How Microsoft Surface stacks up against its tablet competition

How do the specs for the upcoming Microsoft Surface for Windows RT and Surface for Windows Pro compare with the Apple iPad?

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Physical specs: Microsoft didn't supply complete numbers, but it did say Surface RT should be about 0.37 inch thick--thinner than many competing tablets and in a dead heat with Apple's iPad. Current estimates put the Surface RT's weight at 1.49 pounds, or 0.05 pound heavier than the current iPad. That's a negligible difference, but the iPad itself got heavier this year, while Android tablets are consistently moving in the other direction, as consumers have come to expect. At 1.49 pounds, the Surface will be about 0.2 pound heavier than the Toshiba Excite 10 or the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity.

The Surface tablet's design is unique. It features a comfortably angled bezel created with ergonomics in mind; a balanced arrangement of internal components that make Surface feel lighter; and a built-in kickstand for conveniently using Surface in a variety of scenarios.

Productivity: In this respect Surface RT is likely to shine. Unlike Apple's iOS and Google's Android, Microsoft's Windows 8 provides the ability to view two apps at a time on one screen, as well as having additional apps multitasking in the background. This flexibility is closer to what users are accustomed to having on a desktop or laptop computer. Plus, Surface RT will include Office Home and Student 2013 RT (with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote).

Surface Pro vs. Ultrabook Laptops and Windows 7 Tablets

Tech specs: Surface Pro will come with 64GB or 128GB of storage and an Intel Core i5 CPU (Microsoft has not yet re­­vealed the clock speed). By contrast, Ultrabooks have anywhere from 128GB to 320GB of solid-state or hard-drive storage, and feature Intel Core i3, Core i5, or Core i7 CPUs. Microsoft hasn't disclosed how much memory its Surface Pro will have; Ultrabooks average 4GB of RAM, comparable to what you'd find on an ultraportable or all-purpose laptop. Surface Pro outdoes most Ultrabooks, though, with a Micro­SDXC card slot, a USB 3.0 port, a Mini DisplayPort for video output, and a dual digitizer for digital inking with a stylus.

Screen and resolution: Preliminary specs simply state that Surface Pro has a "Full HD" 10.6-inch display, which would suggest a display resolution of at least 1920 by 1200 pixels. That minimum spec would put it on a par with the best Android tablets from Asus and Acer, but those displays are half an inch smaller, so they have a higher pixel density. And none of the Android models compares with the 9.7-inch Apple iPad at 2048 by 1536 pixels. Like Surface RT, Surface Pro will also feature Microsoft's ClearType (standard in Windows 8).

Physical specs: Surface Pro's overall physical design is the same as Surface RT's; but this model will be thicker, at 0.53 inch. Nonetheless, Surface Pro looks more stylish and snappy than current Windows 7 slates, and it's thinner than many Ultrabooks. Surface Pro's weight is estimated at 1.99 pounds, which is significantly lighter than the average 3- to 4-pound Ultrabook and comparable to current Windows 7 tablets.

Productivity: Intel's Core i5 is powerful enough to let you tinker in Photoshop, handle complex spreadsheets, or play games. Surface Pro won't come with Microsoft's Office apps, though. Still, with digital inking plus one of Microsoft's keyboard cover options, Surface Pro could be the ultimate ultraportable. If you can make do with a 10.6-inch display, then you can benefit from Surface's inherent flexibility.

Editor's note: In case you missed them, here are the two earlier articles in this series:

This story, "How Microsoft Surface stacks up against its tablet competition" was originally published by PCWorld.

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