The battle of the tablets: Microsoft takes on Apple
Microsoft has put months of rumours to bed by announcing its own family of tablet computers, called Surface.
It wasn't the supposedly leaked Xbox tablet spectators were expecting to be unveiled at Microsoft's recent press event, but rather a Windows 8-based tablet with a choice of Intel or ARM-based processors. We can expect to see them for sale in the autumn.
Featuring some impressive technical specs and a number of interesting innovations you'd think had come out of the Apple Campus, Surface may signal the true start of the tablet wars. But can it really outdo the iPad?
Here's a look at Microsoft's new tablets and whether Apple is likely to be feeling any Surface tension over their rival's new kit.
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On the Surface
Two separate Surface tablets are being released: one running Windows 8 Pro with an Intel chipset, and another running Windows RT (a 'light' version of Windows 8) with an ARM-based chipset.
The lighter and thinner (9.3mm) ARM-based Surface is more comparable to Apple's iPad, whereas the heavier and thicker (13.5mm) Intel-based Surface is touted as a fully-fledged PC and more akin to the ultrabooks currently being released by many PC manufacturers.
Both versions will one-up the iPad with their 10.6" HD touchscreen displays, and both will feature USB and HDMI ports, unlike Apple's tablet, allowing users to connect external devices.
The ARM Surface will come in 32GB and 64GB versions while the Windows 8 Pro Surface will come in 64GB and 128GB versions, and is likely to cost more as a result.
All models are expected to be released at the same time as the official launch of the Windows 8 operating system. Rumours put that release at around October, but Microsoft has confirmed nothing either way.
It seems like MS has taken some cues from its main rival when it comes to Surface's design, implementing some cool and useful features.
For example, Surface has a screen cover similar to the iPad's magnetic 'Smart Cover', but with a unique twist. Unfold Surface's magnetic 'TypeCover' and you'll find it has a pressure sensitive keyboard and trackpad built into it.
Embedded in the back of Surface's 'VaporMg' shell is a 'kickstand' which lets you prop the tablet up at 22 degrees. Combine that with the TypeCover keyboard and trackpad and you have a traditional full-blown laptop set-up.
The Intel Windows 8 Pro version also supports highly accurate, 600dpi "digital ink" handwriting support using a stylus which magnetises to the casing when not in use
Can it compete with the iPad?
Surface has several features which could make it a real alternative to Apple's wonder tablet.
The Microsoft offering tablet will certainly be able to do things the iPad can't. For example, it will support Flash, which means Flash-based web content like video players which don't work on the iPad will work on Surface.
Being Windows-based, Surface will support programs like Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop. Apple doesn't support MS Office and only has light versions of programs like Photoshop.
Surface will have external connectivity for USB devices and HD displays via its HDMI port right out of the box, unlike the iPad, which requires Apple's own adapter.
With Surface you'll be able to transfer data to and from flash drives or external hard drives, a feature the iPad has been criticised for not having. Surface even has a Micro SD card slot.
Its 10.6" screen trumps the iPad's 9.7" display, but weighs slightly more at 676g (ARM) and 903g (Intel) compared to the iPad's 662g (Wi-fi and 4G version).
The ARM Surface is slightly svelter than the iPad at 9.3mm compare to the iPad's 9.4mm. At the moment it's unclear if Surface supports 3G or 4G mobile networking, unlike the iPad, which supports 3G and 4G LTE networking.
Front and back cameras will put Surface on a par with the iPad in terms of video recording and conferencing.
What about pricing?
No official release date or pricing has been announced for Surface tablets, but Microsoft said the pricing would be "competitive".
You can pick up the basic model (16GB, wi-fi) of the new iPad for £399, so expect the 32GB ARM Surface to be somewhere in that region, if not slightly higher.
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