Post-announcement, Microsoft took us to a backroom in Milk Studios to give us hands on experience with the Surface. They weren't lying, even the preproduction units feel awesome in hand. The magnesium panels are finished with partial vapour deposition, a process that deposits a thin-film coating onto the panel using vacuum deposition (molecule-by-molecule deposits at sub-atmospheric pressure.) It gives the unit a distinctly premium feel, and one that's pretty different from most of the other metal-bodied systems out there particularly with the current trends towards anodization and brushed finishes. The body is 9.3mm thick (a tenth of a millimeter thinner than the latest iPad), and total weight comes in at 676g (or about 1.49 lbs), so it's denser feeling than the iPad.. The 31.5Wh battery isn't as large as the iPad's 42.5Wh, but the 1366x768 10.6" LCD definitely draws less power.

The hinges in the kickstand are spring-loaded, giving a very positive mechanical feel and noise. The hinge mechanism is particularly robust, and as mentioned in the keynote, was acoustically tuned to sound high quality. Microsoft seemed particularly OCD about certain design details, this being one of them. It paid off though, with a hinge that looks and feels ready to take a lot of abuse. The stand props the system up at 22 degrees, which is a common theme - the beveled edges are all angled at 22 degrees, and the rear camera is also angled at 22 degrees in the opposite direction. This is a pretty interesting one, since it means you can keep the tablet angled as is usually comfortable, and still shoot video straight ahead. It's a good idea, though probably one that will take a bit of adjustment in real life use.

My personal favourite part of the Surface is the cover. There's two of them - the Touch Cover, and the Type Cover, both with integrated keyboards and touchpads. The Type Cover has a traditional keyboard, albeit one with particularly shallow feel, along with physically clicking mouse buttons. The Touch Cover is very interesting - it has a pressure sensitive membrane keyboard with felt keys and mouse buttons housed in a cover that's totally 3mm thick. (The Type Cover is ~5.5mm thick). I wasn't able to get a feel for how typing actually feels on it, so I can't comment on responsiveness or accuracy, but our friend Ben Reed at Microsoft Hardware swears he can top 50 words per minute on it any given day. I'm inclined to believe him, but I can't comment firsthand until I can actually play with a working unit. 

The outside of the covers is covered in a felt material, and when closed, the unit feels like one of the velour or felt-covered journals. It gives a decidedly organic, natural feel to a very inorganic device, something that Microsoft was very pleased to note. It's a pretty awesome idea, actually, taking the best parts of Apple's Smart Cover and ASUS' laptop dock and merging them together into one of the most innovative cases we've seen. I took away three major things from this event, and the only one them that directly related to the device hardware being shown off was that integrating the keyboard into the cover was a stroke of awesome. (I'll go more in depth on the others in a larger post later today.)

For the first time, I can really see a tablet replacing a notebook as my primary computing device. Before today, I couldn't say that with any real conviction - I tried it with the iPad on multiple occasions, and it just didn't work. I'm a writer, tablets aren't ideal for writing. Surface changes that in a big way. And that's really what Microsoft is going for here - a device that fits into your life as a versatile tool to do anything you want it to. Whether they'll succeed in capturing the market is a story that will be told after Surface launches alongside Windows 8 later this year, but for now, this is a very promising start. 

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  • steven75 - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    I agree it looks like competition, but let's not get to hasty. They first have to compete with the iPad ecosystem and it's 250,000 dedicated tablet apps. Windows 8 RT is starting from scratch and the x86 hardware is more than twice as expensive as the cheapest brand new iPad. Reply
  • Belard - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    How about 3~4 times? Locally, they sell new iPad2s for $350 off the shelf... and the x86 will most likely be at least $1000+! And yet, still have lower screen resolution.

    Until I actually used the Win8 PR version on my desktop... I thought Win8 eco-system would destroy the iPad/iPhone market.

    I think this is going to be WindowsPhone 7, 2.0... stagnates at 5%.
    Reply
  • xype - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    "I wasn't able to get a feel for how typing actually feels on it, so I can't comment on responsiveness or accuracy, but our friend Ben Reed at Microsoft Hardware swears he can top 50 words per minute on it any given day. I'm inclined to believe him, but I can't comment firsthand until I can actually play with a working unit. "

    So you don’t have any experience using one?

    "For the first time, I can really see a tablet replacing a notebook as my primary computing device. Before today, I couldn't say that with any real conviction - I tried it with the iPad on multiple occasions, and it just didn't work. I'm a writer, tablets aren't ideal for writing. Surface changes that in a big way. And that's really what Microsoft is going for here - a device that fits into your life as a versatile tool to do anything you want it to. Whether they'll succeed in capturing the market is a story that will be told after Surface launches alongside Windows 8 later this year, but for now, this is a very promising start."

    But you’re convinced it will be awesome and it’s a "promising start"? So tablets aren’t ideal for writing, but Surface is? In what way is Surface that much different than an iPad/Android tablet with a hardware keyboard accessory?

    This all reads like it was written by an enthusiastic little boy who really likes what Microsoft’s PR is selling.

    Don’t get me wrong—it does look like it could actually challenge the iPad more than any Android tablet can. But that’s assuming Microsoft doesn’t fuck up, assuming the price is good, assuming there are no trouble with the manufacturing, assuming there will be enough software and assuming it launches on time and without serious bugs.

    And what’s with the companies announcing stuff that will ship in half a year? It’s not as if the average customer will want to wait—and the geeks who will would likely have gotten one of those tablets anyway. Microsoft just blew it’s tablet PR load and by the time the hardware is out in the stores, people will already salivate about the next awesome Samsung, Acer, Apple, BrandX piece of hardware.
    Reply
  • Braumin - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    He just said he never got to type on it. Did you not read the article?

    "So tablets aren’t ideal for writing, but Surface is? In what way is Surface that much different than an iPad/Android tablet with a hardware keyboard accessory?"

    Um, it's pretty different, since when you actually dock it it's not some toy OS, but full fledged Windows. Real MS Office, Adobe, the ability to "print" if needed.
    Reply
  • xype - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    "He just said he never got to type on it. Did you not read the article?"

    Sure I did. How can he pass judgement, then?

    "Um, it's pretty different, since when you actually dock it it's not some toy OS, but full fledged Windows. Real MS Office, Adobe, the ability to "print" if needed."

    Ah, ok. Yeah, that makes sense—it’s what made Windows tablets sell so well thus far. Adobe apps, especially, work great on a 16:9, 1366 x 768 pixel screens, I’ve heared. And the full Office with its ribbon UI? It can only be spectacumarvelous!

    In other words: How about we wait and see instead of parroting Microsoft PR?
    Reply
  • Orktane - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    What's with the attitude? Anyway, both the machines come with either DisplayPort or HDMI out, along with full-sized USB ports. So you can either dock it or connect it with external monitors and/or keyboards. However, given I have a 10" Windows 8 tablet, I presume the 10.6" screen would be perfectly usable for day-to-day concerns - browsing, e-mailing, media-playback etc.

    Also note the key-differentiator is that both the versions include the traditional desktop environment (with one offering backward compatibility), which IMO opens up the traditional way of use (including writing) in addition to the touch-first apps.

    Now, relax.
    Reply
  • VivekGowri - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    So it was pretty easy to get typing feel on the Type Cover keyboard (the one with physical keys), and that one is pretty solid feeling. We weren't allowed to try out the Touch Cover on a working demo unit, but from a design standpoint it was ergonomically sound. I can't judge responsiveness or how steep the adjustment curve will be, but I've dealt with MS Hardware enough over the years to trust that it'll be decent at the very least, until I have some good reason not to believe that. Even taking a healthy skepticism to the Microsoft staffers talking up how great it is, it was relatively clear that a lot of effort went into making the Touch Cover a very usable keyboard.

    As for what makes Surface different - the keyboard covers are just a much more integrated version of the laptop dock idea. I personally felt like that was always too bulky in the Asus implementations (even the newer TF Prime and TF300 ones), turning what was a sleek tablet into something decidedly netbook-ish. The iPad ones are kind of garbage, I want something that's hardware connected, not Bluetooth. I don't want another separate piece with its own battery to worry about. I had two generations of Logitech's Keyboard Case, and while I could live with it, it wasn't an ideal solution. The Touch Cover is literally the same form factor as the iPad's Smart Cover, except you get a keyboard that's physically and electrically connected to the device. It's the same basic idea, taking a tablet and adding a peripheral keyboard accessory, but it's just something that seems to offer a more cohesive user experience. Hence, promising start. Because it's promising as a prototype, not because it's guaranteed to blow minds when it ships.

    Also, from what I've seen/used, IE10 Metro is far closer to a real desktop browsing environment than Safari Mobile and the ICS browser, even the Windows RT version of it.

    I don't know what prompted Microsoft to announce it now - I'm assuming if they got any farther in the manufacturing process, it'd leak and they'd lose the secrecy of it all. Something we've learned from the Apple leaks of the last few years is that once things go out to manufacturing in China, it's hard to keep stuff from slipping out of the plants and onto the net. As for why today specifically and why LA are two things I do not know the answer for.
    Reply
  • VivekGowri - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    To further expand on the text input aspect, Microsoft is taking a very different philosophy. Apple intends for people to use the onscreen keyboard primarily, or the mostly afterthought keyboard dock. For a portable keyboard, you're either relying on the touchscreen or you have to go third party and deal with a subpar experience. Apple never focused on hardware text input as part of the iPad's core values. Same with Google. ASUS and others work around that with their laptop docks, but it's still pretty evident in a lot of situations that Android simply wasn't built for use with a hardware keyboard and mouse.

    Surface was designed with the assumption that some people actually want to use their tablets for writing. The two keyboard covers are an integral part of the design and experience, something Microsoft considers vital to what Surface is and how it functions. Onscreen keyboards aren't really ideal for tablets, and Microsoft clearly recognizes that. It also helps that Windows 8 was designed with the not-insignificant number of users with keyboards and mice, too. We're going to see a lot of blurring of the lines with Windows RT and Windows 8 devices - tablets behaving like notebooks, notebooks behaving like tablets, and all manner of weird form factors. This is just one example of that.
    Reply
  • Spunjji - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    Good response, thanks for that. Hopefully the troll will be pacified! :) Reply
  • Belard - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    What is the TROLL part? He had an opinion on the facts presented about the product.

    He is not impressed.

    I am not impressed that nobody was allowed to actually use said-keyboards. at least for a FEEL for them... after all, if the STAFF is using them them, why not the public?

    It can be understood if they are work-in-progress... since these are not final.

    VivekGowri - I agree with your viewpoint on this. I don't see any negatives with the concept of the keyboard-add ons covers (expect $40~80 each).

    But I don't see MS being able to SELL these unless the Windows 8 desktop is successful. I'm very happy with Windows 7, buying an iPad was based on buying a reliable quality product. Something that Android is struggling to do and Apple does quite well. MS should have made WP7 into a tablet version way back then.

    If Windows 8 crashes and burns the way Vista did, then these MS-tablets won't sell.

    HP touchpad: FAILED : Why? While the screen was equal to the iPad (yeah!), the rest of the device had a horrible cheap plastic back. Looked cheap, felt cheap.
    Its price was on par with the iPad2, but the size of an iPad1. Almost NO apps. A useless camera since there was no app to actually use it. Its multi-tasking and keyboard get high marks. It was a bit unstable and sometimes would NOT rotate. Sold out in hours at $99 price.

    RIM's Playbook: FAILING : Why? High Blackberry price for a 7" tablet with a fraction of the apps and a 1.0 software. Sure the iPad also had teething problems, but it has matured with the iPad2 & iOS updates... and that is what you are competing against. The quality of the product is fine... but still, the device was half baked with missing email & PDA apps until almost a year later with 2.0. It sells somewhat at the $200 (okay sold).
    You needed a blackberry phone in order to have email /calender / contacts - how stupid is that? RIM is a dying company. Their new BB10 OS is very late as their customers migrate to iPhone and Android.

    Android: Surviving: Why? stable OS that is free. But hardware is problematic because of the freedom Android gives them... Once the tablet is sold, the company is done with it.

    MS is trying to do both SELL Win8RT and be like Apple at the same time. Thus, very few partners will bother... with no profit... and higher retail price than Apple. OUCH!

    Microsoft NEEDS Windows8 to be a home-run for "Surface" to swim. But I'd say 10 to 1, Windows8 will be strike 3 and she'll sink. (Me / Vista are other strikes)
    Reply

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