Microsoft's Surface: just another Win 8 tablet or something special?

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Last night Microsoft held a press event to reveal...a tablet. Doesn't the world have enough tablets at this point? I was all set to put on my snarky blogger hat and take some pot shots at what Microsoft had to show us but then, I kind of started buying what they were selling.

Let's back up a little. At the most basic, the Microsoft Surface (no longer is Surface a touch sensitive table-top OS) line consists of a pair (for now) of 10.6" tablets running Windows 8 or Windows RT (the ARM-friendly version of Windows 8).

Both tablets have a Gorilla Glass 2 display and magnesium casing that's supposed to make for very stiff, sturdy hardware. Both come with an integrated kickstand for hands-free viewing of content or for use as a faux-laptop with the addition of a keyboard. They both also have a full sized USB port as well as video out.

The ARM-based, Windows RT model is running on an Nvidia Tegra chip, presumably the Tegra 3+ that is being using in other Windows 8 tablets. This model comes in 32GB & 64 GB configurations and is 9.3 mm thick and weighs 676 grams (about 24 ounces). It's set to launch concurrently with Windows 8. No price given other than that it'll be comparable with similar hardware.

The Pro model runs on an Intel Ivy Bridge i5 processor. The Pro comes in 64 GB and 128 GB configurations and is a bit larger than its little brother: 13.5 mm thick and 903 grams (about 32 ounces). It'll ship a few months after the RT model and again, no price offered.

Here's an official Microsoft spec sheet with more details.

So far, so good but the specs don't really get me as excited as the apparent build quality and the cool accessories.

In addition to the tablets themselves, Microsoft showed off a pair of covers for the tablet. The Touch cover looks like an iPad Smart Cover only it doubles as a virtual keyboard and trackpad. Open the cover (it attaches to the tablet via magnets) and prop up the tablet with its kickstand and you have a laptop-esque experience. The Touch cover doesn't have physical keys but it has an accelerometer that can determine touches that are "key taps" vs touches that are a palm resting on the cover. If you're using the tablet as a tablet and flip the cover all the way back, the keyboard functions turn off. It sounds pretty nifty but we'll have to see how it works in practice.

The other cover is the Type Cover. It's a bit thicker than the Touch cover but it includes physical keys; probably better for more serious writing. Combine the Surface Pro with the Type Cover and you really do have a laptop experience when you need it.

So I find myself intrigued by all of this. The Surface Tablets, or at least Microsoft's presentation of them, have kind of an Apple vibe. I'm sure they'll be pricier than competing Windows 8 tablets but they just seem to be really high quality hardware. Of course we'll know more when we get closer to launch and review units start going out; maybe I'm just being dazzled by a new shiny.

Engadget has a quick hands-on look at the Surface RT that's worth reading (apparently the Pro was hands-off for this event) or you could hit up the Surface website for a few images and not much else yet. Or check out the first ad for Surface:

I'm kind of smitten by the idea of my tablet and my laptop being the same device, so the Pro model is what's captured my fancy. I am worried about the price; I can easily imagine it launching at over $1000 and once you add a cover and an optional stylus winding up with a total close to $1200. And of course as a tablet, we need to see what the app ecosystem for Windows 8 winds up looking like. So I'm not ready to pre-order yet, but I am intrigued.

Am I alone in this, or did Surface capture anyone else's attention?

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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