What Microsoft Didn’t Tell Us About the New Surface Tablets

Microsoft unveiled a bold new line of hardware products that appears on the surface (no pun intended) to be a challenge to its partners to take the tablet computer more seriously. Two versions of its Surface tablet were revealed including a consumer model powered by an NVIDIA ARM processor and a professional one featuring a Core i5 processor and full HD video on a 10.6″ screen.

What might be more telling than what Microsoft did reveal about this upcoming series of devices is what it didn’t say about them. Perhaps these features won’t be available with the Surface, or Microsoft is still working out the details… either way, I left yesterday’s announcement with more questions than answers.

RAM

If you’re going to make a tablet that doubles as a full-blown PC, you need to let us know what we can expect in terms of RAM. Can I, as a professional user, expect to run two programs or ten at the same time? This is an important detail, and one that I don’t like being left in the dark about.

The Surface for Windows RT may be running a much less RAM-dependent version of the OS, but I still like knowing what I have to work with. This is one of the great things about running a desktop-class OS, and I feel that Microsoft will need to answer this question before anyone can make a buying decision.

How Will the Covers Be Made Available?

There were two covers introduced by Microsoft yesterday. The Touch Cover and Type Cover are both pretty interesting, and I’m a fan of the concept, but how exactly will these covers be made available? The specs sheet Microsoft has released at this points lists both of these covers under both tablets, so one could assume that either both of these covers are included, or the covers are sold separately and both models can use either cover.

One report states you buy the cover with the Surface, so the unit itself comes in a variety of cover colors as opposed to a variety of covers being made available for the device. That’s a cool thing, which means you don’t have to buy the cover in addition to the Surface. I personally would like to know how much of an investment you would make if you wanted more than one keyboard. Say, blue and pink depending on who has the Surface on a given day?

In any case, I’d be curious just how expensive these covers will be if sold separately.

Graphics

It would be foolish of anyone to expect a dedicated graphics card in one of these tablets, but I expected Microsoft to at least touch on what these devices would be capable of in the graphics department. Are we looking at something that could compete with the iPad as a casual gaming device, or are we instead working with whatever the included CPU can handle?

The idea of playing Minecraft or World of Warcraft on a tablet may sound silly to some, but there is a large number of gamers out there who would love that kind of portability. They might even pay good money for the Pro version if that means it can handle PC games you can’t currently play on any other tablet without going through a remote desktop utility.

Price

How can you introduce a product without naming a price? Sure, Microsoft said that Surface for Windows RT would be competitively priced with other ARM tablets, but what does Microsoft consider to be competitive, and where in that $200-1000 range will it fall? That’s a pretty big variable to consider.

Surface for Windows 8 Pro is another enigma. Microsoft gave a hint at its price by stating it would be competitive with Ultrabooks. This means, to me, that you’re looking to pay anywhere from $900 – $1500 for one of these tablets. The version with a 128 GB SSD will probably by somewhere in the high range of that figure, if not over it.

Either way, Microsoft has to price this thing to compete with the iPad. Android devices are what they are, but the iPad has thus far been the benchmark on which all other tablet prices have been measured to this point. To introduce a tablet computer, even a desktop replacement tablet computer, without a price really doesn’t mean anything at all.

We know there’s a gadget coming that does some pretty impressive things. Until I know what the price is, I’d consider it to be a non-announcement.

Camera Resolution

We heard about the front and back facing cameras on the Surface, but we really didn’t get any more information than that. Are we looking at a front-facing camera capable of delivering HD video in a Skype call, or just another VGA FaceTime type experience? Is the back camera going to have the quality of the new iPad, iPhone 4S, or many of the Android devices out there or something less than desirable?

If you don’t tell us, we can usually assume the worst. In any case, I’m not excited about the fact that there is a camera until I know what type of camera we are looking at here.

Charging

How will the Surface charge? Are we looking at a device that charges like an iPad, or a laptop? One can only hope the device charges from a 10w USB port, but with a Core i5 processor, that might not be the case. Ideally, the method in which the system is charges has a direct impact on my buying decision. If I have to find an outlet to get a little extra life out of it, there might be some limitations to its true portability.

Battery Life

Possibly just as important as how it charges is how long you can go between charges. Beyond the watt hours, Microsoft has said nothing about the battery life. Can Microsoft not even give us an estimate at this point? Five hours? Ten hours? Two hours?

Release Date

Because this new tablet is made to accompany Windows 8, Microsoft will not give us a release date. Instead, it stated that the Surface for Windows RT will be available right after Windows 8 and the Pro version will come out roughly three months later. By that, we can deduct that a product launch would happen sometime between now and sometime in 2013.

Windows 8 is expected to be released in October, which would make the Surface available for the holiday season, but this is just an estimate at this point. Either way, it’s hard to get excited about something when you have no idea when it will come out.

Final Thoughts

In almost every way, Microsoft has done everything in its power to reveal something interesting without telling potential users exactly what to expect. I heard a lot of highlights at the unveiling, but nothing about which I could base a buying decision.

If anything, this announcement was likely a challenge to its partners to do something incredible with the Windows 8 platform, and not so much an attempt to take those customers away. Perhaps this cloud of mystery is more about keeping the partners happy than anything else.

Then again, it’s Microsoft.

20 comments On What Microsoft Didn’t Tell Us About the New Surface Tablets

  • Any information about productivity matters such as:

    1. SyncML — syncing address books and calendars
    2. CalDAV — alternative protocol for doing the same re. calendars
    3. CardDAV — alternative protocol for doing same re. address books
    4. Analysis Tools — such as PivotViewer etc..

    • That’s a Windows 8 issue, not a Surface issue. And yes, Microsoft keeps all that data in the cloud and you can log into any Windows 8 computer/phone using your Windows ID.

  • Any information about productivity matters such as:

    1. SyncML — syncing address books and calendars
    2. CalDAV — alternative protocol for doing the same re. calendars
    3. CardDAV — alternative protocol for doing same re. address books
    4. Analysis Tools — such as PivotViewer etc..

  • Microsoft only has to price Surface RT to be competitive to the iPad – not Surface Pro. It makes more sense for Surface Pro to compete with the Macbook Air – both are ultraportable Intel i5 machines.

    • i agree, but i doubt you will be able to get a surface pro for equal to or less than £850 due to the touch screen.

      look at the price level most x86 tablets are sold at now, almost the price of an ultrabook, but with netbook stats, what happens if you up the spec and introduce a larger touch screeen

  • You really hit the nail on its head. I hope that the W8 version comes with at least 8GB RAM.

  • I don’t think keeping Microsoft’s partners happy enters into consideration at all. I think it’s more a shot across the prow: This is the new face of Windows and personal computing. Get on board with where we’ve decided to go with it – or be left behind.

    They did the same thing with the Win8 presentation to IT managers at CeBit. They basically told corporate IT that Win8 was coming and there was nothing they could do to stop it – so the best strategy would be not to try and fight it, but rather use the remaining time to get up to speed. Because (get this) their employees would “demand” the “Windows 8 experience.” And furthermore, because they could run their own copy of Windows 8 off a USB key on virtually any machine, there was no way IT could keep Win8 completely out of the workplace or off the corporate network.

    Does any of this sound like partnering to you? It sounds more like Microsoft lowering the boom on all third parties and saying Microsoft isn’t going to tolerate another Vista revolt. Going forward, you’re all going to do Microsoft’s our way – or not at all.

    Hmm…that sounds just like Apple doesn’t it?

  • One thing is for certain though, it can’t open Internet Explorer…. lolz

  • When they mention running SolidWorks (3D CAD software) on the pro version, I expect the graphics and RAM specs to be pretty decent. If this was an Apple announcement about a new iProduct, I don’t think not knowing the price and availability would bother you as much.

  • One other thing we don’t know – Bluetooth 4.0? Surely…

  • I habe been a follower of Genome for a while now and I like what I see, mostly. Here and there, there is an article I really care about, but I let go. But, this one? No way. This article is written because author had no better thing to do, so he thought, why not just be rediculous and bash Surface, before it even really surface. First things first. I am not a fan of Microsoft or Windows. I run Mac, iPod, iPad, and Apple TV. I do run Windows 7 in small window on my Mac, just because my Kids like few games that run only on Windows. That being out of the, I really cant see why author is so pissed off by few details MS left of in unveiling. Points he has raised are all valid, no doubt, but they could have still been made with a better taste in mouth. MS is not going to launch these tablets untill later this year. It’s ample time fore them to figure out what to put in it. They don’t live in a bubble, they read blogs. They left few things behind to see what tech wagoneers think about it to get a feel for what people want. They will then be able to sit down and make final decision about what goes in to these tablets. This way, MS may capture a larger audience for it’s product. It is kind a survey, if you will, for the future, and by putting most of the things consumers want, they might think, it could actually fly. Like I said, author is right on the money with the points he raised, I would have expected nothing less, knowing him for a while now, but, this article could have been done in a lot better way. That’s all I am saying.

  • a solid tablet for wild users, look like a book and with a microsoft philosophy(a presence of USB and HDMI out very useful), … if the price is adequate , if we bear in mind the coming nexus tablet and there competitive price , if the windows ARM Windows Surface is a 350 dollars ,
    i think it will wreak the havoc on the tablet market

  • well to me all this means that its not a “full blown” laptop nor a “full blown tablet” because of half ass os that is still to prove a lot in market, windows did great work on windows 7 now they are blowing it all with this, it takes strong effort to build a product, for me its going to be a fail, i still respect apple what they do and btw i m a windows fanatic but i have at present no respect for ms for this and windows 8

  • instead of this ms shud have made a macbook pro killer, then made tablet based on their windows phone os, and pro systems, that would have been great deal bec ms does great hardware and its time for them to build their own hardware bec partnership with third party oem has always resulted in bad looking and pathetic pc’s and notebooks that look still the same as they were in 2001, thats my view

  • iPad has HDMI out as well – with an adapter.

  • I’ll stay with my ASUS ePad Slider 101 with a Nvidia Tegra 2 processor. It’s quick, overall I give it 5 stars

  • The only difference is, Apple announces prices every WWDC with the products. I think your last statement is a little irrelevant.

  • You forgot to mention two other vital points that pretty much all reviewers have neglected to mention also:
    1)What is the quality of the speakers for playing music/movies
    2)What is the duration of lag when the stylus is used to edit documents. Im betting it is noticeable, and makes the stylus pretty well useless for serious writing. The lag was evident during the demonstration

  • The Pro version has a core i5 so it has an onboard gpu which can handle call of duty… the RT version comes with a keyboard (the thinner one) and the pro comes with the thicker keyboard, both work on both devices and can be bough seperately. RAM, well they mentioned solidworks which has a minimum requirement of 2gb so we know a small amount for the pro, and its going to be around £600 (in line with equiv ultrabook). Camera Resolution isn’t really a problem, its a webcam not an SLR Release date, RT at same time as windows 8, Pro 3 months later so around november (before holiday season)

  • The graphics on the Surface Pro will be Ivy Bridge Integrated graphics: more than enough for simple MMORPGs.

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