Microsoft unveils ARM-, Intel-powered tablets

At a highly publicized media event in Los Angeles this afternoon, Microsoft took the wraps off not one, but two Windows 8 tablets. One of the devices has ARM guts and runs Windows RT, Windows 8's ARM-compatible twin, while the other packs an Intel processor and runs Windows 8 Professional. Both tablets bear the same brand name as Microsoft's boutique multi-touch tables: Surface.


In both incarnations, the Surface has a 10.6" display and a fairly unique design. Microsoft has fashioned the enclosure out of what it calls VaporMg, a "combination of material selection and process to mold metal and deposit particles that creates a finish akin to a luxury watch." There's a built-in "Kickstand," which flips out of the back to prop up the device on a table or desk, and a 3-mm-thick Touch Cover, which includes a touchpad and a touch-sensing keyboard with static keys. I'd say the Touch Cover looks a bit like a hybrid between Apple's Smart Cover and Asus' keyboard add-ons for the Transformer series. For those who want a better typing experience, Microsoft plans to offer a variant called the Type Cover with a very thin tactile keyboard.

The ARM-powered, Windows RT-equipped version of the Surface is perhaps the most exciting of the two. It's smaller, at only 0.37" thick, and lighter, at 1.49 lbs, and Microsoft intends to price it competitively with "comparable" ARM tablets. The device has a 31.5 watt-hour battery, either 32 or 64GB of storage capacity, and a pre-installed version of Office tuned for the ARM hardware. Connectivity and expansion include USB 2.0, "Micro HD Video" (which I expect is shorthand for Micro HDMI), and a microSD slot.

The x86 model, a.k.a. the Surface for Windows 8 Pro, is a little chunkier, at 0.53" and 1.99 lbs. It will probably cost more, too, since Microsoft expects it to be competitive with an "Intel Ultrabook-class PC." However, the hardware lurking inside of the larger Surface qualifies it as a new and rather intriguing class of tablet. The payload includes an Ultrabook-class Intel Core processor (Ivy Bridge, that is), a 42 watt-hour battery, a "full HD" display (we take that to mean 1080p), more storage capacity (either 64 or 128GB), and a second, more precise digitizer for pen-based input. (The stylus snaps magnetically onto the side of the unit.) Unlike the Windows RT model, though, we don't see Office anywhere in the feature list.

Microsoft plans to roll out the Surface for Windows RT first, simultaneously with Windows 8's general release later this year. The Intel-powered Surface will follow "about 90 days later." Both devices "will be sold in the Microsoft Store locations in the U.S. and available through select online Microsoft Stores," the company says. I guess you won't find these at Best Buy.

Check out the image gallery below for more pictures. You can also peruse The Verge's live blog for coverage of the launch event.

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