Instant Analysis: Microsoft's Surface tablet announcement

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Instant Analysis: Microsoft's Surface tablet announcement
If you haven't noticed the news exploding through your news feed just now, Microsoft has made the formal announcement of the new Microsoft Surface tablet, and accessories. That's right, Microsoft decided to give a nice little callback to its tabletop touch-computers which used to hold the Surface name. Chances are that the only place you ever saw those were on TV news, but Microsoft is hoping the new Surface tablets see a bit more market penetration. 

The announcement just wrapped up, and the first impression is one that most people will likely make: Microsoft definitely took some cues from Apple for this presentation. From the adjectives to the design talk to the reveals and all, it was very reminiscent of an Apple announcement, but of course that's really nothing new. That's just the way these announcements are made these days, as we saw with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus announcement, and the Samsung Galaxy S III announcement. Of course, presenting a product like Apple would doesn't mean that this product follows an Apple template, because it doesn't. 

Where Apple would spend its time talking about how beautiful the device is, Microsoft mentioned the appearance and build quality, but always brought the conversation back to functionality, which is a very Googley thing to do. Real functionality, not gimmicks like voice control, but useful features that will help you use the tablet better. Of course, in doing so, Microsoft made some pretty subtle jabs at not only Apple, but all hardware manufacturers, including Microsoft's own partners, during the course of the presentation, and that may come back to cause trouble. 

The Surface

One of the first jabs was in the fact that the Microsoft Surface isn't just another rectangular tablet to go alongside the dozens of offerings on the market (even though it actually is). The sides of the tablet are beveled at an angle of 22 degrees, so the tablet should feel more comfortable in your hand. This, no doubt, is an idea that Microsoft probably pulled from the Xbox team, because anyone who has ever played video games knows that angled handles are far more comfortable. Of course, the actual shape of the tablet is rectangular. We were really hoping the short edges would be set at an angle, which would give the bezel an asymmetric look, but would really improve how the tablet feels in your hand. 

The dimensions of the Surface are a bit big with a 10.6" display, so we're curious to see how it will actually feel in our hands, even with the angled edges. The Windows RT variant (ARM) will be 1.5 pounds (680g) and 9.3mm thick, while the Intel variant is "less than 2 pounds and less than 14mm thick. The RT version not huge, it's about the size of the new iPad, but the Intel version is a beast. 2 pounds doesn't sound that bad, especially given that many tablets run around 1.5 pounds, but that extra weight can really take its toll over the long haul, even if it is running "full desktop Windows". Still, the build quality looks great with the Gorilla Glass, magnesium case, and PVD finish (which makes the metal look something like brass). Of course, the thickness is partially because of main feature #2: the kickstand. 

The kickstand is something we've seen more often on smartphones for some reason, though there have been a couple tablets to have one. But, the kickstand on the Surface is a real kickstand, and sturdy. Where most tablets or smartphone kickstands are small, the Surface kickstand runs the length of the tablet, that seems like a much better idea. Microsoft even mentioned how hard the team worked on making the sound of the kickstand closing something "visceral" and something that causes an "emotional connection", which is a very Apple-like detail to drop in. Unfortunately, it's also standard. If you're someone who doesn't have much use for a kickstand, you're out of luck. However, Microsoft made it standard because it is needed for feature #3 that Microsoft wants to push: the Touch Cover. 

The Touch Cover is probably the feature that will get the most buzz, because it's almost amazing that we haven't seen a major company do this yet. It's a cover for the tablet, which uses magnets (of course) to connect and is basically another multitouch surface complete with trackpad and keyboard. The keyboard will be touch sensitive, but does have slightly raised keys, so it should feel better than on-screen typing, but maybe not as good as a standard keyboard. Of course, there is also a full keyboard option in the Type Cover, although, that may be only for the Intel variant, not the ARM version. That wasn't very clear. Again, there was a very strange moment where it felt like it was meant to be an Apple moment of pure love for the product when designer Panos Panay said that, "Nothing stirs me more than Touch Cover," but it got a bit weird when he took it a step too far with, "I love my wife, but Touch Cover is very important to me."

Feel free to love your gadgets, but just don't love your gadgets, Microsoft. That gets into some weird territory.

The failed ending

Endings are always the hardest part, and as solid and interesting as the announcement from Microsoft was, throughout we had one thought in mind: "Pricing will be the make-or-break moment." And, unfortunately, that was a moment that never came, which sends the worst signals possible. Steven Sinofsky, President of Windows and Windows Live, came out to talk about pricing and availability, but the closest he came was in saying that the 32GB and 64GB Windows RT Surface would be priced competitively with ARM tablets. Given the specs and build quality, we'd like to think that means somewhere around $500 to $600, but could easily slide up towards $700 or more, and that's before adding in whatever the Touch Cover might cost. And, those prices assume Microsoft was referring to competing Android ARM tablets, not competing Windows ARM tablets, which could be more costly anyway, especially given the exorbitant Windows licensing fee. The Intel variants were also said to be "priced to compete", but that of course means nothing. "Compete" with what? The only thing that the Intel Surface was compared to during the presentation was an Ultrabook, which means the cost there could be anywhere around $1,000 and beyond. 

Of course, this is all speculation, but that's the problem. Going into this announcement, we were wondering if Microsoft could live up to the hype that had built up around it, because that's something that Samsung and Apple both have struggled with. From a product standpoint, we think that Microsoft did live up to the hype, because the Surface looks like a pretty solid product, and the only real question we have about the product itself is the size of the Intel variant. Unfortunately, leaving out what the cost of the product will be a big problem, because it leaves the logical thought: if the Surface is really going to be "competitive" in its pricing, there's no real reason to leave out what that price will be. However, if the price is going to be "competitive considering we think we're giving you a ton of awesome features", then that's big trouble, and that's the reason you leave it out of the announcement. 


Still, given the hype, the tablet itself looks pretty great. The metal casing looks solid, and we did notice a band of plastic, so there won't be any Asus Transformer Prime issues. The kickstand looks solid, and we're looking forward to hearing that sound that will pair-bond us with the Surface. The killer feature for the RT variant is the Touch Cover, and the killer of the Intel variant is that its full desktop Windows 8, which can't be downplayed enough. Regardless of what features Apple or Google add to their mobile operating systems going forward, it's going to be tough to compete on features with full desktop Windows. Of course, features aren't the only battleground, because as tablets have proven, many users just don't need a full desktop OS for the majority of uses. If you need to be really productive, Windows 8 on an Intel Surface will be a great option, but many people just won't need that, or at least will decide it's unnecessary depending on the price. 

And, unfortunately, if the costs are as high as were originally rumored, it doesn't really matter how nice the Microsoft Surface is. And, Microsoft may have just spend about 30 minutes annoying hardware partners with this sort of competition for no reason. There are definitely the features present in the Surface, but the key is always the pricing. 

Related phones

Surface RT
  • Display 10.6 inches
    768 x 1366 pixels
  • Camera 1 MP (Single camera)
  • Hardware NVIDIA Tegra 3 T30, 2GB RAM
  • Storage 32GB, microSDXC
  • OS Windows RT



36. andrew1953

Posts: 176; Member since: Nov 13, 2011

So far it would all seem pretty honk dorie but we really need to see how well it pairs up with a Windows 8 phone. I have a BB playbook with a 9800 and a 9860. Looking forward to release of BB10 with matching QSX O/S. Also the very smooth,sophisticated Asus Padphone -phone,tablet and keypad dock all in one. Finally the MS Surface Tablet with Win 8 phone. Lastly a Galaxy Note 2 with a 10.1" Note Tablet with pressure point pens.

33. Fallout09

Posts: 421; Member since: Oct 17, 2011

Wonder what the HD size would be for the Intel based tablet would be? I cant see my self running a full Windows 8 experience on 32GB or 64GB hard drive.

34. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Intel will be 64/128GB hdd.

35. Fallout09

Posts: 421; Member since: Oct 17, 2011

Frown face .... Even my laptop 5 yrs ago had 160GB HD and was filled up pretty quickly over time. 64GB/128GB is a deal breaker for me.

31. poddey

Posts: 77; Member since: Mar 22, 2012

Man, I have been waiting to get a Windows tablet ever since I heard MS were integrating touch into W8 and MS certainly didn't disappoint with this announcement! Tech-wise MS have knocked this one way out of the park. With its innovative 'transformer' capabilities, slim profile and premium build quality, the Surface tablets kind of makes all the W8 devices just seen at Computex obsolete... Sure, MS will have to get the price just right to sell these babies if in fact market penetration is what they are after. But it may be a smarter move for them to market this as a halo device and put a (small) premium on it to give its OEM partners some market space. Even so I think it will do well. Assuming MS maintains backward compatibility with Office 97 and 2007 docs, this thing is going to offer the best of both worlds: true office productivity and mobile app playability. Right now you really have to buy two devices to do that so the Surface is going to be very appealing if MS are going to let people have one for as close to a '2 for 1' deal as they can. I do have one nitpick with the Surface though... I wanted the 16:9 aspect but because of that I also wanted the tablet to also play nice with a keyboard dock/cover in portrait mode, mainly for writing papers. If some OEM can figure that one out I'd buy theirs in a heartbeat (if it's otherwise decently spec'd of course).

30. cdgoin

Posts: 614; Member since: Jul 28, 2010

This is kind of what Windows needs to do with WindowsPhone.. Like the touchcover.. if they created their own phone like the Dell Venue Pro (with a sliding Portrait QWERTY keyboard) and sold it at all the main carriers at launch they would be DIFFERENT. Not just another 4.3" smartphone. Its why I love my DVP.

27. haseebzahid

Posts: 1853; Member since: Feb 22, 2012

well its a direct compition vs IPADS,Android Tablet,LAPTOPS even computers name it fun part is it can replace LAPTOPs soon so price wont matter here since we do more then just doing limited thing with ipads and android tabs which in my optinion are totally useless for their high specs(quad core just to see pictures and games lag free) seriously i would like to run a Visual Studio im my office on it and other stuff where i can keep it on and running like a laptop

25. jove39

Posts: 2153; Member since: Oct 18, 2011

Well...I am not buying RT for sure and what the hell...will buy pro...with all my savings :)

21. sprockkets

Posts: 1612; Member since: Jan 16, 2012

Hey, Nokia, remember how you wanted to build a Win8 tablet? You know, your best buddy MS who bailed you out with millions of dollars? Well **** that idea!

26. edrich

Posts: 27; Member since: Jan 02, 2012

Nokia's business is smartphones and feature phones. Nokia doesn't need to make a tablet, they can concentrate on the next gen Windows Phones, which along with this, and the Xbox etc will from quite a sweet package for any consumer

20. Bluesky02

Posts: 1439; Member since: Dec 05, 2011

Talk about Intel Ivy Bridge, tell people how powerful it is.

22. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Ivy Bridge will be powerful, but we still need to see what kind of battery life it can put up.

28. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

unless you have something that confirms ivy bridge, I wouldnt expect it. That class of processor isnt meant to be battery friendly. That would be super sweet though.

29. mafiaprinc3

Posts: 585; Member since: May 07, 2012

19. CX3NT3_713

Posts: 2365; Member since: Apr 18, 2011

Hell yeaaa!!! This will replace my s**tty 5 yr old desktop,, :-) I'm going for the Intel base full windows 8 experience!!!

18. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

The tablet needs to be 400 or so for the RT version to really push sales against the ipad and android. Its neat and the touch keyboard is awesome looking and definately something thats intriguing, but RT is not going to have near the ecosystem of either ICS or iOS and it needs to compensate for that... lest they want to be the next over priced "webOS" or "RIM" tablet. I can easily see the full W8 desktop tablets creeping the 1000+ range. It is a full touch laptop with the keyboard. Thankfully with that segment having heavy competition from other manufacturers like it normally does, the price on it should drop quickly. 6 months after launch we should see similar things in a more reasonable 500-700ish range. I give it a month from launch for that keyboard to be hacked for use on android though. unless it has some proprietary locking mechanism like a chip, that is. I'd definitely pick one up if i could make it work on my tablet now.

32. poddey

Posts: 77; Member since: Mar 22, 2012

"I give it a month from launch for that keyboard to be hacked for use on android though. unless it has some proprietary locking mechanism like a chip, that is. I'd definitely pick one up if i could make it work on my tablet now." That'd be awesome but the touch covers look like they have proprietary pins on them so I don't think they are bluetooth.

17. Commentator

Posts: 3723; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

Any word on RAM or dedicated graphics for the Intel variant?

16. andyboi_ph

Posts: 101; Member since: Mar 26, 2012

yes, specs can blow us apart but the price? - it hangs everyone on the thread...

12. Vorsayo

Posts: 21; Member since: Jan 29, 2012

Full windows 8 experience, with all programs able to be installed. Sounds good to me. I may have to sell my android tablet, and get this one instead. Plus the connectivity that will exist between my PC and my tablet will be phenomenal. Its one of the things people love about Apple products, how their iMac, Mac Book Pro, iPad, iPhone, iPod and Apple TV all link together and make life easier. Having a Tablet that will work well with my desktop and laptop will be awesome. I may even get and Windows Phone 7 (or 8 when it launches) to complete the experience.

10. gwhyte01

Posts: 44; Member since: Jul 09, 2008

Best comment i've seen on any bog site tonight.

8. deadhead

Posts: 17; Member since: Apr 13, 2012

Finally, a tablet.

7. chris_t610

Posts: 14; Member since: Mar 30, 2012

Geez, the writer of this article must have received some $ from Apple -- from beginning to end, the article has completely antagonized the real moral of the story: and that is the announcement from MS. Talk about fair journalism (tech that is)! There is life in Mars after all. =)

9. MickDM

Posts: 63; Member since: Nov 29, 2011

in true vh & mh form...ijs

13. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

I'm sorry, what part of "the product looks great, but we need to know the price" is a pro-Apple/anti-Microsoft sentiment?

24. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

The part they didn't bother to read? As in all of it.

6. snotyak

Posts: 27; Member since: Jun 05, 2012

"Feel free to love your gadgets, but just don't love your gadgets, Microsoft. That gets into some weird territory."....I don't get it?

4. Non_Sequitur

Posts: 1111; Member since: Mar 16, 2012

I don't know... If I get a Windows 8 tab, I sure don't want one with Windows RT, and I don't want one that thick either. I'd rather stick with the Pad Infinity for mobility's sake. And the battery life, too. My Windows desktop suits me perfectly for now, and I'm sure others feel the same way. c: They did do a very nice job with it, just not perfect for me right now.

23. Lucas777

Posts: 2137; Member since: Jan 06, 2011

i agree... ios and android are much better than rt, and i am not sure the larger tab is worth it... i really dont like what they are doing with rt.. it is too similar without any of the features

3. -box-

Posts: 3991; Member since: Jan 04, 2012

"I'll take eight!"

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