With Microsoft’s next iteration of Windows on the horizon, the company has decided to go head-t0-head with its longtime industry competitor Apple by introducing its very own tablet. Though Microsoft is best known for its software, it has developed hardware over the years including innovative mice and keyboards. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made this case: “Much like Windows 1.0 needed the mouse to complete the experience, we wanted to give Windows 8 its own companion hardware innovation.” Meet Surface. And no, the company is not referring to its bulky, pricey multitouch Surface table; this is a brand new line of tablets running Windows 8.
Currently the new Surface family consists of two devices and two covers. Surface for Windows RT is powered by an NVIDIA-based ARM chip. It is 9.3mm thick and weighs 676 grams. It packs a 10.6-inch ClearType capacitive multitouch display, front and rear-facing cameras, a 31.5Wh battery,USB 2.0, microSD, and Micro HD Video ports, and 2×2 MIMO antennae for “the best WiFi performance possible” no matter how you hold it.
Surface for Windows Pro is powered by an Intel Core i5 Ivy Bridge processor. It is slightly thicker and heavier than the RT model measuring at 13.5mm thick and weighing 903 grams. It too packs a 10.6-inch optically-bonded ClearType capacitive multitouch widescreen 16:9 display, but this one outputs full 1080p HD. Front and rear-facing cameras are present, as is a larger 42Wh battery, speedier USB 3.0, microSDXC, Mini DisplayPort, and 2×2 MIMO antennae. Surface for Windows Pro supports digital inking and comes with a magnetic stylus that sticks to the side of the device when it’s not in use. Built into the display are sensors that detect when you’re using the pen versus your finger on the touch display. The display won’t trip out when you’re drawing with the stylus while your palm rests elsewhere on the screen; Microsoft calls it Palm Blocking.
What the two models share is an extremely durable design Microsoft calls VaporMg (pronounced Vapor-Mag). Surface is the first PC with a full magnesium case. Described as “incredibly strong yet airy,” Surface boasts a permanent search and ware-resistant design and the display has a protective layer of Corning’s Gorilla Glass 2.0. Edges are beveled away at 22 degrees “so the PC itself fades into the background.” The design makes room for a built-in kickstand that morphs the tablet into a functional laptop. And every laptop needs a keyboard and trackpad…
The two remaining members of the Surface family, as alluded to earlier, are covers. While these protective covers take design cues from Apple’s Smart Cover with a magnetic hinge, they go one step further and serve as fully functional keyboards with modern trackpads. The Touch Cover features pressure-sensitive technology in a thin, 3mm design. It knows when you’re resting your fingers on it versus when you’re typing. The tablet knows when you make the magnetic connection. And a built-in accelerometer allows for this: When the cover’s connected and laid out to type on, it’s turned on; when you fold it over it automatically turns off and the tablet knows your method of input is multitouch. The Touch Cover will be available in a variety of vibrant colors. Another neat feature of the cover is that when it’s attached and locked into place, the tablet will respond by matching the cover’s color and the home screen interface; a blue cover will turn the display’s background blue! Additionally, Microsoft will sell a 5mm Type Cover that features clicking buttons and feels more like a traditional keyboard.
Surface for Windows RT will come in 32GB and 64GB variants and “will be priced like comparable tablets that are based on ARM.” Surface for Windows Pro ups the storage capacity to 64GB and 128GB and “will have a retail price comparable with competitive Ultrabook-class PCs.” The RT model will release alongside Windows 8 later this year, and the Pro model will come out three months after. The Surface family–including the tablets and covers–will sell in brick and mortar Microsoft Stores across the nation and through select online Microsoft Stores.
Besides serving as a tablet, what is Surface? Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says, “It embodies the notion of software and hardware really pushing each other. It is a tool to surface your passion, to surface your ideas, to surface your creativity, and to surface your enjoyment.” Microsoft’s Steve Sinofsky defines it as “a tablet that’s a great PC, a PC that’s a great tablet.” Will the Surface be the driving force behind the launch of Windows 8? Maybe so. Either way, Microsoft has put a lot of effort into designing an elegant piece of hardware to showcase their overhauled modern operating system.