Microsoft’s Surface Drops a Veil

With just over a week to go to the launch of Windows 8, Microsoft has revealed the pricing on the first in its range of tablets, the Surface RT.

The price starts at $499 for a bare-bones Surface RT tablet with 32GB of storage and 2GB memory, but without a touch keyboard/cover. That puts it on a par with Apple’s iPad, or to put it another way: not cheap, but premium-priced.

The Surface RT is now available for pre-order in eight countries. Inevitably, this does not include the Netherlands, and there’s no word on whether availability here will come later, or, indeed, ever.

The announcement also revealed a little more detail about the specifications of the Surface RT and the Surface Pro models. There’s also a comparison chart.

While both models have sensors (ambient light, accelerometer, gyroscope and compass) built in, neither model has a GPS sensor. This strikes me as a rather surprising omission, particularly since some iPad models have GPS. Using Bing maps on the Surface would seem to be a very limited experience if the Surface has no means of discovering your location. I suppose that, with the Surface Pro, I could always use my GPS Logger connected via Bluetooth. I could install the Windows driver for the logger onto a Surface Pro; something that I don’t think can be done with the Surface RT. Still, on further reflection, this lack of GPS capability may not be a showstopper. I rather think that 3G and GPS capabilities go together in the chipsets, and since neither of the Surface models come with 3G built-in, then GPS is also missing. And as for the Bing maps experience, perhaps the Surfaces can do Wi-Fi positioning to provide location coordinates. We shall see.

One other thing I notice in the specs for the Surface Pro (which will be available “soon”) is that it lists the CPU as “3rd generation Intel Core i5 Processor with Intel HD Graphics 4000”. That also is a bit odd: using a Core i5 processor, rather than the next generation Intel Atom processor, the Z2760, codenamed Clover Trail. The selling point of the Atom Z2760 is that it is able to take advantage of the new “Connected Standby” capability in Windows 8, which allows longer usage time between battery charging. While the Surface RT, like all ARM-based devices will be able to exploit Connected Standby, Microsoft’s Intel-based tablet, the Surface Pro, will not, because it uses the Intel Core i5. Other manufacturers will have Atom Z2760-based tablets on the market as early as next week, e.g. Samsung, with its Series 5 Slate.

I think I’ll wait and see how the tablet market develops. In the meantime, my desktop will get upgraded to Windows 8 next week.

Update: it’s clear that many people are totally confused about the differences between the Windows 8 operating system (used on the Surface Pro), and the Windows RT operating system (used on the Surface RT). For example, I saw a question on a photography forum where someone asked if the Surface RT would be powerful enough to run Adobe Lightroom.

Many people assume that Windows RT will run traditional Windows applications. Nope, it can’t; not unless the application developer recompiles the software code for the different hardware (ARM instead of Intel/AMD). In addition, this recompilation is not always possible, because the Windows programming environment for the ARM hardware is a subset of what is available for the Intel/AMD platform.

We will see next week just what the limitations are in detail. For example, one question I have is whether the Surface RT will have the same level of handwriting recognition that Windows 8 has. I suspect that it won’t.

Update 2: AnandTech has a comprehensive review of the Surface RT that is worth reading. I particularly like the fact that Anand compares the performance of the Surface RT with an unnamed (but shortly to be released) Windows 8 Tablet that uses the Atom Z2760. It’s interesting that the Atom out-performs the ARM-based Surface RT. Plus, of course, the Atom will run all the traditional Windows desktop application software and the Surface RT can’t.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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5 Responses to Microsoft’s Surface Drops a Veil

  1. boma23 says:

    There’s a really good article echoing your thoughts, and raising some other concerns on the Surface on Zdnet:

    Finally, I’ve put Win8 on my main work laptop this week, having beta tested it and dropped it previously (unlike my refusing to let go of the Win7 beta), and it’s actually going OK despit eh learning curve, but due to one thing – the multi touch gesture support on my new Aspire One 756-2623. WIthout this multi touch support for scrolling around, Win8 would be a nightmare. If going desktop, then I recommend getting one of the new multi touch MS mice to work with it.

    Also there’s a Windows Upgrade site offering a very cheap upgrade($15 in US), if you bought a Win7 machine anytime since June:

    In fact, at $240 from Acer’s ebay outlet, and a $15 upgrade to Win8 this little Acer is the Surface’s main problem – this slimline 11.6″ (“celeron” i3) dual core netbook flies along, has a full keyboard, and with the multi touch keypad makes Win8 perfectly useable.

    I don’t see the point in paying an extra $300 plus to simply get my screen dirty with smudges!!

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      Thanks, Dom. I must admit, I’ve been using the Windows 8 Previews on my Desktop since February, with just an old-fashioned mouse and keyboard, and I’m perfectly comfortable with Windows 8. In fact, now when I go to a Windows 7 machine, I have to consciously think about what I’m doing.

      BTW, did you see that Microsoft’s Customer Support are now starting to offer to migrate your Xbox Live accounts from one country to another? The message has finally started to sink in…

      • boma23 says:

        yes i did, thanks Geoff. I’ve got the link – I’m just prepping myself for another hour or two of going through a support case, which I’m way too busy for currently – after 10 hours in front of screens for work, I’m baulking at the thought of even checking Facebook for 5 mins afterwards! It will need to be done before the new Win8 phones arrives though… really looking forward to them, and think Win8/Win phone will have a much bigger crossover as a result!

  2. Al Feersum says:

    I think MS are using the Surface to showcase MS Surface technology – now PixelSense – (which has been around in one form or another for around 10 years, and just happened to have merged it with the latest ‘doze kernel to provide a UI to an OS.

    It’s up to other manufacturers (e.g. mobile technology partner Nokia) to produce a iPad killer. Whilst MS have said they’re going into the hardware market, they’ve either missed the point of a mobile computing device, or they’ve got something else in the works. Surely they could have plumbed in a 3/4G+GPS tranceiver – unless they are expecting the compass, gyroscope and accelerometer to able to track position… which would be really cool – the stuff of SciFi in the palm of your hand.

    Anyway, I’m not going to bother with a G1 Surface – I’ll go with a Lumia 920 though – and should I want a tablet, I will go for a ‘doze one, but one that does what I expect it to (maybe I’ll buy a hybrid PC with Touch support).

  3. Pingback: Scratching the Surface | Geoff Coupe's Blog

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