We're here at Microsoft's much talked-about event at Milk Studios in Los Angeles, where they just introduced the Surface, an all-new 10.6-inch tablet running Windows 8. Although Steve Ballmer kicked off the event with a talk on the expectations of Windows 8, the Surface tablet has value beyond Microsoft's coming operating system. This brand new slate--and accessories like the 3mm-thin keyboard that doubles as a protective cover pictured above-- represent the company's first true salvo at the Apple iPad and the army of Android tablets.
"Windows is the heart and soul of Microsoft," Steve Ballmer said as he took the dimly-lit stage. "Today, we want to add another piece of that Windows 8 Story." That piece is the Microsoft Surface, a tablet designed to be 9.3mm thin with a full-size USB port, wear a full magnesium case, and carry a weight of 1.5 pounds. If you're wondering how those specs compare to the Apple iPad, the Surface is just a hair thinner (9.3 vs. 9.4mm) but it's also a bit heavier (1.5 vs. 1.4 pounds).
As it turns out, some of the Surface tablet's added heft comes from a built-in kickstand, which not only makes it easier to watch videos in landscape mode but also works when paired with a special touch keypad--as you can see in the teaser image below.
That keyboard is one of the Surface tablet's most interesting features because it includes a touchpad and doubles as a magnetic cover. According to Windows President Steve Sinofsky, who took over the presser after Ballmer, it's twice as efficient as typing on glass. The touch cover was designed to imitate the feel of a book. And since it has a built accelerometer - the handy accessory knows when it's folded back, so you never have to turn it off or on.
Two versions of the Surface will be made - one that runs Windows 8 RT (mobile only) , and a thicker version that runs Windows 8 Pro. The latter version, which will use an Intel Ivy Bridge Core i5 processor, still weighs less than 2 pounds. Vents along the edges will allow the system to stay cool while it's turned on, which is a point of concern for devices with demanding Intel processors inside.
The Surface for Windows RT will be available in 32GB and 64GB models, and will cost around the same price as other ARM-based tablets. The Surface for Windows 8 Pro will be available in 64GB and 128GB sizes, and will have a retail price comparable to Ultrabooks. The former will be available around Windows 8 general availability, and the Pro about 3 months later.
Could Microsoft's entrant to the tablet wars finally challenge the iPad? Check out Microsoft's promo video, or stay tuned for our hands-on to find out.