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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  • GotThumbs - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    As this would be a very expensive "TOY", I suggest that you do not treat this as an Stretch Armstrong toy. If you feel it's inevitable that you will break it....don't buy it or learn to take better care of your items.

    It just astounds me the number of readers that overlook the focus and point of this product. It's not a toy to be tossed, so if you have butter fingers....don't buy it. If your work involves heavy computing or special software like CAD, then don't expect to do serious work on it. If your a hard core gamer...then don't buy this as its NOT designed as a gaming system. This device is designed to meet the needs of the largest group of consumers, who typically just check email, FB, surf the net, do some light work within the Office Suite. It will be fine as a net-book/laptop replacement for many. It WILL provide greater office productivity than the IPAD does, but it will not replace a desktop computer for anyone who uses software such as CAD, SQL Server, etc.

    People, Please be realistic in what this is intended to do....they are NOT intended to be work-stations, they are NOT designed to be toys for your 4 year old (Although many parents will). The are NOT designed to as durable as a Samsonite.

    I apologize for the tangent, but it's just Soooooo annoying how quick the whiners of the world jump in. I challenge all you whiners to design and build a better product while maintaining a competitive retail price. When you have a consumer ready product, then your bashing will have merit. Until then, your just an annoying fly in the room.

    Best wishes for everyone else.
    Reply
  • mcnabney - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    This item has one moving part, the hinge. And it is integrated. If it fails, good luck getting it repaired. Laptops do get abused and are generally sturdy. I'm not saying Surface needs to be a Toughbook, but I can see the hinge being a common point of failure.

    And yes, these are toys.
    Reply
  • JKflipflop98 - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    Thanks for the detailed analysis of the one moving part. Since you seem to know so much more than the team of engineers that have been working on this thing for the last year or so, why don't you enlighten us all as to exactly which part is prone to failure?

    We'll pass that on to microsoft. In the meantime, you should probably heed the words of the guy you're replying to.
    Reply
  • mcnabney - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    After the RRoD, I trust Microsoft engineers about as far as I can throw them. Reply
  • N4g4rok - Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - link

    The notion that any aspect of a future product is doomed to fail because former products have had problems is just plain ignorant.

    There will be a fair share of lemons when it comes to the hinge, but for the most part, it will work just fine. Let the first few hundred tablets come out, and we'll see how well it holds up.
    Reply
  • csroc - Monday, June 18, 2012 - link

    If they were selling just a screen, maybe it would be, maybe it wouldn't be. From what they've shown it's got some things the iPad doesn't, so should the iPad be cheaper then?

    There's not one killer feature but if this thing comes with a 600dpi pen like I've read then that alone is a big bonus. I don't have a tablet yet, nobody has hit the right enough of the right buttons yet but a pen is important to me if I'm spending more than a couple hundred bucks on it. Makes it much more useful for me than as strictly a consumption device. Those covers are rather brilliant as well.
    Reply
  • csroc - Monday, June 18, 2012 - link

    I should specify about the killer feature, I mean there's not one killer feature that sells me on one tablet over another. It's a combination of things.

    On another note though, on the UI side of things I've been intrigued by the things I've been reading about the Win 8 tablet UI. It seems like a more comprehensive and (hopefully) more effective tablet interface than IOS or Android.
    Reply
  • mcnabney - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    Yeah, the 600dpi pen is for the Win8Pro model (which the scuttlebutt places at $1200 MSRP!). So, no, that is not an iPad competitor - it is an ultrabook competitor. Reply
  • pxavierperez - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    And if you think that an iPad is strictly a consumption device then it would be equally useless for you to buy Microsoft Surface with a stylus or not. A kindle would be perfect for you. People have been using the iPad to compose music, draw, edit photos, and write notes. Reply
  • Spunjji - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    No need to be so defensive, there. The point he made is that a decent stylus is what makes it a viable production device for *him*. I have a similar requirement, which is why I always found Apple's anti approach to active styluses a little disappointing. By analogy - I've seen the Mona Lisa drawn in MS Paint, but that doesn't necessarily mean I have no reason for wanting Photoshop. :) Reply

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