Bring it on, Microsoft.
When Microsoft announced their not-so-secret news that they were releasing a tablet on Monday, it didn’t really take anyone by surprise. It was only a matter of time before the big-name competitor delivered a platform for Windows 8.
For the sake of full disclosure, I am an Apple fan(atic). I haven’t owned a non-mac computer in years—after watching every single Dell laptop crash in college—and my iPad is practically an appendage. When my Macbook Pro got a little old after five-plus years of abuse, I purchased a Macbook Air without even considering the competition.
That being said, Microsoft might have something here—if it holds up to the hype.
Currently, the tablet market breaks down as such: 58.2 percent Apple, 38.7 percent Google and 1.7 percent Blackberry, according to IDC, a global market intelligence firm. In 2012, Apple is expected to go up, while Blackberry all but disappears.
Introducing: The Windows Surface Tablet
For its first run at a tablet, the behemoth introduced two versions: the Microsoft Surface Pro and the Microsoft Surface RT. The RT will have an ARM processor featuring Windows RT, so this is a true tablet. The Pro, however, will have an Ivy Bridge Core i5 x86 processor with Windows 8 Pro.
The Surface rundown
Both tablets have a full USB port—a practical and welcome addition—and 16:9 aspect ratio widescreen HD display made from Gorilla Glass. Plus, it has a Micro SD slot, which makes transferring movies and photos much easier. They feature two cameras—front and rear facing—and Microsoft is really pushing the durability aspect of its VaporMg casing. The RT will be available with 32/64 GB and the Pro 64/128GB.
Plus, the tablets have 2x2 MIMO antennae, which should give them a decent wireless signal.
There is no release date yet, but Microsoft is saying end of the year. The RT will debut with Windows 8 and the Pro will hit the market about 90 days later. The price is supposed to be “competitive,” but there’s been no official numbers yet. Keeping the price down is going to be key to the success of the Surface.
What makes the Pro an Apple challenger
Of course, the big news is the user can run Windows 8 on the Pro tablet and when combined with the cover/keyboard, it becomes a decent ultrabook. Being able to run the full Windows desktop is a pretty big deal considering it’s still the size of a tablet. Plus, they’ve designed a hardware platform that should integrate perfectly with the best aspects of Windows 8 -- namely the touch-screen interactions.
That being said, I wouldn’t call this an iPad killer, but it’s definitely competition. A lot depends on if Surface lives up to the pretty big promises Microsoft is making on its behalf. Judging by the amount of glitches during the keynote speech, they need a little more work. It's uncomfortably glitchy thus far.
(For the record, I don’t think the RT is really that different from available tablets, considering you can only run the regular apps on it.)
The other aspect that has tech blogs excited is the magnetic cover, which doubles as an ultrathin keyboard. The company created two versions: a 3mm version that senses keystrokes as gestures and a 5mm traditional keyboard. Considering Logitech launched something similar a while ago, I’m not sure this is worth getting overly enthusiastic about, but it’s definitely a solid point in the Pro column when it comes to usability and versatility.
The Surface on the surface
In my humble opinion, no one has matched the iPad with regards to design. I’d say this is where the Surface is a little weak. It’s comparable to the iPad in weight and size: The RT weighs in at 676g (1.49lbs) and 9.3 mm thickness. The Pro is a little heavier at 903g (1.99lbs) and with 13.5mm thickness. Both have 10.6in HD display. The iPad is a little lighter at 652g (1.44lbs), 9.4mm deep, and 9.5in HD display.
But past that, it lacks the clean, sleek lines and certain je ne sais quoi of the Apple brand. Rather, it’s plagued by the cheap, plastic-y aesthetic that often haunts PCs. The 22 degree angle designed to make it easier for hands-free standing actually works against the visual, making the tablet seem much bulkier than it actually is.
As for the kickstand, while I understand the functionality of using it to film things hands-free, it just looks terrible.
And can we please stop designing things that require or offer use of a stylus? Let it go.
For a first run at designing a tablet, it’s not terrible; it just needs some improvement. Windows has tried to take on Mac before—need I mention the failed Zune? It might mow down the mid-level tablet competition, but Apple won’t roll over and die.
Let’s just say I won’t be trading in my iPad anytime soon.
Photos courtesy of Microsoft, Inc.