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Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet with Win 8 Pro and stylus Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet with Win 8 Pro and stylus Credit: Microsoft Featured

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Microsoft has finally announced pricing for its previously announced Surface Pro tablet, complete with Core i5 processor and full x86 app compatibility with traditional software, at prices designed to ultimately almost match that of similarly equipped MacBook Air models.

Although Microsoft has already launched the first half of its Surface tablet equation, the second half is still slated for a January release, seemingly still on target with the statement that the Surface Pro would arrive 90 days after the Surface RT tablet came to market, which was the very same day as the x86/x64 versions of Windows 8.

A new Surface Pro announcement has arrived at last, giving us a range of added details, presumably to whet everyone's appetite.

Set to cost US $899 for the 64GB version of the Intel Core i5-powered Surface Pro tablet, and US $999 for the 128GB version, the prices sadly don’t include either a touch or type cover, forcing the end-user to buy one at US $119.99 and $129.99 respectively, if desired.

Given the way both have been designed to be used together, with either cover closing over and covering the screen in a way reminiscent of closing a book, it’s effectively a required purchase, although with a USB port and Bluetooth, a range of other wired and wireless keyboards can be effortlessly used with the Surface Pro as with any other Windows PC.

That means pricing for either unit then suddenly becomes either $20 or $30 more expensive than the similar priced and equipped MacBook Air models, seen here on Apple’s US site in US dollar pricing.

Of course, Microsoft would fire back that its Surface Pro can be used in either tablet or ultrabook mode, has a whopping 1920 x 1080 Full HD resolution on its 10.6-inch, 16:9 ClearType display, which is presumably better than either 11-inch MacBook Air (both of which sport lower resolutions albeit on slightly larger screens), and has a multi-touch screen to boot, along with the “Surface pen” with “Palm Block” technology.

A multi-touch screen of such high resolution along with full stylus digitiser support can’t be cheap, so the fact that Microsoft has it listed, at a “starting” price at least, on par with the 11-inch MacBook Air, is pretty impressive.

No doubt there are Windows-powered Ultrabooks out there with likely lower processing specs and much lower res screens that will come in a lot cheaper than either the Surface Pro or the MacBook Air, but the Surface Pro, for what it offers at least on paper thus far, is a beefy contender.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, Apple is far more advanced at manufacturing its own hardware, or at least doing so very closely with its manufacturing partners.

While the Surface Pro admirably gets to 128GB of storage, where is the 256GB or 512GB option, as available with any of the MacBook Air variants, albeit at much higher pricing?

What speed is the Core i5 processor, and does Microsoft have plans to offer it in a Core i7 configuration, again as is possible with the MacBook Air?

And what about the battery life? Microsoft hasn’t mentioned it at all in its blog posting, but a tweet from a Microsoft employee says that battery life is about 4.5 hours, which is 30 mins shy of the MacBook Air’s claimed life – despite the Surface Pro having a bigger battery than the ARM powered Surface RT device, which gets around 10 hours of life.

It’s a shame it’s not 7 hours or more, something the larger 13-inch MacBook Air claims, but as far as today’s stock ultrabooks go, it’s more or less on par, but it would naturally have been much nicer to hear of much longer battery life – something that highlights the differences between the power consumption needs of ARM and Intel processors.

At least it’s more than enough, when fully charged, for quite long meetings or stints away from your home or office and a power point, but you’ll be feeling the pain of low battery if you forget to charge the night before and you’re out and about with a “flat” Surface Pro.

Continued and concluded on page two, please read on for the rest on this shiny new Surface!

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

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One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks, including stints as presenter of Ch 10’s Internet Bright Ideas, Ch 7’s Room for Improvement and tech expert on Ch 9’s Today Show, among many other news and current affairs programs.

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