into it. Performance, not specs, is what matters most.

fhrivers
fhrivers

Price was one of the major factors that killed earlier Windows tablets (along with size and the desktop OS). The size and weight are perfect. In my opinion, the OS is top notch. RT just needs to come in at $400-$500 in order for it to make a splash.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Especially since if I had one, I'd make it duel boot with Windows 7, so it would be capable of doing serious work when needed too, and boot to Windows 8 (maybe even RT version) for those light uses like GPS or just looking up a companies address or phone number on google.

a.portman
a.portman

I don't see many people leaping to MS from Android or Apple to save ten dollars. That is where the new market is. Without tight integration with MS back ends (full Outlook for tablet anyone?) I don't see companies buying truckloads for their workers either.

jfuller05
jfuller05

"The new tablets feature 10.6??? ClearType HD displays, VaporMg (pronounced Vapor-Mag) magnesium cases, microSD card slots, full-size USB ports, MIMO networking antennae, built-in kickstands, and detachable covers that double as a keyboard." I'm liking it already.

rene.bach
rene.bach

I am wondering about what I can do with those tablets. Will they replace my PC and MS-Office activities (document, presentation, ..., editing and mail ? I just bought a Galaxy Note and haven't yet found out about handling my keyboardS (spell checking and the lot). IPhone was coherent, at least. But still positioning the cursor was not easy. Do we need a new GUI paradigm ? Cheers ren??

Skruis
Skruis

Because the Windows 8 desktop isn't serious? Or do you feel the need to boot into 7 so you can spend that full 30 seconds in the traditional start menu out of the hours you'll spend actually working?

fhrivers
fhrivers

Packing in too much flash memory will unnecessarily inflate the price when the standard config is enough for most users...especially the RT version.

Knighthawk5193@Yahoo.com
Knighthawk5193@Yahoo.com

If you might not be right, maybe it IS time for the interface and GUI for the masses to be overhauled. I can't tell you how many complaints I get from uers complaining about their tablets, laptops, iThis Apple That. I think maybe there should be some form of customization permitted with these newere OS'es that would allow people to literally "build" it and make it their own. But then when I think about it,...it might not be such a good idea, only because I can see the issues that would result from that. Users who're looking for their old icons, shortcuts, etc. And others would ignore crucial updates and then when something goes wrong, well......like I said....maybe it's NOT a good idea after all!

Slayer_
Slayer_

Id rather duel boot with Windows 8 RT, for those quick need tasks, and Windows 7 when I need to do serious work. Do I need my start menu? No, but I do need my mdac, my custom shell extensions, I do need XP mode.

Slayer_
Slayer_

A drive that you switch on and off when you need more storage space, and swap things out from the flash drive.

n6xhh
n6xhh

Windows 8 RT requires different hardware (ARM) than Windows 7 (Intel/AMD only), not to mention that the RT will require a rewrite of existing software. Your best option would be to go with the Surface Pro or another Intel based tablet and slowly migrate. I've run all "preview" versions of Win 8 and have yet to find a program that won't run. You might have to learn a new control set, or with very little effort recreate the win7 desktop, but it all should work, and in my experience, including some gaming, Win8 is slightly faster on the same hardware (I have a Win7 and a Win8 partition on my drive, dual boot.)

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