Mobile Portable Media

Microsoft’s Surface Tablet Could Change Computing

Microsoft Surface TabletMicrosoft stirred up quite a lot of hype on Thursday when it announced a mysterious event to be held today. The hype level approached that of the original iPhone announcement, so Microsoft needed to come with something big. They did bring quite an announcement this evening, but its size was really due to the quantity of pieces that formed together into one large change in computing. Tonight Microsoft showed off their idea of what a tablet should be. They are calling it the Surface, and on the surface (yes, pun completely intended) it might look like another run-of-the-mill tablet. The sum of its parts add up to so much more than that. At a high level, it does look like a standard tablet. Although more like some of the Android tablets than the iPad as it has a 10.6″ display and a 16:9 aspect ratio. The Surface’s case is made out of magnesium, so it looks beautiful and should be very durable. Integrated into that case is also a really slick kickstand to prop it up to make watching video or being productive (more on that later) easier. It has cameras on the front and the rear. The rear-mounted camera is even angled so that you can take photos and videos with it while using the kickstand to keep the Surface steady.

Pick Your Flavor

Microsoft Surface Tablet KickstandBefore getting into the rest of the specs, you’ll need to understand that it comes in two flavors. One version runs Windows RT, and the other comes with Windows 8 Pro. Basically that means that the Windows RT version only runs the new Metro style apps, with one major exception: Office. The Windows RT version of the Surface will include Office which runs as a standard Windows desktop application. The Windows 8 Pro version of the operating system includes full Windows desktop support. That means it will run all of the apps that you already use on your Windows 7 PC now.  The processor is the primary reason for the difference. The Windows RT version uses an ARM processor, while the Windows 8 Pro Surface will include an x86 processor, similar to the one powering your current Windows 7 PC. For the rest of this article we’ll shorten the names to RT and Pro.

The RT version of the surface is smaller and lighter than the Pro. It is 9.3mm thick and weighs 676 grams compared to 13.5mm and 903 grams for the Pro. The displays are also different. The resolution on the RT is listed as “HD” while the Pro is described as “Full HD”. This leads me to believe that RT is probably running at 1366×768 and the Pro at 1920×1080. The Pro’s display also has an active digitizer to facility a pen. Don’t get this pen confused with an ordinary stylus though. When using the pen, the touchscreen is actually disabled (just by getting the pen close to the display) so that you can comfortably rest your hand on the display while writing or sketching with the pen. I use a pen with my touchscreen laptop now, and I can tell you that Microsoft has superb handwriting recognition. This feature alone could cause some people to upgrade to the Pro. Another area where they differ slightly is connectivity. The RT Surface has microSD, a USB 2.0 port, and Micro HD Video out, while the Pro has microSDXC, USB 3.0, and Mini DisplayPort video out. The last difference is the size of their internal storage drives. The RT will be available with either 32 or 64 GB, while the Pro will have either 64 or 128 GB.

Putting it all Together, Literally

Microsoft Surface Tablet Type CoverMicrosoft didn’t just announce a couple of beautiful tablets today. They also announced two accessories that could really shape the future usage of tablets. The two accessories are keyboards with trackpads. Before you write this off on the notion that keyboards already exist for the iPad and Transformer Prime you’ll need to take a closer look at these offerings. First is the Touch Cover. If you’ve seen the Smart Cover for the iPad you’ll get an idea of how the Touch Cover connects. It attaches magnetically to one of the long edges of the Surface. In addition to being a cover to help protect the display, it is also a keyboard, a keyboard that is only 3mm thin! Not only is it a keyboard, it also has a multi-touch touchpad! So the cover, when combined with the built-in kickstand, gives you access to a keyboard at any time without the hassle of dragging around an extra accessory, or having to connect a bunch of bulky accessories, in addition to offering added protection for the device! If you don’t need the keyboard, the cover just wraps around the back of the Surface like a magazine cover would. And you don’t have to worry about accidentally hitting the keys while the cover is open, because Microsoft integrated an accelerometer into it. That means that it knows when you’ve opened the cover, and can intelligently disable the keys and trackpad!

Maybe a multi-touch keyboard doesn’t sound like it will work all that well for you because you type a lot. Microsoft has an answer there too. The other accessory announced was the Type Cover. The Type Cover has physical keys and buttons on the trackpad, just like you would find on a normal laptop keyboard. Only on the Type Cover it’s still incredibly thin, and attaches magnetically to the Surface.

The Sum is Greater than the Parts

Microsoft Surface TabletWhat really makes the Surface special is how it all comes together. With Windows 8, the Surface tablets, and either the Touch Cover or Type Cover, you truly can replace your current laptop AND tablet, with one device. For years Microsoft has been saying that tablets are PCs, and the mainstream tech media has laughed at the idea. Microsoft has now proven them all wrong. A Surface tablet will give its users the ability to do so much more than the current crop of tablets, even the iPad. Think for a minute about photographers. They love the ability to take photos and immediately being able to show them on a beautiful tablet. Well, on an iPad, how does the photographer get the photos onto the iPad? There isn’t a quick or easy way to do it. With the Surface they can slide in the SD card, or attach the camera via USB and instantly access all of the photos! What about the road warrior who travels constantly and demands something thin and light, but still needs access to all of their productivity apps and a good keyboard to use with them? Before, that person may have carried a laptop for getting work done, and a tablet for entertainment. Now that person can simply carry a Windows 8 Pro Surface with a Type Cover and get all of their work done, enjoy their entertainment apps, and do it all on a device that weighs less than the smallest Ultrabook! Do you just want to watch a movie on the plane? Forget about holding the tablet up for next two hours. With the integrated kickstand you can simply prop it up on the tray table and watch the movie comfortably. Once you’ve reached your destination wouldn’t you like to watch the content that you actually care about, instead of the limited line-up of television offered by the hotel where you’re staying? Since the Surface has HD video-out you can simply plug it directly into the TV and watch the movies or TV shows that you brought with you. Or, because it’s also a tablet, open the Netflix app and stream whatever you like!

With Windows 8 and the Surface tablets Microsoft has ushered in a change in how we’ll use computing devices. With a Surface you’ll be able to take your primary computer anywhere, but still have the comfort and fun that a tablet offers. The RT tablets should be available this fall and priced competitively with other ARM tablets. The Pro version should be available about three months later, and it will be priced similarly to Ultrabooks. I know I can’t wait to get my hands on one!

Source: Microsoft Surface


About the author

Josh Pollard

Josh has been writing software since his parents brought home their first computer. His love for gadgets and technology eventually spurred a passion for home theater technology. After starting the DMZ, he received Microsoft’s MVP award for Windows Media Center. Even though the beloved home theater PC platform is all but dead he continues to tinker with consumer entertainment technology. He’s a life-long gamer and DIY smart home enthusiast. He co-hosts the Entertainment 2.0 podcast with Richard Gunther and the DMZ’s gaming podcast, Story Players, with Joe DeStazio.