Microsoft unveils Windows 8 "Surface" tablets: More PC-like, not just another cookie-cutter design

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One of the key changes in Windows 8 is, as you very well know, improved support for tablets. Microsoft has fully embraced this aspect of the operating system, unveiling its own tablet line during a "mystery" event in Los Angeles, California today. The "Surface" strives to be the perfect all-around mobile system, offering the flexibility of serving as a Windows 8-based tablet as well as an ultrabook-like computer.

The device features a 10.6-inch Gorilla Glass display and is said to be the first PC with a vapor-deposited magnesium chassis, which is described by Microsoft as being "rigid" yet "light" and "natural in the hands." The Surface will come in Intel (Windows 8 Pro) and ARM (Windows 8 RT) variants, with the former running a Core i5 Ivy Bridge processor and the latter packing an ARM-based Nvidia chip.

  Surface for Windows 8 Pro Surface for Windows 8 RT
OS Windows 8 Pro Windows 8 RT
Screen 10.6" 1920x1080 10.6" 1366x768
Processor Intel Core i5 22nm ARM-based Nvida
Storage 64GB, 128GB 32GB, 64GB
Thickness 13.5mm (0.53") 9.3mm (0.36")
Weight 903g (1.99lbs) 676g (1.49lbs)
Battery 42Wh 31.5Wh
Connectivity microSDXC, USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort Video, 2x2 MIMO antennae microSD, USB 2.0, Micro HD Video, 2x2 MIMO antennae
Other Pen support  
Accessories Touch Cover, Type Cover Touch Cover, Type Cover
Est. Price ~$800+ ~$400-$600

Despite resembling the same cookie-cutter tablet we've seen recently, the Surface makes a convincing attempt to distinguish itself. Microsoft has added a seamlessly integrated kickstand that lets you rest the device on a table without an accessory. What's more, the company will offer two covers -- the "Touch Cover" and "Type Cover" -- which attach to the Surface magnetically and provide laptop-like features.

The Touch Cover measures 3mm thick and has a multitouch keyboard as well as a trackpad, while the Type Cover has a tactile keyboard and a full touchpad with clickable buttons. Having no moving parts, the former is inherently thinner, adding only 3mm to the Surface versus 5mm. With a Touch Cover, the ARM Surface measures just shy of half an inch (for reference, the new MacBook Air is 0.68 inches thick).

While adding a keyboard to a tablet isn't revolutionary, the hardware-software integration here could let you run all your desktop software (on the Windows 8 Pro version particularly) and it'll let you use USB devices as well as a larger screen via DisplayPort when necessary. In other words, the Surface could very well be your everyday "desktop" computer in addition to being an ultrabook and a tablet.

The Intel Surface goes a step further by adding pen support (there are two digitizers to tell if you're using the stylus or your finger). Much like the covers, the stylus attaches to the Surface magnetically (for storage). Pricing hasn't been shared yet, with Microsoft saying only that the Windows 8 Pro Surface will be competitive with ultrabooks (~$800+) and the Windows 8 RT Surface with ARM tablets (~$400-$600).

Microsoft has posted the full (~48 minute) video of the Surface tablet announcement here.

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