Monday, October 22, 2012

Microsoft’s Surface will give iPad a run for its money

By KAHENYA KAMUNYU

It has not been released yet, but it has been presented. The Microsoft Surface is coming soon, possibly any time after October 26, the tentative release date. It is a most eagerly awaited piece of technology for the people in the industry.

Why?

A couple of decades ago, Microsoft was ahead of its competitors. As time passed, it lost the plot and started rolling out a host of bloated technologies.

Aside from the Xbox, and the Kinect controller, every other piece of hardware Microsoft released was, at best, mundane. And while the company was busy inventing hardware, their software business suffered.

For almost two decades, the company lumbered around and was only saved by the fact that new personal computers were sold with pre-installed Windows software.

The rebellion had started. People discovered Microsoft’s greatest Achilles’ heel at the time — that there were choices.

So here comes Microsoft’s first attempt at building a tablet, hence the eagerness.

Initially, the Surface was a big 40 inch desktop screen computer, laid on its back and controlled by touch. Microsoft tried to sell some, but it was not the burgeoning success it anticipated. So the company renamed it Pixelsense and kept the name Surface, which has now been adopted for the tablet.

Microsoft Surface comes in two models. One is powered by a Dual Core Intel i5 chip, which is considered the Pro model. It also comes with Windows 8.

Inside, it has 4GB RAM, between 64GB and 128GB storage, which can be extended through a microSDXC slot.

The tablet is quite fancy, with additions like a 10-point multi-touch screen, pen input, an ambient light sensor, an accelerometer, gyroscope and compass, and finally dual microphones.

But Microsoft seems determined to always have what seems to be a “poor man’s option”, hence the second version, known as the “RT”.

This version of the Surface is powered by an ARM Chip and Windows RT, a modified version of Windows 8, but developed to run on the ARM chipset.

It is strange that this machine is half of what the Pro version is — 2GB RAM, 32 to 64GB storage, five-point multi-touch screen and so on. Note RT has no significance as a name, unlike XP or NT.

The tablets can give the iPad a run for its money, at least against the lower end iPads.

The Surface comes with two covers to protect the screen when stored, and when laid out, the covers turn into keyboards. One is a touch cover, which is pressure-sensitive, while the other is a type cover that is an actual tactile keyboard.

The covers also come with a multi-touch touchpad. Both connect to the tablet through a magnetic strip.

Both versions of the tablet have 720p HD screens, which have been described as limited but gorgeous. They also have both a front and rear facing 720p camera.

In terms of dimensions, the Surface is thinner than the iPad by 10mm and weighs 20g more than the 660g iPad.

The best feature in my books is the little kickstand on both models. It allows the tablet to stand upright, giving options for comfort, such as when watching a video.

There is the feeling that releasing two tablets with four different specs seems conflicted of Microsoft.

There should have been ideally only one touchpad, with at the most, three different specs.

While there is excitement around the Surface, the price does not seem right. Retail prices in America is expected to start from $500 (Sh42,500) for the very basic RT unit, and goes as high as $700 (Sh59,500) a unit. This is expensive. It begs the question: Is it a tablet or a laptop?

There is one glaring hole that leads me to ask Microsoft a question. They have spent a lot of money doing research and development. They have gone further and modified Windows 8 to run on an ARM chip and actually made it look good.

They have further put together a very good looking kit. So why did they go to all this trouble, then forgot to put a 3G/4G chip, limiting the Surface to WiFi?

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