Microsoft Surface Tablets Promise Easy Typing, Full-Size Programs

JULY 2012:  Just when you thought Apple’s iPad might be the biggest frog in the full-featured tablet pond, in hops Microsoft with its very own tablet called Surface. Rather than working with PC manufacturing partners like it usually does, the software giant is leaping into the hardware business and introducing two versions of its new Surface tablet.

What will Surface have that other iPad competitors don’t? Two things people really want: a keyboard that’s not part of the screen and programs with complete functionality rather than limited app versions. 

The defining feature is the keyboard that’s actually the tablet’s 3mm, pressure-sensitive cover (trackpad included) — just open the cover and type on it. The kickstand on the back props up the screen like a laptop. Surface’s cover comes in a rainbow of colors in addition to business black, the display is larger than an iPad’s (actual size dimensions have yet to be released) and it has USB ports. Which are a few of the reasons it’s been called a hybrid tablet-ultraportable and why it could grab marketshare from both iPad and MacBook Air.

It’s been called a lot of other things, too. Articles abound about how it will or won’t outshine the iPad, and there’s a lot of talk about the many unknowns, as illustrated in this Mac Observer spec comparison chart.

Still, no piece of media has grabbed as much attention as the embarrassing YouTube video-gone-viral that’s been dubbed an “epic fail” — it was viewed nearly three million times during the first week. In the video, Windows President Steven Sinofsky couldn’t get his Surface to work during the unveiling presentation so he had to grab a replacement.

While there’s no word yet on a release date as there are clearly issues to be worked out, here’s a quick Surface summary so you can get ready for its splash in the tablet pond (download the spec sheet):

  • Two models: Surface for Windows RT (32GB/64GB) and Surface for Windows Pro (64GB/128GB) with expected price points at $599 and $999, respectively
  • Has a 10.6 inch screen (iPad’s is 9.7) and weighs 1.5 or 1.99 pounds
  • Runs Windows 8, the touch interface that’s currently in preview
  • Runs actual programs, like Excel and Photoshop, not the app-sized versions
  • Keys on the keyboard are “touch” and don’t compress
  • WiFi -only for now