Microsoft is set to release its second tablet this weekend, Surface Pro, which attempts to be a “best of both worlds” tablet – a powerful computer that converts from tablet to laptop with the click of a keyboard. It sports an Intel Core i5 CPU, Intel HD 4000 graphics, 4 GB of RAM, and 64 or 128 GB of flash memory packed into a 2 lb package with a 10.6″ 1080p display. Those specs are similar to what you’d find in an ultrabook, and for good reason – Surface Pro runs a full copy of Windows 8.
What does that mean? Well, the original Surface tablet only runs Windows 8 RT, which can run tablet apps but cannot run standard Windows applications or games. This is due to Microsoft using different, more power-efficient, hardware in the original Surface which puts it in the same league as an iPad or Android tablet. Surface RT includes standard notebook hardware, which allows it to run a full copy of Window 8 and function as both a tablet and traditional computer on the go. Users can install tablet apps that run in the full screen “Windows 8” environment or install standard Windows applications (think Office, iTunes, AIM, Firefox, etc) and run them in an environment that basically looks like Windows 7.
Surface Pro hits stores this weekend and comes in two flavors – 64 GB for $899 and 128 GB for $999. Reviews have started flooding in and they are mostly mixed. It is essentially an OK tablet and OK ultrabook, but not great at either. As a tablet, battery life is atrocious – a mere 4 hours, and it’s heavy and thick in comparison to the competition. As an ultrabook it’s OK, but the keyboard cover isn’t included in its base price meaning that it isn’t positioned to be an ultrabook out of the box. It also gets dinged for its traditional Windows app experience because the Windows 7 was not made to run on tablets, which makes it tough to use. Reeeeally? I could have told you that.
Despite its reviews, I see Surface Pro and other tablets that mimic its feature set as having a home in the business world. I could see an employee having a Surface Pro that they bring to meetings for note taking or information lookup and then docking it at their desk to use as their daily computer. The keyboard cover makes it convenient to tote from meeting to meeting without having to touch-type on a screen keyboard. As long as you don’t go to meetings all day long (like many managers), the four hour battery life is probably enough. Most people at my company spend their time in your standard Office and browser applications anyway with an occasional Adobe product here and there. Those work just fine on Surface Pro. Usually developers require high end hardware, but all of our development is done via a Remote Desktop Connection session into a virtual slice in our cloud, so all I need is a basic PC. Surface Pro would fit in really well at work.
I don’t see a lot of consumers purchasing Surface Pro because there are just too many compromises. It won’t be ready for consumers until Windows is optimized for touch throughout. I think it fits in well with companies, better than an iPad even, because it can run all of their current applications. The challenge for Microsoft is getting companies to buy them in significant numbers. Many companies are piloting tablets but are not ready to dump their laptops just yet. If consumers aren’t buying it, companies must. I think it will be a slow start but it will stick around. In two years time I might be talking about my full Windows 8 tablet at work, but not at home.