Reported by: Nicholas Mihailov
Microsoft is betting big on their new Surface tablet line which is contending against rival Apple iPad. Of the two unveiled, the Surface Pro distinctly stands apart bringing in a Samsung Galaxy Note like appeal.
The Surface tablet line comes in two flavors, the Surface, running Windows RT on an ARM-based NVIDIA Tegra processor and the Surface Pro, running Windows 8 on an Intel Ivy Bridge processor.
Microsoft had on Wednesday announced the completion of Windows 8 version. Come August 15, developers using their MSDN subscription can download the final version of Windows 8 whereas IT counterparts can get their hands on Windows 8 Enterprise Edition via Volume License Center with Software Assurance starting from August 16. The rest of the world has to wait until October 26 to see the new OS integrated on their favourite Microsoft device.
So how does the Surface tablet stack up against the iPad, the record breaking market leader? Surface is a technological quantum leap for its dual role as a tablet and desktop PC. The same cannot be told of Apple iPad. Features side, Apple still tops in sales. Apple CEO Tim Cook in April said his company sold more than 67 million iPads since the launch of the device in early 2010. For Microsoft, it is a gargantuan task to make Surface click like iPad.
For consumers looking for easy computing in terms of browsing the Web, checking emails, social networking, video streaming and trying out apps, Surface RT is the best bet. As for Surface Pro, it has all the likings of a desktop or laptop device as this device comes with latest laptop processor that is same as Intel Core i5 found in ultrabooks. Surface Pro doesn’t target casual users. It is a stunning device for enterprise needs, and is expected to come with a price tag close to $1000.
A major plus point for Microsoft Surface is that the pro version runs the actual Windows 8 OS, unlike the iPad that runs on iOS, which is just a shade of the actual Mac OS X.
Getting to processor, Apple iPad’s A5X processor is manufactured using 45 nanometer architecture which was used in Intel and AMD CPU’s way back in 2008. And A5X is 310 percent larger than A4 processor that powered the first generation iPad. But the Intel’s Ivy Bridge processor which is a Intel Core i5 is based on the 32 nm Westmere shrink of the Nehalem microarchitecture. The smaller architecture implies a smaller processor die, but lower power consumption and less heat. The processor is optimised for battery life without compromising on performance. In fact comparing Surface Pro with Apple iPad seems pointless as Mid-2011 MacBook Air models used Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processors of varying speed with 2 GB or 4 GB of standard RAM and 64 GB, 128 GB or 256 GB of internal flash memory for storage. The equal competitor for Apple iPad would be Surface RT model which undoubtedly fits the case.
Unlike the others, dont mistaken Surface Pro to be a gaming machine due to the chipset found on it. The device is a gaming medium only on a smaller level in contrast to other high-powered gaming devices. However, Intel-based Surface has all the necessary requirements to play a plethora of PC titles as developers are beginning to offer support for Intel’s Ivy Bridge on-board graphics. And a game like Civ 5 would not be a hassle for Surface Pro whereas iPad can’t manage Civ 4 or Civ 5 versions, according to Eric Neustadter, a Xbox Live Operations Gaming expert. There is a USB 3.0 used in Pro version as the core logic chipset of Intel’s Ivy Bridge chips support the standard ones whereas Windows RT version of Surface uses USB 2.0, which is same as Apple iPad’s latest version. Inclusion of two USB 3.0 port should offer a perfect platform for gamers who want to use their gaming mouse in tandem with the keyboard cover.
Not surprisingly, Surface Pro can be considered as both a mini laptop and a high-end tablet that can act as an hybrid device giving tough competition to Samsung Galaxy Note line. Samsung Galaxy Note bridges the gap between smartphones and tablets. It’s uniqueness was extolled by both reviewers and consumers in different markets. For Microsoft’s Surface, a major drawback comes in the form of apps. It’s rival Samsung Galaxy Note is powered by Android operating system which has more than 600,000 apps. All the more, analysts point to the advantage of Android being a multi-channel, multi-carrier OS.
Delving into the Surface Pro specifications, it is worth noting that it has Metro interface. And existing desktop applications can only be used in Pro version of Surface while RT would not support it. The Windows RT versions only run Metro apps, while the Windows 8 tablets run older Windows applications as well. If Microsoft’s tablet venture has to shoot up high, then the company’s Windows Store should have desirable and popular apps available during the launch. Windows 8 tablets are full-fledged computers capable of running both tablet apps and full computer applications, there is no stopping this grandeur device. Clearly it will be a unique venture for Microsoft just as Galaxy Note is to Samsung. Going by the info available, the lack of apps is not a minor concern. Apps play an important part in the tablet market to date. This is why Apple still remains in the top.
Meanwhile, if the tablet runs on “.exe” then it can run BlueStacks App Player beta which is an an Android app emulator for Windows XP, Vista, and 7. The software gives access to Android apps on the Android Market, GetJar, the Amazon AppStore or 1Mobile Market, and even allows one to run them on a desktop. App Player could be handy for upcoming Windows 8-based touch tablets. If the Windows Store is missing a Metro-style version, one can turn to the BlueStacks App Player, making Android apps run on a traditional Windows desktop environment. Using BlueStacks one can run all exe files, windows arm apps and Android apps.
Tablets are great toys for showing content, but they are poor tools for generating content even if you are great at typing on the screen. TabTimes describes it as a nice freebie that “attaches to the Surface magnetically and essentially doubles up as a multi-touch keyboard with trackpad”. Adding to it is the magnesium kickstand which will be useful for watching videos and for making presentations. There is also stylus accessory for annotating documents and filling up of forms.
What about battery? A report by Computer World divulges that the battery life of Windows RT Surface is in range of 7.5 hour and powered by 31.4 Wh. There is 42 Wh battery on Windows 8 Surface Pro compared to 42.5 Wh on Apple for its latest version which is able to last for 10 hours while browsing the web, watch videos or listen to music. However it is to be noted that iPad 2 which has a rating of 25 Wh yields close to 10 hours of battery life.
As for cost, Microsoft may price the tablets competitively to snag customers away from the rivals. Although Surface Pro may attract enterprise division, Surface RT version has to sell at a price close to Apple iPad which begins at $499. However, based on rumors, as of late July 2012, the most recent estimates of pricing are $599 for the lower end model and $999 for the Pro model. The Windows RT Surface is expected launch first while the Pro version may ship three months later, meaning we may hear about it in CES 2013.
Glancing through the features, Surface Pro doesn’t really have to compete with iPad and ultrabook. It can rather stand unique and could be the next big thing for technophiles. As anticipation mounts for what promises to be an enthralling competition, it would be interesting to see what critics, industry experts and consumers have to say about it.