Microsoft unveils Surface tablets

June 18, 2012

Microsoft on Monday unveiled its own tablet that features the Windows 8 operating system in a late attempt to take on Apple and Google who are dominating the white-hot space. The Microsoft Surface stands out from other offerings, with a built-in kickstand and keyboard cover. But the Redmond software giant didn’t announce when the product would be available or a price tag, which left many questions surrounding the company’s ability to woo consumers away from a flood of competing devices.

There are two versions of the tablet, one for Windows RT and one with Intel chips to run Windows 8. The RT version will come in 32 GB and 64 GB models; the Windows 8 Pro version will run in 64GB or 128 GB flavors.

The tablets are 9.3mm thick and 13.5 mm thick, respectively, with two full-size USB ports. They will weigh 1.5 pounds and 1.9 pounds according to the company’s Web site, with a 10.6-inch display.

In a challenge to Apple, the cover of the device will function as a full keyboard, and is 3mm thick that attaches with a magnetic edge similar to the iPad’s Smart Cover. It also has a built-in kickstand, CNET reported, to make it easier to hold and use. There are two versions of the cover — thin and thick, depending on how you prefer your keyboard.

The Surface tablets will work with a stylus that will attach to the tablet with a magnet, the stylus will be included with the professional version. The tablets also have two cameras, according to Microsoft, for Skype video-conferencing.

While introducing the device, Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer said that the device would offer, “Windows without compromise.”

“We control it all, we design it all, we manufacture it all ourselves,” Ballmer said, while discussing Microsoft’s hardware history, going through the mouse, the Xbox and the Kinect while neatly avoiding talking about the Kin or the Zune.

Al Hilwa, tech analyst for IDC, said that the device is what a PC should be in 2012.

“Surface looks like a true converged device,” he said in an e-mailed analysis note, before adding that the app ecosystem is still what will truly make or break the device. “My guess is that we are going to hear more about the ecosystem, the content, the apps, because in reality this is what would make or break this initiative. Smart to hook this to Netflix. They need a few more killer apps in addition to Flash and Office.”

He added that all eyes should be on Microsoft’s upcoming Windows phone event next week to see how the company will integrate its mobile devices.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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