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Preview: Microsoft Surface (with slideshow)

Microsoft's new Windows tablet

Microsoft Surface

Microsoft Surface

Microsoft has announced its own Windows tablet device, the Microsoft Surface.

The Microsoft Surface tablet is constructed from magnesium and manufactured using liquid metal. Microsoft claims the magnesium, PVD finish is the first of its kind in the PC market. Called VaporMg, the case is melted down in the manufacturing process and then moulded to the details needed for the design. Bevelled edges have been utilised in order to make the tablet comfortable to hold.

The Microsoft Surface tablet utilises a built-in kickstand, which pops out from the back to stand on a desk or table. Microsoft says that putting a kickstand in the product wasn't an easy decision as it "breaks seamless lines". However, the company stressed it needed to take a chance and says the kickstand hinges attempt to feel and sound like closing the door of an expensive car.

Microsoft acknowledged that many tablet users "prefer to have a cover" so the Surface utilises a magnetic connector to attach to a keyboard dock. There are two covers available. The first is a 3mm thin accessory called the "Touch cover" that uses a full multi touch keyboard and also includes a trackpad. The Touch cover is available in blue, red, pink and white colours.

The second accessory is a "Type cover" which includes a full trackpad with clicking buttons, available in black only. Microsoft says it will appeal to users who prefer traditional tactile keys over touching a flat surface.

Microsoft will launch two versions of the Surface tablet. The first is an ARM-based device running Windows RT aimed at consumers, while the other uses an Intel-based chip to provide the full version of Windows 8 Pro for business and corporate users.

The ARM-based Surface is thinner (9.3mm) and lighter (676g) than the Intel based model (13.5mm and 903g, respectively), but both utilise a very similar design with the same sized display. The screen is coated with Gorilla Glass and both models also have a full sized USB port.

The Windows 8 Pro model of the Surface has a larger battery and comes with a stylus that magnetically clips to the side of the Surface when not in use. It also has 64GB and 128GB storage options compared to the 32GB and 64GB models of the ARM-based Surface. There is no expandable memory in either model of the Surface.

Microsoft says suggested pricing will be announced closer to availability, but stressed the Surface will be priced competitively when compared with an ARM tablet or an Intel-based Ultrabook PC. Microsoft hasn't announced if or when the Surface will be released in Australia.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer called the tablets actual PCs because they are based on Windows 8. "The Surface is a PC... a tablet ... and a new experience," Ballmer said.

Windows RT will run ARM chips, while Windows 8 Pro will function on X86 architecture. The ARM architecture is widely used in smartphones and even Apple's iPad, while Intel has been the biggest maker of X86 chips for laptops.

Ballmer spent time saying he appreciated efforts of various Windows 8 tablet makers with past PCs and coming tablets, but added: "With Windows 8, we didn't want to leave any seam uncovered... Much like the need for mouse [introduced with Windows 1.0], we wanted to give Windows 8 its own companion."

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