Surface promo image
The stunning Microsoft Surface. Source: Microsoft.com

I’m writing this blog post as Microsoft’s announcement event has been underway for a few minutes now. Skipping all of the preamble rubbish, we’ll get straight into what Microsoft has announced this afternoon in LA (or, early morning in Europe). Images from Ubergizmo’s excellent live blog of the event. Hope you guys don’t mind.

The Summary

Steve Ballmer unveill
Sith Lord Steve Ballmer makes a relatively understated (for him…) introduction to the Surface. Image source http://arstechnica.com/

To put it simply: Microsoft has nailed the entire tablet market in one swoop. I’ve been watching the comments and opinions of fellow nerds, commentators and geeks on Twitter with the #MSMajorAnnouncement hashtag and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.

The Hardware

Microsoft Surface
First glimpse of the much rumoured Microsoft tablet.

Microsoft has unveiled not one but two tablets, and a host of accessories to go with them.  Both tablets have 10.6 inch HD screens which seem to be “Retina” (Microsoft obviously aren’t calling it that, saying only that “Your eye can’t distinguish between individual pixels”). They’re both made from a scratch proof LiquidMetal casing and use GorillaGlass 2.0 to protect the screens.

One of these tablets is ARM based and runs the Windows RT version of Windows 8. This version is a stunning 9.3mm thin and weighs just 675 grams-just slightly heavier than an iPad.

The second version – the “Surface Pro”- runs the x86 build of Windows 8, and absurdly, is powered by an Ivy Bridge Core i5 chip from Intel, making it one of (if not the) most powerful tablets in the world. This version is slightly bulkier at 14mm, yet also weighs less than a kilo.

So, the features and attention to detail common to both devices are staggering. Each device has dual Wi-Fi antennae, which Microsoft claims gives it the best Wi-Fi reception around. It’s got a built in kickstand, and both front and rear cameras. The front camera is angled at 22 degrees so it points at your face when the tablet’s standing up. They both have a stylus to enable handwriting on the device, which can be stored neatly in the body of the device.

Microsoft's official imagery of the Surface tablet from the side
Microsoft’s official imagery of the Surface tablet from the side

A keyboard cover is available, which clips on with magnets like an iPad’s Smart Cover, and then folds out to a full QWERTY keyboard, including a built in touchpad.

Availability and Pricing

So, the Windows RT version is available in 32GB and 64GB variants, and will be available at the same time as Windows 8. It will be priced “like comparable ARM tablets”. The Pro version comes in 64GB and 128GB capacities and will be available 3 months after the general release of Windows 8. It will be priced similarly to Ultrabooks, which in my opinion is quite a lot to ask for a tablet.

Conclusion

All items announced to do with Surface
The two Surface tablets and their accessories. Source: Ubergizmo

From the chatter and feedback from the journalists at the event and people watching it online, Microsoft have struck gold with this. I watched this event with some scepticism, thinking some kind of mutant X-Box Zune E-reader tablet Kinect…thing would be announced but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It feels well thought out, it looks good and things like the keyboard cover are a superb idea. Microsoft should tread carefully and not price it too high however, or they risk alienating a large proportion of their potential market. If the Windows RT version can be sold for the same price as an iPad, it seems that for the first time, Apple now has a real competitor on it’s hands.