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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  • B3an - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    What a stupid comment. Theres no comparison here. Almost anything my Win 7 PC can do the x86 Surface can do, and all my USB peripherals will also work with it. At work i could even connect a 30" 2560x1600 monitor to the Surface via its DP connector. The thought of using a useless iPad for real work is utterly ridiculous. Cant even process RAW images files on that thing.
  • tuxRoller - Monday, June 18, 2012 - link

    So all ipads < 3 were not good for reading?
  • seapeople - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    Not once you've seen the new ipad.

    Sort of like getting a SSD; sure, you've learned to live with standard HDD's for many years and you can theoretically do everything you need to do with it, but once you put that SSD in there's no going back.
  • VivekGowri - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    Actually, I couldn't stand reading on the first two iPads - text just wasn't sharp enough. My iPad 3 though has turned into a glorified Kindle+iPod mashup, with occasional browsing. That's about it - I can't use it as a productivity device, so it usually just sits there unless I'm reading something.

    And going back to the original XGA iPad display after the iPad 3 is a legitimately painful experience. Once you see those individual pixels, it's difficult to unsee them.
  • mcnabney - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    And the resolution on Surface RT is about the same as iPad1&2 - unusable for reading text. 1366x768 for 10.6" vs 1024x768 for 9.7".
  • Spivonious - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    The Surface RT is 155dpi. iPad 1&2 is 132dpi. Text should be plenty clear on it, and with the resolution-independent Metro UI, every app you run will take advantage. No searching out "retina" compatible apps and dealing with blocky pixel-doubling on others.

    Surface Pro is 218dpi. Sure, it's not quite up to the third-gen iPad, but it's a much more capable device.
  • mcnabney - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    New iPad - 264
    Nexus 7 - ~190dpi

    Surface is inferior now. Imagine how inferior it will be when 1200p is the standard for 10" tablet in Q3/4?
  • Spivonious - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    And when the Surface RT is $300 and the iPad $500, I can predict which will sell better.

    I'm just hoping they can keep the Surface Pro under $1000. It would be a monster device at that price point.
  • mcnabney - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    When has MS ever sold hardware for cheap? This is going to launch in 4Q at $600 and only the fanbois and their WP7 devices will care.
  • RamarC - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    "unusable for reading text"???

    i will venture to say that there are MILLIONS of windows laptops at 1366x768 and i'm sure all those users can READ TEXT! i hate that res but my company issues THOUSANDS of laptops at that res. those companies and those users are the target market for these devices.

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