Microsoft’s new Windows RT tablet has magnesium chassis, vapour deposition coating, cutaway edges, ClearType HD display and its design credentials and specs are impressive.
Turn it on and the 10.6″ screen fills most of the Surface tablet’s front display, but the four edges have half an inch of bezel so you can hold it comfortably.
The Windows logo isn’t just for show; it’s a touch button that gives you the Start screen when you tap on it, plus the whole bezel is touch-aware so you can swipe across it to bring up the App bar or the switching pane .
The Surface is light and comfortable to hold; the edges are sloped to give you a comfortable grip .The magnesium alloy chassis is covered with a soft coating that feels durable and expensive .
There’s a built-in stand that’s like a large hinge running across the entire back of the Surface, with another Windows logo in a slightly matte finish.
The hinge is usually held in place by an array of magnets so it doesn’t fall out if you shake the Surface around; on the left there’s a little cutout in the edge of the hinge to make it easier to flip out. The Surface tablet also balances well on the hinge, which has two long rubber feet to stabilise it.
Microsoft has included a few ports; the bottom edge is filled with the magnetic keyboard connector, the top has the power button and the sides have two speakers, dual microphones, microSD, one USB 2.0 port (USB 3.0 for the Surface Pro) and Micro HDMI (on the surface Pro that’s mini DisplayPort), plus a magnetic power connector.
The magnesium alloy chassis and the precision design give the Surface RT a sturdy feel. The Touch Cover is the ultra-thin touch keyboard for those that value portability; the Type Cover is the slightly thicker keyboard with physical buttons for those that want keys that actually move rather than just the audio feedback of the Touch Cover.
Both have the same connection and they snap into the magnetic latch easily but firmly; little latches fit into the Surface itself, which is why it stays in place even if you’re holding the cover and letting the keyboard drop under its own weight.
As soon as you fold the cover forward against the screen it turns the Surface off ; when you fold it back against the hinge the accelerometer turns the keyboard off automatically so you’re not typing while you hold it
The keyboards are very thin but they’re also very accurate so they pick up your typing well. The keys are a good size with a little spacing between them; the touchpad underneath is a little small but it has left and right buttons – and you have the whole touch screen for larger gestures.
You’ll use the touchpad when you want the precision of placing the mouse cursor inside a word.
The soft surface is more comfortable and less slippery than typing on a screen – not to mention being at the right angle. It is harder on your fingers than typing on a keyboard with physical keys that give as you type, so if you type a lot there’s the Type Cover.
In addition to all the usual keys, down to backslash, pipe and a nicely arranged set of four arrow keys, the top row of keys has the volume, media playback and navigation keys and that’s Home, End, Page Up, Page Down and Delete.
Between them are four keys you will recognise from the Windows 8 interface; they’re the Search, Share, Devices and Settings buttons from the Charm bar so you can get at them without having to take your hands of the keyboard to swipe across the screen.
The Type Cover has those keys labelled as function keys as well; the Function lock button is on the Touch Cover as well so you can use F7 in Word to start spell check of Shift F3 to change case if you want to.
Surface Pro has some extras above and beyond the Intel processor and the ability to run all your Windows programs. The Ivy Bridge Core i5 still needs cooling, so there’s a groove around the edge; it’s 4mm thicker and 227g heavier and the screen resolution is what Microsoft cryptically calls ClearType Full HD. It’s got DisplayPort instead of HDMI and as well as the two keyboard covers it also comes with an active pen. This clips onto the side using the same magnets as the power cable, so it doesn’t get in the way of the keyboard connections.
Microsoft has to get the price right and if the battery life is good, then it is comparable with iPad and 10-inch Android tablets for Surface RT.