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Melanie Pinola

Microsoft Surface: Which Tablet to Choose

By June 25, 2012

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Microsoft SurfaceMicrosoft launched its Surface tablets last week, notable for their slick design, super-thin keyboard covers, and built-in kickstand. There will be two versions available later this year: one running Windows RT and a slightly larger version running Windows 8 Pro. Which model, if any, might be for you?

First, let's look at what makes Surface different from competing Android tablets and the iPad. The big head-turner for the Surface are the 3mm-thin covers that function as a keyboard and trackpad, since most slate tablets rely only on the on-screen keyboard (and  even others' hardware keyboard docks or accessories are pretty bulky by comparison). Another useful idea is the kickstand that folds in and out of the way. The Windows 8 Pro version also supports digital inking, with a digitizer just for digital ink (the distance between the screen and the stylus is only 0.7mm thick, for better accuracy when writing with the included stylus).

Beyond those hardware features, Surface may appeal to potential tablet owners because it runs Windows 8--a full desktop OS. Mobile professionals may use the tablet as a laptop replacement.

If you're considering buying the Surface, here's what you need to know about the two models:

  • Weight and Thickness: The RT version is thinner and lighter (9.3mm thick and 676 grams) than the Windows 8 Pro version (13.5mm and 903 grams). The difference may be negligible, though, since both will be pretty portable.
  • Screen: Both models sport a 10.6-inch widescreen display made of Gorilla Glass. Both will feature Microsoft's ClearType technology for clearer text. The Win8 Pro version, however, will have the higher resolution 1080p screen.
  • Processor: The RT is powered by an Nvidia ARM processor commonly found in tablets, while the Win8 Pro model will feature an Intel Ivy Bridge Core i5 processor, commonly found in laptops. This is a key difference between the two tablets, and will make the Surface Pro more powerful, while the RT may be more energy-efficient.
  • Software/OS: Windows 8 RT is designed for ARM mobile processors, while Windows 8 Pro is designed for desktop and laptop PCs. RT doesn't run traditional Windows software, but the RT tablet will include Office Home & Student 2013 RT.
  • Storage: The RT version will come with 32GB and 64GB options, while the Win8 Pro will have higher 64GB and 128GB models.
  • Other: RT will be available sooner, around the same time Windows 8 launches in the fall. Win8 Pro is expected three months later, and it will also come with the stylus pen and USB 3.0 (the RT only supports USB 2.0).

In short, the RT version is more of a competitor to regular slate tablets while the Windows 8 Pro model is much more laptop-like. You can view more detailed specs comparisons at Microsoft's Surface site.

Personally, only the Windows 8 Pro model appeals to me--with the stylus, the Intel processor, full Windows OS, and other small details. I'm considering the Surface or a hybrid ultrathin Ultrabook laptop this fall. You?

Comments
June 26, 2012 at 11:54 am
(1) Alan Keith Simpson says:

I am amused by the predictions of tech pundits who were not even allowed to use this vapourware. How is the Surface going to be a laptop replacement (at the same price as a premium Ultrabook!) when using it on your lap will be a nigh-on impossible balancing act due to the soft keyboard and flimsy kickstand. Or does the name “Surface” refer to a tabletop these clunkers will come with?
And although no one outside of MS has used the skinny, tactile-less keyboards, they don’t exactly look like replacements for real keyboards. And the colours? Only a highly proficient touch-typist won’t be getting a headache by having to stare at these hideously ill-advised things.
Having 2 products so similar in name and form factor will confuse the heck out of the public, and cause much disappointment and anger when consumers discover that only the Win8 Pro model runs desktop software, not the RT version they just bought.
BTW since when is the difference between 9.5 mm and 676 gm and 13.5 mm and 903 gm “negligible”?
Which Surface is right for you? That’s a no-brainer: the new iPad with the amazing Retina display and hundreds of thousands of apps!

June 27, 2012 at 3:12 pm
(2) David Simko says:

Do these Tablets have outdoor screen display capability which is most important for mobility?

August 30, 2012 at 4:17 pm
(3) Shad says:

Alan! What is your problem? Neither Apple nor Microsoft own innovation. It is only right to encourage and support technological innovations. Let us wait for the Surface RT/Pro to release……..use it and then give it a fair comment. Not rush now and predict doomsday!

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