That’s a tablet made by Microsoft, and it’s a tablet unlike any other market: That’s the message Microsoft wanted to impart to journalists at a secretive event in Los Angeles today, and it’s exactly the thought that I’m leaving this event with.
Unfortunately, Microsoft continued its secretive streak at the event and only allowed journalists to play with the tablet for two minutes (give or take). Two minutes isn’t a very long time to form impressions or decide if this is a true iPad competitor, but here are my first thoughts.
The Surface Tablet is extremely well built. Microsoft’s lead designer Panos Panay really focused on the clean lines and the VaporMg material during the presentation, and it really doesn’t seem like he was blowing smoke. It feels very solid, but even more striking is how light it feels in hand; it feels lighter than the 1.5 pounds Microsoft has marked down on its spec sheet. It’s 9.3mm thin, which is thin, but it looks a bit thicker than the new iPad (even though the iPad is only 9.4mm). Granted it also has a full-size USB port, which makes that a bit more forgivable.
The display is bright and beautiful and looks good from all angles. Microsoft won’t share the resolution of the screen yet, but it did respond very nicely to my gestures. I was able to swipe windows in and out very swiftly and pinch out to see all the apps on the Start Screen. (If you’re looking for more on how Windows 8 works you will want to check out my review from earlier this year.)
Now for the neat tricks! I love the kickstand and how it is really nicely integrated into the design. There’s even a small place on the side of the tablet to flick it out, so you don’t have to turn it around and pull the stand out. And then there’s the special covers. Unfortunately, the Touch Cover wasn’t working, but it simply attaches to the bottom of the tablet and turns itself on. The keyboard feels rubbery, but because it is all based on touch it doesn’t actually have any give. That’s what the Type Cover is for — that’s a full keyboard with real keys.
All those things taken together add up to what can ultimately be an extremely compelling package. With Windows 8, Microsoft refused to just address the tablet market but also the laptop market. It wanted to create “no-compromise PCs” and that seems to be what the Surface is all about. It is a tablet to read on and interact with, it’s a video player when you kick up the stand and set it back, and it’s a laptop replacement when you attach the cover.
Like I said, it’s a tablet unlike any other market. I’ll just need that pricing and more than two minutes to decide it’s capable of being the best tablet on the market.