TechWatch: Scratching Microsoft’s Surface

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With Microsoft’s high-profile debut of Surface yesterday here in Los Angeles it’s no longer a question of when the computer giant will enter the lucrative tablet market, but if their product will either challenge or possibly dethrone Apple’s iPad. This will undoubtedly be a topic of debate for some time, but one thing’s for sure: with the market share Microsoft commands among desktops and laptops, they aren’t just aiming to compete with Apple, but ultimately dominate.

In the interim, the Los Angeles Times has done a very nice side-by-side comparison of Surface and iPad. It’s verdict? They top each other in certain aspects, but Microsoft ignominiously wins in the rather troubling category of unanswered questions — the biggest of them all being how much will Surface cost. In revealing Surface yesterday all the company said was that when it becomes available sometime in the fall, the price will compete with other tablets on the market. That’s one heck of a cliffhanger with which to leave consumers. Depending on the model, iPads run between $499 and $829. If Microsoft’s definition of “competitive” is higher than those price points that could be a hurdle for Surface v1.0 to overcome, and put a serious slow-down to any hopes of taking an immediate bite out of Apple’s tablet dominance.

Read the complete LA Times story here or find a specifications roundup comparison after the jump:

Apple’s tablet runs on iOS, its established mobile operating system. Come fall — around Surface’s scheduled launch date — it will upgrade to iOS 6.
Both versions of Microsoft’s Surface will run on Windows 8, but the Times says there will be two variations of the upcoming operating system. The simpler version of the Surface will run on Windows RT, which is an operating system Microsoft has built for tablets, while the more powerful Surface will run a full Windows 8 OS.

A 3G iPad, which is the heaviest form, weighs 1.46 pounds while the lightest Surface will be 1.49 pounds. The Windows 8 Surface will be much heavier, coming in at nearly 2 pounds.

Surface both wins and loses in this category, according to the LA Times. The Windows RT version is 9.3 millimeters thick, compared to iPad’s 9.4-millimeter depth. The Windows 8 version measures a much-thicker 13.5 millimeters.

The LA Times calls it a draw here despite differences. Both models of Surface have 10.6-inch high-definition displays although only the Windows 8 version has full 1080p HD. Meanwhile, iPad’s screen is smaller — 9.7 inches — but with Apple’s Retina display the resolution is higher, at 2,048 by 1,536 pixels.

Winner: iPad, with its 42.5-watt-hour battery that can run the device as long as 10 hours. Microsoft didn’t specify how many hours its devices will stay powered, but the Windows RT Surface will have a battery with 31.5 watt-hours while the Windows 8 version will have 42 watt-hours.

The iPad runs on Apple’s custom-designed A5X chip. The Windows RT will be running on an Nvidia Tegra chip, and the Windows 8 Surface will be running on the most powerful chip, the Intel Ivy Bridge.

The LA Times gives Surface the win in this category. The iPad arguably has two ports: one for its charger cable and the other for a Micro-SIM for the purpose of 3G connectivity. The Surface, on the other hand, will have microSD slots, USB slots — including USB 3.0 for the Windows 8 — and a Micro HD Video connector, which on the Windows 8 is a Mini DisplayPort Video port.

The LA Times is kind in ruling this a tie, but Microsoft didn’t go into any details regarding its devices’ cameras. The iPad has one camera on either of its sides, with one capable of shooting 1080p video. From the Surface’s pictures, it looks like it, too, will have two cameras, but their specifications weren’t made available.

The Windows RT Surface is available in two forms, a 32 GB version and a 64 GB version. The Windows 8 model comes in a 64 GB version and a 128 GB version. The iPad is available in 16 GB, 32 GB and 64 GB increments, which are available in Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi and 3G versions.

Apple builds and separately sells the iPad Smart Cover and Smart Case, which offer some protection for the device and include a cool feature that lets the iPad turn on by simply flipping the cover open. But the LA Times feels that Microsoft may have one-upped Apple here. The Surface not only includes a built-in stand that flips open, but Microsoft has also built a cover for the Surface that doubles as a keyboard for its tablet. The question unanswered at this point by Microsoft is whether the keyboard cover will be standard equipment, or an additional purchase.

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