August 11, 2012, 7:45 AM — Surface will change your expectations of what you can do with your tablet. First and foremost, you are no longer buying into a dedicated mobile OS and its corresponding app ecosystem. Instead, you'll be able to buy one app and use it on both a tablet and a Windows 8 laptop or desktop PC.
While the Metro face of the two Surfaces will be the same, the hardware flavors are fundamentally different. Surface RT will compete most directly with Apple's iPad and the current crop of Android tablets, all of which run on power-efficient ARM-based processors. And Surface Pro--though still a tablet--targets Ultrabooks and other ultraportable laptops.
Click on the chart below for a comparison of the two Surface models with other tablets.
Surface RT vs. the iPad and Android Tablets
Tech specs: Surface RT comes with a USB 2.0 port standard (critical for connecting external storage and peripherals), along with a MicroSD card slot and Micro-HDMI video out. Most Android tablets have a MicroSD card slot and a Micro-HDMI port as well, but very few have a full-size USB port. Apple's iPad famously has no ports, with the sole exception of its proprietary dock connector.
At the chip level, Nvidia's Tegra 3 ARM processor powers the Surface RT. Most Android tablets run a version of the Tegra 3, as well, or they use another ARM-based processor. The iPad carries Apple's own processor, which is also based on the ARM architecture.
Storage on the Surface RT is similarly upscale, with a minimum of 32GB. The iPad and most Android tablets start at just 16GB. Among Android tablets, Asus's Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 and Acer's Iconia Tab A700 are the two exceptions, with 32GB baseline models.
Screen and resolution: Microsoft lists the RT's display as "HD" rather than as "Full HD," which likely translates into a resolution of just 1366 by 768 pixels. That won't compete with the iPad's Retina display, or even with those of Android tablets such as the Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 and the Iconia Tab A700 (both with resolutions of 1920 by 1200 pixels). The Surface RT's optically bonded display, which eliminates the annoying air gap between the screen and the glass, should help overcome its resolution shortfall. Microsoft does cite its ClearType font-display technology, but we won't know how much ClearType can compensate for the gap in pixel density until we have the Surface tablet in hand.