Microsoft's Surface RT tablet starts at $499

Last month, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the sweet spot for tablets was around $300-700. Looks like the Surface for Windows RT will target the middle of that range. Microsoft's pre-order page confirms that the entry-level model will start at $499, which closely matches the price of premium tablets like the iPad 3 and the Transformer Pad Infinity. While the Surface RT and Transformer tablets offer 32GB of storage at that price point, the latest iPad serves up only 16GB.

Of course, the Apple tablet has a leg up on the display front. Its 9.7" panel boasts a 2048x1536 display resolution, which works out to a crisp 264 PPI. The 10.6" Surface RT's has an all-too-familiar 1366x768 resolution, resulting in a pixel density of only 148 PPI. That's also quite a bit lower than the 224-PPI Transformer Pad Infinity, which squeezes a 1920x1200 resolution out of its 10.1" panel. Microsoft's product page doesn't make any mention of IPS technology. However, the "ClearType HD Display" is claimed to have wide viewing angles, which should preclude a crappy TN panel.

Underneath the display, the Surface RT has an Nvidia Tegra T30 processor, 2GB of RAM, and both 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity. The tablet measures 9.4 mm thick and weighs less than 1.5 lbs. A USB 2.0 port, Micro HDMI output, and microSD slot can be found on the edges of the chassis, which also has a built-in kickstand. Everything else you'd expect from a contemporary tablet is included.

The Surface RT's Touch Cover keyboard costs extra, though. The spill-resistant Touch Cover will set you back an additional $120 when bought separately. If you want physical keys, the Type Cover rings in at $130. That keyboard is available only in black, while the Touch Cover also comes in white, red, cyan, and magenta hues. If you order the Surface RT with a black touch cover, you can save $20. There don't appear to be any pre-order options for different color combinations, though. In fact, the Surface RT tablet seems to be available in black only.

While I never believed the Surface RT would be as inexpensive as some predicted, $499 is a steep asking price given the display resolution. The 720p front and rear cameras feel a little low-rent for this class of device, too, and I can't point to a single must-have feature that tips the balance back in Microsoft's favor. Even the projected battery life—8 hours of "mixed activity" and 7-15 days of standby idling—leaves something to be desired. You've really got to want Windows RT to order one of these things.

To be fair, Ars Technica points out that the Surface RT should cost about $100 less than Windows RT tablets already announced by Asus and Lenovo. Those devices have more robust keyboard docks that feature additional expansion ports and battery capacity. However, their screens share the same 1366x768 resolution as the Surface RT.

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