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.
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!
Clearly, ever more customisation options will come, along with battery enhancements, undoubtedly with the next Surface Pro 2, probably around this time next year rather than another extremely poorly timed late January launch.
It certainly shows how Apple’s manufacturing supremacy shines so brightly against Microsoft’s efforts.
That said, at least Microsoft is now in the game itself, and obviously, in a most serious way, finding itself surprised at how tightly Apple had already tied up certain parts of the supply chain and being forced to innovate itself in new ways it hadn’t before.
Aside from the higher resolution screen, The Surface Pro also has a single USB 3.0 port, unlike most traditional tablets, giving you the ability to use all the regular peripherals any PC or Mac can use, alongside the reference to “dual 2x2 MIMO antennas” that have been specially designed for better reception and transmission – surely a sly dig at various Wi-Fi problems that have beset the iPad at various times.
There’s also a microSDXC port capable of taking cards up to 64GB in size, alogn with a Mini DisplayPort that "can drive an external display up to 2560X1440 resolution.
The roomier 128GB SSD model will obviously have a lot more free space, but with both Surface Pro models offering MicroSDXC expansion, as well as USB 3.0 connectivity, at least there’s a way to add more storage to your device, something not possible with any iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch for love nor money once a particular size has been purchased from Apple.
Given the fact that Surface Pro tablets run all Windows 7 software, as well as all the new Modern UI and formerly Metro full-screen software, it’s no surprise to see Microsoft describing its upcoming device as “a full PC AND a tablet”, while boasting that it weighs “less than two pounds” while being “less than 14mm thick”.
So… pricing is now known for the Surface Pro, which likely means at least $50 more for Australians when it gets launched down under, with availability still expected to be in late January, in line with the initially claimed launch timeframe of 90 days after the general availability of Windows 8 and the first Surface RT tablet.
Just how popular this new ultrabook tablet hybrid Microsoft has developed is going to be is yet to be seen, with fierce competition from the other Windows 8 tablet makers to come at the January 2013 CES in Las Vegas, a few weeks before the Surface Pro goes on sale for the first time.
Still, as always, Microsoft is always playing a very long game. This isn’t about one quarter of sales, or two, but a foundation for the next few years of Microsoft’s existence, and well beyond.
Just as Apple is no longer a “computer” company, so too is Microsoft no longer a software company, something it hasn’t been for a very long time now since the first Xboxes hit the scene all those years ago, fast forwarding to today with one tablet on the market and another on the way.
Whatever happens, I’m certainly looking forward to seeing the Surface Pro in action, and evaluating first hand just how well, or otherwise, it does the job of delivering an excellent hybrid between tablet and PC.
Whatever platform you use, you’re obviously interested too, as you’re reading this article, with a flood of reviews to arrive in late January and early February to soon let us know what everyone really thinks.
More when it happens, with this announcement bringing Microsoft’s first, own and only proper Intel-based tablet computer that much closer to reality.