Microsoft Surface for Windows 8: Everything you need to know

Features Paul Briden 02:26, 19 Jun 2012

Microsoft's two hybrid tablet and laptop devices, the Surface tablets, offer a wealth of new features to get to grips with. Read on for our full run-down

Microsoft has just unveiled the Windows Surface tablet range for Windows 8. We take you through the highlights.

Choice

Microsoft hasn't limited itself to just one Windows tablet with the Surface range – it's coming for both consumers and business users alike.

Your first option is Surface for Windows RT. The device itself is based on ARM's Cortex mobile processor architecture and Windows RT itself is a version of Windows 8 designed specifically for this hardware.

Unlike regular Windows 8, which has both the touch-orientated 'Metro' UI and a more conventional Windows 7 style desktop UI, Windows RT only features the Metro element and is designed exclusively for fully touch compatible applications.

The other option is based on Intel's processor architecture and runs a fully-fledged build of Windows 8, called Windows 8 Pro. This can switch between the desktop interface and the Metro UI.

Microsoft revealed the Surface for Windows RT would be made available in both 32GB and 64GB variants at prices 'competetive' with other ARM powered tablets on the current market. Although the company didn't reveal much about the Intel powered equivalents it did say there would be a range of higher capacity storage models (64GB and 128GB).

There are some differences between the two models, but they've been designed in tandem and share plenty of features in common. In particular the build quality is the same across the board, which leads us neatly on to...

Build quality

Each of the tablet devices in Microsoft's new Surface range is made from magnesium liquid metal, with what's known as a PVD finish.

PVD stands for physical vapour deposition and it's a treatment used for making high performance kit such as premium sports watches. It produces a tarnish resistant and polished-looking surface which looks and feels very premium.

Microsoft has said the Surface for Windows RT model is a mere 9.3mm thick and weighs around 680g, while Surface for Windows 8 Pro is a bit more substantial at 14mm thick.

Both feature a bevelled edge design, Corning Gorilla Glass displays and an integral kick-stand which has been designed to fit flush to the back of the device and to 'feel and sound like a high end car door' when opening and closing.

Both devices have 10.6-inch displays but the Surface for Windows 8 Pro features a higher resolution 'ClearType' screen.

The PC Element

Microsoft unveiled a rather interesting accessory included with the Surface tablets, a 3mm thick 'Touch Cover'. These are available in a variety of colours and at first glance look like the iPad Smart Covers.

However, flip one over and you've got a full multi-touch keyboard with an integrated multi-touch trackpad, Microsoft claims this setup is 'twice as efficient as typing on glass'.

With the Surface for Windows 8 Pro, things get even more PC-like. Microsoft said that it has 'specs that rival that of the best ultrabooks that have ever been announced' and uses less power than current, third generation Core i5 chips. It also features 'perimeter venting' to help with air flow and Microsoft claims you'll 'never block it with your hands' by mistake when using the device.

There are also two further optional extras, the DisplayPort, which is a 'full workstation' with the power of a desktop PC, and the Type Cover, a more solid version of the Touch Cover with real keys, clicking buttons and a full trackpad.

It's also worth noting that both tablet models will come with a new touch-optimised version of Office and have full size USB2 ports for using peripheral accessories. With the Windows 8 Pro model's desktop mode this could well mean it'll support a USB mouse.

Extras

If you thought all of this was cool, there's also built-in support for pen stylus input using what Microsoft refer to as 'digital ink'.

This supports pen input sampled at 600 pixels-per-inch, meaning sensitivity is extremely fine. The screen also features two digitizer sensor arrays, one for your fingers and one for the pen, so it can tell when you're already using the pen and knows not to pick up your finger presses, and vice versa. The pen can be stored on the tablet body via magnetisation.

Wrap up

Overall, Microsoft's new Surface tablets are looking seriously impressive and competitive offering everything we've wanted from a hybrid device. They're portable and lightweight with a heap of useful features and support, plus the versatility of both tablets and laptop PCs.

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