Microsoft Shakes Up Tablet Market With Surface

At this evening’s much-ballyhooed press event, Microsoft--yes, stodgy old Microsoft--just shook up the whole tablet market with the introduction of an innovative new tablet called the Microsoft Surface, which of course runs Windows 8.

Aside from the fact that Microsoft delving into the hardware business on the tablet side of things is a huge deal in and of itself, the Surface doesn’t look to be an also-ran tablet. The thing is intriguing.

The feature that most differentiates Surface from other tablets is the cover, which is called the Surface Touch Cover. Like a certain competitor’s tablet cover, this one snaps on with magnets. Quite unlike the iPad, the cover doubles as a full keyboard.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer with the Microsoft Surface (Image credit: Engadget)

The keyboard portion is just 3mm thick and features left and right buttons with a trackpad, Windows buttons, keys with 1.5mm of travel, and an accelerometer. It’s also built with palm rejection, so you can lay your hands on it and still type with with your fingers without any confusion on the machine’s part. The tablet stays up thanks to a super-slim (.7mm) kickstand in the back that folds as seamlessly as possible into the back of the tablet. The keyboard also features color syncing, so users can personalize it with different glowing colors.

The Surface will come in both NVIDIA ARM- and Intel-based flavors (Windows RT and Windows 8 Pro, respectively); the version Microsoft demoed onstage had a Core i5 (Ivy Bridge) chip inside.

It appears as though there are still some specs to be released, but we do know that the Windows RT version will be 9.3mm thick, weigh 676g, and come in 32GB and 64GB versions. It will have microSD, USB 2.0, Micro HD video, and 2x2 MIMO antennae and come with Office Home & Student 2013.

Slightly chunkier at 13.5mm, the Windows 8 Pro version will weigh in at 903g and feature microSDXC, USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort video, and the same 2x2 MIMO antennae in addition to the Pen (with Palm Block) input feature. It will be available in 64GB and 128GB models.

Both versions of the Surface will come with the magical and revolutionary cover/keyboard/trackpad and boast 10.6-inch ClearType HD displays (the Windows Pro 8 will be full HD), which are built from Corning Gorilla Glass 2.

Other features include dual mics and stereo speakers, front and rear cameras, access to Windows apps, and support for digital ink, so users can, for example, mark up a PDF with the Pro’s Pen. The bodies of the tablets are full magnesium “VaporMg” chassis that include active cooling via perimeter vents that are designed in such a way that your hands won’t block them.

The Windows RT models will land when Windows 8 launches later this year, and the Windows 8 Pro versions will be available about three months after that. Prices for the RT and Pro versions will be comparable to those of other ARM-based tablets and ultrabooks, respectively.

Hey, did Microsoft just become a vertical-market company?