Microsoft’s Surface Tablet Hands-on [Gallery]

Yesterday, at a much-hyped press event in Los Angeles, Microsoft Corp introduced its own line of tablet computers named “Surface,” marking a major strategic shift for the world’s software giant as it struggles to compete with Apple Inc. and re-invent its aging Windows franchise.

  • The 3 mm Touch Cover represents a step forward in human-computer interface. Using a unique pressure-sensitive technology, Touch Cover senses keystrokes as gestures, enabling you to touch type significantly faster than with an on-screen keyboard. It will be available in a selection of vibrant colors. Touch Cover clicks into Surface via a built-in magnetic connector, forming a natural spine like you find on a book, and works as a protective cover. Photo: Microsoft Corp.The 3 mm Touch Cover represents a step forward in human-computer interface. Using a unique pressure-sensitive technology, Touch Cover senses keystrokes as gestures, enabling you to touch type significantly faster than with an on-screen keyboard. It will be available in a selection of vibrant colors. Touch Cover clicks into Surface via a built-in magnetic connector, forming a natural spine like you find on a book, and works as a protective cover. Photo: Microsoft Corp.
  • The Surface will "be priced like comparable tablets," Windows Chief Steve Sinofsky said. Microsoft will sell the tablets itself at Microsoft's handful of retail stores and through some online channels. Photo: Microsoft Corp.The Surface will "be priced like comparable tablets," Windows Chief Steve Sinofsky said. Microsoft will sell the tablets itself at Microsoft's handful of retail stores and through some online channels. Photo: Microsoft Corp.
  • The Surface has a built-in kickstand and magnetic cover, which also acts as a touch keyboard. Microsoft didn't say whether the device would connect to cellular data networks or would be Wi-Fi only. Photo: Microsoft Corp.The Surface has a built-in kickstand and magnetic cover, which also acts as a touch keyboard. Microsoft didn't say whether the device would connect to cellular data networks or would be Wi-Fi only. Photo: Microsoft Corp.
  • Microsoft said the smallest Surface tablet is 9.3 millimeters thick and weighs 1.5 pounds, which is similar to Apple's iPad, at 9.4 millimeters thick and 1.44 pounds. The Surface has a 10.6-inch screen compared with the iPad's 9.7-inch screen. Photo: Microsoft Corp.Microsoft said the smallest Surface tablet is 9.3 millimeters thick and weighs 1.5 pounds, which is similar to Apple's iPad, at 9.4 millimeters thick and 1.44 pounds. The Surface has a 10.6-inch screen compared with the iPad's 9.7-inch screen. Photo: Microsoft Corp.
  • Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive officer, introduced the line of tablet computers named "Surface" on Monday at a much-hyped press event in Los Angeles, marking a major strategic shift for the software giant as it struggles to compete with Apple Inc and re-invent its aging Windows franchise. Photo: Microsoft Corp.Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive officer, introduced the line of tablet computers named "Surface" on Monday at a much-hyped press event in Los Angeles, marking a major strategic shift for the software giant as it struggles to compete with Apple Inc and re-invent its aging Windows franchise. Photo: Microsoft Corp.

Yesterday at a press event in Los Angeles, California , Microsoft Corp. unveiled the first computer it has ever made, a tablet named the Surface that comes with a keyboard and other features designed to stand out in a market dominated by Apple Inc.

In fact, Surface is the new tablet line, includes a consumer device aimed directly at the iPad, and another, larger machine designed to compete with lightweight laptops. Both include a keyboard that doubles as a cover, and both will be powered by versions of the new Windows 8 operating system, reports Reuters.

As it does with the Xbox, Microsoft has opted to make the Surface tablets — both hardware and software — on its own. This stands as a huge affront to Microsoft’s longtime PC hardware partners such as Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and Hewlett-Packard Co.

Making matters worse, the Surface products look far better than anything else the PC makers have shown to date on the tablet front. Even Apple Inc. has been put on notice, if the hoots and hollers from the event were any indication.

The success of Apple Inc. in recent years has underscored the benefits of an integrated approach to hardware and software, and Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer said at the presentation at Milk Studios in Hollywood, California that the company “didn’t want to leave anything uncovered” as it rolled out Windows 8.

The new software is the biggest overhaul of MS Windows in years, and features a new touch-friendly interface dubbed “Metro”. It is scheduled to be available for the Christmas shopping season.

In an interview after press conference, Ballmer said Microsoft’s hardware partners had been made aware of its plans. When asked to describe how they felt about company’s latest moves, Ballmer responded that he had used very precise language on stage and would not go beyond that.

The lighter, thinner version of the Surface tablet named Windows RT weighs 676 grams and is 9.3 mm thick. It is comparable to Apple’s new iPad, heavier but thinner. It has a 10.6-inch ClearType HD display and comes in 32GB and 64GB memory sizes, according to the Microsoft’s press release.

The Surface for Windows RT tablet is built on an Nvidia Corp chip designed by ARM Holdings and will be the first to market at the same time as the general release of Windows 8, and will feature Microsoft’s popular Office suite of applications.

The second tablet, the Surface Pro or Windows 8 Pro, is slightly thicker and heavier – 903 grams and 13.5 mm appropriately. Both tablets come with a built-in kickstand, so you can stand them up to watch movies and the like. The PRO tablet has a 10.6-inch ClearType Full HD display and comes in 64GB and 128GB memory sizes.

Microsoft also did something innovative with its new tablet covers. “Nothing stirs me more than Touch Cover,” Panos Panay, a designer for Microsoft said while showing off the Touch Cover at the event. “This spine feels like a book. You’ll hold it like a book. It will feel like it’s another book when you carry it with books.”

Touch Cover was designed by Steven Bathiche, a Microsoft research director who likes to focus specifically on “creating novel human interfaces and computer form factors,” according to his company bio.

The keyboard cover uses a unique pressure-sensitive technology and Microsoft Corp. says it will allow you “to type significantly faster than you can using an on-screen keyboard.”

However, if you’re a fan of traditional keys, Microsoft has another product called Type Cover. The case has a full track pad with clicking buttons, just like those you might be accustomed to on your home computer. Tactile keys take up a bit more space, so the Type Cover ends up being 5mm thick (2mm thicker than the Touch Cover).

When you’re ready to start typing with either keyboard, Surface has a built-in kickstand for holding the tablet up at just the right angle to give the tablet a laptop-like feel.

Keyboard covers will also be available in an assortment of colors — including blue, red, pink, and black — in order to work with your own personal style or needs.

Both the RT and Windows 8 Pro versions of the Surface family also feature front and rear webcameras, dual microphones, a microSD card slot and a USB port. Battery life was not announced, though Microsoft’s official site says that the Surface “has a great battery.”

The company gave no details on pricing, except that they would be competitive with comparable ARM tablets and Intel-powered Ultrabooks. They will be on sale online and in Microsoft’s new brick-and-mortar stores in the United States.

IT experts were generally impressed by the new Microsoft’s tablets, but doubted they were a sure-fire hit. “I don’t see this as an iPad killer, but it has a lot of potential,” said Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst at tech research firm Forrester.

“This raises more questions than answers. The story that Microsoft told today was incomplete. They focused on the hardware innovation but didn’t talk about the services, the unique Microsoft assets that could make this product amazing.”

Contrary to expectations, Microsoft made no mention of integrating content and features from its top-selling Xbox game console, the Skype video calling service it bought last year, or Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader, its new partner in the electronic books market.

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