June 23, 2012, 7:12 AM — Microsoft left a lot of unanswered questions after following Apple into the tablet hardware business Monday with its new Windows 8-based Surface PCs/tablets. The software maker introduced the new family of devices during an event in Los Angeles.
Microsoft said the new Surface tablets are meant as companion hardware for Windows 8--the most dramatic overhaul of the OS since Windows 95. Company CEO Steve Ballmer said: "We wanted to give Windows 8 its own companion hardware innovation." Windows 8 is expected to be available in the fall.
The Surface brand was originally used for a tabletop touchscreen computer Microsoft launched in 2007.
Early Impressions Are Positive
Looking at the spec sheet, the new devices sound promising and early impressions are generally positive. The new tablets will come with a 10.6-inch display, a kickstand for tabletop viewing, and a super-thin keyboard case that attaches to the device with magnets.
Surface will come in two flavors: Surface with Windows RT and Surface Pro with Windows 8 Pro. Windows RT is the version of Windows 8 designed for ARM processors; it includes the new touch-friendly Metro-style interface, as well as a limited version of the traditional Windows desktop for running Internet Explorer and Microsoft Office.
Surface tablets with Windows RT will include a micros slot, USB 2.0, and a Micro HD port. The devices will weigh about 1.5 pounds and be about 0.36-inches thick. Microsoft did not say which processor the Windows RT device would have, but did say the tablets will come with your choice of 32GB or 64GB of storage.
The Surface Pro tablets will be Intel-based with access to the Metro UI as well as to the fully functional Windows desktop and will come in 64GB and 128GB versions. The tablet will have a microSDXC card slot, USB 3.0, and Mini Display Port. The Surface Pro will weigh just under two pounds and be about half-an-inch thick.
That's what we do know about Surface, but there are also a few interesting questions left to answer.
How Much Will It Cost?
Microsoft was short on details when it came to pricing the new Surface tablets. The company said the Windows RT version of Surface would cost about the same as comparable slates. Surface Pro, meanwhile, would be priced similar to comparable competitive Ultrabook PCs.
Let's assume that comparable tablets for the Windows RT version mean the market leader, Apple's iPad. So the entry-level Surface models should cost about $600 for the 32GB version and $700 for the 64GB model.
How much Surface Pro devices will cost is another issue entirely since Microsoft wants to compete with Ultrabook PCs. When Intel introduced the new class of portable laptops in spring 2011, they were supposed to be priced under $1,000. But that dream is only now becoming a reality with second-generation Ultrabooks.Devices like the Lenovo U310 and 410 are priced at $750 and $800 respectively, Vizio just released a line of Ultrabooks that start at $900, and the base model for Sony's new Vaio T13 costs $800. Will the Surface Pro be priced under $1,000 as well, or will Microsoft reach for a higher cost similar to the Samsung Series 9 ($1,400-$1,500) or the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A ($1,100)?