Microsoft’s mystery event is finally over and considering the flurry of leaks that piled up ahead of this evening’s press conference, we can’t say were entirely surprised by the announcement of the company’s first own-brand tablet. BGR was on hand reporting live as Microsoft took the wraps off the Surface tablet, a 9.3 millimeter-thick magnesium slate intended to set the stage for Windows 8 and Windows RT. We managed to fight our way through the crowd for a quick hands-on look, and Microsoft’s new tablet shows some serious promise. Hit the jump for more and be sure to check out our hands-on photo gallery linked below.
First, there’s the design of the device itself. Microsoft has tried to make Surface into a Swiss Army Knife type of tablet that features both a kickstand and a snap-on keyboard. The good news is that neither of these features are terribly obtrusive as the kickstand just slides right back into the tablet and the keyboard can be either snapped off or flipped over like a book.
There are two types of keyboards that Microsoft is selling with the device, called the Touch Cover and the Type Cover. The Touch Cover is a pressure-sensitive pad that can pick up on your keystrokes and is only 3 millimeters thick. The Type Cover is more of a traditional keyboard with fully embossed keys that press down and is slightly thicker at 5 millimeters.
I have to admit that the Touch Cover felt somewhat alien to me at first when I was playing around with it, but that could be due to the fact that I didn’t have a lot of time to play around with it — Microsoft was really herding reporters quickly through the line. The Type Cover did feel quite natural as a keyboard should, however, so at the very least, there should be one strong option for people who prefer traditional keyboards.
The tablet’s 10.6-inch display screen looked gorgeous, although Microsoft was being weirdly evasive when asked what the exact screen resolution was. The tablet’s “VaporMg” casing is extremely solid, and the tablet feels very strong in your hands. Despite being 9.3 millimeters thick, the Windows RT version of the Surface is in no danger of bending under pressure.
In terms of software, Windows RT brings some cool new capabilities to the tablet form factor, including the ability to run two apps on the same screen simultaneously. One Microsoft rep, for instance, demonstrated how to have Outlook email on one half of the screen while having sports scores on the other half. And of course, the home screen on both versions of the Surface tablet features Windows 8’s Metro UI that is significantly more intuitive, colorful and user-friendly than past editions of Windows.
So what’s the bottom line here? Well, Microsoft didn’t let me spend nearly enough time with its Surface tablets to write a comprehensive review and since the devices are still a long way from being released, I’m going to assume that’s because Microsoft is still putting a lot of finishing touches on them. But what I saw looked really intriguing, and Microsoft has at least in concept created a tablet computer that can also double as a PC. While this alone certainly won’t be enough to help Microsoft compete with the mighty Apple iPad, it does breathe some much-needed life into Microsoft’s mobile product line.