Technologizer

Microsoft Surface: The Price Is Out but Mysteries Remain

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Harry McCracken / TIME.com

Microsoft's Steven Sinofsky and Panos Panay show off the Surface tablet to journalists at an event in Redmond, Wash. on October 15, 2012

During Monday’s press event, I spent enough time fiddling with the Touch Cover and kickstand to be impressed by them. But my biggest question about Surface in general involved another aspect of the cover: I wanted to know how its almost-flat, one-piece keyboard felt.

When I attended the Surface announcement in Los Angeles last June, I took the praise Panay lavished on the Touch Cover seriously enough that I wondered if it might render conventional mechanical keyboards irrelevant–even though Microsoft will offer a mechanical model, the $129 Type Cover, as an option. (It’s thicker than the Touch Cover but strikingly thin by any other standard.)

Surface Touch Cover

Microsoft

This time, I got brief hands-on time with a Surface with Touch Cover in one of Microsoft’s labs. I was standing up and it was on a pedestal, so it was hardly a real-world scenario. But it was enough to leave me thinking that the Touch Cover is less of a mechanical-keyboard killer than a pleasing upgrade from an on-screen keyboard.
The keys don’t have travel in the traditional sense, but they’re gentler on the fingertips than thudding your hands against glass. They feel spacious, and there’s no need to switch into special modes to get at numbers or punctuation. I started out making lots of typos and was making fewer of them a few minutes later. And the entirety of the screen was devoted to documents, rather than a sliver above the on-screen keyboard.
Overall, for a keyboard that barely increases the tablet’s thickness and weight, and which can be folded back like a magazine cover, it was remarkably good. But I understand why Microsoft will offer the Type Cover as well.

Even Sinofsky thinks that plasticky little keys still have their place: He told the assembled journalists that he uses the Touch Cover most of the time, but sometimes swaps in the Type Cover for keyboard-intensive work.

After letting us try out the Touch Cover, Microsoft whisked us off of its campus and drove us to a Microsoft Store — one particular Microsoft Store, known as Store Zero. It’s not open to the public: Instead, it’s a concept store where the company tries out ideas before putting them before real people. It’s full-sized and full of real stuff (as well, in some cases, as foam models posing as computers.) We were there to learn about the role the Microsoft Stores will play in the Surface rollout.

The tablet is so new that it will benefit from the sort of explanation that a well-trained Microsoft Store employee might provide. But the still-dinky retail chain is all out of proportion with the grandeur of Surface’s ambitions. There are currently 27 locations, all in the U.S., with another four scheduled to open by the end of the month. (Apple, by contrast, operates around 400 Apple Stores around the world, with more than 50 Apple Stores in California alone.) Microsoft will supplement its permanent outposts with another 34 pop-up “holiday stores” in the U.S. and Canada, which will be open for Surface’s debut, then go away.

Store Zero has already been bedecked as all Microsoft Stores will be come October 26, when Surface and Windows 8 go on sale. To a degree I wasn’t anticipating, it had been converted into a Surface Store. The entire middle of the place, from front to back, was devoted to Surfaces and Surface signage; other Windows 8 computers from other manufacturers were relegated to the sides.

Consumers who buy a Surface at a Microsoft store will get personalized “white glove” introductions to their new Surface Tablet, including an unboxing by a store employee, help setting up a Microsoft Account if necessary and a walkthrough of the Windows Store app marketplace.
Those store staffers will also be responsible for telling shoppers how Surface relates to Windows 8 tablets and various forms of laptop/tablet hybrids. They’ll need to explain what software Surface’s Windows RT operating system can run (new programs designed for the Windows 8-style interface) and can’t run (everything else ever written for Windows, except for Office 2013, which comes bundled with it).

Plenty of pundits–me included–are worrying that millions of normal folk who don’t spend much time reading tech blogs will be confused by Windows RT and may buy Surface tablets under faulty assumptions. At Monday’s event, Sinofsky pretty much brushed aside the concern. “I don’t think a lot of people go to an Apple Store and stare at an iPad and ask if Mac Quicken runs on it,” he said.

Starting a week from Friday, we’ll begin to get a sense of whether pundits like me were fretting unnecessarily, or if Sinofsky was too blasé. In fact, the response of consumers in general–including ones who understand exactly what Surface is and isn’t–is going to be fascinating.

It’s still far from a given whether Windows RT will have what it takes to be an even modestly successful alternative to the iPad juggernaut, but the Surface hardware looks like it’s the thoroughly polished product Microsoft worked so very hard to create. If people don’t want Windows RT on a device this nice, it’s hard to imagine that they’ll want it on anything.

MORE: Sony’s Tap 20: This Desktop PC Thinks It’s a Tablet

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25 comments
Joe Morales
Joe Morales

Microsoft is no stranger to making beautiful hardware (Zune HD), their problem though has always been their marketing execution—I, for one, hope Surface succeeds and reaches the mind of consumers!

Big Screen
Big Screen

"bad ones don’t become landmarks simply because they’re affordable."

I could argue this is exactly the case for the first gen kindle fire.  It was barely usable btw the crippled app store and crazy lag out of thebox

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

At the Microsoft Surface Web site, it says the Surface RT works (exclusively) with software from the "Windows Store".

Not dissimilar to Apples IPad and ITunes.

Only one problem, I cant find a "Windows Store" that references any software for the Surface RT at all.

Perhaps a small oversight.

Alex
Alex

my 64gb Ipad cost me $599 plus a logitech keyboard that was $50 and a case $20, as compared the $599 version comes with a keyboard/case cover which is the one i'll be getting so not to shabby

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

The Surface RT is priced exactly the same as the full sized IPad.

The IPad has 3 things going for it: a huge and fully mature and very well supported set of Apps, An excellent user interface and a much higher resolution very high quality screen.

The RT's interface is brand new, has no history, it's performance is untested and App quality and quantity are unknown.

And in spite of Microsoft's defense of their surface bonded technology, the higher resolution screen is much more desirable.

It is going to be a hard slog for the Surface RT.

Tanmay Deathberry Pradhan
Tanmay Deathberry Pradhan

Sh*tpad doesn't really hold a candle to this. Mainly because of iOS. No Flash, no USB.

Oh, and Apple Maps, really, what more could you want ?

I ma gonna buy a Surface Pro. Yay.

Mike Scarpiello
Mike Scarpiello

Wouldn't they be better off to sell these as loss leaders to better penetrate an incredibly crowded market?

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

Actually Microsoft said between three and eight hundred dollars and based on that a lot of people figured the entry level RT would be around three hundred and the Pro more around eight.

At this price the unproven and as yet unsupported Windows 8 RT is not going to have a large crowd standing in line for them.

Most of those who are interested are going to wait and see how the functionality of Windows RT develops or, better still wait for the Surface Pro due out in another 3 months which promises to be a real honest to God Ultrabook with full Windows computer functionality.

This Christmas is going to be about the seven inch tablet market, and a ten inch Surface RT was never really a candidate, their pricing has reinforced that view.

(This was censored by "DISCUS" for using dollar signs and numbers.)

(GET RID OF DISCUS, it is garbage !!!!)

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

Actually Microsoft said between $300.00 and $800.00 and based on that a lot of people figured the entry level RT would be around $300.00 and the Pro more around $800.00.

At this price the unproven and as yet unsupported Windows 8 RT is not going to have a large crowd standing in line for them.Most of those who are interested are going to wait and see how the functionality of Windows RT develops or, better still wait for the Surface Pro due out in another 3 months which promises to be a real honest to God Ultrabook with full Windows computer functionality.

This Christmas is going to be about the 7+" tablet market, and a 10" Surface RT was never really a candidate, their pricing has reinforced that view.

Quryous
Quryous

Interesting, but I'll be waiting a few years. Need time for everything to sort out, sizes to become more standard, prices to drop like a rock, better color cases, add an actual numeric keypad, smoother software, RT versions to go away, Galaxy Note 2 like apps and stylus,  things like that. See me about this time in 2015.

JohnCz
JohnCz

Love the design and potential of Surface.  I still haven't decided which companion device I'm getting, either Surface or a Thinkpad Tablet 2.  I'm leaning towards the ThinkPad Tablet 2 because it supports an active digitzer / stylus.  However, Surface's built-in kick stand and keyboard cover have the potential to win me over.

As far as retail presence, Microsoft will have to announce something beyond their 27 permanent amp; 34 holiday kiosks and online stores if they plan to sell a couple million units.

Joseph Benfante Jr.
Joseph Benfante Jr.

Fucking Fail. Way too expensive for the RT. 699+ should been starting price for Surface PRO with the keypad... cant believe i wasted so much time supporting this thing.

Eric K. Holbrook
Eric K. Holbrook

Well the theory with "apps" is that unlike a mac and ipad which are two entirely different ecosystems, the apps that run on the surface will run on Windows 8 desktop and if you have the surface "pro", it will run all your desktop apps as well. So basically it's a laptop. The low-end Surface with the ARM based CPU will not run x86 apps. To be honest, it's a bit muddled, but that's the going theory as I understand it. The "Cheap" surface is a tablet, tablet apps. That I believe will run on Windows 8 desk as well. The expensive Surface will do it all.  

Eric K. Holbrook
Eric K. Holbrook

What's wonky here is that they give the impression in the opening shot that the keyboard is a separate piece you carry around with you... instead of being the cover. Sort of lost me on that a bit. I would have had the guy open the thing as one piece, THEN take off the cover and throw it to someone or something. 

Smail Buzzby
Smail Buzzby

Windows RT will be crap with no apps.  Bundling Office 2013 probably means MS added $100 to the price for something that they should be charging $10 for later, if you want it.

I am still interested in the real models, whenever they appear (90 days later my ass), but $499 and up for a Microsoft version of an iPad is too much.  When you can run any Windows apps on one it will be worth a look, but this is stupid and overpriced.  If they want $499 for this then they will probably ask $999 for a real one - no thanks.

Congrats, Ballmer!  You just keep screwing up and staying employed.  It's like you have tenure or are too big to fail...

SizzlingFTW
SizzlingFTW

The surface is simply beautiful, Microsoft at its very best. They should be incredibly proud

Rene  Arizmendi
Rene Arizmendi

@twitter-164242819:disqus That I believe will run on Windows 8 desk as well. The expensive Surface will do it all.  My last pay check was $9500 working 12 hours a week online. My sisters friend has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can't believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is what I do,>>..Xfd.qlnk.Net

Jens Schwoon
Jens Schwoon

it simply stolen from some another companies - the idea is over 10 years old ....

Jens Schwoon
Jens Schwoon

nice joke. its completely stolen - but who cares about it?

ClinicalPosters
ClinicalPosters

Great article, well timed. The only appealing thing about Surface is the keyboard cover. Thanks to cross-licensing with Apple, something similar may make it to the iPad. I think people will be looking for info on keyboard durability, comfort and the Touch Cover's protection ability.

By itself, I don't think the Touch Cover is enough to make an Apple fan jump ship but their ar many Windows devotees.

Spencer Evan Breland
Spencer Evan Breland

My question is, will it be supported with great apps?  That is the only thing I am hesitant of.  I am looking forward to it having Microsoft Office though, but other then that, what can we expect?

wadedorrell
wadedorrell

I'd say if you're an adult, it already is, and if you're a kid, maybe. This is just one datapoint of course: I'm a long-time daily iPad user (reading, web/social-media, light productivity) and parent of kids who use the same, and by having a PC I could install the Windows 8 trial on I've been able to check out what's already in the app store.

There's a quality equivalent to every iPad app I stuck with for more than a day. I'd be out about $10 to get to equivalence.

Not every app the kids use has an equivalent (interactive books, rich music experiences like GarageBand.) There seems to be no lack of games and puzzle/math apps. I'd be out about $10 again to get back to equivalence on the games amp; puzzles.

What can we expect? Whatever the market will bear. My opinion is the interactive books amp; music tools will fill in: the production costs of some of the higher quality *free* games already on the store are a proxy for production costs of those kind of apps... and the well-known interactive books amp; music tools on iPad were all *non-free* apps. The many developers of games for the Windows platform (coming over from the vast Xbox Indie platform) will figure this one out.

Spencer Evan Breland
Spencer Evan Breland

Thanks for the reply.  I have Windows 8 right now on my laptop thanks to my college and I have looked at the Windows App Store and nothing has really grabbed my attention yet.  I figure once they release Windows 8 to the general public, more apps will pop up.  I would love to see some games from the Indie developers on Xbox.  I guess I will have to wait and see.  I'm just trying to debate whether to get the Windows tablet or the iPad for college/entertainment purposes.

Ronnie
Ronnie

And again what is the devices battery life?