Surface Windows 8 Pro brings full Windows to the tablet

In late October, Microsoft took aim at the tablet market and unleashed Surface for Windows RT, the first line of Surface mobile tablets.

Designed to take on the iPad, the heavily-marketed device was among the first to run a variant of Windows 8, hoping to offer a familiar operating system and user experience to longtime desktop and laptop users.

The first Surface received solid marks for its hardware, but the tablet’s stripped-down Windows RT operating system was seen as limiting. The Windows RT OS looked and felt like Windows 8, but could only run special versions of common Windows programs.

Looking to offer power users a more complete Windows solution, Microsoft announced launch details for Surface Windows 8 Pro, a new device that will bring the full Windows 8 experience to the tablet.

Surface Windows 8 Pro

The original Surface, Surface for Windows RT, shipped with an ARM-processor and the stripped-down Windows RT operating system, which meant that it would only be compatible with Surface RT-specific apps and programs.

Surface Windows 8 Pro, however, is equipped with a dual-core Intel i5 processor capable of running the full, “true” version of Windows 8 and all traditional desktop applications.  This means that the tablet isn’t restricted to the apps specifically developed for it and made available in the app store; users can run the software they already own or purchase from a store and are comfortable with.  This is especially important for business and enterprise users who might have specific software relevant to their business that they need available at all times.

At first glance, Surface Pro tablet looks much like its little brother, Surface RT, but the former is different under the hood.  Along with being a bit heavier and thicker than the RT, Pro has double the RAM (4GB), Intel HD4000 graphics and a higher maximum storage capacity (128GB).  The Pro’s 10.6” touch screen runs at a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels (up significantly from the RT’s 1366×768 pixels).

Accessories

Surface Pro comes with one Surface Pen, a pressure-sensitive stylus that allows the user to draw, select and point on screen.  Styluses have been somewhat cast aside in favor of multi-touch finger input, but I feel the Surface Pen has a place at the table for users that need fine granularity touch in the programs they might use on the tablet, like Photoshop or other design apps.

The more powerful Surface is also compatible with Touch Cover and Type Cover, the keyboard-integrated smart covers that debuted with Surface RT this fall.  Surface Pro’s price does not include either cover, unfortunately, so those looking for a keyboard cover can pick up Touch Cover for $120 or Type Cover for $130.

Microsoft will also sell a Surface-inspired Wedge Mouse, a $69 mouse that can be paired to Surface and will provide a more desktop-like experience

Pricing and availability

More power and better traditional program connectivity come at a cost; Surface Windows 8 Pro will be available February 9 and start at $899 for the 64GB model.  By comparison, the 64GB Windows RT (with an included Touch Cover) and the current-generation iPad (64GB, full-size) each sell for $699.

Much of Surface Pro’s value comes from its ability to offer the complete Windows experience.  While tablets have long focused on providing apps that are “close to” or “as good as” the desktop versions, Surface Pro will be able to deliver the original.  In this way the new Microsoft tablets are actually competing with both tablets and ultrabooks (high powered, small size laptops), which makes the pricing a little more understandable.

To learn more about Surface Windows 8 Pro, view Microsoft’s Surface hub at http://www.microsoft.com/Surface.  An overview video describing the product and showing off the accessories can be viewed on YouTube at http://bit.ly/WTX177.

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