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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  • Belard - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    MS to partners: Screw you.

    Actually, I'm a bit surprised they didn't just do a deal with NOKIA.

    Lets see... ipad2 = $360~400. Android 3~4x = $300~400. MS-tablet-arm = $300~400.
    MS-partnet-sucker-ARM = $400~500.

    Keep in mind, these things may sell just before Christmas or Jan~FEB 2013 (if we survive 2012)... then around march comes the iPad4

    With Win8 PC sales tanking... people may not want to try it out.
    Love Nokia 800 / Wp7 interface... I use it everyday on my Android phone.

    @ImSpartacus : Microsoft makes 80% of their profit from Windows/Office... in which Windows is becoming nothing more than a support system for Office. So the Xbox line maybe bringing in about 8~10%?

    Also, why call stick on an XBOX LIVE tile on Windows8 *UNLESS* it can actually play all xbox games?
    Reply
  • Spivonious - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    That $85 price was never proven to be from a reliable source. It also doesn't make sense at all, given that the big OEMs get Windows licenses now for about $5 per copy. I'd imagine the actual price for WinRT licenses to be about the same. Reply
  • mcnabney - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    Wrong.

    The big OEMs pay between $25-40 for Windows. HOWEVER, RT includes full versions of Office too. $85 would actually be a huge price break.
    Reply
  • solipsism - Monday, June 18, 2012 - link

    Since this is a "full PC" I expect it to be completely upgradable like a PC should be¡ Reply
  • Airwick - Monday, June 18, 2012 - link

    I guess that excludes most laptops and even some OEM desktops from qualifying in the "PC" category, then. Reply
  • mcnabney - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    Most laptops can have memory upgraded and hard drives swapped/replaced (perhaps with an SSD!). Those with optical drives can swap it out for a thin BD drive. Reply
  • Spivonious - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    The Surface tablets have torx screws on the bottom. They're clearly there in the images. I'd imagine you can upgrade memory and SSDs in these just like an ultrabook. Reply
  • steven75 - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    Keep on dreaming. Reply
  • mcnabney - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    Maybe the battery, but didn't you look at the other pictures? Everything is soldered directly to the board. Reply
  • Airwick - Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - link

    He did say "completely upgradeable," though. That's just not going to happen--form factor becomes limiting at laptop sizes, let alone in a would-be tablet. Reply

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